Windsor

Tecumseh tubist makes '30 under 30' list of top Canadian classical musicians

27-year-old Jarrett McCourt, a Tecumseh tuba player, has been recently named to CBC Music's annual list of the hottest emerging classical musicians in Canada — the top 30 under 30. His instrument is one he was seemingly destined to play since he first picked up the tuba back in high school.

Jarrett McCourt carries two tubas with him when flying to an audition

Jarrett McCourt, a certified yoga instructor, started playing tuba as a high school student at École secondaire l'Essor. He recently made CBC Music's list of the "30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30" for 2018. (Windsor Morning/CBC)

Some days, 27-year-old Jarrett McCourt wonders why he did not take up the flute instead. There are more jobs for flute players and it's small enough to carry on airplanes.

"I get some really weird looks when I bring [my tuba] on a flight. People tell me, 'that's not going to fit in the overhead bin.' Obviously it's not going to fit in the overhead bin," McCourt said, adding he often ends up purchasing another seat — solely for his tuba.

The Tecumseh native and certified yoga instructor has just been named to CBC Music's annual list of the hottest emerging classical musicians in Canada — the top 30 under 30.

Next season, McCourt will be touring the German cities of Hamburg and Berlin, along with Paris, as part of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, shown here. (Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra)

Tuba chosen for him

McCourt started playing the tuba as a student at École secondaire l'Essor.

"Quite frankly, I was the fattest kid in class. The instrument is quite big and I was also quite big so the [go-to] was, 'Let's have Jarrett play the tuba,'" he said.

Though it was expensive, McCourt's teacher, David Hill, who led a band which was missing a tuba player, purchased the instrument and showed up at his house.

"'Jarrett, I want you to learn this. Our band really needs a tuba player,'" McCourt recalls his music teacher telling him. "So it was, kind of, chosen for me."

A then-16-year-old Jarrett McCourt performed for the Windsor Optimist Youth Band. (Submitted by Jarrett McCourt)

Not just a tubist, but a musician

Not very often is McCourt the shining star of a performance, because the tuba typically plays at the "depths of the band." That's why he relishes the opportunity to play solo in front of orchestras.

"I played a concerto with the Windsor Symphony just a couple years ago," McCourt said. "It's fun to really get out in front of the orchestra instead of just sitting at the back."

McCourt doesn't just play the tuba. He's a student of the art form who absorbs anything he can about classical music in his spare time.

"Gustav Mahler ... Dmitri Shostakovich, Richard Strauss," said McCourt, recalling some of his favourite composers of the genre.

But he only "sort of" identifies as a tubist. Rather, McCourt makes the distinction of referring to himself as a musician. 

"When I play the tuba, I'm colouring other people's melodic material. I find that my identity is to be that support role in the orchestra."

Trying to make it

His love of the tuba does come at the expense of job opportunities. He estimates there are only "seven" full-time positions for tuba players in Canada.

"Often times, they hold these jobs for 30 or 40 years. So I have to wait and twiddle my thumbs until somebody retires or, you know," he said. "Just a couple months ago, there were 100 tuba players vying for one position ... The competition is very fierce."

Besides being an avid player of the tuba, Jarrett McCourt is also a certified yoga instructor. He said that making a career out of playing the tuba is difficult because the amount of orchestras there are in Canada can be counted "on one hand." (Alice Hong)

Travelling for auditions is another headache. Costs are high and baggage logistics create a problem when trying to carry a large tuba — or, in his case, two large tubas — through the airport.

"In order to be competitive, ... I need to have two tubas," McCourt said, adding he has a "small" tuba for solo performances and a "large" one when playing in an orchestra.

Hear more from Jarrett McCourt on the CBC's Windsor Morning:

Jarrett McCourt joins us in studio to tell us about the life of a traveling tubist, and to play us a few notes. 10:41

Looking ahead

Next season, McCourt will be touring the German cities of Hamburg and Berlin, along with Paris, as part of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra.

He'll then return to Canada to play a concerto with the University of Western Ontario's Wind Ensemble. He'll also be playing with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Winnipeg Symphony.

with files from the CBC's Windsor Morning

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