An Interview of Abe Torchinsky by Carole Nowicke (Also Present: Valerie Frazier)
Approved by narrator 11/10/2000
Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania
February 10, 2000
February 12, 2000
Abstract, May 29th, 2001
[Setting up and discussing recorded brass quintets]
Abe Torchinsky: Well, in any case, I am almost positive that we were not the first [brass quintet to make records].
Carole Nowicke: Maybe the most popular? Maybe the most well distributed?
Torchinsky: Probably the best distributed, because for one thing, we were recording for a major label. That in itself was something. I don’t know happened--the old Empire Brass--was that what it was called--what was the trumpet player’s name who was such a fine trumpet player? Harvey’s group?
Nowicke: Was there an old Empire Brass, or was that just the group that Sam Pilafian...?
Torchinsky: No, this was before Sam Pilafian.
Nowicke: So they took the name?
Torchinsky: I am pretty sure.
Nowicke: I thought Harvey’s group was the New York Brass Quintet?
Torchinsky: Yes, and I’m positive they recorded before us. I think the only thing that we were innovative in was the “ Torchy Jones” thing. No one had ever done that before, and it was my crazy idea. I still think--my original idea was to do it as a brass quintet--as Canadian Brass does it today. Not have a rhythm section. We had a guitar player, a bass player. I didn’t want a piano because I felt a piano would be so much that it would overshadow the quintet. Just bass, drums, and guitar.
The funny thing was that just recently, the New York union paper (I think it was)--there were pictures of old-time bands, and the guitar player was Artie Ryerson. Arthur Ryerson. He was the guitar on our record, a terrific guitar player.
That was the only thing I didn’t agree with, (the piano) and also, the original arrangements... I had suggested to Frank Hunter, why don’t we do something, the arrangements started out with a feeling like a classical quintet--and then break into this (jazz)--and he said, “Great, no problem.” He could do it. It’s still unusual. Have you ever heard it?
I wish I could play it for you. I do not have a good tape of it, that I know. One of the guys in the Philadelphia Orchestra is able to burn CDs and he has a tape that’s supposedly off the master. He promised me he was going to burn me a CD, and if he ever does I’ll make you a tape. I can make good cassettes on that system. I have to get that thing fixed.
Nowicke: When you were recording with the three brass quintets, how were you set up?
Torchinsky: Did you ever see the picture on the album?
Nowicke: I’ve seen the picture on the album.
Torchinsky: That’s about the way it is.
Nowicke: So you were sitting as your discrete groups?
Torchinsky. Yes, that’s about the way it was. Chicago was not on the right as they did it on the picture.
Nowicke: Did they flip the negative?
Torchinsky: No, they just set us up that way. But I do remember there was a group here, a group here, and a group there, and I think Chicago was over there. Of course we were facing--not facing the camera. In other words, we would be looking at Chicago and Cleveland and that’s the way it was done. It was pretty incredible.
Nowicke: Had you ever played in a mass choir like that before?
Torchinsky: Nope. Not in my life. Never. Never played in a tuba ensemble. My career started out--I don’t know if I say it in there [article in T.U.B.A. Journal] I was a Boy Scout. In those days--I was Jewish. I wanted to be a Boy Scout. The only Boy Scout troop available was in an Episcopal Church. So I was the only Jewish kid in the Episcopal Church Boy Scout group. Right across the street.
Are you from Philadelphia?
Valerie Frazier: I’ve lived here for 15 years, but I came from Virginia.
Torchinsky: Would you know the “K and A”--Kensington and Allegheny area? You’ve probably heard of it.
Frazier: I’ve heard of it, yes.
Torchinsky: It’s a terrible neighborhood. In those days it wasn’t terrible. In those days it was liveable and it was all blue-collar hard-working people. There was a man who was a foreman of a hosiery dye mill who was originally from Shamoken, Pennsylvania, who had great ambitions to conduct a band. He had a band, an all-brass band. He lived on a little street ,which was very close to K and A. Clarence Lenker.
He was really a wonderful person. Real beer guzzling, typical factory working man. He loved to get up and wave his arms.
Nowicke: He wanted to have a boy’s band like Harold Hill.
Torchinsky: So, I wanted to be in that band. I didn’t play an instrument. My oldest brother--my older brother (he was the only one I had) was a fine musician. He is the one who introduced me to Arnold [Jacobs].
Nowicke: What was your brother’s name?
Torchinsky: Jack. He shortened it to “Torchin,” cut the “sky” off.
My brother was a saxophone-clarinet doubler–a very successful one. He felt that “Torchin” was a lot easier to deal with, when people would call you for club dates. I used to use it too, but I never legally changed it. In the N.B.C. Symphony–in fact that picture [on the wall] I think my name was Abraham Torchinsky, which is really my full name, but I never used Abraham.
In any case, I saw this band lined up, getting ready to go to a parade somewhere and I went up and I talked to him, I said, “Is there any chance I could get into your band?” “What do you play?” “Nothing.” I must have been 13, 12? I guess he felt sorry for me and made me a drum major. There were two drum majors, one that did the twirling, and the strutting drum major. They made me that, and, oh, I loved it. I mean, get out and strut in parades!
Finally they got enough money from doing these parades on the 4th of July, to raise enough money to buy new uniforms and he told me, “We can’t afford two drum majors, you got to learn an instrument.” I said, “Gee, I’d love to play trombone.” He must have needed a tuba player, he said “Your arm’s too short.” That’s a famous line--your arm’s too short. So he said, “I think what you ought to do, we’ll find you an instrument, come on.” So he took me down into the cellar of his house--and you’ll notice, I don’t use the word “basement,” because it was a cellar.
Torchinsky: No, not dirt, it was cement, but the heater, the whole bit...
Nowicke: Octopus style furnace?
Torchinsky: Old. And he had these shelves with all these instruments on them, and he said, “Here try this,” and he brings me out this old big upright, “U.S.A.” --you know what U.S.A. is? York.
Nowicke: You said it was the cheap school York.
Torchinsky: The bell was that big--and I’m probably this big, you know? “See if you can blow into that thing.” So he put me down, and lifted the thing up. If I remember correctly, I think it was a top action horn. I blew it, and I got a sound out of it, a noise. I started playing it, and he gave me tuba fingerings, and I learned to read treble clef because it was Salvation Army music.
Nowicke: Oh, so you had to read that B= treble clef.
Torchinsky: I learned to read treble clef way before I knew about bass clef. I started doing this, and oh, I took it home. This is the funniest part of the story. My Dad’s little tailor shop had double doors, you opened one, and he’d let the other one stay closed, when customers would come in, they’d just go through that little door. I couldn’t get the damn horn through--the bell was too wide. So, I opened the other door. My father (I won’t try to imitate his accent, he was from Eastern Europe, from Russia) “What do you have there? What is that?” I said, “It’s a bass horn.” “A bass horn? What kind of thing is that?” I said, “Hey Pop, let me try it.” “Well, if you want to blow that, you got to do it down in the cellar,” and I used to practice down there. I’d go down there, and I’m sure the neighborhood must have thought there was a dying cow or something, whatever it was.
But my brother kind of suspected I had talent, and he knew I had desire, which was the most important thing. So he said, “You’ve got to get yourself a teacher.” “Who?” He said, “Well, I have a friend, I work with him a lot, playing bass,” he says, “He’s a terrific tuba player.” “Who?” “He goes to Curtis. Arnold Jacobs.” Well, Arnold couldn’t take me at first. Now, nobody’s ever heard this before--McCandless--is that name in there?
Nowicke: One of them [articles from T.U.B.A. Journal].
Torchinsky. Oh. This guy called himself an “interior decorator.” Is that in there?
Nowicke: Yes. “..an interior decorator named Bob McCandless.”
Torchinsky: He was my first teacher.
Nowicke: And he really was an interior decorator?
Torchinsky: He was a painter.
After a while, I told my brother I’d rather if he can, to fix it up to get Arnold. If I remember correctly, Arnold used to charge me a buck. One dollar.
I guess it was around 1937-38, he went to Indianapolis--he got $65 a week.
Nowicke: That was a lot of money.
Torchinsky: For what, 20 weeks I think? He said, “There’s a job down in South Carolina, do you want me to recommend you?” I was playing with a big dance band by then, playing bass, making good money--making a lot of money, like $100-$125 a week. That was with Frank Hunter. We had a band with Isham–
Nowicke: Isham Jones?
Torchinsky: Isham Jones. The guy who wrote It Had to Be You, and all those other tunes. He took over that band. We were traveling all through the south, whenever I wasn’t in school.
Nowicke: You’ve never told anybody that, at least in the T.U.B.A. Journal.
Frazier: How old were you when you were doing this?
Frazier: My goodness.
Torchinsky: I made my first buck when I was 14. I was called to do a New Year’s Eve job, and in those days the union was very strong. On New Year’s Eve they would let non-union musicians play with union, because there weren’t enough to go around. I got a call from a guy who said “I need a bass player.” It was at a hotel in Philadelphia, the Sylvania Hotel, which used to be around Broad and Locust right behind the Doubletree Hotel. It was a very fancy hotel in those days. And he said, “You want to do it?” I think it paid like $20, which was a fortune. I said, “Sure.” He says, “You play tuba too, don’t you.” I said “Yeah,” he said, “Bring them both.” I didn’t have a car. You know what I had? This will really get you! I had a helicon, four valve CC helicon. You ever seen one? Nor did anyone else. I paid $15 for it.
Nowicke: Cool! I’d love one.
Torchinsky: I’d love to have that now, believe me. I put that thing on my shoulder, and I grabbed the bass, and I got on the trolley cars and the subways, and I went down, and I played that damn job. The best part of this is, I then took everything home and went up to Mr. Lenker and with this big U.S.A. tuba--and again, here I am, about like this [indicates his size] and I did the New Year’s day parade--the Mummer’s Parade. In those days those parades were long. I paraded, and then I came home and collapsed.
Nowicke: You had mentioned a little bit in one of these articles about the Mummer’s parades. Did this band have regular uniforms, or did they get into the---
Torchinsky: Oh no, we had regular uniforms. Not the Mummer’s stuff, no.
Nowicke: I’m trying to imagine you in feathers!
Torchinsky: We were as proud as peacocks!
But you know, from Arnold, when he went off and I went to the Southern Symphony, he was the one who recommended me for that. I got over scale too. I got $27.50 a week, instead of $25.00. I was there for ten weeks and that was a great experience too, but from there...Curtis. I was offered the National Symphony--we had a space--not a room, in the basement of a guy’s house, with linoleum on the floor, and as close as you are to me was the furnace. Which was good, because it was warm. It was awful. She had a job, and I’m old-fashioned--I don’t want my wife to support me. If she wanted to work or do some, fine, go ahead if it’s a hobby, but not support me! She had to work to support us.
Nowicke: War-time Washington was hideously expensive. You were lucky you weren’t sharing the bed!
Torchinsky: But this is what kept me out of the service [points to ear].
Nowicke: You said you had a mastoid operation.
Torchinsky: Mastoid and multiple perforations.
Nowicke: Of your ear drum?
Torchinsky: Which I eventually had a new eardrum put in.
Nowicke: A new ear drum?
Torchinsky: A tympanoplasty. Yes. They take a piece of muscle from here, and made a new eardrum out of it, only so I could wear a hearing aid. Then this year started to get weak from age and many years of sitting in orchestras.
Nowicke: You were behind the trumpets though.
Torchinsky: Well, sometimes, that was later. We used to sit with the trumpets behind me.
My head used to rattle.
Nowicke: Of course now they’d put up the plastic shields...
Torchinsky: They’d do all sorts of things now. Plugs, shields, you name it. Hey, look, I’m very grateful that my career was pretty good.
In any case, it was one season in Washington and they paid me $68 a week, which was the principal’s minimum. My wife has a wire somewhere– saying if I wanted to come back there, it took it up to $95 a week. That was a lot of money. I said, “No, I want to go to New York and study.” I asked her, “Would you mind? Let’s go to New York, I want to study--really study, with Bill Bell.” I had studied with him all along. That was the Mecca. In those days it was the Mecca of the music business.
I don’t know if I mention in there--when I got there I couldn’t work because the union was so strong. First I sold cameras for Gimbels–$18 a week. Then I decorated windows for United Cigar company. That was the only job I was ever fired from.
Nowicke: You weren’t a good decorator?
Torchinsky: They caught me finding a way to chisel. I would move stuff around instead of putting new stuff in. It was easier. I hated it.
And then little by little, things started to happen. I also played bass in a joint--I don’t know again--I may mention it in there--the Gloria Palatz? Oh–a nice Jewish boy playing in a Nazi hangout during the second World War? Hitler’s pictures over the place. Nazi flags all over the place. It was $45 a week. That was pretty good money then. I used to work from eight o’clock at night until three or four in the morning. Had nubs on my fingers like you wouldn’t believe! Did you play bass too?
Nowicke. Yes. You know what, it was funny. Les Varner told us--
Torchinsky: To double--
Nowicke: Yes-- he said, “OK, I want you to take voice lessons, I want you to take a language, I want to learn to double on something...go double on bass.”
Torchinsky: That’s the best thing he told you.
Nowicke: You know, I found it easier than playing tuba.
Torchinsky: Well, easier, but you know. I don’t know, something about--I love the feel of that instrument in my lap. I must have been destined to play it. I don’t know. The only thing I did not have, and this is my fault--I didn’t have this incredible facility that Harvey--I mean, Harvey was scary! Or even Warren Deck, who is my student. This kid could do anything on the instrument. I wanted sound--that’s all I wanted. The big mistake that every student makes is to try to imitate their teacher. You can’t. None of us are alike.
Nowicke: Our mouths are different.
Torchinsky: Everything is different. I even wonder some times if they do clone us, would be actually be alike? I really do.
I idolized Bill Bell--because I had an embouchure that looked like somebody hit me in the face with an axe. I used to pull the corners of my lips back until they made my ears wiggle. I had no register--if I got up to the high C, the middle C on the piano--I was struggling. By the time I got finished I remember him telling someone, “I don’t have the registers these kids have, I teach them how to do it, but I can’t do it.” He didn’t have great registers you know. Everything that he did--he had to use small tubas, and stuff like that.
Nowicke: You aren’t telling me he didn’t play his own warm-ups are you?
Torchinsky: No, he never did that. He didn’t even warm up. He never warmed up. He would sit down and pick up the instrument--the most gorgeous sound in the world. To me he had the most beautiful sound I have ever heard on the tuba. Now, there may be other people today, but I am talking about what my head says. I tried to imitate this. It didn’t work.
The reason it didn’t work--number one, N.B.C. Symphony was a radio orchestra, and you played at a different level. When I came to Philadelphia after the first week of working with the brass section in this huge orchestra, and this huge sound, I’d come home and collapse. Then I started to realize I had to do my own thing. I started working on developing sound--that was all.
I don’t want to sound immodest or anything, but I think that was my big claim to fame, that I had a good sound. Registers meant nothing to me--thanks to you, Mr. Bell. Low register, whatever, to this day I will show off for a student--I don’t own a tuba, I don’t touch one, and I go out to Aspen, I’ll say “Give me the damn thing,” I’ll put a mouthpiece in it, this will be for about, maybe five--ten seconds--double high C, no problem. I pop it out.
But, this was all him--really him. He used to teach at one place (he taught a lot of places) one place was the house up in Harlem, it was Tante Lena’s, Harvey would remember her very well. It stunk in this house--I mean, you learned breath control.
I bought him a Jeroboam--you know what a Jeroboam of champagne is? A magnum is, you know, like this [indicates height], a Jeroboam is like this! It fit in one of the compartments in my tuba trunk. I bought it in Washington, gave it to him for a Christmas gift. Mrs. Bell was alive then. I called him on New Year’s Eve to wish him a happy New Year’s and asked him “Did you open the bottle yet, Mr. Bell?” He said, (you know, he had this very robust voice) “Oh, I finished that.”
I’m not a drinker. Now, I have enough booze in that down there and in this closet over to here, so that I can have a big party. That’s what it’s for--if anyone wants any, I have it. Oh, I’ve had Scotch, I drink on occasion. Now I don’t drink anything, a little tiny bit of wine once in a while. I don’t find a need for it, I don’t think it’s necessary.
I was a heavy smoker. I cold-turkey’d in1965. I developed pneumonia, and a very dear friend, a doctor, who is the doctor for the orchestra, and has been for years, said “Abe, I want you to go in the hospital, you got it pretty bad.” I said, “I can’t, I have a kids’ concert, and I have a concert tonight. I just can’t do it.” He said, “You got to get in.” So, he arranged, he called Mason Jones, who was the personnel manager then, to get someone to play the Saturday night concert. I went in to play the kids’ concert, then my wife dropped to the hospital. On the way down I said, “Give me a cigarette, this is going to be the last one I ever smoke,” and it was. I used to smoke 2 ½ packs a day.
Nowicke: I’m horrified!
Torchinsky: It’s a sign of the times! You aren’t going to believe these stories. The way it was set in the Academy, it was not very far from the set to the Green Room. During rehearsals, if I had 100 measures rest (by then I knew the pieces) I’d put my horn down--and that door was right behind me--I’d sneak out, go light up, puff away, I’d hear it was getting close to the right place--put the cigarette butt back in a big, round, ashtray, and sneak back in and play. My mouthpiece must have tasted like a garbage pile!
Nowicke: It must have looked nasty too.
Torchinsky: You it open up---oh, there’s a hole! And you’d have to ream it out. Maybe that helped my playing--I don’t know.
Nowicke: Well, it would have restricted the venturi on your mouthpiece.
Torchinsky: Exactly, exactly. Hey, I learned, get the hell of there, stop it.
Nowicke: I know back then in World War II all the advertising said that “cigarette smoking was good for you,” and “doctors approve of this.”
Torchinsky: I am the Billy Graham of anti-smokers. I think it is the most horrible--first of all I am too damn cheap to smoke now. What is it 2 ½ bucks a pack?
Nowicke: Almost three, yes.
Torchinsky: That’s ridiculous. You smoked as much as I did, you’re spending a lot of money. I’m happy to say that all three of my daughters at one time smoked, but all three of them have quit.
Nowicke: You made sure of that?
Torchinsky: Well, the last one to quit was my middle daughter, and I didn’t think she’d ever quit. Don’t know what happened that made her quit.
Nowicke: You have three daughters?
Torchinsky: Yes, my oldest daughter is 55.
Nowicke: What’s her name?
Torchinsky: She’s Barbara.
Nowicke: ..About your interview with Donna Haupricht...
Torchinsky: Oh Donna, she’s an interesting lady. She is going to be, God, she’s going to be 50 this summer. She’s a very good tuba player.
Nowicke: She was one of your students?
Torchinsky: Yes. I first met her, I think it was either the last year, or the year before the last that I was in the Philadelphia Orchestra. We played up in Saratoga, New York. She’s from Albany. She would come up and take a lesson, and then after I left the orchestra I assumed I wouldn’t hear from here. One day I got a call and she wanted to do her masters. She studied--do you remember the tuba teacher at Ithaca College, James Linn?
In any case, Donna studied with him, and she wanted to go to Michigan to do her master’s. So I remember she played pretty well, and she came out and played, and she ended up doing her masters in Michigan and did very well. Then, I started a record company in the University--I couldn’t sit still. I shouldn’t say this, because the University pension and the perks have been the best thing that ever happened to me--university life was not my cup of tea. Forgive me.
Nowicke: Were you doing anything other than teaching? So you didn’t have an overload.
Torchinsky: No, I didn’t have an overload. I wouldn’t let that happen.
Nowicke: A lot of people get stuck teaching conducting, or ...
Torchinsky: No, no, God, no. That was understood from the beginning. I was going to teach tuba.
Torchinsky: “All conductors are the same.” They’re not really. The only ones I put on my wall though, are Toscanini, Stokowski, and Lennie Bernstein. I just happened to have a picture of Stravinsky autographed, so put that up there.
Nowicke: Not everybody has one of those!
Torchinsky: They’re hard to come by.
Nowicke: We’re not being chronological here and we’re talking about the euphonium--your Glorious Sound of Brass.
Torchinsky: We used Dee Stewart.
Nowicke: Why did you have Dee on euphonium instead of trombone?
Torchinsky: Who did we use on trombone? That was Henry Smith. He was an incredible trombonist.
Nowicke: But you could have done that line with either instrument.
Torchinsky: Well, that was not my idea, it was I think the producer’s idea.
Nowicke: They wanted a sextette?
Torchinsky: Dee is an interesting story too, you know. Dee came into the Philadelphia Orchestra as a trombonist, and never played euphonium. They needed somebody to do the “Bydlo” and stuff like that, whatever, “Don Quixote,” and all those things. Dee--in fact he asked me--
Nowicke: “What euphonium I should buy?
Torchinsky: Yes. I didn’t know from beans. I said, “Well, I hear the Yamaha is a good instrument,” in those days. I think he bought a Yamaha. I don’t know what he has now. Probably he might be still with Yamaha.
Nowicke: I don’t know if he’s a clinician for any particular brand or not.
Torchinsky: That was how he started with euphonium, and he’s done very well with it. It only proves--a damn good trombone player. He picked up the euphonium, learned the valves, and that was it.
Nowicke: The CD I played for you last night, Val. I’ve only played those pieces arranged as quintets.
Torchinsky: Have you ever heard our Christmas album? I think he’s on that one too.
Nowicke: Yes. I grew up listening to it.
Torchinsky: The only thing he’s not on, and this interesting--I don’t know if this should be for publication--yet. Are you aware the infamous “Torchy Jones” record?
Nowicke: Was that was the one you referred to that Ormandy stopped?
Torchinsky: The popular recording. Oh, did he ever.
Nowicke: You talked about this.
Torchinsky: Where did I talk about that?
Nowicke: You talked about that to Louis Maldonado.
Torchinsky: I talk about it in that thing I just showed you, Overtones. The one from Curtis Institute. One of those, at the very, very back. I mentioned it in there.
Nowicke: [reading] “Frank Hunter to do the album, from Bucks County, Pennsylvania...the new kid was Marion Anderson’s nephew...”
Torchinsky: That was James DePriest.
Nowicke: You were careful not to mention the word “jazz” in front of Ormandy.
Torchinsky: Did it say anything about how Ormandy squelched it?
Torchinsky: I’m amazed. What article was that?
Nowicke: This was the T.U.B.A. Journal, Summer 1989.
Torchinsky: Is that the one with Maldonado?
Torchinsky: I’m surprised I said that. I was very careful about not saying anything--Ormandy! You have no idea the power that man had!
Nowicke: No. No one has that kind of power now.
Torchinsky: Oh, no. Oh, listen, Toscanini was the worst! Things that he used to say, I’ll never forget as long as I live. One of the things we were doing, he turned around to the horn section and said something in Italian, and my Italian is not exactly great. I think I asked Neal DiBiase (who was the first trombone player then) he said, “He said that their mother was a whore.” You know what would happen today if you did that? The orchestra would get up en masse and walk out. It just doesn’t happen today. In those days the conductor was Pope. He was King! He was--you name it!
When we decided to do the infamous “Torchy Jones” album, first of all, I think I told you that “Torchy Jones” was not my idea of a name, it was something that Columbia came up with. “Torchy” is my nickname, and Jones, Jonesy–Mason Jones. I used to get all kinds of mail from Black organizations for donations and whatnot, because they probably thought I was a Black musician.
I just wanted “The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble Does...” Catch the Brass Ring was the title of the album, and that was a good name. In any case, when we decided to do it, we thought we’d better ask Ormandy, get his permission. I won. Actually, it was like a coin toss. I went to ask him, and I said to him, “Maestro, we would like to do this album,”-- I never said “jazz” never used the word “jazz,” said “popular tunes,”“We would like your blessing and your permission.” He said (he used to do this--pull his sleeves and scratch his nose) “You don’t have my blessing, you have my permission.”
So we did it--for its time--and you got to remember, this is 1960--it was completely unique. No one had ever done anything like that.
Anshel Brusilow, who was the concertmaster, went up to visit Ormandy up at his summer estate up in Tanglewood-- “Fiddleback” was the name of the place. He said, “Maestro, did you hear that wonderful record that the brass players made?” “No.” “Jazz”--you could see the smoke all the way down to here! That was it! He had enough power. The record, we know, we know, sold quite a few hundred copies before they did anything, because the guys in the group bought a lot of them, gave them as gifts to people. The royalties should have been based on that.
He had enough power--Columbia pulled that off the market. We were supposed to appear in Look magazine, which was something like Life. There were pictures taken--there’s one picture of me with the group, and I’m up in the tree holding my tuba. We’re all standing around, real “publicity” kind of thing. All kinds of things he squelched. Everything was squelched. There was only one good thing--for six months he didn’t talk to me. Didn’t bother me, left me alone.
What happened after that was interesting. We did The Glorious Sound of Brass. Again, I went to the man who was now the new A&R man at Columbia, Andy Kazdin. I said “Andy, why don’t you record the brass group?” because the woodwind quintet had been recording, and he said, “Yeah, and lose my job?” That’s what he said, because the A&R man was fired from Columbia, the guy that did the”Torchy Jones” thing. He’s still alive--Howard Scott, he’s my age, and he’s been pretty active.
I said, “Andy, why don’t we do something that no way Ormandy can say anything about?” I just picked the word--believe me--I picked the word out of my head— “Let’s do a Baroque album.” “That’s not a bad idea.” So we did it , and I think the funniest thing, whatever happened, Gil Johnson said to his late wife (she’s passed away recently--she was a real Southerner) “Myra, how do you like the album?” “It’s a nice piece.” All these different Baroque pieces! “It’s a nice piece!” That album won a Grammy for best engineered classical record.
Ormandy flipped his lid when we walked in to the recording session with the orchestra, and here’s the quintet lined up, and Bud Grant with the album in his hand. He said, “What did they do? What’s that?” He said, “They won a Grammy for their record,” and the Philadelphia Orchestra had not won a Grammy. He couldn’t do anything about that. What was he going to do? Kill that? From there we went on, we made the other records.
Nowicke: Where did you record that?
Torchinsky: Town Hall, Philadelphia, which is now a big parking garage. Best place to record--it was really terrific. We did The Glorious Sound of Brass, we did the Christmas album there, and the three brass groups met there.
Nowicke: I didn’t know where they recorded it.
Torchinsky: The three brass groups--that to me is the miracle of ages, it really is, because logistically, to begin with...
Nowicke: You couldn’t do that now.
Torchinsky: Oh, I don’t know. You might--because we were already in the 52 week season. This is 1969 I think when we recorded that--I think have one of the Grammy nominations up there [on wall] was it ‘69? Let me see, I’ll tell you in a minute. Time goes by when you get my age. Yes, here, 1969. You know what we won the Grammy for that. We were nominated for classical album of the year.
All three orchestras were on a 52 week basis then. It just so happened (and maybe the Gods were looking down on us) that every one of those orchestras had a weekend when we were all free. I forget what Philadelphia was doing, maybe an all-Bach thing? I don’t know, whatever. It was arranged, they came in, we did it in three three-hour sessions, the whole album. It started out with some quartets--the reason they did that was because they wanted quartets and build up to it. They wanted to get--
Torchinsky: No, the Cleveland people out of there--they had to be back for something. We did Cleveland, and we mixed with Chicago--it was crazy! The last thing that’s on the album, I think it’s the last thing, I’m not sure [sings]
Nowicke: Duodecimi toni?
Torchinsky: 19 players, all blowing away like crazy, and no conductors.
Nowicke: No conductors?
Torchinsky: No, nobody conducted that--we did it on our own. We sat down, we just did it. It was the most amicable thing I have ever seen in my life. There were 19 players from three major symphonies, and it was just--it was fantastic! It really was. We’re all finished, and those of us who were left, we headed down towards the Academy of Music in Philly, because this hall we recorded in which was a few blocks north of the City Hall, which is the center point of the city, and the Academy is a few blocks of that point.
So, we headed down there, and we stopped at a place called “The Brass Rail,” (there’s a Japanese restaurant there now) and we went into have lunch, a sandwich, and those who were drinking beer to have a beer, and go on from there. We’re sitting there, and somebody said, “Hey, we never tuned!” And we didn’t! We had never tuned. Bud Herseth said, “Could you picture three woodwind quintets? The oboes would still be fighting about who gives the damn A.” It’s the truth. We never tuned. The album, I don’t have to tell you, is an incredible album.
Nowicke: I wore two of them out.
Torchinsky: Were you born when that thing was made?
Nowicke: I was born in 1956, I was in Jr. High.
Torchinsky: It’s amazing to me, and you know, the incredible thing--and we never made a lot of money with that because there were three groups to begin with, and our royalties are not.. .
Nowicke: What about the re-release? The CD?
Torchinsky: Same thing. Never made a lot of money but it sold a tremendous amount of records.
Nowicke: I bought six of them this year, so I probably gave you, what, a quarter?
Torchinsky: Maybe. Where we made money, and I will admit we still get royalties, very nice, a couple of thousand dollars a year each of us, is from a record that we made--a series of records that we made, we were asked if we would go out to Salt Lake City and do a recording with the Mormon Choir, as Philadelphia Orchestra members we knew that area well because we used to go out there on every tour we made out to the west, Salt Lake City was one of the stops. Usually we would record something.
So, we said “Sure.” Well, it ended up with about 20 brass and percussion. We recorded everything under the sun, Christmas music, you name it. They finally made a bunch of records, and one of them was called Joy To the World, and every Christmas you see that thing on sale. The Mormons--I love them--they keep us rich. That’s our money makers, Festival of Carols, that isn’t bad, but the Mormon records, sells like mad! I just hope it keeps going like that.
Nowicke: Was the young Arnold just lucky in that he put the mouthpiece up to his mouth, and he had the right embouchure?
Torchinsky: Arnold Jacobs never preached embouchure, and I don’t think he did it very much in his later years. He used to pooh-pooh it. With him it was always “air.” “Air” was something Mr. Bell always preached! How in the world could you play an instrument without blowing through it?
Nowicke: Especially a large instrument.
Torchinsky: I am accused constantly of speaking very loudly, it has nothing to do with this [hearing aids]. I believe in projection. If you can’t project a sound--I would have students who would come in and they would sit there and [whispers] talk like this--they would whisper. I would say “Come on! If you can’t speak, how are you going to play?” I don’t have a good voice--I never had a good voice--but still, I like the idea that when I say something, you hear it, and when I play something, you hear it.
The same thing applies to playing soft as it does for loud. The best example I can give you--go to a theater. Go sit way up in the amphitheater, and there’s a scene in the play or whatever where someone has to whisper. If they whisper in such a way that you can’t hear then you just blew whatever it cost to get up in that amphitheater. The whole idea--it’s almost--what can you call it, not an imitation--something that--they’re faking something but they are actually doing it so that you can hear it--they are whispering like this.
Nowicke: Stage whisper.
Torchinsky: Call it that if would, but it is soft, it is whispered, and it’s heard. Violinists--good soloists like Itzak Perlman, any of these great violinists, when they play soft you can still hear it.
Now, if you play so damn soft on an instrument that you can’t hear it, something is wrong with your playing. Sound is number one. That’s the first thing you should have, and from there, everything else.
Nowicke: So, Mr. Donatelli–
Torchinsky: Great guy, nice guy.
Nowicke: More etude books?
Nowicke: Nothing on embouchure?
Torchinsky: Nothing on embouchure. I’ll tell you the funniest story--you talk about embouchure. By this time, I would sneak up to Mr. Bell--I wasn’t supposed to when I was at Curtis Institute, but I did. He used to talk about what I referred to as a pivot. Again, if you watch a good singer they will go [drops jaw and sings] — same thing when you’re playing.
Mr. Bell used to talk about “jaw” or “pivot” or whatever we used to call it. I started doing it. One day I’m sitting at a lesson at Curtis, and Mr. Donatelli in his inimitable Italian accent says “No, no, no, no, no, don’t do that!” He says, “Let me show you,” and he picks up a horn and starts playing--he’s doing the same damn thing and he didn’t even know he was doing it.
He had no real training I’m sure. The story goes, and I don’t remember whether Jacobs told me about it, but the story goes that the first time he played the César Franck Symphony in D minor--the high D’s in there? He said, “No,” (he was using a BB= tuba in those days) “it’s not on this horn.”
Nowicke: Did you have weekly lessons with him when you were at Curtis?
Torchinsky: Weekly lessons, every week I had one. We’d run through etude books like crazy.
Nowicke: You wouldn’t work on what you were playing in the orchestra?
Torchinsky: Not really. Not really. Fortunately, I was only there a little over a year because they closed the school down. They closed the brass class down--the whole wind section. Very fortunately, that’s when I got the National Symphony.
Nowicke: How big of a person was Mr. Donatelli?
Torchinsky: Like this [gestures] this way, he was big, broad-chested.
Torchinsky: Short. He was probably about the size I am now. About 5'8".
Nowicke: So, he was a little, round guy.
Torchinsky: A little round guy.
Nowicke: I’d heard the story that he couldn’t get close enough to the York to play it, and that’s how he happened to sell it to Mr. Jacobs.
Torchinsky: No, no, no.
Nowicke: So, that’s apocryphal.
Torchinsky: No, that’s not true at all.
Nowicke: Totally not true.
Torchinsky: Mr. Ormandy hated Donatelli. That, I can’t tell you, because I wasn’t actually there, but the story I got from old-timers in the orchestra--it was a trick that many conductors used to pull, but they don’t do it anymore. They would mark--let’s use hypothetically a note, B=. The piece had a B= in it and the conductor would purposely cross out the flat and put in a natural or something--or in the case of nothing, a sharp. He’d then say, “Tuba, no, that’s the wrong note, you should play, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Well, evidently he pulled that on Donatelli, and he saw whatever it was, was wrong, and he played the right note. Ormandy said, “Mr. Donatelli, no, no, no, you should play,” whatever it was, and Donatelli said, “No, Mr. Ormandy, I played the right note, somebody marked the wrong note in here.” Well, that was the dumbest thing he could have done, from that day on, he was dirt. Ormandy wanted him out of there. He really did his all to get him out there. One of the things that he was on, was about a tuba that he had--you’re talking about the big York.
Nowicke: The big York.
Torchinsky: The bell shown too much! Ormandy made him dull the damn thing. All sorts of crazy-- told him the horn was too big--
Nowicke: Oh, that’s how it wound up being satin silver?
Torchinsky: He told him it was too big, all kinds of things. So that’s when he sold it to Arnold for $175.
Nowicke: So he was not too big to play the horn.
Torchinsky: No, no, no, no!
Nowicke: I’ve seen that in print!
Torchinsky: You’ve seen that in print? You’ll see lots of things in print. Now if you’d said that to me about Bill Bell, I could almost believe it, because he was big.
Nowicke: I never met him.
Torchinsky: He was big--look at that picture, see, I look like a midget sitting next to him.
Nowicke: In the picture of the Sousa Band he’s there with Jack Richardson, so everybody’s going to look small.
Torchinsky: They’re all big.
Nowicke: Great big guys.
Torchinsky: Bell was a big man, in his later years he’d shrunk. We all do. I was 5'10" when I got married, I’m about 5'8"--5'8 ½" now, a sign of the times.
Nowicke: He was also broad-shouldered?
Torchinsky: Broad, big, hands like ham-hocks.
Nowicke: So, he had a big rib cage.
Torchinsky: He was a big man. I don’t think that he had a huge vital capacity, but we didn’t know about vital capacity.
Nowicke: You said he played little horns.
Torchinsky: He played any kind of horn. If something was really high and it required a small horn, he’d pick up an E= and play it like he had been doing it on an F tuba. He had a beautiful little F, a very small F. I think it was a cut-down E= or something, but the E= was made for him, and I bought it.
Torchinsky: Fred Geib–you remember that name? I studied with him too, it was the same thing as Donatelli and Jacobs, lots of etudes. One thing I will say for Geib, he had a book of songs and solos, and we used to work in that, it developed some sort of musical sense, you know. But none of them worked on the mechanics of playing like Bill Bell did. He made a player out of me.
Nowicke: Where did Bill Bell get that idea from if everyone else was using a different concept?
Torchinsky: I don’t know. I have no idea. That’s something I can’t answer--I have no idea where he studied, who he studied with, and where he got this wonderful sense of being able to do the mechanics. The fingers, for instance, he’d break your hand--if you were playing and did this kind of a thing [curls fingers up] this [flat fingers] this, because leverage--simple--if you do this, you don’t get the leverage.
Nowicke: That and efficiency of motion.
Torchinsky: The physics of playing the damn thing. It is just that simple. If I played and my finger was up like that, he’d reach over and bang it down! And if he banged it down, it was like a ham-hock hitting you. It was pure sense, we didn’t know any of this business. But Bell never made a business out of the breathing thing--breath, big breath, pass it through the instrument, it was never this big thing--and measuring your vital capacity? Who cares?
Nowicke: You can’t do anything about it.
Torchinsky: No. It so happens that both Roger Bobo and Warren Deck had vital capacities like elephants--it was unbelievable! It so happens that I don’t. Neither did Arnold Jacobs. It ain’t what you got, it’s how you use it. The finest example of that was Arnold Jacobs. The guy was a giant. He played beautifully with what he had, and he had a gorgeous voice. You know he was offered a scholarship to Curtis on voice.
Nowicke: He had a wonderful speaking voice.
Torchinsky: So did Mr. Bell.
Nowicke: I only met Mr. Jacobs a few times.
Torchinsky: Bell also.
Torchinsky: Resonant. Doing what I do now when I speak, I take a break because otherwise I’d be [restricts air] talking like this all the time. Right now I have a “hangover” from whatever has been floating around and that’s why my voice is sort of screwed up.
Nowicke: How did you meet Mr. Bell?
Torchinsky: Good question. That’s a very good question. I think just his reputation, that he was the tuba player at the N.B.C. Symphony.
Nowicke: You called him and said, “Can I come and take a lesson with you?”
Torchinsky: I think that was about it. Well, I’d been going to New York to take lessons from Fred Geib. I think possibly someone may have said something to me about Bell, and I called him, and I think I used to pay him $1.00, because he knew I was coming up from Philadelphia.
Nowicke: The same thing there--how did you meet Mr. Geib?
Torchinsky: Geib–just hearsay.
Nowicke: You were making sure Mr. Donatelli didn’t know you were taking lessons from other people.
Torchinsky: Oh that, yes, absolutely. Well, Geib I studied with before I went to Curtis. With Bell--he also, I studied a little bit before Cutis. I was determined to continue because I knew he was doing things for me, and that’s what I cared about. It was important to me.
Warren Deck was telling me “You say so many things about Bill Bell that I don’t hear from Don Harry or anybody else.” Of course they studied with in a different era, it was a different time.
Nowicke: Don Harry has also said to me that what was amazing about Bell at that time was that he was still innovating, still thinking.
Torchinsky: He was always thinking.
Honestly, if it’s possible for a man to love another man, I loved that guy. He made my career. I would have been playing like a--I wouldn’t have been playing, I’d have probably been in jail. God knows what, but he made a player out of me. The musicality--this is something you have to learn, it’s something you have to listen, you have to do in order to make music. Even that he made me do.
One of his tricks I used to love--I don’t know if you ever saw the book that Wes Jacobs is publishing (I have the original). It was a Blazevich that I bought in 1939 in a store across the street from Carnegie Hall--I don’t remember the name. It was printed on toilet paper--it was in Russian. Mr. Bell knew about it “It’s the original Blazevich tuba book.” Wes Jacobs had it translated into English by the librarian of the Detroit Symphony (who is Russian).
Nowicke: I’ve never seen the text.
Torchinsky: It’s an unbelievable book. But there’s one exercise in there that Mr. Bell used to love to get these kids who would come in--
Nowicke: The one in D with the arpeggios?
Torchinsky: No, it’s a very simple thing [sings]. Very simple. He’d get some smart-ass kid coming in, and he’d say “Play this for me.” I have never met anybody yet. Anyone, who could read the damn thing at first sight unless they caught on how to do it.
Nowicke: I only had the old Blazevich that somebody else edited.
Torchinsky: This is quite something, I’ll tell you. Might be one of these [looking in closet for books]. You’d get a kick out of it, I’ll tell you. Blazevich–here it is. You’re going to love this. I’ll bet you ten bucks you can’t do it either.
Nowicke: Probably not.
Torchinsky: Here’s an introduction, some practical advice from Vasiliev--I didn’t even know that was in there. Here’s the original book. Wes still has it. There’s all this stuff in here, and who hell could read it, I can’t talk in Russian. I can’t read Cyrillic. Some of these are in the books that you’ve seen.
Nowicke: ...and Vasiliev’s own book.
Torchinsky: I used to use this book a lot.
Nowicke: In Ann Arbor?
Torchinsky: Here it is, now, this is in two, don’t try to sing pitches, just give me the rhythms, like this, one, two, one, two.
Nowicke: [sings and can’t perform the triplet correctly–laughs]
Torchinsky: I knew it. He used to do it to people, and he’d tell them to play it, I mean, how simple can you get? I mean, it’s pretty darn simple, the notes. Of course, [sings]--do you know what I’m doing. Because you know what I’m doing, I’m beating my foot in four--but nobody thinks to do that, they do it in two, because it’s marked two. You can’t play this in two if you stand on your head and whistle Dixie--until you learn how to do it. It gets pretty simple as it goes along.
Nowicke: Yes, but you have to be smarter than I am!
Torchinsky: Pretty crazy, huh? He used to love to kill them with this one. But see, this book is incredible. You buy it–and guess what--I probably make two dollars.
Nowicke: You make two dollars if I bought that from Wes?
Frazier: I’ll buy one.
Nowicke: I want Jerry Young’s $50 Arban book.
Torchinsky: You bought that?
Nowicke: Not yet.
Torchinsky: Well, he’ll probably make five bucks.
Torchinsky: Ten per cent is what we get.
Nowicke: I only have a trombone Arban book and it’s broken.
Torchinsky: I used the trombone book. I went through more of those--I bought those when they were $2 a piece.
Nowicke: Mr. Mantia isn’t getting any royalties.
Torchinsky: Did you see that picture? Mr. Mantia was there. An incredible euphonium player--technically, but sound-wise, there were better.
Nowicke: Did he have the Italian vibrato?
Torchinsky: Not terribly, no, not bad.
Nowicke: [Looking at photo of Band of America] I only know what he looked like when he was young.
Torchinsky: This is Joe Tarto. You remember Fred Pfaff? Fred Pfaff was the tuba player, he was not originally from Germany I think, but Philadelphia, and when they used to record Caruso and all those people on the old one-sided shellac records, they would go over to Camden, New Jersey, that’s where they recorded everything, that was where the RCA factory was. Couldn’t record bass, they’d have big horns and you played into them. You used a tuba--he’d do Mozart symphonies and everything on the tuba. He was a great player. He played--he was well into his 90s--he was down in Florida, around Orlando, playing in an orchestra down there.
Nowicke: You were talking about going to the University of Michigan.
Torchinsky: I knew Ann Arbor, I knew it was a lovely town, and I thought it would be a good way to round out my career. I was 52 years old, and they made me an offer--here I am--no academic background--nothing. My whole life was music even in high school. I went to a vocational high school that had an incredible music course.
My academic life? I’ll tell you what it was. We had one period of English a day, two periods of art a week, which I loved, because I collect graphic arts, I have quite a collection. This is nothing--the other room is loaded with stuff. And I had to take gym, which I hated, in later life I am sorry for that. That was my academia, right there.
Nowicke: It really was trade school.
Torchinsky: Then when I was offered Michigan, I told my wife, “They’re going to give me a full professorship and immediate tenure and a good salary--let’s do it.” They gave me everything I asked for I was very fortunate, I had some wonderful students, and I think successful. It’s crazy, but I was lucky. It was just luck. I’m not going to tell anybody it was my genius that got me the job at Michigan. I was lucky it was offered to me, and they were willing to give it to me. It paid off big.
So, it was a very favorable move, but again--luck. Even getting jobs.
This is the greatest story of them all. I was playing Carousel, two shows, Carousel and Allegro. It might have been Allegro, and had been playing (Mr. Bell used to get me gigs, we called them “dates”) and radio things, and what not. There was a guy named Herbert Jenkel?--Herb Jenkel. Does that name mean anything? He was the tuba player in the N.B.C. Symphony, and he was let go, for whatever reason. I know the reason, but whatever. I had put my name in, I never used my full name, but I must have used “Abraham Torchinsky.”
Murray Kapalowski who used to be the principal trumpet in Pittsburgh was subbing at the theater. He said, “Hey, you hear they got somebody to replace Jenkel at N.B.C.? “ My heart fell, I thought I had a chance for that, and I thought I’d have to look for something else, that was all. My wife met me for lunch, and we stopped after a show or whatever. I said, “Why don’t we go see if there’s anything I can do to get N.B.C.” We went up, and Joan Gordon was the secretary to the personnel manager--I remember this so well--I said “Is there any chance of anything happening on N.B.C.?” She said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Torchinsky.” “We’ve been looking for you.” Kapalowski had said “Some Russian guy” had gotten it already, because I used the name “Torchin.” He didn’t know it was me.
Did I ever tell you about my audition for the N.B.C. Symphony? This will teach you to learn your repertoire. I didn’t have to play an audition, it was a radio job. Toscanini had been gone since spring, and for the summer, I played for all these guest conductors. Came the fall, and the personnel manager said, “The old man wants to hear you.” Oh brother! So they set up an audition, we went down to one of these other studios on the 3rd floor, he came in with the personnel manager, and he looked at him as if she [Val Frazier] was the personnel manager and said ,“Tell him Meistersinger,” and he looked at me, “Meistersinger.” There’s no music. No music stand. I didn’t say “Where’s the music?” So I started doing letter J, the solo. I play it from memory--I went through the whole damn audition--played all kinds of things [sings] Til Eulenspiegel, memory, everything. If he’d asked me to play that run from memory I’d have been dead , because to this day I can’t remember what those were. I know then when I look at them.
The thing that really got me--again--I could have kissed Mr. Bell’s feet--the last thing he asked for was the solo in American in Paris. We had been working on that, Mr. Bell and I had been working on that. He had me play it. He did it with N.B.C. I did it, he just said, “All right,” that’s it, and walked out. That was the audition.
It’s all very well to have all this stuff, it’s very important. It’s very important to be able to play all the solos in the world. I agree, completely. Learn all the vocal solos--but learn the repertoire, that’s the bread and butter.
Nowicke: So you got in first, then you played the audition [laughs].
Nowicke: What were your parents’ names?
Torchinsky: My father was Benjamin. You know it’s a funny thing. My mother was not religious, but every one of us were named Biblically. Her name was Sarah, which is a Biblical name, my father is Benjamin, Biblical. I had a sister who died two years before I was born, her name was Rebecca. My brother’s name was actually Jacob, and I was Abraham.
Nowicke: So they came over from the old country?
Torchinsky: They came over in 1910. My father I think, I really, honestly think in retrospect he could have been a great musician, because he had a hell of an ear. Played mandolin, never had a lesson in his life, and couldn’t read music. He would sit and play one tune after an other, mostly folk music and waltzes and things, but he played them by ear, and come on, you got to have some sort of talent to do that.
Nowicke: What city were they from?
Torchinsky: My father actually came from Kiev. Jewish people weren’t allowed to live in the big cities.
Nowicke: Unless they performed some service that somebody wanted.
Torchinsky: She knows about that!
My grandfather was a designer of clothing, a very, very good one, evidently. It’s pretty crazy--one of his jobs was to design the outfits that the prostitutes wore. They were very much, I guess, like ballet outfits, things like that. That was one of his jobs, and that’s what kept them in the city.
My mother came what from what was called a shtetl, is a small city. This is the only Russian I know, it was called [Radalishmet Giburnya] whatever that means. I don’t know.
Nowicke: I am going to have fun looking that up.
Torchinsky: Oh, I wouldn’t even try. I have tried it on a computer, you could sit for two hours on the net just going back and forth like crazy. They came over--this is quite interesting--the Cossacks would come in and raid the village. They would rape women.
My mother’s maiden name was Targan, that definitely was not a Russian name. We had a cousin who did a genealogical study--spent a lot of money it. Found out that the family--my mother was very light, had blue eyes like I do, light. I was a blond when I was kid. They came from Taragon Spain, hence the name Targan, it was something like “something de Taragon,” “de Targon,” it came down to Targan.
Nowicke: So you’re half Spanish!
Torchinsky: Absolutely, that’s why I love paella and spicy foods.
They split from Spain--they said “You can’t live here any more,” in 1492--and God knows how they got to Russia, because most of them didn’t go that way, they went to other areas.
My parents were married there, and this one time, my mother was hidden in what would be like an ice house. They’d take chunks of ice off the river, and potatoes and everything in there. The Cossacks came through town. My father decided that’s enough. They actually fled Russia. He used to tell the story that they forded a river (couldn’t have been a big one). He carried my mother on his shoulders. They finally got to Germany--Hamburg, and then they came over here on steamship, and actually docked in Philadelphia.
I don’t know if you realize that--Washington Avenue--there was a miniature Ellis Island. I understand they still have something down there. He got off the boat and he had a $5 gold piece. That was his fortune, an American gold piece. I wish I had that! That would be worth a buck today!
He got off the boat and he took one look at Washington Avenue, he said, “Let’s go back.” It’s not so good today, and it was awful then. They stayed, and my mother worked in a sweatshop, and I was born right in the heart of Kensington. I’m a native. I think they had a good life.
My father was a diabetic like I am (my wife’s a terrible diabetic). He didn’t take care of himself, he always had to have his schnapps before dinner. He drank stuff that you could take paint off the wall, “Four Roses.” He would take a shot of insulin and have chocolate cake! Still lived to be 77.
My mother lived to be 87. I think she died of loneliness. The one thing I remember best. She had to go to the hospital. She was washing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees. That’s when I made up my mind, my wife doesn’t do anything like that. No way. It’s not necessary. They had a different life, they had a tough life.
What’s your family background? Polish?
Torchinsky: My wife’s parents were half Polish--one was Polish and one was Russian.
Nowicke: So your father had a tailor’s shop?
Torchinsky: He was a tailor. My mother used to work in the shop along side of him, my wife used to say the nicest parts of her life. My father used to make her the most beautiful suits. She had great clothes then. Now I get her stuff from Neiman-Marcus.
Nowicke: That’s better than some of us who buy our clothes at Target.
Torchinsky: Nothing wrong with Target. I think this is Target.
Nowicke: It’s a little more stylish than Kmart.
You said your grandfather designed--so your father probably had better technique than a lot of tailors.
Torchinsky: Oh yes, he was a terrific tailor, he was really great. He was a ladies’ tailor. He could make suits, men’s stuff, but he preferred working with women.
Nowicke: Did he make anything for you to wear?
Torchinsky: No. I had to borrow a suit to get married in, from my brother. To this day, I’m not a clothes horse. When I left the Philadelphia Orchestra I told my wife, “Get rid of my white shirts--I never want to see one again.” I don’t think I have one. I might have one, for weddings, funerals, what have you. The only thing that I am absolutely queer about are shoes. These are Echoes. I love good shoes. I have some very expensive shoes. Consequently my feet are great.
Nowicke: Do you have any Mephistos?
Torchinsky: I bought a pair of Mephistos, couldn’t wear them. Could not wear them. Echoes are much better for me, and they’re half the price. Well, not now. These were about $140.
Nowicke: Especially if you are diabetic, you have to have good fitting shoes.
Torchinsky: I’m not bad, my wife is very bad. I even have a pair of Alan Edmonds. I bought one pair on sale in Ann Arbor and paid about $150 for them. They’re these heavy wingtips with soles that thick! When you walk it’s like Frankenstein! I never wear them. They sit in the closet when you buy them they come in beautiful bags. They’re cordovan. We went into Nordstrom’s and there they are the same shoe--$355! I told my wife I’d wear them on my hands. But these things are incredible, these Echoes. I have about five pairs of them. See the soles? They’re roomy, they’re comfortable, I can walk all day.
Nowicke: You didn’t develop a taste for good material with your Dad working with it?
Torchinsky: This is Walmart, this is Target. Now, I must admit, I have stuff from Neiman-Marcus, I have stuff from Nordstrom’s. I love Nordstrom’s. I was well dressed when I was on stage--never tried to look the part of the bum. Offstage I like comfort, I love these things [polo sweater]. I belong to Costco. Are you familiar with Costco? I bought a beautiful one of these things in cashmere for $49.
Frazier: I got one for my husband for his birthday.
Torchinsky: From Costco?
Torchinsky: Aren’t they beautiful?
Frazier: Beautiful! Nice quality, good price.
Nowicke: If you bought cashmere, you have a taste for good fabric.
Torchinsky: Oh, I do. I like good things. It’s a hang-over from years ago.
Nowicke: I have a topcoat that belonged to my grandfather, it’s Italian cashmere. I could never afford a coat that that’s nice.
Torchinsky: Who can afford stuff like that today?
Torchinsky: You mentioned dressage. Are you into dressage? We saw them in Vienna, my wife and I.
Nowicke: You saw the Spanish Riding School. You went to the actual performance with the orchestra?
Torchinsky: We were playing there, we had days off. My wife went with me. See, my wife would never travel with us while the kids were growing up. In fact, this probably was last trip I made with the orchestra, around 1970. She made three trips with me after the kids were grown. Went to Japan. That was her first big airplane flight, from Philadelphia to Osaka, Japan!
Frazier: That’s quite an introduction to flying!
Nowicke: Are you doing any arranging with that? [Mac computer]
Torchinsky: Nothing. The only thing I did were the 16 volumes of orchestral parts, and I’m sick about that, because the GATT agreement screwed me up. Two volumes of Shostakovich symphonies that were the two best things I ever did. I was assisted by the librarian in Philadelphia, Clint Nieweg, who is brilliant, and one of my former students, who is the librarian of the New York Philharmonic, Larry Tarlow. I had autographed copies of the Shostavovich works, and even those had mistakes, and these guys knew which they were. Pretty accurate books--one year, and they had to be pulled off the market because of the GATT agreement.
My activities are now that I do a newsletter for my retirees group, and I’m just very much involved with retirees. I know what my pension is in the orchestra, and I’m not ashamed to tell you--for 23 years--well, actually, 25, because that’s when I took the pension. $206.04 a month. We go out once a week, we go to the Doubletree Hotel, we figure that pays for it. If it wasn’t for the University and some other monies that I’ve invested, I’d be in trouble.
Nowicke: You were talking about your embouchure. When you were taking lessons with Bob McCandless the window dresser/interior decorator...
Torchinsky: He didn’t know about that stuff.
Nowicke: What was he teaching you?
Torchinsky: Typical–from some kind of a book, and say “play.” Then you would play, and you didn’t do it right, do it again. To me this is not teaching you how to play an instrument.
Nowicke: So you have the stretch embouchure thing going...
Torchinsky: I had everything wrong--I played like this [grimaces] with my mouth closed.
Nowicke: How were you breathing?
Torchinsky: Any way I could. I didn’t know that air was the important thing. If you don’t know to use a lot of air, and if you don’t know to play by the first instrument--voice--you don’t know how to do that, how are you going to play? It’s that simple.
Nowicke: So, Bob didn’t now what he was doing, slapping etude books up in front of you. What did the young Arnold Jacobs teach you?
Torchinsky: Not very much. Same thing, it was mostly technical stuff. Not the Arban’s book, didn’t start that until Bell. Kopprasch, stuff like that. Just read things. He didn’t know himself.
Nowicke: He was young.
Torchinsky: ...And then I studied with Donatelli. That was really funny. God rest his soul, he was a nice man, he was an old Italian with an Italian accent and garlicky breath.
There too, it was very little orchestral repertoire. The orchestral repertoire while I was in Curtis was in the class with Marcel Tabuteau the oboe teacher. I learned to play in an orchestra, in an ensemble there, or to develop some sense of it.
It wasn’t until I got to Bill Bell that--sure we had the Arban’s book, and worked on a lot of that stuff, warm-up exercises. Scale studies--we did from memory--there was no book in those days, and you’d better memorize them! He would say, “I want you to do this routine,” the B= scale, the C scale, whatever it was, and there was a routine, of major, minor, chromatic, the arpeggios, and you had to memorize them. If you came back the next week and didn’t have them memorized, he could be nasty. Most important, he was concerned–(I used to sit in the subway going home, and I would be doing exercises)--he wanted me to use the jaw. You know you have to [drops jaw] like that? I’d sit and go [moves jaw around] and people would look at me like I was nuts.
Nowicke: Probably figured you were.
Torchinsky: Probably, and the other thing was to get rid of this business of pulling my lips back, I would actually be doing [puckers]--and I’m riding in the subway, you know.
Nowicke: Warren Deck came to study with you as a freshman.
Torchinsky: He had told me that if I had not gone to Michigan, he would have tried to get into Curtis (I was teaching at Curtis).
Nowicke: That’s a picture [Mirafone advertisement] from the “tuba issue,” of the Instrumentalist. I only recognize Warren and Ray McLaughlin.
Torchinsky: This guy is Richard Watson. He and Warren were terrific, the two best students there.
Nowicke: That’s some kind of hair!
Torchinsky: I don’t think the hair’s like that now. Well, look at Warren.
Nowicke: I took a few lessons with Ray McLaughlin when he came out and taught in Romeo for a while.
Torchinsky: Ray McLaughlin. Who are the others?
Nowicke: I don’t know, they are your students.
Torchinsky: I forget this guy, I know who he was. This is the symphony band. Isn’t that something. They don’t tell you who the kids are though. Where did you get this?
Nowicke: That’s from the February 1973 Instrumentalist, the “tuba issue.”
Torchinsky: Isn’t that something. These two were the two best. This horn that Warren was using was a Meinl-Weston CC, “Symphony Model” they called them in those days. I used to say to him, “What are you doing with that thing? Why don’t you get yourself another instrument, you’re such a wonderful player.”
One thing I never, ever did, I never told a kid that “you’re going to make it.” That’s the biggest lie there is. I don’t know if I ever told you what I use as an analogy. Maybe that’s not the proper word--what can happen. I would tell the students (I’m going to clean it up) there’s a huge field of cow dung, (I cleaned it up) knee deep, right there in the center of the field is a beautiful path, strewn with the most beautiful flowers. It smelled good, it looked good. The perimeter of that
field, one terrific young tuba player after the other. Guess who gets the job? The lucky one who walks down that path. That’s what it is.
My whole career was luck. I’m not going to sit here and say I was the greatest thing that ever happened. It was luck. I was at the right place, it was at the right time, I had the right people pushing me (Mr. Bell for one). This is all part of it.
Now this--these pictures here [Meinl-Weston ad in 1973 Instrumentalist]-- I must have been pushing Meinl-Westons then. I had a 5 valve that they made for me.
Nowicke: The F?
Torchinsky: No, the CC tuba. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t for me.
Nowicke: It must be that in the picture.
Torchinsky: That’s what it is.
Nowicke: That picture of Connie Weldon must have been 20 years old in the ad.
Torchinsky: She was a hell of a player too. I don’t want to start digging but there’s a King catalog, and I have it--it’s got to be in the early 1940s.
Nowicke: You showed me your “poster boy” tuba picture.
Torchinsky: That was in the 1950s. I can’t believe that. Connie was also in this catalog, she must have been one hell of a teacher too.
Nowicke: Sam Pilafian.
Torchinsky: Well, Sam, again, I think Sam was like Warren Deck, I think a toilet bowl could have taught him how to play. It’s one of these things, you know, I like to say, it’s like you have a great car, and you’re the driver, you get in and you steer the damn thing and run it. If the car is great it’s going to run. I am sure there are other analogies you can make, but somebody like Sam, people like Warren, this kid Watson was tremendous.
He, incidently, is into teaching. He lives out in Indiana. somewhere, near Chicago. He used to be a terrific jazz player too. Not too terribly long ago he came in at Thanksgiving. There is a big Thanksgiving parade here every year, and his high band--now, he doesn’t conduct it, but he trains the brass players and whatnot. They paraded here, and he went up to New York and he sent me down a picture of he, Warren, and Dave Finlayson.
Do you know who Dave is? Dave is the 2nd trombone in the New York Philharmonic. He’s a tremendous trombone player. He could be first in anybody’s orchestra. He was another one of my proud possessions. He didn’t study with me officially. He said, “Do you mind if I sit on Warren’s lessons?” I said, “If you want, you can stretch out on that bench there and sleep for all I care.” So, he used to come in and absorb whatever I would say, and tells everybody he studied with me now.
When the Philharmonic opened the audition, he got second, and he’s been there ever since. So, he’s a proud possession.
That part of teaching I loved. The part of teaching I hated--was some students I had to accept that made me wish I could go home instead of sitting in the studio. I wonder how Mr. Bell used to feel? He was a little bit fussier, he didn’t take just anybody. There were some damn good players. Bill Barber--do you know that name?
Nowicke: Paul Krzywicki showed us a picture of everybody he was in school with and there was Sam Gnagey, and Don Harry and Winston Morris, and Bob Rusk...
Torchinsky: They were all in school with him?
Nowicke: They were all in school with Paul.
Torchinsky: At Indiana?
Nowicke: At IU.
Torchinsky: See, this is what Mr. Bell attracted.
Nowicke: Where did you meet your wife?
Torchinsky: That’s the wildest thing ever. Back in 1938-39, in fact, I had just come back from the Southern Symphony, which was my first job. I was playing in the National Youth Administration Orchestra. You ever hear of such a thing?
Nowicke: A WPA project.
Torchinsky: Aha! It was the youth version of the WPA. Paid good–$18 a month!
Nowicke: You could have been planting trees---you could have been doing worse!
Torchinsky: We had a concert and there was a trombone player, and I can’t remember his first name. I remember his last name only because I played Carousel so long and one of the character’s names was “Mr. Snow,” and this kid’s name was “Snow.” Of course Carousel was much later, but I relate that. He was dating my wife’s sister, and I guess the sister said to him, “Hey, can you get someone to date my sister?” He said, “I want you to meet this girl.” “I don’t have time,” I said, “I’m too busy,” practicing, doing my damnedest to prepare lessons and so on and so forth. I think I used to go up to New York around that time to take lessons--get on the train. My brother was paying for it. My big brother. He would give me the money to go up to New York and take lessons.
So, he said, “Oh, come on.” I said, “Where does she live?” He said, “Elkins Park.” Now, for me, Elkins Park would be like saying to me now, I want you to meet a young lady who lives up where she lives [Washington Crossing], and I’d probably say, “You’re out of your mind! I’m not going to go all the way up there for a date. That’s a two-day trip!” It was in those days, now, what’s it take you to get down here?
Frazier: 40 minutes.
Torchinsky: Nothing. I told you, I had to go trolley car, subway, and another trolley--and a rickety trolley that went up along York road in those days, and I said, “All right.” I don’t what the biological things are that happen, I met her, and--something--that was it! I couldn’t stay away from her.
We were married. I was in school too, I was in Curtis. I got into Curtis in 1940, and I guess we dated for a little bit over a year. I really didn’t have a nickel, not a nickel when I got married. I was playing bass too. I got a job playing at a theater over in Camden, New Jersey. It’s not there any more, it’s called the Tower Theater. People like Henny Youngman were breaking acts in then, and I was making $45 a week. That was a lot of money, and she worked.
That’s when I swore (I know it’s different today) she did an awful lot to support me, and I said, “If I ever make it and she doesn’t want to work--no way, that’s it.” I guess she hasn’t worked since our first child was born. She’s worked--domestic engineer.
Nowicke: What’s her full name?
Torchinsky: Berta Brenner--that was her maiden name. That’s her real name, that was not changed. The other thing I got a kick out of. We did the Mahler First Symphony with the additional movement--the fifth movement--and that movement was the “Blumen” movement, the “flower.” Her name, I don’t know whether it’s Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Polish, whatever. Actually German, I guess, her name is “Blume” which is flower--the same thing. I got a kick out of that when we did the symphony. We’re going to celebrate our 59th anniversary in August. A long time. We’re sort of glued together. How have you been married?
Frazier: 15 years.
Torchinsky: You’re getting there. It’s moving up when you get into the double digits. Before you know it--zoom! It’s a lot of years. But that’s how we met.
Nowicke: A trombone player fixed you up.
Torchinsky: A trombone player fixed me up. He really did. Like I said coming up, she knew nothing about music, not a darned thing about music. She went to the concerts, and later on when I was in the Philadelphia Orchestra... I don’t think she ever went to an N.B.C. concert as an audience member, she listened on the radio.
Nowicke: Radio concert.
Torchinsky: It’s what N.B.C. was, it was a radio orchestra. That was an experience too, because they had a great brass section. Harry Glantz was principal trumpet, Ray Crisara was in the trumpet section. Trombone section when I first came was Neal DiBiase–no, wait, I think when I first stated working at N.B.C. it was Gardell Simons, and then Neal came in, you have Abe Pearlstein, and I think Johnny Clark. You know those names at all? Johnny Clark? He was a great bass trombone player. I think the only two that I know that are still alive--well, Mel Wolfsont–who is a crippled fellow who played bass trombone--but he quit. He went into the furniture manufacturing business, became a millionaire I think. Everybody to their own, you know?
Playing in that brass section, as a member of a radio orchestra was a lot different. When I came to Philadelphia and I started working full time with the orchestra I’d come home and I’d collapse, because the amount of sound that you had to get out was so much different than you had on the radio orchestra. You know--they were playing with dials! If you played what you thought was real loud, they’d shut you up! That wasn’t that way in the symphony orchestra, but it was a great experience.
Someone told me about a video of the N.B.C. Symphony. I think we did Aida, and I bought it, and in a flash--you know, they don’t show many brass pictures--there’s one shot and you can see me for a brief second. My wife said, “That’s not you, you were never that young!” That was a long time ago--I was 26 years old when I was in that orchestra. That was young. Although nowadays the kids are younger when they get into orchestras.
Nowicke: [Re: Paul Krzywicki] I forgot to ask him about his brother.
Torchinsky: His brother is a terrific composer. Did you know that he wrote a concerto that Paul premiered? I heard him play it, he did a wonderful job on it. Paul’s a wonderful young man, really. Young, 55! Young. He is young at 55.
Nowicke: When we started last time, you had started telling us a story, but we hadn’t got the beginning of it, this was the birth of your daughter and you had both Arnold and Gizella Jacobs on the phone--but what was the trip that you didn’t take?
Torchinsky: Oh, the trip. The Philadelphia Orchestra went--it was their first, I guess you’d call, international trip. They were going to England. This was 1949, and since neither of you are old enough to remember 1949, things were very tough in England. I think guys brought eggs along with them, and the food situation wasn’t great.
I told you about the business where they insisted that I go, because I had signed a contract starting in September--but I didn’t want to go, because I didn’t want to give up--literally give up a summer’s work. I’d bought a house here in Philadelphia and so, it would be all of June, July, and August with no income.
In those days it was not 52 weeks, you know. The Philadelphia Orchestra had a summer season called the Robin Hood Dell Series. That was a different job, it had nothing to do with the orchestra. I think it paid about $92, something like that, which wasn’t bad in those days. I knew I wasn’t going to have that because Mr. Donatelli was still engaged for that. Besides which, N.B.C. knew I was going to leave in September, and I wasn’t about to pull a kind of a stunt.
So, Harl McDonald, you know that name at all? He was a composer, he wrote quite a few works--not a great composer, but we used to play him a lot because he was the manager of the orchestra. The University of Pennsylvania composer, Dr. Harl McDonald. But in any case, he got on the phone and told me I got to do this, blah, blah, and Ormandy got involved. Finally they said, “If you can get Arnold Jacobs to cover it,” and he did.
I played the first week of the tour, I did the Firestone Hour on a Monday night, grabbed my tuba, ran down to the station, got on the train, went to Philadelphia, got on the train and went from Philadelphia down to Florida, playing one nighters all the way down. Then Arnold picked up the tour there, and we spent an evening together, and he went on from there all through the south, until they got to Ann Arbor, Michigan, then from there they went to England. I’m kind of sorry that I couldn’t make that because it was a boat trip and they really had a ball. I got on the phone--that’s the part I was telling you--and I really had 20 bucks worth of quarters and I told you about the baby that came by in the nurse’s arms, which was unusual.
Nowicke: It was a very ugly baby.
Torchinsky: Oh, she had black hair and it was standing up on end. I was young--I was 29 and I had heard that babies born via caesarian were beautiful. Well, actually, she was the second one of our kids to be born by caesarian, because our middle daughter was an emergency caesarian. In those days they told you that two caesarians was it, any more than that and they did a tubal ligation.
So, I’m on the phone, “Arnold, can’t you possibly do this trip?” “Well, I can’t come.” I said, “Well, I can do the first week, if you will...” Gizzy’s on the other phone, “Arnold, I really don’t think you should go...”
The last time I saw Arnold I guess I was on my way out west or something, and I got together with him. You know, my early lessons with him, that was something too. It was really, really, something. He was playing in Indianapolis, and he used to come back and I would take a lesson from him. He had an apartment down on Second Street. Does that mean anything to you? Terrible neighborhood.
Nowicke: Red light district?
Torchinsky: No, red light district used to be around Ray Street, there was a burlesque theater, two of them. One was the Bijou, and the other was the Trocadero. When I was a kid I used to skip school and go down to the Troc. They never stripped completely, it was always bare breasts and maybe a G string. I must have been about 14 years old.
I don’t know how to describe the area--crummy neighborhood. He had an apartment there, and I would go up (and this is really cut) and take a lesson. One time I went up to take a lesson and his son Dallas who is now, what, now about 60 years old? He was in a crib. I’m sitting there (and there was no room). I’m sitting right practically next to the crib, and he got a hold of a tin of candy, a round tin--and hit me on the head with it! He just thought he was being cute. He was a little baby.
So, anyhow, that was with Arnold. He took that trip to England.
Nowicke: I had heard he had subbed for you on one tour, but I didn’t know this was it.
Torchinsky: If you want to used the term “subbed,” because I hadn’t officially started yet. I had the contract in my pocket. Did I tell you about the guy who preceded me? Karella?
Torchinsky: Well, I came to Philadelphia--they called me in 1947. I got a call that Mr. Donatelli was sick, and could I please come down, and possibly do a couple of weeks subbing. I thought I was doing Donatelli a big favor. I said, “I can come down, I don’t know if I can do a couple of weeks, hopefully he will be better by then, but I’ll come down and do a week.” I didn’t say, “How much are you going to pay me?” Well, they paid me scale, and I lost, I don’t know how much money, but I lost a lot of money, but my mother-in-law lived here, they had a the house here, so there was no problem of where to stay. My wife came with me. How old were the kids then? They were little girls. The baby wasn’t born yet, so there were two kids and she brought them. It was a kind of vacation. I went down there and played--it was some tough stuff.
Ormandy came up to me afterwards and he said, “Would you consider being the tuba player here?” I said “Oh, what’s with Mr. Donatelli?” I got sort of a “hem-haw-haw-haw” kind of thing. They were trying to fire him. I wouldn’t do that, come on, I studied with the guy. I didn’t have the feelings for him that I had for Bill Bell, but I wasn’t about to cut the man’s throat. At the end of the week I said, “I can’t stay any more, I’ve got to go back.”
So, one of the horn players in the orchestra, Herbert Pearson, had played in the Kansas City Symphony and he knew this tuba player, Clarence Karella. I think he has passed away, I’m not sure. The last I heard he was very, very, very, ill and in a nursing home or something out on the west coast.
They got Karella to come in, and he played the next week. They asked him if he would like to join the orchestra. He said, “Sure,” he didn’t know Donatelli from beans. So they hired him, and he was in the orchestra in 1948.
I got a call from Ormandy–actually from Ormandy insisting that I have to join--I think I told you this--March 7th. I told them I couldn’t join the orchestra on March 7th because my child was being born. He said, “How do you know?” I said, “Because my wife’s having a caesarian, that’s how I know, and I know the time that she’s supposed to have it.”
To make a long story short, they got rid of Karella, and that’s when they came back to me and asked me would I be interested. That’s when I asked Ormandy, “Is there any possibility at all that you would take Mr. Donatelli back, because he is a fine player.” He didn’t reply to that “fine player” bit. He said, “I wouldn’t have him in my orchestra if I had to play tuba.” That’s a quote--that’s an absolute quote. That’s all because I think of that business I told you about, with the changing of the notes. Probably Ormandy and Donatelli just didn’t get along.
Nowicke: You said he had the silver satin finish put on the York...
Torchinsky: Well, that was put on later. But I do know, and am told by some of the old timers, gosh I’m talking old timers? “Older” timers. They said that he actually made him sand off the inside of the bell. So he probably had the satin silver finish--he probably didn’t like what he saw--probably had it done then.
Also, Ormandy said he didn’t want a big tuba like that, which was ridiculous, because many years later... Ormandy loved to educate everybody, and Ormandy loved to pick on everybody, and if you didn’t stand up to him, you were in deep trouble.
I used my King for everything--it did fine for me. One time we were doing an all-Wagner program, and I get a call from the personnel manager, “Maestro wants to see you.” I think “Oh, what now? Another one of his educational speeches?” So, I went and he said, “I’d like you to use a bigger tuba.”
I thought, “Buddy, I’m going to fix you good.” So, when I came home that night, I got my front bell--the one that was here in that picture, and before I went on stage, I took the bell off. I alerted Bob Harper, our bass trombone player, “Don’t go into shock, because I’m going to pull something.” I put this bell on, and I went out and I sat down, and had it sitting between my legs, and this big bell standing out. He says, “What’s that?” I said, “Mr. Ormandy, you said you wanted a bigger tuba.” He said, “That’s a band tuba, that’s too big.” I said, “Well, that’s what I have.” He said, “No, get something else.” So I went back , took the bell off, put the other bell on, came back, and he said, “That’s fine.”
Nowicke: [laughs] That’s wonderful psychological manipulation. I’m impressed. How big was your King? The bore size?
Torchinsky: I don’t know. I would call that--hearing what you people talk about today, 6/4, 5/4, 4/4--when I was a kid and when Mr. Bell was playing, we didn’t know about “quarters” and we knew there were small bore, medium bore, and large bore. I would say that my horn was probably .750-.775, what would you call that? Medium bore.
Nowicke: Standard, 4/4.
Torchinsky: I personally think--believe me, I don’t know from borscht about making tubas and all these changing lead pipe, and all this monkey business. Probably the one student I have that knows more about that than anyone I know of is Warren Deck. He’s incredible.
I think, and again, it’s a very uneducated guess, what made the difference in my horn, as opposed to any others that I played was the weight of the metal. My horn weighed a ton! I mean, it was heavy! So, it had to be something.
Nowicke: Was it heavy all the way through? Even the bell? The bell was also a heavy gauge?
Torchinsky: It was a heavy metal.
Nowicke: I’ve never seen this instrument. You had this horn, and Mr. Bell had this horn, and Mr. Novotny had this same horn too?
Torchinsky: Mr. Bell used his. My horn--well, if I tell you this story and I’m repeating myself, for tell me. I had a York--the next size down from the thing that Arnold used. It was a terrific instrument, but one of the things I didn’t like about it, the tuning device--the tuning slide, was not quite as handy and I was too stupid to go find some wonderful repairman to do all this finagling and monkeying around.
When I got into the N.B.C. orchestra I went into the bass room one day, and there was this tuba sitting in the corner with a front bell on it, and all the valves (rotary valves) popped up because the strings had worn out, broken. They used to use linen I think, in those days and they wore out. In fact, one of the first lessons I got after I bought the horn, Mr. Bell showed me how to restring the instrument. I didn’t know how. I saw the horn, and it was in mint condition, I mean mint. I said, “Who does that belong to?” Somebody said, “Artie Zasmer,” he was a bass player, and during the Second World War something happened to him with his back, and his doctor said to him, “It’s bad enough that you play bass, but you shouldn’t carry that around.” So he put it up for sale.
Now, I know what Mr. Bell used to get those horns for. They listed for $450, he got them for $200, and he sold them to his students for $230. 30 bucks for just checking them out, and whatnot. So, I called Zasmer. Now, there was no upright bell, so I figured, well, if he’ll sell it, I’ll get a bell made. I said, “Would you be interested in selling your tuba?” He said “Yeah.” I said, “How much?” He said, “$575.” I said, ‘You crook--I know what you paid for it!” Well, I thought that--I didn’t say it! I wanted it, and I tried it, and it was terrific. There were things wrong with it, come on, every horn has its problems. I gave him $575.
He said, “There’s another bell.” It was still in the brown wrapping paper that they put these bells in! They would wrap them up in some kind of tape--whatever they used in those days, and of course, it was brand new. From that day on, that was the only horn I used. I did not have a small instrument until I got that E= from Mr. Bell. Then later on I got a Meinl-Weston F that I used to use, for I told you, the Mahler. But that was it. That was my horn. I did everything on that--my entire--it was almost 30 years that I used that instrument. The only thing I did--I wanted to be able to adjust both the first and third valves. So I called the H. M. White factory in Cleveland and I said, “Could you change this third valve?” (which was like a pretzel down on the bottom) “And bring it up next to the first?” They said, “We think we can.”
Again, this was during the period I was already in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and no 52 week season. So, we were driving, I think, a Peugeot in those days. I packed my wife, my three kids, my tuba, in this little Peugeot and we made a trip out of it. We went to Cleveland and we stayed somewhere--we didn’t camp, because my wife’s idea of camping is a motel with a black and white television. That’s camping!
She was a horseback rider when she was younger. I have a gorgeous picture of her. She was beautiful. She put me on a horse once and that was it. The horse went up, and I came down, the horse went up and I came down. My little old tush got sore from that. No more horses. In any case, we went to Niagra Falls--we made a trip out of it.
But they did my tuba. Mr. Bell saw my tuba, and said, “Wow, what a great idea!” because he was not into the mechanics. Nothing. Not only was he not into the mechanics of tubas, you know what kind of mouthpiece he used? No name. I, to this day don’t know what that mouthpiece was. Just a mouthpiece, had no name on it, and anybody wants to give me any malarkey about sound--they should have listened to that guy--it was the most gorgeous sound you ever heard--and musical.
In any case, he wanted that done, so he had it done, then Novotny. Well, before Novotny, there was a guy named Pirko, Lou Pirko–the name mean anything to you?
Nowicke: I’ve heard it, that’s it.
Torchinsky: Lou was a student of Mr. Bell’s, he ended up in the National Symphony I guess right after me, and he was there quite a few years. I called him and asked him if that tuba was for sale. I don’t remember how much he wanted for it. I called Mr. Bell, and he called Joe, and Joe got it, and Joe got his horn changed. There are only three horns I know that have that third valve slide pulled up. So, when you’re playing, your left hand, with your little finger and your thumb you can work both slides. It’s terrific. The only bad place was the second valve, you couldn’t do anything, and it had a bad D>on it. So you learn to play it--just how to deal with it, and the G on the first line, that was touchy. But it worked for us.
Nowicke: You had told me on email about how you sold Harvey the Conn.
Torchinsky: That I bought from Fred Marzan–you remember that name at all? Fred used to hang around the N.B.C. Symphony. Then I was very affluent, you know, I was making good money--a couple of hundred bucks a week, and that was a lot of money in those days.
Fred came and had this little Conn tuba. I tried it and it was a terrific little instrument. I said, “How much do you want for it Fred?” He said, “Oh, $175.” I said, “Well, let me ask my wife if it’s OK to buy it.” I called her and she said, “Do you really need it?” I said, “It would be nice to have an extra horn.” She said, “Well then buy it.” So I bought it for $175. I didn’t use it in the orchestra. When I came to Philadelphia, I didn’t dare bring that out on the stage. Ormandy saw that he would say, “What is that, a euphonium?” He would have made some nasty crack. So I didn’t use it. I think I kept it down at the Academy (if I’m not mistaken) just in case of emergency.
I got a call from Mr. Bell, he said, “Do you remember Harvey, my student at Julliard?” I said, “Of course I remember Harvey. He was the one who got me drunk when I left New York.” They threw a party for me at Carnegie Tavern, and I’m not a big drinker, so I didn’t know what to drink. Somebody said, “Try a Dubonnet cocktail.” I didn’t know from borscht what it would do to you! I drank Dubonnet cocktails–I was sloshed. Joe Novotny took me down and poured me on the train, because I had to go--I played a Firestone Hour, went to the party, and after the party he took me down, put me on the train and told the conductor to make sure I got off at North Philadelphia, by then I was kind of together.
I’d met Harvey there, of course. He said, “Well, you know, he’s a very talented kid,” well, I knew of course. He had more technique--unbelievable, he’d been playing in that damn circus band and everything in the world where you played millions and skillions of notes. He said, “He needs a tuba, do you have anything at all you’re not using?” I said, “Mr. Bell, the only I have is a small Conn, it’s a heck of a horn. I don’t use it, I can’t use it.” He said, “Well, you know that he doesn’t have any money.” I said, “Well look, tell him to come down, if he likes it, I’ll give him a good deal, I promise you.”
So, he came in, and he sat down, and I was hoping that Mr. Ormandy didn’t hear this, because I’m liable to get fired. Notes flying all over the place, you know? Really incredible. He said, “This is nice, I’d like to buy this,” and sort of meekly, “How much?” I said, “Look, you don’t have any money, do you?” “Not really.” “Can you scrape $125 together? That was $50 less than I paid for it. He said, “I think so.” I said, “Well, when you get it, send it down to me,” and he did. That’s what he paid for it. He still has it, his entire career. So, I figure I did something good.
Nowicke: That’s a nice picture.
Torchinsky: You like that one? I was a kid. Wow. What was I? 30? What was it, 1957 or something.
Nowicke: I think I have that one here, it’s in the “What equipment do people use” thing. Was it this one that they used in that article in the magazine from Curtis?
Torchinsky: No, they didn’t use that. They could have used that. The only trouble is that people say, “What do you play, a Meinl-Weston?” See, that’s the Meinl they made for me. The only thing they did--I think it was a red brass tuba--I don’t remember. How about that, “Photo by Joe DeMarsh,” one of my students.
Nowicke: You look great in that one.
Torchinsky: Yes, that would have been a better picture. What’s this one? Where’s this from?
Nowicke: This is from the TUBA Journal, and John Taylor apparently sent everybody a note and asked “what equipment do you use?”
Nowicke: Who was teaching at Curtis instead of you?
Torchinsky: Charles Gusikoff, who was the principal trombone player in the orchestra for many, many years.
I love when people see that thing over there with the gold seal on it--that’s a letter from the Regents of the University saying that I was given an Emeritus Professorship. I love when people see that and say “You, a professor?” Those who know me, you know...
Nowicke: Are you also Distinguished?
Torchinsky: No, I never made Distinguished.
Nowicke: You never made Distinguished, just Emeritus.
Torchinsky: They probably had me as “Distinct-wished.” Not Distinguished. I don’t what you have to be to be Distinguished.
So, anyhow, you had questions to ask me.
My parents came here in 1910. I know when my father was born, it was 1887. I can’t trace anything. I think I told you the business with the Spanish thing, but I don’t know anybody beyond the pictures I have of my grandparents, and a bunch of photos from various people, but I don’t know much more about that. Frankly, we were in Russia in 1958 (the Philadelphia Orchestra) and every place we went--I mean, if it was two blocks, they had a bus. ‘58 was the Cold War. Pretty crazy. We went from the Hotel Ukrania to the hall to play in Kiev. Got out the concert--I’m going to try to imitate this woman’s accent--it’s a riot.
Got out of the concert, and I walk over to the bus, and this woman comes up, “Meester Torchinsky,” and I looked--and did a double-take. She said, “You are Meester Torchinsky?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “I knew your mother and father.” I said, “From where.” She said, “I lived in Philadelphia,” and she’s going on like this--and I’m going to stop with the accent--it’s tough to do!
She went on, she knew a lot about my parents, she knew a lot about me. By then I was getting to get a little nervous, with a name like Torchinsky they’re liable to keep me here, and I don’t want to stay here. The food is lousy...
Oh, my mother used to make a borscht, a hot borscht, you could die for. Probably screwed up your arteries but it was tremendous. I thought, “Man, I’m going to Russia, I’m going to get this great cookin’!” Eeeuuu... It was awful!
So, anyhow, I finally excused myself, I said, “I’ve got to get on the bus.” She said, “I’ll see you again.” “I hope not...,” I thought to myself. I never saw her again. I don’t know if she was plant, I don’t know what she was, but it was pretty crazy.
In any case, it was quite a trip, and incidently, we were in Poland that time too, the trombone section of the Warsaw Philharmonic invited us over to one of their homes for a party. Absolutely, we were delighted, you know? One of the trombone players, I don’t remember, first, second, or whatever. He made steak tartar. Now, I happen to like steak tartar (my wife thinks I’m crazy, ‘cause it’s raw meat) I got a mouthful of this stuff. He says, “It’s very difficult, very hard for us to come by good meat, this is the best meat we can get now...”
Torchinsky: You know what is going to come up! Both of you.
Nowicke: I’m afraid this was probably a horse.
Torchinsky: It was horse meat. I almost vomited. That was the second time in my life that I have run across that. Oh, it killed me. The first time was when we were in Washington and I played in the National Symphony. We were in a restaurant, second World War, and the sign on the wall, “We want our patrons to know because of the meat shortage we do serve horsemeat.” I did not order meat.
Nowicke: I’ve never eaten horse.
Torchinsky: I would hope not.
Nowicke: That would be like eating your friends.
Frazier: I’ve eaten it.
Torchinsky: Have you? How did you like it?
Frazier: It was fine. It was just like beef.
Torchinsky: I introduced my wife to buffalo burgers.
Nowicke: Buffalo is wonderful.
Torchinsky: She didn’t like it. She said, “I can still see them running around.” There used to be a field of them in Aspen where they were actually raised. Probably for that reason. She said, “Oh, they are so nice.”
Nowicke: They’d kill her if she walked out in the pasture with them.
Torchinsky: My wife, she’s not a meat eater, she’s a fish eater. We finally found a fish that we could both agree on because I’m not a fish eater. Tilapia, you ever eat it?
Frazier: Yes, it’s good, I like it.
Torchinsky: It’s delicious, it really is, and I’ve found a way to doctor it up so it doesn’t even taste like fish. I like to cook, I do a lot of cooking. I learned that from Mr. Bell. But you know who was the cook for Mr. Bell.
Nowicke: Paul, he told us yesterday.
Torchinsky: He’s a hell of a cook.
Nowicke: He was saying what he liked to eat. Mr. Bell liked steaks and potatoes Lyonnaise. I asked him if he ever made him any Polish food, and he said he didn’t necessarily make Polish food.
Torchinsky: I’m surprised he didn’t. I know his wife was away for a week this year, her mother was being operated on, and I called him one day and he said he was busy making chili and chicken soup. Big amounts, so they would have it.
When my wife and I went out to Indiana in 1969, Paul was a student there. Paul was cooking, and if I remember correctly, he was making steak and potatoes--they were very good. I also remember Mr. Bell popping corks--they had a metal house. Do you remember that metal house, did you hear anything about it? He would pop corks against the ceiling. It was a big thing back in those days. Some outfit was making these homes out of metal, he’d pop corks against the ceiling--BANG! Metal roof. That was quite a time.
I think he did a lot for Paul. I really do.
Nowicke: Paul seems to have had some wonderful mentors in his life.
Torchinsky: He’s very grateful, very grateful.
Nowicke: He can’t say enough good things.
Torchinsky: I can’t either.
Nowicke: Did you know his first teacher, Leo Romano?
Torchinsky: I never met him, he was a postman or something. I never met him. See, Paul came--I don’t know if he told you this, he came to me as student in high school. He talked about studying with Bell, and Bell said to me “Why don’t you get him to come out to Aspen?” I think he was looking for students.
Paul came to me, and boy, I remember this as vividly as yesterday, he came in, at Constitution Hall, where we were playing in those days, and he sat down on a bass trunk One of those bass trunks that look like a bass, and he said, “I’m going to play for you,” and I said, “Absolutely.” It was something that he was going to send to Bell for an audition. He played a Mozart horn concerto--or part of one. I said, “That’s terrific!” The rest is history, he played for Mr. Bell, Mr. Bell took him to Aspen and convinced him to come to Indiana. The rest is absolute history.
The thing that he doesn’t remember--I’m proud of--Mr. Bell called me, oh, I guess the following fall or something, and he said (Oh, I wish I could imitate his voice, it was a beautiful robust voice) “You did a terrific job with Paul, he’s got a beautiful embouchure now.” I told him he had a little bit of an embouchure problem. He said, “You straightened it out, and he’s doing great.”
Here’s another story, if you want to hear stories. I left N.B.C., I accepted the contract with Philadelphia, we did Petrushka with Ernest Ansermet. One of the high D’s I guess got a little hair on it, come on, again, nobody’s perfect. My wife tells me that all the time--I’m not perfect. I’m beginning to believe her.
Nowicke: It’s a good thing she’s giving you a second chance.
Torchinsky: You better believe it.
So, in any case, the personnel manager came up, who was Henry Schmidt at that time, a very proper man, he said, “Mr. Ormandy wants to see you.” I thought, “Here we go again.” Of course, he educated everybody that came in the orchestra. So, I walked into his room, and this business [scratches nose and pulls on sleeves] “I was in the audience Saturday night, I heard the Petrushka. I was not at all pleased with it, and Ansermet” (this got me) “told me you did the same thing in the N.B.C. Symphony.”
That did it. I said, “Mr. Ormandy, I don’t want to say that Maestro Ansermet is a liar,” I said, “But maybe he’s not hearing things, because I happen to have a record” (this is true). There was a company called “Rock Hill Recording” it used to take off the air on glass records, and make recordings of anything you wanted, five or six bucks in those days. If I knew I was doing Petrushka, I’d have them record it. It was perfect. There wasn’t a thing wrong with it. I said, “I’ll be glad to bring in the recording of that, and you can hear it.” I don’t believe Ansermet said a word to him. “You can hear it, and if you can hear anything wrong with it, I’ll eat the thing.”
The same thing happened with Mr. Bell with Fritz Reiner in Cincinnati. Did you know that story? This is a great story! Mr. Bell was in the Cincinnati Symphony. Fritz Reiner, another Hungarian crazy man, he was working on Bill Bell. Now, when Bell was young he was bigger then--you know, we all shrink. Bell walked in, and with his robust voice, he put his hands down on the desk and damn near pushed it through the floor and asked “What’s your problem, Dr. Reiner?”
We went on a tour in 1966 to South America. We played every country in South America I think, practically every county. For the first time every, we had a guest conductor with Ormandy, with two conductors, [Stanislaw] Skrowaczewski. Good Polish conductor. He was a nice guy, he really was, but what he programmed--I could have killed him! I had to play, every time he conducted, Corsair Overture, Sensemaya, and I forget, something else, there was one other work. They were the two big works, two murderous tuba parts, and I played it every time, and every time I played it, he’d give me a bow, you know, especially for the Sensemaya. We got to Buenos Aires and we’re playing in this magnificent hall down there, Skrowaczewski gives me a bow--Ormandy comes back stage, because he was in the audience, “I wouldn’t have given you a bow.” I said, “That’s why you’re not conducting.” I laughed.
He wasn’t being nasty, he was being funny, but his funny was, you know, a real jerk. So, there were a lot of people in that orchestra that stayed three, four, five, seven years at the most and then left because of him. They just couldn’t take his sense of humor or his nastiness. I don’t think he was a very happy man, and that’s what his problem was. A wonderful wife--his second wife was a terrific lady. She just died about a year or so ago, 89 years old or something? Yes, 89.
Nowicke: Paul Krzywicki said he’s been in the Orchestra 28 years.
Torchinsky: Which is kind of almost a record., I guess Arnold has the longest record. What did he put in Chicago--about 40?
Nowicke: But, Oscar Lagassé was in Detroit...
Torchinsky: For how many years though?
Nowicke: A long time. Detroit’s only have three tuba players.
Torchinsky: Who was the other tuba player?
Nowicke: I don’t know who was before Oscar. Wes Jacobs has mentioned his name to me, but I don’t recall.
Torchinsky: Well, Philadelphia only had about three or four tuba players. Donatelli, me, Paul, there was another guy, way, way back.
Oscar was a wonderful man. I got a wonderful note from him once saying something about old age. Old age is a privilege, and those who have it are privileged.
Nowicke: Wes says he’s very, very, sharp and doing great.
Torchinsky: That’s good to hear. 97?
Nowicke: 96 or 97.
Torchinsky: You know, if I’m sharp, and my head is on straight, I wouldn’t mind making it to 100, but if I’m feeble and my head’s not going right... I think the big thing that keeps me going is that computer, because I do things.
Nowicke: You have contact with other people--you aren’t bored.
Torchinsky: Oh no, I’m as busy as one-armed paper hanger, I really am.
Nowicke: How old is Sam Green?
Torchinsky: About my age, maybe a year older or longer or younger.
Nowicke: Is Joe Novotny about your age, or is he a little bit younger?
Torchinsky: About my age. I suspect Joe might be a year older than me.
Nowicke: Paul told us that Bill Bell was always trying to fix his daughter up with Joe.
Torchinsky: Constantly, constantly.
Nowicke: Paul showed us a very cute picture with Nancy down the bell of his tuba.
Torchinsky: She was a cute girl. I remember meeting them. They lived in Larchmont, New York. My brother had a ‘35 Buick sedan, boy it was a beauty--had tires on the side--on the running board. He needed help moving, so my brother lent me his car, and I picked up stuff, and I moved it, but a lot of it went down to Tante Lena’s place in Harlem. Then they moved, I don’t even remember where the heck they moved to, but Nancy was around then.
Nowicke: This Tante Lena’s place...
Torchinsky: Tante Lena, Aunt Lena. She was huge. I can almost picture her now. I think they had to break a window or something or a door to get her out of the place. She was big. Very nice, she was very good to Mr. Bell. She was evidently a good cook--and like I said, you learned breath control.
Nowicke: This was a boarding house?
Torchinsky: I don’t really think so, I think it was her home, and it was in Harlem.
Nowicke: Why was he living in Harlem?
Torchinsky: Well, that’s where she lived, I guess she lived there for years and years and years.
I remember being scared to death carrying my tuba on the subway going up for a lesson. In those days it was a nickel to ride the subway. Hey, that was where he taught.
I used to take a lesson in a store on 48th Street. Wayne Lewis, who was a very, very famous euphonium player (of his time) and Wayne had a music store, it was Wayne Lewis Music Store. Up on the second floor, Wayne had--want to call it a studio? I don’t think it was much bigger than this walk-in closet! It was loaded with all sorts of crap and we would go in, we’d practically be sitting on each other’s lap.
Nowicke: I had heard about people taking lessons there, but I had never heard about this woman.
Torchinsky: Tante Lena? I’m surprised, because I think Harvey took lessons there. I’m pretty sure he did.
Nowicke: They’ve always said “in his studio on 48th street.”
Torchinsky: His studio? Is that what they called it.
Torchinsky: Maybe I’m remembering wrong. You know what I remember so well? At that time I think I was paying him $3 a lesson.
Nowicke: He’d tripled his charges.
Torchinsky: Oh, he got up to six?
Nowicke: You said it was one dollar before.
Torchinsky: What happened was I’d go in for a lesson, and this was before I was making it big, and he was very fond of my wife. He’d say, “How’s Bert?” “She’s fine, she’s doing OK.” “Are your kids eating all right?” I’d say, “Oh, sure.” Then I’d give him $3 after the lesson and he’d say, “Let’s go down and have some lunch.” We’d go downstairs and there was a place called the Miami Bar and Grill, and we’d go down and he’d spend double the three bucks that I gave him for lunch on me. He was special. That’s the only word I can use.
I don’t think there was a better brass teacher that I knew of than Bill Bell. I mean, this guy, every student--he dissected each student. “What’s your problem?” It wasn’t that “You’re Joe Novotny, you’re going to do it this way,” and that means “you’re doing to do it this way here.” No, we all had our own little things. One of the things he used to do with me is to make me get corks, or erasers, and put them back there [points to the back of his jaws].
Nowicke: To keep your jaw dropped?
Torchinsky: To keep my jaw open while I played. You ever hear anything like that?
Torchinsky: I never saw it in any kind of a book. It worked. To this day, if I picked up that ophicleide the first thing you’d see [drops jaw] it’d work that way, the cavity has to be open.
Bell always talked about vocalizing, songs, singers, that’s the first instrument. Before anybody invented a tuba, a trumpet, a fiddle, whatever, the voice was there, that was the instrument. If you can’t learn from that, then what the hell--you can’t learn. It’s that simple. He used to say, “If you can sing it, you can play it.”
Nowicke: What did he do with you in terms of just raw sound production--you mentioned the corks.
Torchinsky: Just take as big of a breath as you can, and blow it through the horn. Don’t worry about playing soft, don’t worry about playing loud--that all comes. When you do play soft you have to put as much air through the instrument as you do when you play loud. You can’t play soft if you go [strangles off breath] just as much air, I can’t do it now because I don’t play.
Nowicke: How about mouthpiece buzzing?
Torchinsky: I don’t even mouthpiece buzz. I have one mouthpiece left that Warren Deck made for me.
Nowicke: But that’s special.
Torchinsky: Well, no, because it was a good mouthpiece, but that was after I got out of the orchestra. My mouthpiece--you want to know the story of my mouthpiece career? A very simple one.
Nowicke: One Helleberg?
Torchinsky: I had a Helleberg, the original. I used that for years but then when I got the King, it was just too small of a mouthpiece for that horn. It was too bright, I should say, not small. I wanted more of a fuller sound. So, Mr. Bell said, “Why don’t you try the King 26? It was built for that horn. The “Equi-Tru.” So, I used that for a while, but I wasn’t happy with it.
When I got to Philadelphia I played back and forth between the Helleberg and the King. One day we were in Syracuse, New York, and the then principal trumpet of the orchestra, Sam Krause. We were walking along, we passed a music store--no, we didn’t get to a music store yet--he said to me, “Did you ever try a Bach mouthpiece?” So, I said, “No, I never did.” He said, “You ought to try one, I imagine they’d be good,” he said, “I’m pretty sure they make tuba mouthpieces.” We passed a music store, I went in and I said, “Do you have Bach mouthpieces for tuba?” He said, “Oh, sure.” I said,”Well, what is the one mouthpiece that seems to be the most popular?” This is funny, because I’m a professional tuba player. “What the one mouthpiece that seems to be the most popular for tuba?” He said, “The Bach 18.” I said, “How much are they?” “12 bucks.” I said, “I’ll take one.” Do you know how much a mouthpiece is now?
Nowicke: $100 or more.
Torchinsky: Yeah. I said, “Give me one,” I tried it and it worked. I liked it. I used that for my entire career And not only did I used that for my entire career, but when I would switch over to the E=, I’d put it in there, when I’d switch over to the F, I’d put in there. I don’t know if it was supposed to be good, bad, or indifferent, but it worked.
Now I’m going to get a little bit immodest. We were in Vienna and we did the Mahler First Symphony, and I played, I put the mouthpiece in the F tuba and played. Afterwards Bernie (Bernard)Garfield the bassoon player came up and he said, “Hey Torch,” (they used to call me “Torch”)--he said, “A bunch of musicians from Vienna, they never heard that solo in the Mahler played any more beautifully.” I was very thrilled, I thought “That’s my special mouthpiece.”
The mouthpiece that Warren made (Warren was always a mechanical) when he got to a point where he was doing all this stuff, he said, “Do you have a 24AW?” I happened to have one, I had a collection of mouthpieces. He said, “Give it to me, and I’ll fix you a mouthpiece I think you’ll like.” He did something to the backbore and he did something to the outside so the rim was like an 18. It was beautiful, worked beautifully. I used that, I really played with it, and it was fine.
You like stories? I’ll give you a better one. I get a call from Andy Kazdin, the guy who was the A&R man for the three records and what-not. He said, “How would you like to do the Hindemith Sonata? I said, “Andy, you’re kidding, I play, I practice a little bit, but nothing serious.” I said, “I’m enjoying life very much now.” This was in the ‘70s, ‘76 I think. He said, “Well, look, if you’re interested, we want to do an album of all the Hindemith brass sonatas with Glenn Gould.” I said, “Me play with Glenn Gould? You’ve got to be kidding!” So, I said, “OK, how much time do I have to practice?” He said, “God knows, because this guy is weird,” (as you may well have heard) “Might be six months, might be a year.” I said, “Well, let’s hope it’s a long time.”
So, I started practicing, and my routine was a series of long tone exercises that Mr. Bell had given me, and I doctored it up to suit myself with something that Marcel Tabuteau the oboe player in the Philadelphia Orchestra had done with numbers. It was an expansion thing. That was first. Then I would go through the Bell scale studies--every day. I mean, I went through those--my wife was going----thank God we had a big house, and she didn’t have to suffer too much. Then I would spend maybe 15-20 minutes on the Hindemith because it’s not hard--it’s an easy thing. I worked on it so it was just like it said on the paper. I had that second movement going [sings] you know, really moving like a bat out of town, with a metronome.
A week before I am supposed to go to Toronto to record this thing, because we did all the recordings in the Eaton Department Store Auditorium. I had a false tooth in the front that I’d had from the time I was a little boy, and the old one was on clips, so it wore, eventually--now these are all false. They are permanent, but they’re false.
Torchinsky: No, he has them attached over here--a guy in Aspen did it.
Nowicke: It’s a bridge.
Torchinsky: It’s a bridge. In fact, every dentist that ever looks in my mouth thinks it’s incredible. But that wasn’t there then. The tooth breaks--right in half--this is Wednesday, and I’ve got to be in Toronto over the weekend. I didn’t even have a dentist in Ann Arbor, I didn’t know who to go to, so I look in the phone book, and find the guy, who I later called “Shakey.” Because he was like this [demonstrates]. I didn’t call him “Shakey” then. I don’t even remember his name, so I called him, and he said, “Well come over.”
I went over and he said, “I can’t fix this, I’d have to put in a new tooth--it will take a long time, the laboratory and the whole works. The best thing we can do is glue, paste, the tooth together,” and he said, “If I were you, I would not eat anything solid--live on mush, soups, stuff like that.” This was Thursday he did this.
I didn’t touch the horn, I was afraid to. You talk about non-pressure systems! I developed it. I went to Toronto, and I was there for I think three days, we recorded. Three or four, because he would do it in the middle of the night. This guy recorded everything in the middle of the night. We did it the first day, I almost died. He says, he gives you a lecture...
[To Val Frazier] Are you familiar with the name Glenn Gould? Glenn Gould was one of the greatest piano players that this world has ever know, but nuttier than a fruitcake. I mean, he had his ideas about music, and I don’t ridicule them either.
Nowicke: I liked what you did with the third movement very much.
Torchinsky: The second movement was his idea too. He said, “It’s a march, you march,” [sings] Anyhow, I prepared to play this thing just that way. I’m prepared to play everything as it was marked, and he sits down, we do the third movement first. “Oh, this is the best part,” he sits down, and he’s wearing his trademark coat, gloves, overshoes-- and it’s a beautiful Labor Day weekend, it was gorgeous.
He sits down at the piano like this [sideways]--and the piano is here--and he sits down and he faces me, and he says, “This is one sonata that I am not particularly fond of, and I have great difficulty in memorizing it, particularly the last part of the third movement.” As he’s talking, he’s like this [sitting sideways] and he plays the whole damn last section of the third movement from memory, and he’s talking to me (with gloves on) and he doesn’t miss a note. Not a note.
So we did the last movement. The only thing that was me, completely me, was the cadenza, and he liked it, he said “Very good.” We spent (I shouldn’t admit this) it must have been ten times right after the cadenza, you know, where the piano and the tuba go [sings] --he said it wasn’t together. I swear, I swear Carole, that was absolutely together. I don’t know what he was looking for, until finally, that’s it.
The second movement, we’d start to do that, and he tells me what he wants. I start playing it, and I can’t do it, my fingers want to move fast! He’s got me slowing down [sings] you know, that thing. I’m like this--I can’t--finally I was able to do it, and all those ritards, rubatos in the first movement, every bit of it was his idea. When I finished, I thought to myself, “Well, there goes my reputation, because every tuba player in the world is going to say...”
Nowicke: He’s not playing that right.
Torchinsky: Something’s wrong, it’s not marked that way. Then, after I had listened to it two, three, four times, I thought, “You know, this guy was right, it sounds like a decent piece of music.” I did the whole damn thing with this tooth hanging on a thread, and I used a King mouthpiece because it had a big wide rim, and I figured it was going to be more likely to protect me.
We finished that thing, and my wife and I started back from Toronto, we’re driving to Michigan and I passed this car on the road, and he waves to me and I wave back and we stop. It was Wes Jacobs. He was going up for a little holiday with his wife. We chatted for a while. Tooth was still there. I got home, and we had a party to go to at the beginning of the school year the head of the brass department/wind department, Cliff Lillya, who was the trumpet teacher (great guy) it was at his house. I came home. I said to my wife, “Thank God, that whole week, the party, everything’s over,” and the damn tooth fell out.
Frazier: Oh my goodness.
Torchinsky: I don’t know if I would have done it any better if the tooth were not loose. I have no idea. I was very proud that the last movement, particularly, worked. That’s quite a story.
Nowicke: That’s incredible. How good was that auditorium to play in?
Torchinsky: Terrific, because Gould was probably the shrewdest man I’ve ever met in my life. The only people that were there, was Gould, me, the A&R man, and some guy that was like his Man Friday to take his...
Nowicke: Take his overcoat?
Torchinsky: Yeah, and he brought out a big thing of hot water that he would dip his hands in, that’s some kind of a crazy thing that pianists do. He was actually the engineer. Columbia would pay him for renting the hall--they had him supply the recording equipment (which was his) they paid him all this, plus he got his standard royalties, which was pretty substantial. I mean, this was a pretty sharp character. Andy Kazdin was in there, and they would do it, get it set, and we would come out and record. It was incredible--it was just incredible. And that, incidently was nominated for a Grammy, that album.
Nowicke: Is that one of the ones on the wall?
Torchinsky: Here it is, 1976. You know, I guess I’m as proud of that--I would say that’s probably one of the greatest musical experiences I have ever had in my life. This guy was unreal, unreal. My only other association with this guy was, I didn’t play, he did a Beethoven concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Ann Arbor.
Nowicke: There’s so much stuff we haven’t talked about, even about your early musical influences.
Torchinsky: My what?
Nowicke: Early musical influences.
Torchinsky: It’s very simple, my brother, and that business with the band. My brother was a damned good musician.
Nowicke: Did he do it professionally?
Torchinsky: Oh yes, he was a saxophone-clarinet player. He was what we call a “club date musician,” but he came to New York after he was married, he married a New York girl, a Brooklyn girl. He met her, she was in the service, she was I think a WAVE, and my brother was in the Coast Guard. He met her, and they were married, and they lived in New York. Had he stayed in New York--I think he would have--he played the original Annie Get Your Gun with Ethyl Merman. Had he stayed in New York, I think he would have been a very, very successful player until the time came to retire, because he was a good doubler, and a fine musician. His wife didn’t want to live in New York. He’s long gone, but we keep in touch with her.
Anyhow, my brother came back to Philadelphia, and he made a good living. Eventually he ended up teaching, and also working for this big music store in Philadelphia, Zapf’s is the name. Selling, whatever, he did a good job of it.
Nowicke: So he continued a whole career in music.
Torchinsky: Oh, his whole career was music, he made his living out of music. I told you my father with his mandolin. So there was always some kind of a musical--I kind of think I always wanted it, but I didn’t know I wanted it until later.
Nowicke: Did you go to listen to Sousa at Willow Grove or in town?
Torchinsky: We went to listen to--I don’t think Sousa, but I do remember Creatore, with his batons and his hair! We’d go up to Willow Grove.
Nowicke: You heard Creatore out there. Pryor?
Torchinsky: Pryor. I remember Pryor. I also played (as did Harvey Phillips) in the Asbury Park Band, which Mr. Bell played in. You know, I don’t remember if I played there with Mr. Bell, I’m not sure. We played there a couple of summers. I do remember we rented a place down on the Jersey shore, we used to go on Long Beach Island. I’d go up and play a concert--it was a terrific band--a lot of great players played in it. Then get in the car, drive back down to Long Beach Island, it’s a good ride. See lots of deer on the road, you’d try to avoid them like crazy--thank God, I didn’t want to hit a deer and wreck my car, and kill myself!
Torchinsky: No, I don’t think any of those guys. I remember them when I was a kid, I have a tape that someone gave me of Herbert Clarke. Not only Clarke, it has that very famous woman trumpet player...
Nowicke: Edna White?
Torchinsky: Yes, she’s on it, she’s terrific too. A whole bunch of them. Then there was a guy out in Chicago, who had tremendous range, the tape is hidden over there with a pile of tapes.
I do remember my father took me to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts when I was a little kid. We used to sit up in the amphitheater, I think they paid maybe 50 cents to go to a concert in those days. Music was part of our life.
Nowicke: It was important.
Torchinsky: Yes. I won’t say “classical music,” because I don’t think my father knew from classical music, he just knew from music. Something like the Gertrude Stein, “a rose is a rose is a rose is rose?’ Music is music is music is music.
Nowicke: How did you wind up in the library, using the Fleisher Collection?
Torchinsky: Well, that’s interesting, because there was no--you couldn’t get whole parts--you got excerpts. There were lots of excerpt books, and most of them were pretty crummy. One thing I remember, one book, they had Petrushka in there, and it had the last part [sings] and then that was first, then you had the bear next. It was like “this is a section, and this is a section.”
Nowicke: No context.
Torchinsky: It was in the wrong order. So, it kind of screwed you up unless you could get records. I used to buy records--newspapers used to have a thing where you could--you would send in a buck or something and they would send you this LP--it was an LP with symphonies, God knows what orchestras they were. I had quite a collection of those. That was your introduction, that’s how you learned.
So, I got the bright idea--we have the world’s largest collection of music, right here in Philadelphia with the Fleisher Collection, you know it’s down at the Free Library, the big library on the Parkway.
Nowicke: Everybody knew that was there.
Torchinsky: Oh yeah, and I had a big hardbacked book, and I’d sit, and I’d copy parts. Did I tell you how I started my books? That was really interesting. I had these things, and then one day when I was teaching at Curtis and Larry Tarlow was my student. He came in with a book of full parts and I looked at them and said, “My God, this is gorgeous!” the manuscript was pluperfect. I said, “Larry, where did you get these parts?” He said, “Oh, I copied them.” I said, “You copied them? You’re incredible.” I said, “You know, you’re crazy, you’re a good tuba player, but you can almost guarantee getting a job as a librarian. You ought to think about that.” He did. He’s the librarian of the New York Philharmonic, he can be there until he’s 90.
Nowicke: Paul showed us yesterday Fred Geib’s excerpt books.
Torchinsky: I have the originals. I have the original Fred Geib.
Nowicke: These are just little hand-copied, cheap paper, stapled together.
Torchinsky: There was no Xerox then, what do you call them? Blueprint. I have a whole book, and the cover is like brown wrapping paper. In fact, Wes Jacobs took it from me and it’s published now.
Nowicke: These were march sized little books.
Torchinsky: This was a regular book. Where did Paul get that, he didn’t study with Geib?
Nowicke: He got them from Mr. Bell.
Torchinsky: I guess that would be the only place he could get them.
Nowicke: They were autographed to Mr. Bell.
Torchinsky: Oh. So, in any case, that’s what started me thinking, somebody ought to do something about the whole parts, because these kids are not an education. That’s when I started doing it. Now, I must admit, there’s lots of mistakes in them, and the best ones are the Shostakovich. Unfortunately, the old GATT agreement...
Nowicke: I don’t think we had yours in the bookstore, so we wound up with Sear when I was in school.
Torchinsky: You used Walter Sear? That was loaded with mistakes.
Nowicke: Oh yeah, Les Varner would sit there and write over them.
Torchinsky: Absolutely loaded with mistakes. But hey, I did my best, I’m making a fortune from them. I thought I made more than I did. I just got my withholding slips. See, that’s an unfortunate thing too, it’s split up between two publishers, because Joe Boonin did it originally, he was a student of mine. Then went Joe went over to European-American Publishers, it was good. Then European-American--I don’t know what happened, he got out of it, and he went back to Joe Boonin. Part of the deal was that he couldn’t use his name for (I forget how many years) we were sitting kind of in limbo. Then he decided to sell, he sold to two people who worked for him, and they didn’t want to do anything. Then Wes came along and I think Wes has done a terrific job, books like the Twentieth Century, I can’t do anything with that because that’s Schirmer, and Schirmer is Hal Leonard, and it’s a mess. I think I’m getting too old to fight all these things.
Nowicke: Did you spend much time in the Free Library of Philadelphia, aside from the Fleisher Collection?
Torchinsky: A lot of time, a lot of time. I had two hard bound books. I have them to somebody, I don’t know what I did with them. I give stuff away.
[End of interview]
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