He was a tuba player from Hagerstown, Maryland, who came from a long line of railroad workers but was smitten by music when he heard the National Symphony Orchestra perform when he was young. He decided he wanted to be in the school band when he was in the seventh grade but his parents didn’t have a lot of money to spend on musical instruments. When you didn’t have your own instrument, you pretty much picked up whatever the school had available, in his case, the sousaphone.
It was this same sousaphone that he played at an audition for the Peabody Conservatory. He aced the audition, but was told he would have to buy a new instrument. So he cobbled together whatever money he had a purchased his first, new tuba. It was out of tune, however, and he had to go back and buy another one. The third time was the charm and he graduated from Peabody with a Bachelor’s degree in 1961.
It did not take long for him to find a job. By September, he was gainfully employed by the NSO as their principal tuba player. He made his Carnegie Hall debut with them on 11th March 1962.
In 1963, he was conscripted into the United States Army where he played in the Field Band in Fort Meade, Maryland.
He must have built up some muscles lugging his tuba around, because in 1972, he hit two home runs to help the NSO defeat their dreaded rivals, the New York Philharmonic, by a score of 15-13. Needless to say, it was not a pitcher’s duel.
In addition to being the NSO’s principal tuba player and resident slugger, he became their personnel manager in 1976, a post he would hold for nearly a quarter of a century.
In 1987, he flexed his musical muscles by performing the “Horn Concerto” of Richard Strauss with the NSO. What was unusual about this performance was that he played the solo… on tuba.
On 18th February 1998, the NSO descended on Alabama and performed at Decatur High School where about 500 students were mesmerized by the music of Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, Gustav Mahler, Ottorino Respighi, John Philip Sousa, and Richard Wagner.
The NSO Principals Brass Quintet conducted its South Dakota residency in March 2002. One of the highlights featured David and his fellow quintet members playing the theme from The Flintstones on conch shells.
In the spring of 2003, they honoured their North Dakota residency with stops at Beulah Middle School, Bismarck State College, Kenmare High School, North Dakota College of Science, Red River High School and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grand Forks, and Trinity Lutheran Church and the University of Mary in Bismarck, and West Fargo High School. Their program comprised Morley Calvert’s “Suite from the Monteregian Hills”, Duke Ellington’s “Three American Jazz Classics”, George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah” and overture from Berenice, W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues”, Gustav Holst’s “Second Suite in F”, and Peter Schickele’s “Fanfare to the Common Cold” and “Variations on a Joke”.
On 10th January 2004, the NSO Principals Brass Quintet, which consisted of David, horn player Martin Hackelman, trombonist Milton Stevens and trumpeters Steve Hendrickson and Adel Sanchez, performed their Bravo Brass! Kinderkonzert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They performed at the Alden Theatre in McLean, Virginia, on 7th March 2004.
In May 2004, the NSO presented “The Ring Without Words”, with music by Wagner arranged by Maestro Lorin Maazel. It was one of his last concerts with the NSO, because he retired shortly thereafter.
On 23rd May 2007, he returned to South Hagerstown High School to perform with the school’s concert band and wind ensemble. The concert included Andrea Catozzi’s “Beelzebub” and Frank Ticheli’s “An American Elegy” and arrangement of “Amazing Grace”. This time, David had his own tuba.
His last recording featured him singing in the bass section of the Choral Arts Society of Washington in the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 8”. He also sang in Mahler’s second and eighth symphonies at Carnegie Hall.
In 2010, he helped coordinate TUBACHRISTMAS at Kennedy Center. He also performed with his wife Sara, who is a flautist, at schools in the D.C. area, as part of the NSO’s educational outreach program, In-School Ensemble.
He enjoyed his retirement by remaining a very active volunteer contributor to the NSO by shepherding the alumni organization, being an archivist, singing in the chorus, and helping in many other ways.
In 2014 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and passed away at his home in Arlington, Virginia, on 13th July 2015.
Paul Hill Chorale recordings
O Come All Ye Faithful (Frederick Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
Arranger – Jackson Berkey
Conductor – Paul Hill
Organist – Sondra Proctor
National Capital Brass and Percussion Ensemble
Here is “The Fountain” from the production of Boris Gudonuv by Modest Mussorgsky in 1999 with the music performed by the National Symphony Orchestra…