Aaron Eckert would have taken up tuba, but he wasn’t big enough to play it in fourth grade.
Euphonium was the next best thing. It’s a lightly smaller brass wind instrument that covers a higher range of notes.
“I actually had the opportunity to move to tuba in sixth grade, but I was happy where I was at, so I stuck with it,” said Aaron, 26, a Belleville West graduate whose father, Jim, co-owns Eckert’s Orchard.
That decision changed the course of Aaron’s life.
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He took euphonium lessons throughout high school and earned a bachelor’s in music education at Eastern Illinois University and master’s degrees in euphonium and jazz (trombone) at University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music in New York.
He joined the school’s Carillon Quartet of three euphonium players and a tubaist. They won second place in the 2016 ensemble competition of the International Tuba Euphonium Association; Aaron won first in the jazz competition.
“My husband and I got to hear them,” said his mother, Carole Eckert, music director at Union United Methodist Church in Belleville. “It was very exciting.”
It also gave her an idea: Why not invite the quartet to become part of the church’s Fine Arts Series?
Carillon will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday at Union United, 721 E. Main St. in Belleville. Admission is free (offering collected). A reception will follow the concert.
It’s an opportunity for local music-lovers to expand their horizons.
“It’s cool to hear music normally played by other instruments in a different setting,” Aaron said. “It kind of gives it a new flavor. It’s a new spin.”
Aaron graduated in May and moved to Hood River, Ore., where his fiancee, Anna Stipe, got a job teaching band and choir. He’s spending the summer in Belleville, helping out in the apple orchard.
Other quartet members are tubaist Andrew Payton, of Chicago; and euphonium players Wil Wortley of Kenosha, Wisc., and Stephen Cannistraci, of Lebanon, Penn.
“There’s not much literature for this specific type of euphonium-tuba combination, but it is growing,” Aaron said. “We do a lot of arrangements and transcriptions of older music.”
Sunday’s concert won’t be his first time on the Union United stage, not even close. He grew up in the church, singing in choir and playing in special programs.
Last summer, Aaron performed a euphonium duet with his former teacher, Ed Jacobs, now music department chair at Southwestern Illinois College.
“Most good high school musicians could go to Eastern Illinois University and major in music and be successful,” Jacobs said. “But after that, to get a graduate assistantship at a place like Eastman? That’s a big deal.”
There’s not much literature for this specific type of euphonium-tuba combination, but it is growing. We do a lot of arrangements and transcriptions of older music.
Aaron Eckert on the Carillon Quartet
Aaron comes from a musical family. Carole and Jim met in the University of Illinois concert choir in the late ’60s.
Today, Carole conducts and Jim sings in the choir. Daughters Mary Delabre and Katherine Eckert also sing. Carole serves on the Fine Arts Series committee.
“We believe art brings beauty to people’s lives, and it’s also an outreach,” Carole said. “We are a very musically inclined church. Music lifts our spirits, enriches our souls and brings us closer to God.”
Aaron considered playing drums in second grade, but he was awed seeing Red Lehr on sousaphone with the St. Louis Rivermen at Fischer’s Restaurant.
A video-game-like music CD exposed him to other instruments. He found himself playing tuba tunes over and over, and he thought tubas looked “cool” in parades.
Jacobs was a teacher at Althoff Catholic High School when Aaron started taking lessons in fifth grade.
“He was one of those hard-working students,” Jacobs said. “Even at that age, if you told him to do something, he would come back the next time and he would have done it, and that makes teaching a whole lot easier.”
Another mentor was Tom Birkner, retired director of instrumental music at Belleville West, where Aaron played euphonium and trombone in the jazz and symphonic bands. He graduated in 2009.
On Sunday, Carillon selections will range from baroque to jazz to contemporary music by Eastman faculty member Matt Curlee. Carole is hoping for a strong turnout.
“They’re very good, and it’s a very beautiful sound,” she said. “It’s rich and warm. It’s a very unique instrumentation for an ensemble.”
At a glance
- What: Carillon Quartet concert
- When: 3 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Union United Methodist Church, 721 E. Main St. in Belleville
- Admission: Free (offering collected)
- Information: Call Carole Eckert at 618-235-3876