Penn State Laureate Velvet Brown on her love of music and teaching the next generation the tuba
Velvet Brown is the Penn State Laureate for the 2022-2023 school year. She’s an international tuba soloist who has taught tuba and euphonium at Penn State since 2003. Brown is also the associate director for equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Music. WPSU’s Carolyn Donaldson interviewed Velvet Brown when she gave a Penn State Forum Speaker Series talk about her work called “Look Up and Expand Your Reach.”
Here's their conversation:
Velvet, let me start with your love of music and your love of tuba specifically, and then how that blends itself into a person of color and getting your message out and your music out through this instrument.
Well, first of all, I absolutely love music. And I did come from a very musical family. And I couldn't really imagine singing or playing the drums. And then in middle school, I was introduced to the tuba. And I just thought, I really want to find my voice with this instrument. And I guess I was a little bit of a stubborn musician, young musician, thinking that, well, I don't necessarily like the band parts. But I'm going to learn other things. I'm going to learn melodies. I want to do the things that the flute players and the clarinet players and the trumpet players and the saxophone players are doing. And in addition to that, my love of vocalists, I was inspired by Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson. You can name it, I wanted to be like them, but have that voice through the instrument, which is the tuba.
And part of what you promote is collaborative spirit. Not just your instrument, but using others to tell stories.
Yes, I was thinking about 10 or 11 years ago, I wanted to find out what art and music could bring together. The feeling of movement is just pinnacle, in my opinion, song. I'm playing the tuba, but I am seeing the words or that the audience members see the words. I want to sing, but I can't sing and play. And just that collaboration, movement, percussion. We don't have percussion on all of their performances, but just that somewhat driving rhythm also elevates our musical excitement.
And with your students, how does that typify itself when you're out teaching and working with the students in their growth in music?
Well, one of the things I have always said is that I don't want to be the best teacher of 1965. That I would like to be current and also looking ahead, but with that we have to know our nuts and bolts of playing or really understand the building blocks of music, the elements of music. We have to practice. We have to really understand how the music works. But in addition to that, find our voice. What is our voice? What do we want to do? I ask all of the students, what are you going to do to change this world of music? Not necessarily just what is your career? But what are you going to do to change music and the career of music.
And finally, with the dissension in the world today, with the chaotic craziness that we live in -- and you can take that from many different perspectives -- what does music do for for all of us universally?
Music does a lot. Everyone listens to music for one reason or another. Some people listen to music to escape. Some people listen to music to elevate their senses. Some people listen to music because they want to be part of that musical picture that they're listening to or they're part of. So music goes hand in hand with humanity, and I know no other way to express and be alive then through music or to experience music from others.
The next talk in the Penn State Forum Series is titled “True Tall Tales from Tanzania.” Penn State professors Derek Lee and Monica Bond will talk about their work as wildlife biologists and activists on April 20 at the Penn Stater Conference Center. Tickets are available on the Forum website.