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Home » On the Cover » Carol Jantsch: Philadelphia Orchestra Tuba Player Embraces Another Role Offstage

Carol Jantsch: Philadelphia Orchestra Tuba Player Embraces Another Role Offstage


A typical orchestral tuba weighs about 25 pounds, which is less than you might expect. Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) member Carol Jantsch, principal tuba of the Philadelphia Orchestra, has been used to lugging that weight around since she started playing the instrument at the age of 12. These days, though, she is carrying an added few pounds on top of that. Jantsch is expecting her first child—a girl—in late July.

Jantsch says she has found the process of playing while being pregnant to be an interesting one, and a continual learning scenario. She recently shared her experiences on a podcast. “Most people ask me if my stomach gets in the way of holding the tuba,” laughs Jantsch. “But even now, at 32 weeks, that’s not much of a problem. Really, I just need to breathe a bit more often.” 

Exploring atypical things, like the effects of pregnancy on brass playing, is a lifelong theme for Jantsch, who won her position in the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2006 at the age of 20 while still a senior in college. Tuba, for instance, was not the typical choice of instrument in grade school. “I always wanted something weird and different as a kid,” she says. “I didn’t want to play what everyone else was playing, especially the girls. I was introduced to the euphonium when I was nine and said, what’s that? I’ll take it!” Three years later she fell in love with the sound of the even more unusual (and larger) tuba.

From Early Progress to Unintentional Role Model

While Jantsch was in grade school, her mother was getting her master’s degree at Oberlin, where she engaged a fellow private student for Carol’s euphonium lessons. These days, her mom is a voice teacher at Swarthmore College. Her dad is a doctor, plays a little violin, and sings, and her brother is a jazz musician and piano tuner in Brooklyn. Music has always been a constant in the family. “My parents met in the ’70s when they were both singing in the Cleveland Orchestra chorus,” she adds. 

Jantsch says she was never discouraged from playing the tuba because she was a girl. “I was always pretty good for my age, so I got more encouragement than anything.” Attending the Interlochen Arts Academy for high school provided a nurturing atmosphere. “It was the same at the University of Michigan. Our studio was very close, and it was a very supportive environment,” she says.

Her college years encouraged an increasing desire to be an orchestral player. “To be honest, I had always liked band better. The tuba parts are more fun,” she laughs. “But I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way. During my time in school, there happened to be a bunch of orchestral openings. Since there’s only one tuba in an orchestra, most of the big tuba jobs are literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I learned about the great lifestyle a job like that could provide, and it made me hungrier for it.”

She says she took a considerable number of auditions before Philadelphia. “I got rejected from many of them due to my age and lack of experience—including the Philadelphia audition.” She says she got lucky, however, because they didn’t hire anyone. “They decided to have a second, invite-only audition. The orchestra’s bass trombone player had heard my tape for a summer festival. I had done an arrangement of the Khachaturian violin concerto, and it got passed around the Philly brass section. That audition was also a no-hire, but I did well enough to make the sub list for the next season, and I got to skip school for a few weeks of my senior year to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I finally won the job at the third audition later that season.”

Jantsch says she is grateful for the AFM—her union membership allowed her to sub with the orchestra when she was still in college. She has also served on the orchestra’s players’ committee for four terms. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also really important work,” she says. “It’s a way of giving back to your organization and furthering the things that the union has worked for since its inception.”

Through all of this, Jantsch emphasizes that her gender was not relevant to her career until she won the job in Philadelphia—and quite unexpectedly, she became a role model.

Learning to Set an Example

Jantsch says becoming the first female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra set her on a path to figure out what to do with her newfound role model status. “At first I thought the best approach was just to do my thing, pursue excellence, and be visible doing it.”

She looked up to women like tuba soloist Velvet Brown of Local 660 (State College, PA) and former Chicago Symphony horn player Gail Williams of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). “They’re just undeniably amazing at what they do. And seeing someone who looks like you having carved that path helps you understand that the path is possible for you, too, whether it’s conscious or not.”

After some time on the job, Jantsch realized she could use her platform to do even more—starting with education. In addition to her teaching position at Yale, she has given masterclasses around the globe, and in 2018, she founded Tubas for Good, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides instruments for students in the Philadelphia School District.

Teaching is an obvious, visible way to make a difference. “And for me personally, teaching is also what kept me from plateauing after winning the job in Philadelphia,” she says. “I had to learn how to verbalize everything I do, which gave me a better structure to how I think and function as a player and musician. Passing on that knowledge is really meaningful, and it’s also a good reminder when I hear myself saying things to students that I should be saying to myself.” Jantsch adds that her students provide extra motivation: “Sometimes I’ll hear them do something particularly impressive and think, yikes, I’d better go practice so I can keep up with these kids!”

Jantsch says educating other brass players is also about finding musical fulfillment. “I do play the tuba, so not every week in the orchestra is the most musically engaging. Dvorak’s 9th symphony, for instance, has a grand total of 14 notes in the entire tuba part. So, I have my teaching, the cover band, the nonprofit, and other projects.” 

Wait, back up. Cover band? “It’s called Tubular. It’s a passion project I put together with friends from college. It’s two tubas, two euphoniums, and drums, and we all also sing.” Tubular does covers of anything and everything from Lady Gaga to Led Zeppelin, playing in bars with people drinking and dancing and singing along. “A very different experience from my day job,” she laughs. “We play many genres—Beyonce, stuff like that, in bars and clubs, for whoever will have us.” Jantsch does all the arrangements herself, and she says arranging has now become a big hobby. “We even recreated the entire Sgt. Pepper album live a few years ago, with costumes and everything.”

Air or Lack Thereof

And there’s also podcasting, which Jantsch explored over the pandemic. “Like everyone else and their mom,” she jokes. Jantsch interviews young brass musicians from underrepresented communities in the series, called the Rising Stars Podcast. “I wanted to get their stories out so other musicians would have examples to look up to.”

Her podcasting has lately covered the topic of pregnancy and how it affects brass players, gathering ideas in a couple of panel discussions with current and prospective brass moms in the industry. Which brings us back to the previously mentioned challenge with breathing: Jantsch explains that the issue is with the massive increase in blood volume that a pregnant person experiences. “The heart doesn’t pump any more blood than it did pre-
pregnancy, so the person becomes deoxygenated more quickly. I feel winded pretty easily,” she says. “It’s a lot like being at a high altitude. For me, it feels exactly like when the Philadelphia Orchestra tours to Vail, the town in Colorado where we perform concerts every summer at 8,000 feet.”

She says that hosting the panel discussions on brass playing and pregnancy was an invaluable experience, especially once she became pregnant herself. “It was very comforting to know that plenty of women have played their instruments at a high level through their entire pregnancy and continue to do so as parents.” Jantsch adds that hearing about the variety of experiences was fascinating. “Everyone has such a different experience with this journey, but at the end of the day, you’re not alone, and it can be done.” She encourages anyone who feels the need to talk about brass playing and pregnancy to get in touch with her. “I’d love to pay that forward.”

How she will balance motherhood and orchestral playing is her next big challenge. “I’ll have to get back to you on that one! My approach is to educate myself as much as possible, while knowing there will be a lot you can’t know until you get there.” As a first preemptive move, Jantsch has declined all gigs that aren’t directly with the Philadelphia Orchestra or Yale. “That will give me space to see what it’s like to be a mom while doing my jobs, and then I can go from there.”