Q&A with Music Director Candidate Jacomo Bairos

In addition to being a conductor, you are also a tubist—a unique instrument for a conductor! What drew you to the tuba and what do you love about the instrument?

On the very first day I walked into Homestead Middle School Band class, I had not yet decided what instrument I wanted to play. When I was in middle school, we had two full bands: a jazz band, a pep band, and a small orchestra. As the teacher asked all the new kids what they wanted to play, my eyes were furiously darting around the room at all the instruments on display. Most kids were choosing the trumpet, saxophone, clarinet or percussion, but something very special caught my eye. A fellow student walked out of the instrument room, with a big, shiny, golden tuba on his shoulder and I immediately was taken a back and thought, "THAT'S WHAT I WANT I TO PLAY!" It was so striking to me, and it was the coolest looking instrument I had ever seen. Good news, since I was the only kid to choose that instrument, I became one of only two tuba players in the whole school! I ended up performing in both bands, the jazz band and a good portion of my middle school days were spent in the band room. I was also very blessed to have a caring and committed teacher who spent extra hours with me after school fostering my talent and teaching me how to play this gigantic instrument. Since I was such small kid those days, the first two years my dad had to carry it around for me! 

I have always felt the orchestra is rooted and built from the ground up. Basses, celli, timpani, tuba, contra-basson, are not only the backbone of the orchestra; they also provide stability, rhythm, direction, sonority and pitch. I soon learned that the tuba, with these attributes, had enormous sway on the sound and drive of a large ensemble. This to me was so fantastic and interesting! Also, the tuba is truly a solo instrument within an orchestra and while blending with the brass is important, I really enjoyed sharing the moments of color where I had lines with basses, cellos, and woodwinds. I always found the tuba to be the glue holding so much together, and this fundamental, these low lines, were crucial to an orchestras success. Finally, the tuba doesn’t play every single note of every Symphonic work, so there was a lot of downtime in the back of the orchestra. During these moments, I watched other instrumental sections interact; my colleagues perform together, as well as studied and analyzed the conductors. This experience was an education like no other! My curiosity in other conductors, learning what to do (as well as what NOT to do!!) and trying to understand how a person who makes no sound at all, yet controls so much, was something I found fascinating. At the end of the day, performing, rehearsing and working with excellent musicians and conductors on the Symphonic repertoires masterpieces, was always a thrill.

One of the programs you started as Music Director of the Amarillo Symphony was Class Act, a music education program. What compelled you to initiate this program? 

In Amarillo, we saw a need for a deeper connection in our community that the musicians could easily serve. If we as institutions, musicians, educators, and conductors are not giving back to our community, than I personally don’t feel we have a right to exist. While orchestra performances function in the moment, the future is where we need to focus our outreach, education initiatives, and inspirational engagement. Class Act was a way for us to connect to the youth of Amarillo in a very personal, meaningful and engaging way. We tap into the mystery of making music, as well as the imagination of kids, and use these as a tools to teach, inspire and connect. Kids are incredible listeners when set in an intimate space. They understand authenticity and personal connection sometimes more than us adults. This intimate space we found is a great place to deliver art and culture to them. Kids also have all these emotions, which may seem simple to us, but are important for them.  Demonstrating through Class Act that these emotions can be expressed in music is of paramount importance. Also, Class Act expresses how music instills valuable life skills such as collaboration, listening, hard work and dedication, in turn allowing one to achieve whatever you dream in life for yourself! Exposure to high art, is one of the most important roles an Orchestras can play in its community. 

As the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Nu Deco Ensemble, what value do such eclectic ensembles have in the 21st century? 

There are many values, which can be gleaned through a classically trained, flexible, chamber-performing ensemble. Our dream is to attract and CREATE new audiences through our signature sound and artistry. Performing familiar, re-imagined classical works, from such composers such as Bach, Bizet, and Copland, and juxtaposing them with living composers of today and more populous groups like Daft Punk, LCD Sound System, and Radiohead, we are providing new and exciting ways for our community to get engaged in the arts. 

Symphony Orchestras constantly struggle against the stigma of Classical music being only for the elite, or for those who are in the know about composers, their works etc. Yet, Nu Deco Ensembles power comes from our ability to disarm a listener quickly through programming that speaks to, and reflects society today. As a vehicle for expression, we can then deliver new compositions by living composer, provide unique collaborative experiences and compelling programming that at once may challenge a listener, yet also invoke extreme excitement and passion for our sound and style. 

Thus, juxtaposing these composers, their compositions, sounds, and styles, we can attract a wide variety of audiences, young and old, that may not ordinarily get into the traditional concert hall. Our size and flexibility allow us to perform in extremely interesting and alternative venues, and give us unique opportunities to deliver high art in the most unexpected places. Our intimate home space, the Miami Light Box, seats 200 people, and feels like an extension of our ensemble, another instrument which is part of the orchestra. Our audiences LITERALLY sit right on top of our musicians, just inches away.  

This visceral and palpable experience brings audiences very close to the action and they cannot help but be involved in what we do! Because of this, we are able to  tap into very eclectic, arts-centric, culturally savvy audiences, who may not know about Beethoven’s incredible 9th Symphony, but have a taste for the Arts.  Nu Deco Ensemble can, and is that bridge, narrowing the gap, so wider groups of audiences can get to know the live Symphonic performance world. This also allows us to do very interesting and exciting things with education and outreach. Side-by-sides, concerts for kids, family presentations, are extremely scalable and we have an opportunity to get in front of so many different under-served audiences in areas of south Florida that don’t have exposure.  

Financially, our model provides great value. Due to our nimble nature and scalable ensemble, we are able to provide unique programming at a fraction of the cost. This way, when we collaborate with other arts institutions, we are able to share the cost, co-present, for much greater returns to both parties. Likewise, the amount of money we need to self-produce can be countered by our ability to connect with audiences from the moment they walk in the door, giving everyone an exclusive experience that is very difficult to replicate in larger event spaces. Since life moves and changes so rapidly now, adaptability is an important value for arts organizations in the 21st century. We need to be able to deliver art and culture easily, and flexibility is key in surviving as well as being able to shift with the winds of social change.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I was in 7th grade, my second year playing the tuba. My middle school band director took me to see the Canadian Brass who was performing at my local High School in Homestead. I was immediately drawn to the Tubist of the group, who not only played brilliantly, and did things on the tuba I had no idea could be done, but he hosted the evening, told jokes, and had the entire audience in the palm of his hand. I walked out of the performance on cloud nine, and I immediately went home and told my mom, that I wanted to be THAT GUY when I grew up! 

Grand Rapids Symphony 2015-16 Music Director Candidates

What is something you like to do in your spare time outside of music?

I have two passions besides music. Yoga, and my incredible smart, and beautiful Carolina Dog, Sophie. I found yoga through a friend after losing my parents in early 2014. As I began to move forward, it was a place for me to reconnect with who I was, find my inner strength, and identify within myself what was most important in life.  Just like music, there is a deeply spiritual side to yoga that allowed me to reconnect with my mind, body, and inner spirit in ways that put me on a path of transformation into a better version of myself. This path will always be ongoing, but yoga began that new search for deeper meaning in my life. Then there was a whole bunch of positive side effects! My health, eating habits, and overall well being improved tremendously over time. Clarity as well as focus improved, and I found so many parallels to music making that Yoga has taught me. I plan on doing my teacher training this summer, and hope to be able to share this joy I have for yoga with other musicians, teachers and anyone who yearns to reconnect with something deep within. 

Sophie, my very special Carolina Dog has been a complete joy since I first found her at the pound. She gets me outside into nature everyday, and shows me that living in the moment is truly the best way to go. She is extremely clever and has a whole bunch of tricks she does, including catching frisbees mid-flight, dancing (yes, dancing!) and playing dead on command. Kids love her tricks, and I often bring her to schools to not only help calm children, but as a way of reward for kids to spend time with her when they do well in class. I also bring her to senior citizen centers, as well as foster care homes too. I love watching others melt when she comes in the room! Nothing disarms a person quite like a wonderful dog, and she often brings a little bit of respite to people who truly need it, including myself.

What are you most looking forward to during your visit to Grand Rapids? 

Meeting the musicians, staff, and audiences of the Grand Rapids Symphony community! The Grand Rapids Symphony has a tradition of excellence, on and off the stage, and I am so excited to learn and see this all for myself in person. Returning to make music in Michigan is of great reward as well, especially since I am an Interlochen Arts Academy graduate, have close family in Ann Arbor, and know how Michigan truly values the arts and community. It is such an exciting time for the Grand Rapids Symphony, and myself and I am deeply honored to be a part of it! 

Posted by Sam Napolitan at 6:00 AM

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