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Horn duet TubaCOR visits the UI

BY CAROLINE BERG | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Lin Foulk and Deanna Swoboda are rare breeds — and not just because they perform in a male-dominated musical field.

“This pair is unique because it’s the only tuba and [French] horn duet around,” UI Associate Professor of music Jeffrey Agrell said. “There’s very little written in music for such a duet of instruments.”

The two Western Michigan University faculty members have tailored their interests; they will play as TubaCOR with pianist Marcelina Turcanu at 7:30 p.m. today. Their recital — spanning Baroque to contemporary solo and chamber pieces — will take place in 1670 University Capitol Centre. Admission is free.

“It takes great endurance to produce sound just with your lips,” Foulk said about blowing into a hole the size of a drinking straw. “[Playing the French horn is] like blowing against a brick wall for an hour-long recital.”

The range of challenges involved in playing the brass instrument, however, is what originally attracted Foulk to the French horn. For her colleague Swoboda, on the other hand, it was a cute tuba-playing boy who first lured her to pick up the instrument.

Foulk plays her instrument as many as eight hours a day. If she applies lipstick, she said, people can discern the outline of the mouthpiece on her lips.

Playing the horn requires concentration because the notes are packed closely together, she said — she must detect the changes in pitch with her mouth.

“If you’re not completely focused in the split second before you play a note, that can be enough to throw you off,” she said.

Along with performing and teaching, she devotes herself to research and publicizing female music composers, particularly for horn and piano works. In 2002, she started a website cataloguing more than 1,000 pieces of international female-composed solo and chamber music written for up to 12 instruments. Now, she lectures on women in orchestras in the 21st century.

“A hundred years ago, you would had to have looked far to find women in any orchestra,” Agrell said. “Orchestras are traditionally bastions of white men.”

Foulk estimated that women make up only four percent of tuba, trombone, and tuba performers in the top 20 percent of orchestras.

“The Vienna Philharmonic only [in 2003] began accepting women into its orchestra, because it was afraid women would lessen the quality of the orchestra’s sound,” she said.

She and Swoboda prefer to include at least two female-composed pieces in each program they perform, Foulk said. As a result of her extensive research, she discovered a bias against performing women’s works in orchestras because these works were simply erased from basic music education.

Through deliberately including compositions written by women in concert programs, she hopes to diversify the realm of music performed worldwide and refine musical history.

Agrell believes no one parallels her chronicled history of women in orchestras in the 20th century.

He also said Swoboda is renowned for her brass instrument workshops, as well as her entrepreneurial efforts in music. Foulk said wherever the duet performs, her colleague is recognized for her band recruitment DVD, Band Blast Off!.

“We are really lucky to have these two come share their individual expertise with us here at the university,” Agrell said. “We’re going to squeeze out of them every last bit of their knowledge as we can.”


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