Fuller leaving a Legacy in the world

Fuller leaving a Legacy in the world

calendar icon17 Apr 2019    user iconBy Brian G Reetz

(from left) Ethan Millington, Craig Fuller and Rubén Darío Gómez
(from left) Ethan Millington, Craig Fuller and Rubén Darío Gómez

When one enriches other’s lives, makes significant contributions to the world and leaves a special feeling in the community one serves, it’s a legacy. It’s something that Craig Fuller has created in his 40 years of working with tuba/euphonium students at the University of Nebraska.

Fuller will be retiring this Spring but this past fall Rubén Darío Gómez, who is pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) at the Glenn Korff School of Music, approached GKSOM undergraduate student Ethan Millington and some other Euphonium players during Cornhusker Marching Band season about the possibility of performing a piece he was considering writing.

“I wanted to write a piece for tuba for almost ten years,” said Gómez. “They said that they would play the piece if I decided to do so. Then... after some weeks… they knew that Craig was considering his retirement, so they told me if it was OK to for me to write a piece to be premiered in a potential retirement recital made in his honor by some of his actual and former students. I agreed with that idea and I started the piece at the beginning of this semester. Right now, it is not clear to me if the piece will be played in his retirement recital, but for sure it will be played in Ethan's recital.”

Millington’s junior recital will take place this Saturday (April 20) in Kimball Recital Hall, and it will also be the World Premiere of Gómez’s piece, Legacy, dedicated to Fuller on his retirement from UNL after many years of teaching the instrument.

The piece has two main melodic ideas, according to Gómez: Theme 1 is in a certain way inspired by one of the (Husker) fight songs (Hail Varsity), since it uses certain rhythmic references of that song. Gómez thought that having that thematic reference would be a good way to represent Fuller’s service to the university during this long period of time. Theme 2 is more lyrical and is based on something that Millington told Gomez the first time they talked about the piece --that Fuller loves opera.

“I also know that tuba players usually play arias from operas because of the lyrical and sing able elements that this repertoire provides for the instrument. The piece is in sonata form; Themes 1 and 2 make the exposition. Then, there is the development section in which both themes are presented in a variety of ways, characters, textures, and harmonies representing Craig's legacy.

“In other words, he has influenced so many students, people with different characteristics, diversity of backgrounds and variety of stories, that I tried to represent that by putting both themes in this variety of ways; that represents his Legacy.”

Millington agrees.

“As for what I've learned from Craig: it's hard to know where to start,” Millington said. “I'm nearing the completion of my third year studying with him and have enjoyed every lesson. More than anything, Craig has taught me how to take care of myself as a musician. Every week, as I sit down to start my lesson, Craig asks me, "So, what are you playing today?" This question has guided me in my continual development as an independent musician. Even outside of tuba playing, Craig is a fantastic role model, who I truly admire, as do countless current and former students. We are sad to see him go and wish him the best!”

Fuller started at UNL in 1988. He taught at the University of Nebraska Omaha the 10 years prior but actually tried to start at UNL earlier, when he first got a job with the Omaha Symphony.

“Our principal trumpet player in the Omaha Symphony at the time, Steve Erickson, was a UNL grad,” Fuller said. “He thought UNL needed a tuba teacher specialist so he made a special trip to Lincoln with me to meet with Ray Hague, the Music Chair at the time. I introduced myself and offered my services, but it took UNL 10 years to figure out they needed me. In the meantime, I had developed a really solid studio of six tuba majors at UNO. When I started at UNL there was a smaller contingent of good players, I think there were three. Last semester (Fall 2018), I had 14 students at UNL, so I think it has worked out for UNL. It has been great for me, but I’m ready to have just one full-time job, instead of two.”

Fuller is Principal Tuba of the Omaha Symphony and now in his final semester as Senior Lecturer of Music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a graduate of Indiana University, where he studied with the late Harvey Phillips. According to his bio, Fuller has performed as soloist with the Omaha Symphony on numerous occasions. He has also soloed with the Lincoln Symphony, the Nebraska Chamber Orchestra and the U.S. Army Orchestra in Washington, D.C. He has performed solo recitals in a number of states, and has performed in brass quintet recitals throughout the Midwest and in the Czech Republic. In addition to his long associations with the Omaha and Lincoln Symphonies, Fuller has also performed with the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Henry Mancini Orchestra and the Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra in Door County, Wisconsin.

“Many years later Ray was very kind and he said to me, ‘I’m glad you got on at UNL because I knew you always wanted to.’ He was a very kind-hearted soul. He was right, I always wanted to teach at a major University to balance off the performing career I had with the Symphony. That is one of the main reasons I didn’t take a job in Italy in the Teatro Regio in Torino that was offered to me at the same time I won the Omaha job. I thought my calling was to have a varied career of teaching, chamber music and orchestra playing. I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to live that dream for the last 40 years!”

He is an award-winning teacher and his students include numerous public-school teachers, college teachers and symphony orchestra tuba players throughout the United States.

“I enjoy the interactions with the students,” Fuller said. “I like becoming a part of their lives during their high school days and the transition into college. I remember one student in particular who was from Grand Island. Norm Sodomka, who was his band director and the parent of another UNL tuba player, had me working with him when he was in junior high on a symphony tour there. He ended up coming to UNL and is now an outstanding music educator in Central Nebraska.

“This same student was in the National Guard while at UNL and was deployed to Bosnia for a year. I didn’t think he could go without playing the tuba for a year. His Commander was a friend of mine from our church, so we organized the careful packing of a tuba in a tank for safe travel to Bosnia. It was an older UNL tuba that was checked out to me, so my wife and I agreed that we would have to replace it if it was lost or damaged. It and the student came back in one piece. No one else knew about this until now, but it all turned out for the best.”

One of Fuller’s areas of research includes instrument design and repair. He authored a chapter in the “Tuba Source Book” in this area and he holds a U.S. Patent for an instrument design. In 1985, the Omaha Jaycees recognized Fuller for community service and professional achievement by naming him an “Outstanding Young Omahan”.

Fuller has recorded with numerous groups including Mannheim Steamroller, Pete Yorn, the Omaha Symphony, the Chicago Symphony and on numerous commercial soundtracks and jingles. He has played for many of the world’s top conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Klaus Tennestadt, Seiji Ozawa, Daniel Baremboim, Leonard Slatkin, Gunther Schuller and Robert Spano. He has been involved in commissioning new works for tuba and brass quintet and has performed a number of world premieres of new works.

Millington is really excited about the world premiere of the piece, Legacy.

“It's been a great experience to collaborate with a composer,” Millington said. “The piece itself is in a word, fun. Rubén has a great compositional voice, and I am thrilled to get to premiere a piece of his music.”

Fuller added, “I am honored and humbled by Ethan commissioning this piece in honor of my retirement from University of Nebraska. Mr. Gómez is a student that I really admire - a fine conductor, composer and musician. Even though I knew that Ethan had asked Rubén to write a new piece for tuba, I had no idea that it was being written in my honor. It was a nice surprise!”