About Ralph Hepola Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota in the United States, Ralph Hepola studied piano before starting on the tuba at age twelve. At seventeen, he was chosen to play before the British Royal Family in the Manitoba All-Province Band at Brandon, Manitoba in Canada. While still in high school, Ralph began performing as an extra musician with the Minnesota Orchestra, which later included recordings, and tours to Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. While still a teenager, Ralph won a position with The United States Army Band of Washington, D.C. At age twenty, he won a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in the Young Artist Competition of the Minnesota Orchestra/WAMSO.
Ralph earned his music degree at Northwestern University where he studied with renowned musician and teacher Arnold Jacobs. Three books have been published covering Mr. Jacobs' celebrated career, which included forty-four years as Principal Tubaist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At Northwestern University, Ralph played and soloed with Jazz Ensemble I, which twice won Best Big Band at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival.
Subsequently, Ralph won an international audition for the Basel Symphony Orchestra. Basel is Switzerland's third-largest city. There he performed under renowned conductors including Pierre Boulez and Antal Dorati. During five years in Europe, he performed as a soloist on Swiss Radio, and played in the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria under Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, and Lorin Maazel. Ralph then freelanced for two years in New York City with various jazz and classical ensembles.
Ralph Hepola performs professionally on three tubas, bass trombone, bass trumpet, cimbasso (Italian contrabass trombone) and piano. He is heard on thirty-seven professional recordings including the major labels EMI and Warner Bros., as well as twenty-three video productions. Ralph has performed for national tours of Broadway shows at the State and Orpheum Theatres in Minneapolis and Ordway Center in Saint Paul.
The Minnesota State Arts Board awarded highly-competitive Artist Initiative Grants to Ralph Hepola for both 2010 and 2012. In 2004, Ralph completed a seven-week residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation (awarded internationally) in the esteemed arts community of Taos, New Mexico.
Ralph has also performed at Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina which "is internationally recognized as America's premier performing arts festival"; the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis, which is North America's largest theatre for young people & their families; and the Guthrie Theater, the nation's largest regional theater.
In addition to Arnold Jacobs, Ralph's teachers have included Ross Tolbert, Principal Tuba, Minnesota Orchestra, 1966-2004, and the very versatile Minneapolis pianist Peter Shu.
Instrument(s): Yamaha F tuba for improvisation. King sousaphone for traditional jazz; built in Cleveland during the late 1960s. also Getzen C tuba from Elkhorn, Wisconsin designed by Charles Daellenbach, tubaist with the Canadian Brass.
Teachers and/or influences? I earned my music degree at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where I studied with legendary tubaist and brass teacher Arnold Jacobs who was Principal Tubaist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for forty-four years. Five books have been published on his life and teaching. The Northwestern University School of Music is vastly underrated. I played with Jazz Ensemble I, which twice won Best Big Band at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota in a wonderful family. In the summer, my parents used to have big picnics with the neighbors. My dad would run cables for the "stereo system" out into our yard so we could all listen to music while we ate and visited. I thought that was so cool. One time, everyone went next door to a neighbor's house to look at something. I stayed behind, sitting in a lawn chair, just listening to the music. It was a jazz piece played by a studio orchestra; probably recorded in New York or L.A. This was music my parents liked. All the kids were into rock and roll. I sat there listening, and at one point I was absolutely overwhelmed by the music. I thought, "That is so beautiful, so incredible!" That was certainly one of the times I knew I wanted to be a musician.
First time I met Lee Konitz, my mentor who completely changed my life, in 1992. He was giving a masterclass at the Cologne Conservatory (Germany) where I was a freshmen (with playing experience around three years total)
First time I met Lee Konitz, my mentor who completely changed my life, in 1992. He was giving a masterclass at the Cologne Conservatory (Germany) where I was a freshmen (with playing experience around three years total). He saw an alto sax on my neck and said: Hey, how about you there, would you like to play something for us? I played a piece with the piano. OK, said Lee, how about you play something unaccompanied? Oh yeah! I was deep into transcribing Sonny Stitt and pretty much into playing as fast as possible as many right notes as possible. So I played Oleo in about 300 beats per minute and was very proud of myself. Lee was tapping his foot all the way through. Hmm, he said, that was in time and all that... (I thought - yeah, of course, haha!) and then he said, You've got a lot of quantity, how about quality? It took me 15 years to realize what he meant.