Dec 1, 2022
Principal Tuba, James Irvine Chair
SF Symphony member since 2002
Hometown: Princeton, Illinois
Admit it: What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear “tuba?” OK, maybe “oom-pah” isn’t a word. In any event, San Francisco Symphony Principal Tuba Jeffrey Anderson passionately believes that the tuba is much, much more than the bottom line in a Sousa march or a German band.
“It may be one of the more stereotyped instruments, but I believe my ‘oom-pah’ is just as important as a soaring violin melody or a trumpet fanfare. The thing you hear most often is ‘I didn’t know the tuba could do that!’ But it has a lot of the lyric charm of a French horn. It has a huge range; it can sing out in the high register, and it can be gruff and aggressive in the low register. I like that versatility.”
Jeff began his musical career in fourth grade in Indiana, playing the tonette (a kind of plastic recorder about as far removed from the tuba as you can imagine). But the band teacher insisted that his students try to play every single orchestral instrument. Jeff did best on the tuba.
“Many tuba players start on the trumpet, trombone, or baritone horn, but I’ve always played the tuba. Either way, it becomes our calling.”
Jeff went on to study at Indiana University and Arizona State. He worked his way up through the ranks of American orchestras and was appointed SF Symphony Principal Tuba in 2002.
Not surprisingly, playing this gleaming eighteen-foot length of brass tubing isn’t as easy as Jeff makes it look. “We tuba players have to breathe so much! I have about six liters of [lung] capacity. Sometimes I can go through that in seconds!”
A few years ago, Jeff decided to try CrossFit to keep up with the demands of playing. “It’s a fitness regimen that includes interval training, weights, a little gymnastics. But it’s not just exercise; it’s also a very supportive community of people.”
Now in his 21st season with the Symphony, Jeff has made a number of notable solo appearances over the years. A highlight came in 2017 when he performed as soloist in the US premiere of Robin Holloway’s Europa & the Bull, an SF Symphony co-commission.
Jeff is psyched about the impact of performing new solo works for tuba: “When I was younger, my teacher played recitals at Carnegie Hall. It made me think ‘I want to do that!’ I hope younger musicians will say, ‘How much fun would it be to have a composer write a piece for me?’ That’s really inspiring!”
It’s the Tuba’s Turn: Watch Jeff’s musician profile video below.