Demondrae Thurman (left) teaches a master class at the 2019 Trombone, Tuba, and Euphonium Institute.
Demondrae Thurman performs a recital during the 2019 Trombone, Tuba, and Euphonium Institute.
Demondrae Thurman (far right, front row) with the faculty of the 2019 Trombone, Tuba, and Euphonium Institute.
Dr. Demondrae Thurman may have left behind his childhood dream of being an electrical engineer, but his problem-solving mindset has transferred seamlessly to his career as a musician.
“I talk to all of my students about understanding their limitations,” Thurman said. “Our limitations don’t go away, but we can learn how to manage them.”
If his resume is any indication, Thurman is an expert at limitation management. Thurman has been one of the world’s leading euphonium soloists for two decades, and has two solo albums to his credit. He’s the go-to euphonium specialist for orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, and Philadelphia Orchestra, and performs with chamber ensembles such as the Sotto Voce Quartet and the internationally acclaimed Brass Band of Battle Creek.
In 2018, Thurman joined the faculty of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he teaches euphonium and chamber music. For the past several summers, he has brought his talents as a pedagoge to Interlochen Arts Camp, where he serves as a guest artist at the Interlochen Trombone, Tuba, and Euphonium Institute.
Read on as Dr. Thurman shares his experiences as a young euphonium player and his advice on choosing an instrument, defining your musical identity, and making the best use of your high school years.
How did you start playing the euphonium?
I started out in the 7th grade in my school band. That was my first formal music instruction, although I was always interested in music. It took awhile for me to pick an instrument. I wanted to be a drummer, but my mom wouldn’t allow it, since we lived in a three-bedroom apartment. My band director brought out all the instruments for me to try. I didn’t like any of them except for the euphonium. I was really drawn to the sound of it.
I began my career in the arts in a very humble way. I started my life wanting to be an electrical engineer, which was my goal until my senior year of high school. During that year, I heard “Pictures At An Exhibition” for the first time and fell in love with music and knew I wanted to be involved in it. Doing engineering and music at the same time was not possible, so I decided to focus on music. I kept myself ignorant of the challenges of music on purpose so I didn’t create limitations for myself based on what I was told. I just tried to put myself in the best positions to work with the best teachers and hear the best performances. The best of the best come through Interlochen, which is why I came here to teach.
Why is teaching important to you? What do you find rewarding in working with young artists?
My reward comes from seeing my students succeed in their art. That doesn’t just mean getting jobs or winning competitions, but also falling in love with music. Music is the most important thing.
What are some pieces of advice you give to all your students?
I always talk about being vulnerable. The younger generation is worried about being judged. You have to learn to be vulnerable to the point that judgment doesn’t keep you from progressing and continuing in your love for music. I also talk to my students about being smart: understanding your limitations and strengths. It’s important to strengthen your strengths and make your limitations less visible. Our limitations don’t go away, but we can learn how to manage them.
You play on a Miraphone 5050 Ambassador Edition euphonium and a Demondrae model mouthpiece—both of which were designed for you. What’s the key to finding the right instrument for you?
I had this instrument [the Miraphone 5050 Ambassador Edition] designed in an effort to make a better machine than what was available. I had played a lot of great instruments, but all of them had issues that I thought should be fixable. I wanted specific things to be improved, and Miraphone was able to do those things in this model. I feel what I play is the best on the market, but it’s not the best for everyone. Every player is different. You have to get an instrument that fits you physically—one that is ergonomically satisfying when you hold it. All instruments have a sound that is unique to them, so try to find one with a sound that identifies with what you think a sound should be. Most importantly, pick an instrument that doesn’t detract from your strengths.
What are some things that young musicians can do now to help their future career?
Study piano, even at the most elementary level. Get familiar with keyboard. It took me a long time for me to grasp the piano. Knowledge of the keyboard makes understanding music theory, scales, and other building blocks of music much easier.
It’s also helpful to identify yourself with musicians; not necessarily ones on your instrument, but people who make music in a way that satisfies you. Reach out beyond the instrument you play. You can be inspired by conductors, clarinetists, bassoonists—anybody. It helps you block out what could be noise otherwise. Find a lane you like and go for it.