Fred Greene has played the contrabass tuba with the California Philharmonic for 15 years, gallantly holding down the low end of the orchestra. Tuba players might be a bit of an enigma to the general public, leaving one to wonder, where do they come from and why did they choose the tuba in the first place?
Fred grew up in Northern California, in the small town of Red Bluff, known as The Victorian City on the River. At the time the population was about 7, 000 and there was hardly any classical music to be had. So he played electric bass guitar in rock bands to connect with audiences. "I feel comfortable with the bass line," Fred explains. He had started his brass playing with trumpet in the 3rd grade, but by the time he reached junior high school he'd moved on to the baritone horn. "I was tired of playing the tune all the time." A statement some might find surprising. In high school he made his way to the sousaphone.
The Greene family had more of a science background than musical. Fred's father was a surgeon and his two brothers became physicists. Fred's mother would joke that Fred's thesis was the only one she could understand of her three sons. His family was very supportive of his following a music career though, but nevertheless wondered what he would be able do. Fortunately, he was able to do quite a lot.
Fred went to the University of Southern California as a music performance major but graduated in music education. The reason he switched was due to a phenomenon most brass players are well aware of and have experience in, but the rest of the world might not even consider; the condition of his lip. For those who don't know, brass instruments create the notes by using the embouchure in conjunction with the valves. The shape of the mouth affects the note. After a cut from shaving, Fred developed an infection on his mouth. It healed, but he worried about the future. If this was his livelihood, could he be out of commission whenever an irritation occurred. So he got his degree in Music Education and set out to work in the Santa Ana School District. However, his Elementary School teaching career from 1983 to 2007 ended up being part time, as orchestras and studio calls pulled him back into professional performing. Mr. Greene has performed with such Southern California Orchestras as The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Los Angeles Opera, The LA Chamber Orchestra, The Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Pacific Symphonies. And of course is principal tuba of the California Philharmonic.
Mr. Greene plays in the studios as well, for film, t.v. and commercials. The Trekkies out there are well aware that Star Treks' scores utilize extensive brass and so Fred has had the pleasure of playing on Star Trek Voyager, Enterprise and Deep Space Nine. He has expressed how much fun it was working with such "quirky guys." Composer John Williams also used Fred in his brass section for War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. As well as symphonic and session playing, true to stereotype, every October, Fred dons his Lederhosen and plays tuba in an oom pah pah band for Oktoberfest celebrations.
Nevertheless, true to his degree, Fred continues to teach music at Chapman University, UC Irvine and Riverside City College. "My wife loves coming to the Cal Phil concerts," Fred says of his spouse, Ana-Maria, Teacher of the Year at Lincoln Elementary School. "My wife loves to come hear the stories," Fred refers to Maestro Vener's engaging explanations to the audience about the pieces the orchestra plays. "Vic is an educated musician, but he's a regular guy. He doesn't put on airs. I consider him a friend as much as a boss." This human quality of the Maestro and the musicians is what makes the Cal Phil an orchestra for everyone to enjoy, from classical music lovers to those new to symphonic sounds.
In his spare time, Fred likes to do different things. Most of his friends outside of work are not musicians, so they like to ride around on electric scooters, play with radio controlled helicopters and shoot pool. "I'm a regular guy," Fred says, exemplifying that we can all enjoy, appreciate and connect with classical music through the California Philharmonic.