Meet the Musicians: Principal Tuba John DiCesare

Seattle Symphony Principal Tuba John DiCesare at the golf course. (Photo: James Holt)

Seattle Symphony Principal Tuba John DiCesare talks about the heroes in his life: teachers, colleagues and, most importantly, his parents.

By Andrew Stiefel

John DiCesare didn’t set out to become an orchestral musician. He wanted to be a band director — at least, that was his original plan.

“I admired my band directors in high school, so I started out studying music education. I even taught middle school for three years,” he says. But along the way, as John tells it, he started to get addicted to playing the tuba.

John DiCesare hiking with his wife, Mandy, and dog, Bentley. (Photo: Courtesy of John DiCesare)

“I like the sound of the instrument and the power behind it,” he says. “I like how I can disappear and add this velvet under texture, like the subwoofer kicked in and you don’t know what’s happening or where it’s coming from. That’s cool because you can feel it more than you can hear it.”

One of his greatest inspirations, however, was his teacher, Craig Knox. His encouragement helped John keep going. “The uncertainty around auditions was very stressful for me. There might be one, two auditions a year. You have to be resilient,” explains John.

Now in his second season as Principal Tuba with the Seattle Symphony, John is still exploring Seattle with his wife, Mandy, and dog, Bentley.

Efe Baltac─▒gil, Nathan Chan and John DiCesare together at the golf course. (Photo: James Holt)

“He’s a seven-year-old border collie, mutt mix. And he has some energy, he definitely needs to be worked out,” laughs John. “My favorite thing to do is take a walk in Magnusson park with Mandy and Bentley.”

When the weather is nice, John loves to escape to the golf course with his colleagues from the orchestra: Efe Baltac─▒gil and Nathan Chan.

“We meet a lot of interesting people playing golf,” John says. “I met this guy, recently, who had never been to the orchestra.” John invited him to a performance of Sibelius’ Kullervo in June. “I told him to listen for the choir, listen for the different instruments, and to read the story behind the piece.”

Seattle Symphony Principal Tuba John DiCesare backstage at Benaroya Hall with conductor and composer John Williams in September 2017. Photo: Courtesy of John DiCesare)

Following the concert, John rushed out to the lobby to meet him, nervous to hear his reaction. “He absolutely loved it. He couldn’t stop smiling,” grins John. “I think people want to like the music. And they do like it, if they give themselves the chance.”

John’s introduction to classical music came in high school when he discovered a recording of Yo-Yo Ma performing J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites. “And, secondarily, John Williams. He’s an absolute hero of mine and I grew up loving his music.” He adds, “My favorite musical experience by far, ever, was performing with John Williams conducting the Seattle Symphony last year.”

But his greatest heroes, he says, are his parents. “They’re not musicians. My dad worked in a steel mill and my mom is a banker. They’ve worked very hard their whole life. But they always supported me. They could tell that I was serious about music, that I was very driven, and I can’t thank them enough.”

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Posted on October 12, 2018