Principal Tuba John Whitener

When did you join the RSNO?
I joined the RSNO in November 2009.

Where are you from?
I am from a town called Lamoine in Maine, USA.

Where did you study?
I studied at Interlochen Arts Academy 1997 – 1999 (it’s a private high school for the arts, sort of like Chethams) then at the The Curtis Institute of Music from 1999 – 2003. After that I was at The Yale School of Music from 2003 – 2004, The Juilliard School from 2004 – 2006 and finally at The Codarts Rotterdam Conservatory from 2007 – 2008.

What do you enjoy most about being in the RSNO?
I love the work. Maybe it’s the newness of the job, but my heart still jumps when I walk in the RSNO Centre and hear the Orchestra warming up, knowing that I’m going to be playing with them very shortly. It’s very exciting to play with such a great band, and even better to have it be my job.

Tell us your favourite RSNO story/memory so far.
It was just after our final European tour performance in Belgrade, Serbia. For hours into the night, many of us in the Orchestra stayed up late in the hotel lobby just playing, singing, or banging on whatever was nearby. It started out as traditional songs at the piano, then turned into reels, jazz, and a whole other multitude of genres. The mood became infectious, and others not in the band but who were also staying in the hotel (some even had instruments) came and joined us. I remember finally drifting asleep on a sofa while most people were coming down to breakfast (I think there’s even an undignified picture from the airport of me sprawled out on the seats at the gate waiting for our flight to open). It might have taken me a few days to recover, but this was one of my first experiences with the orchestra, and one that I won’t soon forget.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not playing with the Orchestra?
Aside from lounging in front of the TV and enjoying my favourite beer (almost always something from Brewdog), which I think is probably not the purpose of this question, I enjoy learning and creating. I am an avid watcher of documentaries, and I also love to read. I have been composing music since I was a teenager, and even studied composition alongside tuba while attending the Curtis Institute of Music. Currently I’m reading a book by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and also brainstorming ideas for my next brass quintet. I also like to keep active. I ran my first marathon last October, and I really enjoy swimming. Hillwalking is another good way I like to keep in shape, and it’s also a great way see this incredibly beautiful country we live in.

Do you have any hidden talents?
In the previous question I mentioned composition, which is something I enjoy at least as much as playing the tuba, but aside from that I also enjoy singing. Like composition, I studied it alongside tuba while at Curtis, and even sang in the chorus for a few opera productions there. Although I’ve never been very good at it, I also like to conduct. Not only for directing an ensemble, but for being able to dive into a score and get to the heart of what a composer is trying to do. Composition is very much like an emotional diary: especially with the great composers you get a glimpse at their soul by what they write in the details.

If you could have dinner with anyone (alive or dead) who would it be, and why?
It would be easy to pick ________ (enter name of favourite famous person here), but then I wouldn’t want to eat, I would just want to listen, discuss, watch, etc. I think instead I would pick any or all of my many friends scattered around the world whom I don’t get to see very often.

You’re stranded on a desert island. You’re allowed 3 CDs and 1 book. What would they be, and why?
I think one CD would be of the Beethoven symphonies. No matter how many times I listen to them, I hear them differently each time, especially as I get older. Another would be Itzhak Perlman playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. They are not only impressive in their virtuosity but sublime in their interpretation. The last would be Mozart’s Requiem performed by the Academy and Chorus of St Martin in the Fields directed by Sir Neville Marriner. When my high school chorus and orchestra performed the piece, I was a tenor in the chorus and bought that CD to listen to the piece. I had never been so moved by classical music before then. It’s been 15 years since I first heard it and it still gives the same very powerful emotional reaction. As far as a book, I think I would bring a diary. I imagine a desert island to be a pretty lonely place.