Tributes by Jerry Domer, Randy Gardner, Geoffrey Winter, Mike Simpson, Mike Graef, Keith Eitzen, Mike Hettwer, Roger Kaza and Marian Hesse.
Many thanks to Marian Hesse for curating this collection!
From Jerry Domer, Chris Leuba’s best friend:
Jerry Domer provided us with some stream of conscious thoughts about his dear friend, Christopher Leuba.
Chris considered himself an expert on Belgian beer and loved train travel.
He loved going to hot springs. In the early 70's, he visited us in Montana and would insist on being taken to a hot spring pool near the Idaho border in western Montana. Flipping a coin, we would sometimes take him cross-country skiing, which he also enjoyed despite having virtually no skill and terrible balance. When he fell (often), he would ungraciously reject any attempt to help him up. Just try to imagine the vision of Chris in a pair of baggy swim trunks emerging from a hot spring pool, or gingerly trying to co-ordinate skis and poles while bundled up in cold weather gear…smiling yet?
Chris drove only Volkswagens. Old VW's. For a few years, he owned three black VW Beetles, which he named Three, Blind, and Mice. Usually, only one was drivable at any given time, but there were others, a Karmann Ghia, which was a Beetle that looked like a sports car, and a VW bus. Later there were a couple of other models, but they were old when he acquired them. He would never consider buying a new car. There was one exception, an ancient Mercedes sedan. Not a VW, but still German.
Though he would vehemently deny it, he loved cats, all cats, even the ones who disliked him. He would tease those. Whenever he had a working camera with him when he visited us, he would take pictures of the cats, just the cats, unless my wife Joan had one in her lap, then she would be included. (Note from Marian: Jerry’s wife and Joan Watson were two of the important people in Chris’ life. Jerry told me he referred them as his two Joans.)
No one was ever like Julian Christopher Leuba, and no one will ever be like him. Our lives were vastly enriched by him.
In his ascent to Valhalla, he either rode a train or drove a VW. He didn't like horses!
Randy Gardner – my reflections about Chris Leuba
I will be forever grateful for the enormous impact that Christopher Leuba had on my life as a hornist, musician, and teacher. His teaching was transformative for me in many ways.
One summer break during college, my good friend Mike Morrow and I traveled to Seattle for six weeks of immersion in Mr. Leuba’s instruction. We had multiple lessons of indeterminate length each week. Lesson length varied according to his goals for us on a given day and always exceeded an hour. Mr. Leuba was exceptionally generous with his time.
Any Leuba student will tell you that his lessons were intense! He was passionate about his art and set the highest standards for himself and his students. Chris Leuba’s teaching style was focused, direct, unfiltered, and full of creative analogies. We worked on fundamental exercises, Maxime-Alphonse etudes, Mozart concerti and orchestral passages – a balanced horn playing diet. He also opened my eyes to the physics of temperaments and learning to tune correctly according to just intonation. His book, “A Study of Musical Intonation” is required reading in my studio.
Quirky analogies were a wonderfully effective component of Mr. Leuba’s pedagogy. Their quirkiness is probably why these analogies permanently imprinted in my memory and why I often employ odd analogies in my own teaching.
When developing optimal embouchure cushioning, we worked on his “kissing gourami” exercise. Kissing gourami are tropical fish that make a pronounced puckering motion as they swim about. He instructed me to begin playing a long tone with a broadly smiling embouchure, then visualize a gourami as I gradually over-puckered, pushing my mouthpiece away from my face until the note finally dropped. We then found an ideal balance of cushion between those two extremes.
Purple arrows. They must be purple. Leuba said to visualize purple arrows pointing from my embouchure corners to the center of my chin. These arrows had to be purple “because purple is the color of ink used in the packaging of USDA prime beef, and only prime will do.”
Chris Leuba was an artist of the highest caliber. He was a thoughtful musician with an individualistic approach. His tone was beautifully centered, and I particularly admired his lyrical sense and phrasing concepts. I highly recommend his solo and chamber music recordings, as well as those he made with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Minneapolis Symphony.
Finally, Christopher Leuba was a brilliant man with many and varied interests. As examples, he studied Japanese language, practiced calligraphy, hiked in the Himalayan Mountains, and spent time in a Buddhist monastery.
Christopher Leuba was a unique person whose life was a blessing to me.
Tribute to Chris Leuba by Geoffrey Winter
Chris Leuba had a unique way of teaching. Those who had the chance to experience his instruction will know what I mean. Some, I am sure, found it very frustrating. For others it provided the motivation to kick yourself in the behind and get serious about practicing and making efforts not only to become a better horn player, but more importantly: a better musician.
I found myself at the toe of this boot quite often. My first interaction with him was when I was just 9 years old. I was a bit of a prodigy back then, and my parents made an appointment to present me to Chris at the University of Washington where he was the horn professor. I remember going to the music building there on the UW Campus with both my parents, climbing up to the fourth floor and meeting a tall, disheveled man who was rather curt in his manner. After playing some of the 2nd Mozart Concerto in his small office, I was asked to go out and wait in the hall. Shortly thereafter my parents came out looking a bit disappointed. Many decades later my mother related to me his only comment: "Why the horn? Why not anything else?"
I also recall an encounter years later when I enrolled at the Music Department at the University of Washington. Soon after enrolment I ran into Chris (then, Mr. Leuba of course). He seemed surprised to see me there in front of the main office of the music school. He pointed out, "I know why you decided to major in music. It's because you want a scholarship! So long as I am on the committee you won’t be getting one cent!"
I began my studies in spite of his comments, and the first class I had was his horn masterclass, scheduled for 7:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. I showed up at the beginning of the quarter with my horn. Also present were Gus Sebring, Diane Eaton, David Cotrell and Joe Catterson. Chris looked at me with my horn case and asked, "What did you bring that for?" I spluttered a response along the line of "Well, it’s a horn masterclass..." He ordered me to sit in the corner of the room and listen, and that maybe, just maybe, by the end of the quarter he might let me take my horn out of its case. He didn't keep his promise. Before the hour was up I was playing excerpts, such as the trio from the middle movement of Dvorak's Cello Concerto, with the other students.
These kinds of interactions didn't dissuade me from pursuing my dream. In fact, it did just the opposite: I was thinking, "I'll show him!" I soon realized that there was much more to being a good horn player, and an even better musician, than I had thought previously. Simply practicing my horn skills wasn't enough. Chris must have realized I was serious, for soon after that his teaching techniques took a turn. His advice and suggestions helped me to overcome all kinds of challenges I was having with the instrument. I remember he pointed out that there is no one solution that will fix a given problem. Anyone who says "do it this way, and it will work" was blowing smoke....His teaching was geared towards helping you figure out the solution that works for you. Each person is different.
Chris was also extremely attentive to ensemble playing. He reminded us all to pay proper attention to the other musicians around us. Matching dynamics, articulations, note lengths, and style. Oh, and intonation, oh boy intonation, he literally wrote a book about that one!
The most memorable lesson I learned from Chris? He was ever so helpful the way he guided me, and I am sure many others, to overcome our own individual challenges on the instrument. But it was more than that. He mentioned to me many times that he taught not only horn but other instruments as well. Why would a cellist or flutist want to have lessons with Chris? It was because the way he helped individuals find their own solutions applies also to being a musician. He encouraged me to come up with new and personal ideas about how things should be played. He even pointed out that you can take a very traditional interpretation and turn it on its head. Play something in a way that might sound completely wrong. But be convincing. Play it as though that is the only way it could possibly be presented, convince the listener that THIS new interpretation is the way the composer really meant it to be. Take a phrase and find 20 different ways to play it, each one with its own unique features. Only then can you decide which one YOU think is the right one, and then play it so that everyone will think, "Well, now - that's how it's supposed to go!" Chris Leuba’s most important quality: he taught how to be a musician.
Geoffrey Winter is principal horn of the Beethoven Orchestra in Bonn, Germany, and is a member of the American Horn Quartet.
From Mike Simpson (studied with Mr. Leuba at the University of Washington) via Facebook:
My favorite memory from the late ‘70s at the University of Washington was the April Fool Concert. Chris asked me to do a role reversal - he was the undergraduate taking a lesson on conch shell, and I was him; grey dress pants, dress shirt with tie tied backwards (always wear a tie, in case you have to meet the president). I growled at him about his attack sequence on conch shell; he quivered like I did as one of his youngest undergraduates. People rolled in the aisles because they knew he had that reputation. Mr. Leuba could always laugh at himself, and he taught me so much. I got to sit down with him at IHS 2007 in San Francisco and explain to him how profoundly he influenced my 38-year teaching career. He always reverted to how he was tough and, in his words, “an asshole,” and I kept telling him he made all the difference in my teaching career.
Tribute from Mike Graef
A book could and should be written about Christopher Leuba. Truly the most impactful teacher in my musical life. Every weekday started with Mr. Leuba, and then Sunday nights too, for octets – when he taught tuning and was rarely in a good mood. When I saw J.K. Simmons in the movie “Whiplash” I thought of him. He could be very rude and insulting, but that movie wasn’t him. There was also lots of humor and passionate intensity. He was so inventive in the teaching methods he experimented with on me. Like “The Inner Game of Tennis”, like him singing along extremely loudly to overcome my negative thought patterns. He would say, “I’m going to Graef you down” and then grunt loudly in my ear while I was playing. “A Graef lesson is like painting the Mona Lisa with Sears Latex House Paint.” The Chinese words he would write to summarize our work on a Maxime Alphonse etude. His expertise in recording equipment and his creative “click track” metronome tapes. Every excerpt had a song to help you dial in the phrasing, “Oh Fordham U”! for one of the Brahms 1 solos. The way he broke down the technical aspects of EVERYTHING, from tuning to embouchure, to breathing. “Stay springy.” I’m so lucky to have his handwritten notes, and photocopies of his own 1st Horn Parts from his Chicago Symphony years. He paid out of his own pocket so we could have an accompanist for solo Fridays. He could turn the personal heat way way up, but if you missed notes in performance, he was pure grace and helpful reflection. I was off stage once, the hallway was like an echo chamber, couldn’t hear myself, afterward he said, “It’s fine that you hit the wrong note, but did you have to stay on it so long?” So glad for the hours I spent with him a few months ago. I got to sing to him.
Mike Graef, Spokane, WA (studied with Mr Leuba from 1974-1976 at the UW, and then from 1998-2003 in Vancouver, WA when he was playing in the Portland Opera)
From Keith Eitzen Orquesta Sinfónica de Xalapa, México Universidad Veracruzana
International Horn Society Representative for Mexico
During my senior year in college, I found myself facing the question that haunts most horn performance majors. What next? I really needed a break from school, but I had no job prospects. I knew a guy who got a playing job only because he had gone to Juilliard, but no one just gives you work because you went to Northern Colorado. With one semester left, my wonder teacher Jack Herrick made a suggestion. Why not go to Seattle and study privately with his former teacher Chris Leuba? I wrote Mr. Leuba a letter, and he quickly answered that he would accept me as a student. I remember going out for a run and feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had a plan but no idea what that all involved.
When you study with a former Leuba student, you hear stories. Jack Herrick had taken lessons back in high school in Minnesota. I came to understand that Mr. Leuba was a genius who would have a lasting effect on you. Also, he was difficult, brutally honest, hard to please, would not waste his time if he thought that you were wasting his. He was an old school teacher with an old school reputation. But he had written many articles and a brilliant book and had played at the highest level. Fritz Reiner would not let just anyone play first horn in Chicago. Mr. Leuba was a larger than life figure, and after four years in Greeley, Colorado it was time to stretch myself.
I loaded up my small car with a horn, music, stereo, records and cassette tapes and moved to Seattle. My former classmate Marian Hesse had spent a year with Leuba and shared some advice. The most important was to arrive extra early, sit in your car until lesson time, and then try to ring the doorbell as close to the hour as possible. I rang the bell and Mr. Leuba opened the door. He looked at his watch, smiled, and said that I was 10 seconds early. He looked older than I had expected, but doing the math he was about the same age that I am now. He then told me that he had only one rule. Students were not allowed to criticize his housekeeping.
He stepped aside, and I got a first glimpse of his living room. The floor was covered in clutter, mostly papers. In the middle of the room he had cleared out an island with two chairs and a music stand. It all looked quite shocking, and for a second I considered just leaving. But I hadn't moved across the country to turn around and go home. I took a deep breath and went through the door.
I discovered that my new teacher was truly brilliant. He had an inquisitive mind and was able to speak knowledgeably about almost any topic that came up. He spoke so many languages that I can’t remember the number now. The stories about his temper were either exaggerated, or the years had taken the edge off. His teaching was peppered with stories of working with the most famous musicians. His style was honest, brutally honest perhaps. But it was never cruel. And he balanced every criticism with a list of all the things that I was doing well. Over time I came to understand the different steps involved in playing and that I wasn’t a hopeless case. He told me that I was unmusical but not to worry because he would program me. I did once spend an hour and a half on the first five notes of the Tchaikovsky 5 solo until he told me that he was tired, and the lesson was over. But for a kid who could play all the notes, but without much style or emotion, that was not the worst way to make a point.
A sad fact that I learned during my time in Seattle was that Mr. Leuba, a master teacher, had very few students. Some would travel across the country to work with him, but he had no locals. They would take a look at his living room floor, see his lack of social skills, and decide to find another teacher. No one understood the autism spectrum in 1984, how a lack of abilities in one area might be balanced by superior skills in another. He knew that not everyone would walk through his door, and he was very loyal to those who did. He often complained about problems with his neighbors. A man who can't keep his living room clean probably doesn’t keep up his lawn either. The local players couldn’t see past the obvious and would not make the effort to meet the genius just under the surface. They would not walk through the door, and that is their loss.
Fergus McWilliam says that the horn cannot be taught, only learned. And yet we all have mentors who have changed us and sent our lives in new directions. Chris Leuba was world class player, a brilliant writer, a genius who could have worked in many fields. He could analyze your playing and know exactly what you needed to do next. He knew how to nudge you there, with carrots and sticks. He was generous with his time and cared about his students. When I met two other Leuba students at an IHS workshop, we all shared the crazy stories, but it was also obvious that we all respected and felt affection for him.
I had planned to spend a year in Seattle, but after five months a letter arrived from a former Leuba student in Mexico. They had a six-month opening and asked Mr. Leuba to recommend a student. He had another student, also named Keith, who he said played better than I did. But the other Keith had once not shown up for a lesson without calling. Mr. Leuba said that he would never recommend him for a job, that he was sending me instead. The six months has turned into almost 35 years. I have students of my own out working in the world, who are carrying with them some of Mr. Leuba’s wisdom, whether they know it or not. I have a career and a life in a world that I did not know existed. I have two children who would not have been born if he had decided to send the other Keith. Like all great teachers, his small lessons have spread into the world in huge ways.
When I got on the plane for Mexico, I knew three words of Spanish and was scared to death. I had no idea what lead him to choose me over the more obvious choice. But somehow Mr. Leuba knew that the shy, serious kid, probably also on the spectrum, would understand the responsibility of living up to his personal recommendation. I had been given the confidence and the skills to do the job and was not going to let him down. Like so many other former Leuba students, I was fiercely loyal too, and I was going to make him proud.
As daunting as it was to start a new life in a new country, I knew I could do it. I had already walked through one door, and my life was all the richer for it. There was no way that I would not walk through this one.
Chris had a tradition with the Portland Opera horn section that the members would take turns bringing a dessert to each service. The rotation was 1,3,2,4. His rule was “no Safeway!” This was strictly adhered to for all 15 years that I played with him until he retired. It was a great way to bring us together during intermission and breaks.
Mike Hettwer is principal horn of the Portland Opera, teaches at Willamette University, and is a band director in the Dallas (Oregon) school district.
from Roger Kaza, Principoal Horn, St, Loouis /Symphony
“L-A-Two, Four Six Four Two.” Anyone that ever called Chris Leuba’s number knows the refrain. The “hello,” might come later. Chris got straight to the point. You called me, what’s up. He was all business from the get-go.
As an eighteen-year old kid who thought he was pretty good horn player, this Leuba character certainly came across as intimidating. “I’m your monster now, but you’ve got to become your own monster.” He was right of course. Being a pretty good horn player was fine for the community orchestra. But no one was going to ever pay me for it.
He later claimed his persona was all an act. I once asked him why he had quit teaching. “I don’t like the adversarial thing,“ he replied. That summed it up. Chris was an old-school teacher who had no use for hand-holding or compassionate bedside manner. “Don’t overestimate yourself,” he said. But, also, “don’t underestimate yourself.” Everything was always extremes with Chris. One of his students would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Another would be a basket case, or “needs remedial work.” You never quite knew where you stood in the pecking order, because he probably told different students different things. It created anxiety, but an effective kind of anxiety. You’d better be better than the next horn player if you had any chance at all of succeeding in this business.
I only had eight or nine lessons with Chris, but they were multi-hour affairs, and life-changing. After that we were friends and colleagues. I last saw him in 2016 in the dining hall of Norse Home, where he lived. I played him a CD of the Minneapolis Symphony doing Pictures at an Exhibition. On this recording I had heard that Chris had crossed over into the low brass section and played the famous Bydlo solo on Wagner tuba. I was curious as to his reaction. I gave him some earbuds and cued it up. A slight smile crossed his face. “I can approve of that,” he said. High praise from Chris Leuba.
Marian Hesse In Tribute: Christopher Leuba
Julian Christopher Leuba was notable in the music world as an outstanding hornist, musician, and pedagogue. During his long career, he performed as principal horn with the Chicago Symphony, Minneapolis Symphony, and Kansas City Symphony. For 23 years he performed with the Portland Opera and completed 14 entire Ring cycles as second horn with the Seattle Opera. He taught at the University of Washington for 11 years and in 2007 he became an Honorary Member of the International Horn Society. For many years, he reviewed recordings for the International Horn Society.
He was a self-proclaimed “hardened criminal” who loved the horn, horn playing and horn teaching. This was clear from his attendance at many International Horn Society regional workshops and International Symposia. He continued playing the horn in ensembles until a series of strokes made playing too difficult.
By attending almost every horn symposium, he shared his love of the horn on an informal basis with those who took the time to chat with him. He could often be seen lightly conducting in the audience when one of his favorite pieces was being performed. Having sat next to him, I would receive verbal reviews following a performance. These ranged from “Good” to “Meh”.
At the time I began studying with him in 1982, he was taking a limited number of private students. Lessons were inexpensive, unless you wanted a lesson on a day he had planned a hike, a mushroom hunt, or a visit to the Seattle area Botanic Gardens. Those of us who studied with him learned to value being called a “functional” hornist. To reach that level was quite a challenge, and his goal was to challenge his students as hornists and musicians. My lessons involved very little instruction on horn playing, it was entirely music and musicianship. The Tchaikovsky 5 solo “shouldn’t sound like a Volga boatman.” He stressed the importance of phrasing and how pickup notes should be played. Lessons tended to be four hours long, until he tired of trying to teach you or you just couldn’t process any further information.
Mr. Leuba had a great many interests, one of which was languages. He could survive in a number of languages: Spanish (pass), Russian (I can get along), Italian (to a degree) etc. If you could come up with a pun (yes, the lowest form of humor), you’d get one of his wry smiles, a chortle, and one of his long fingers drawing a point on an imaginary blackboard.
Mr. Leuba was a thinking person’s horn player as well - you could talk to him about almost any subject. We corresponded and spoke on the phone frequently for nearly 40 years after I studied with him. Here is his reading list from an early letter: Norman Lebrecht’s book explaining the present ills of the symphonic music business, When the Music Stops. He had just finished a book by Linda McQuaig: Selling the Myth of Powerlessness in the Global Economy; Don Hofstadter’s “Le Ton beau de Marot” : a massive tome on art and poetry, translated by a well-known Indiana University professor whose specialty (in 1998) was Artificial Intelligence. Mr. Leuba’s father was a poet and an author, and that love of language was a characteristic of Mr. Leuba. Chris Leuba wrote several short books including The Study of Musical Intonation, Phrasing Concepts, and Rules of the Game. These books shine in their clear and concise writing and are valuable to musicians on all instruments. My favorite Leuba quote: “All that can be subdivided must be subdivided”.
Here is an extensive interview conducted by Howard Sanner. Mr. Leuba never sought the spotlight and would no doubt be surprised by the outpouring of comments from former students, colleagues and friends.