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A tuba takeover at the Playhouse

Visiting tuba player Gene Pokorny of the Chicago Symphony makes guest appearance with the Laguna Concert Band.

February 24, 2012|By Bradley Zint

In "Deliverance," it was dueling banjos. Banjos fast and furious, with that country feel.

In Sunday's "America the Tubaful" concert, it was — you guessed it — dueling tubas. Tubas big and fat sounding, with a comedic vibe.

Playing a tuba-fied version of the 1972 film's most famous scene was how Gene Pokorny made his big entrance in the tuba-filled, sold-out Laguna Concert Band performance at the Laguna Playhouse.

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The principal tuba for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — one of America's finest tuba players in one of America's finest orchestras — played on his tuba snippets reminiscent of the film's banjo duet, to which fellow tuba player Charlie Warren responded.

And off they went.

When it was over, Pokorny and Warren played a Vivaldi concerto arranged for two tubas. They were accompanied by the Laguna Concert Band, a local institution that's achieved considerable growth and stature since forming in 1998.

Fellow tuba player Bob Joles, who's also a well-established voice-over actor in Hollywood, kidded that he was going to give "a brief lecture" about Pokorny from "several facts" he's been gathering. He then presented a thick binder, titled "Fun Facts About Gene," as comedic proof of his research and talked for a few minutes about his colleague.

Pokorny grew up in Southern California — Downey, specifically — and some of his earliest music-making was taking up the clarinet in grammar school. Today, Pokorny calls it the "agony stick," Joles said to laughter in the audience.

Eventually Pokorny fell in love with the tuba, a "large, unwieldy instrument," which he mastered enough to win a seat in the Israel Philharmonic. Pokorny then played for other orchestras before settling down in his current symphonic seat in Chicago, the "Miami of Canada," Joles said.

After Joles' speech about Pokorny, the two of them and Warren played an arrangement of "Bugler's Holiday," renamed "Tubaler's Holiday."

Other selections of the concert included band arrangements of "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Lincoln Portrait" by Aaron Copland, "A Disney Celebration" arranged by Joles and a medley of tunes by George M. Cohan played by a four-person saxophone ensemble.

The concert ended with Pokorny playing "Blue Bells of Scotland." Though the traditional folk tune's arrangement is best known as being an extremely difficult and technically demanding piece for solo trombone, Pokorny pulled it off on his tuba, much to the delight of the audience.

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