Artist Interview: Tim Lautzenheiser


The Music Room > Additional Artist Interviews > Artist Interview: Tim Lautzenheiser

Artist Interview: Tim Lautzenheiser

Woodwind Brasswind (WWBW): What our readers tend to want to know is the process of how a professional articulates and then realizes his or her career. Did you have a vision that you then ran toward, or was it more a series of seemingly disconnected events?

Tim Lautzenheiser (TL): I think we’re all sort of pinballs, aren’t we? In your situation, for instance. When you were 18 years old did you picture yourself in California writing for a music company?

WWBW: No, absolutely not.

TL: Or if somebody would have thrown it in front of you, you would have gone like eh? No way.

WWBW: That’s not the way it’s going to go.

TL: I was a college band director for 10 years and loved it. I don’t have any regrets, boy that was a great life.

WWBW: Was that Michigan?

TL: I taught three years at Northern Michigan. I was at Alabama one year finishing my undergraduate degree then I did three years at Northern Michigan in Marquette. Then I went to the University of Missouri in Columbia – Mizzoo, another great school. I stayed there three years. Then I went to New Mexico State in Los Cruces.

WWBW: So you kept getting warmer and warmer. Is that a trend?

TL: [laughter] Not by design, even though I love warm weather. If you’re from the Northeast you know those seasons.

WWBW: Yes, I do.

TL: So you land in the desert out there and you’re like, what the devil’s going on? But it was great and the people are phenomenal. I just loved every part of that.

WWBW: They were all colleges?

TL: Yes. Northern Michigan University, University of Missouri and New Mexico State University. Lucky to go out of graduate school right into a university job.

WWBW: Did you always direct the main concert band and then also smaller ensembles? What kind of groups were they?

TL: You had everything: marching band, concert bands, German band – whatever was wanted and needed. The idea at every situation was the majority of the kids were music ed majors. They were going to be band directors. So each school was really music ed heavy so it was to expose them to great literature and get them to play their instruments really well and learn to deal with people.

WWBW: What was your early music education and when did you think you might really orient yourself toward it?

TL: Oh, my gosh. My mother, who’s still alive, was a tap dancing teacher. She taught tap dancing for 70 years. So I was always around music like that. Piano, I started playing piano real early. I’m a percussionist. I’m a rock and roll drummer if you want to be real honest. I also play a lot of jazz. I think every young person’s aspiration is you’re going to play and write big records and all that sort of thing. Did a little bit of that.

But I mean teaching was always the thing. I love to teach.

WWBW: When did you find that out?

TL: Every time there was an opportunity to help somebody. I mean even as far back as junior high school. I mean, hey, let’s do this together. Here we’ve got the new kids and to help them, you know.

WWBW: I really think it is a natural disposition, a natural temperament.

TL: It’s mission oriented. There’s no question about it. There are people who teach for a job. I teach because of the intrinsic joy of teaching itself. I love it. It’s like – “I’m really interested in you. What a fascinating journey you’ve had.” Holy crimminy. I think it’s great.

WWBW: So now you’ve moved this teaching focus to a larger umbrella.

TL: After I left New Mexico State I went to work for Bands of America, Music For All. It’s Music For All now. That was to reach out to more people. Out of that, they used to have a program called “Weekend with the Experts.” At that time the guy who owned it, Larry McCormick, just a great human being – I said let’s do some things with kids, too, like leadership things – prepare them and so forth.

That is what ignited Attitude Concepts. It was almost by accident. I didn’t sit down and go, okay, let me see and come up with some leadership thing. I did it and then the directors would come to my school and ask, “Would you do a teacher in-service for us?” That was sort of the lineage.

WWBW: I read some of the literature on the program and I was struck by its orientation of giving every reader of the information on it a chance not to participate. It’s like, we’re not looking to inspire you, but if you are already inspired, we can take you places.

TL: Keep going.

WWBW: Sometimes when you say, “Hey, this is really good, but maybe you’re not quite ready to have it yet,” you can really help somebody get to work.

TL: If you think back to when you were I don’t know, 16, 17, 18 years old, most of that thought process is about yourself as opposed to serving leadership. I mean you’re thinking about the girl or guy you’re after or maybe your grades. You’re competing to become who you are. There’s that whole buffet in front of you. So for a 17 year old to go, I want to be a leader, I think they get caught up in the extrinsic title. I’ll be in charge. I’ll delegate. And as you well know, it’s just the opposite of that.

WWBW: There’s a lot of broom and dustpan involved in being a leader.

TL: You come early, you stay late, right?

WWBW: And you can’t ask anybody to do anything you wouldn’t or haven’t.

TL: That’s the theme of everything we do. As opposed to systemic leadership, it’s real servant leadership.

WWBW: How widespread and what are the size and scope of these meetings and the course? Would you call it a course?

TL: We’ll go into an are, so on this Saturday in August, Tim’s going to be in Houston and you send your kids; we’ll fill up an auditorium and off we go for two and a half hours. Then the next night’s going to be in Dallas and the next night’s going to be in Lubbock.

WWBW: Is there any continued outreach and follow-up to the communities that you visited?

TL: Oh, yes. We published a 12-week student leadership curriculum. You just don’t go through the car wash and hope it stays shiny all year. Throughout the year we’re in communication, and just about the time the kids start to slump, we provide materials to help them re-boot all the things we talked about.

WWBW: How do you select the communities you’re going to visit?

TL: I don’t take a map and say, okay, let’s go to Seattle. Somebody from Seattle typically contacts us and asks us to  host a workshop. Okay, we’ll put that on the schedule. Somebody from, I don’t know, wherever, Provo, Salt Lake City said we’d like to host a workshop for our area. Okay, well then you host it. I’ll show up and we’ll have a good time.

WWBW: How do they hear about it in the first place?

TL: Word of mouth. We don’t advertise. I’ve never advertised, never marketed.

WWBW: I would imagine something like that zips around the grapevine pretty efficiently.

TL: When we first started there wasn’t anybody else doing it. As soon as we started though, we found that in the band community, every great program has great student leaders. And with very different ways of leading. You have to respond to their style of doing things.

WWBW: Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean an effective speaker.

TL: Leadership doesn’t even mean you’re out front.  In fact sometimes further back you can lead the best. Can you contribute? Can you serve? Can you do something that will push the mission forward another millimeter?

WWBW: Now, you still keep a foot in publishing very much, don’t you?

TL: If you’re in retail you’re probably aware of the band method “Essential Elements.”

WWBW: Oh, man, that’s a masterpiece. There was a sharp intake of breath as I was reading your curriculum vitae and saw that you had that as part of your bag of tricks. That has done so much good for so many instrumental students.

TL: It’s been a good one. Essential Elements is the biggest band selling method out there, and I write a lot of other stuff for Hal Leonard

WWBW: I jumped into a Chicago-Blood, Sweat & Tears-Tower of Power cover band, and I’m sketching out three horn charts and it’s challenging. I can’t imagine scoring for a 50-seat orchestra. How do you get there

 TL: I don’t know. I think it’s probably organic almost. You start arranging for, I don’t know, probably the first things were the percussion ensembles and then okay, we need this. This is a hot tune and there’s a not a chart for the pep band to play at the basketball game. I’ll knock one out for you. And then it evolves out of that. I’m not a real good – even though I have a degree in composition, I’m not a real good writer. I’m a –

WWBW: What do you mean by writer? Do you mean composer?

TL: Yes. I mean there’s people that can sit down and write a piece of music just like you and I would write a letter.

WWBW: There’s a quote, I forget who was interviewing, but they were talking about the Beatles. And they said, that Paul McCartney. He could pull a tune out of a cigar box.

TL: Yes.

WWBW: There are cats like that. Just everything they write is tuneful.

TL: Yes. I can’t do that.

WWBW: So your gift you would say is more recognizing harmony and moving voices within harmonies?

TL: Yes, I think so. It’s like okay, we can do that with that. Being a jazzer, your ears begin to adapt to that. They start hearing different chord changes. You know, that’s a 13 chord and there’s an 11, it needs a suspension. Not to study it, but to be it. It’s like the difference between taking swimming lessons and swimming.

WWBW: Right now I’m very much taking lessons. I look at what the chord is made up of, what the three horns are doing, is it justifying itself, and then poke away at it on piano. Then later just try to make the horns move as little as possible and then maybe then try to find melody within it. It’s sort of inside out, as far as my primitive method.

TL: No, that’s the way it works. No, you’re spot on.

WWBW: Okay. Well, at 60 I’m getting started. It’s very educational, too, just pulling the Pankow arrangements off of Chicago recordings.

TL: You’ve probably got really good ears, too. You hear what it’s supposed to sound like and match it.

WWBW: You know what? I don’t hear it until I’m listening to it the third or fourth time through trying to hear. I’ll hear the root. Then I’ll hear the primary harmony and I know there’s something else in there. It takes a while to discern it.

TL: If you can get it in four times through that’s a miracle.

WWBW: All right.

TL: Most people are pounding it out on the piano like an hour trying to get the right one.

WWBW: Every time I get to rehearsal I have to go back with some corrections after we play test them. [laughter]

TL: So did Hemingway. So did Stravinsky.

WWBW: You must get to a point where you can really see where the potential squeaks in your chart might be.

TL: Yes. You learn the parameters, absolutely.

WWBW: So where are you headed, you’ve got a three hour car drive?

TL: I’m driving to Chicago, the Midwest Clinic board meeting. I’m on the board of the Midwest Clinic. We have a board meeting and then at this particular meeting all the people are going to have their groups perform next year come to Chicago and we walk the through what it’s going to be and where to put their buses and such. It’s called the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. It’s in Chicago every year.

WWBW: Is there a chief mission or is the mission broad and multi-pronged?

TL: The mission is to promote quality band and orchestra programs. Various ensembles audition. It’s pretty strict. And then there are clinics. I think this year there are ninety clinics that will be going on simultaneously, and a huge exhibit hall. It should be a great clinic, and a great start to the summer season, which is really preparation for the year. It should be a great year.


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