New Brunswick

Bathurst tuba player named one of top 30 under 30 classical musicians in Canada

A 21-year-old tuba player in New Brunswick has been recognized as one of the top 30 under 30 classical musicians in Canada for CBC Music's annual list, which shines a spotlight on emerging classical talent across the country.

Gabrielle Carruthers fell in love with the tuba in a Grade 9 music class because of its powerful sound

In Grade 9, Gabrielle Carruthers started playing the tuba by fluke after being introduced to the brass instrument by her high school music teacher. (Facebook)

Gabrielle Carruthers spent most of her lunch breaks in high school playing her tuba inside one of the practice rooms jammed with pianos, drum sets and amplifiers at École Secondaire Népisiguit in Bathurst.

"If I did hang out with my friends they were like, 'Wow, you're not in the practice room."

Now, all those years of practicing have paid off.

The 21-year-old has been named one of the top 30 under 30 classical musicians in Canada for CBC Music's annual list, which shines a spotlight on emerging classical talent across the country.

Carruthers is also the only New Brunswicker on the list.

"I was honestly super surprised they knew my name," she said. 

A 'powerful sound'

She started playing the instrument in Grade 9, after her teacher brought in an array of instruments for students to sample. As a joke, Carruthers volunteered to play the tuba — even though she really had her sights set on the flute. 

"I had the instrument [tuba] and nobody was playing it," said Carmelle Valotaire, Carruthers's former music teacher. "I said, 'Well, do you want to try it?' And she said, 'Yes.'"

And it was the loud sound of the instrument the teen immediately fell in love with.

For years, Carruthers struggled to find a tuba player to teach her. So she ended up researching and teaching herself how to play the instrument. (Facebook)

"When I first played into it, it was such a powerful sound," Carruthers said. "It can go from really strong to soft and sweet." 

After that, Valotaire enrolled the teen in band, where she played throughout high school. She also started playing for the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra. 

Carruthers admits she wasn't the best player when she first started out. And spent most of her time researching and teaching herself how to play the brass instrument.

"I've come a very long way," she laughed. 

Practice makes perfect 

Valotaire wasn't surprised when she learned on Facebook that her former student made the top 30 list because she always tried to do her best and was up for any new challenge.

"She worked hard. She practiced a lot and she got really good," the retired teacher said. "That's what you have to do if you want to be good with your instrument."

Carruthers started playing piano in elementary school. Then, she dabbled with the trombone in middle school. But it was the tuba that stole her heart.

This year, the 21-year-old was accepted into the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. (Facebook)

In Grade 10, she decided she wanted to pursue tuba as a professional career, following a conversation she had with her mom while driving to an orchestra rehearsal. 

"I really love this."

She recently bought her own tuba in December, a used one that cost almost $8,000. Carruthers, who is about five feet and five inches tall, said the instrument reaches her hip bone when she stands it up next to her. 

"It was a gift from me to me."

Getting familiar with the tuba 

The tuba is the lowest-pitched musical instrument in the brass family. And the sound is produced by lip vibration into a mouthpiece. Carruthers said it's a large instrument that not many people would see everyday.

"Some people don't know what it is."

Carruthers is completing her Bachelor of Music degree at the Université de Moncton. When she's not at school, the young musician is playing her tuba in one of the spare rooms in her duplex in Moncton.

Lately, she's been focusing a lot on her technique. 

She is hoping to do a Masters in Performance in either Toronto or Montreal and eventually play in a professional orchestra.

The Bathurst musician played with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra for six years. This year, she was also accepted into the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. She is the only tuba player in the orchestra. 

"When I got that news I literally started bawling my eyes out."

The orchestra was set to do a national and then international tour but the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented that from happening. Although Carruthers has had more time to practice, she is hoping the tour will start up again next year.

"It will be nice to be playing with other people again," she said. "It feels a little lonely right now."

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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