Merilyn Delgado is a high school tubist, Herbert Zipper Scholar, and a member of the Community School’s Wind and Chamber Ensembles.
This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.
How did you first start playing tuba?
When we were given the opportunity to join band in fifth grade, I started playing flute, which I played into sixth grade in the middle school concert band. But there were no tuba players, so my teacher asked if anyone wanted to try it. She let me take the tuba home, and when I gave it a try and started practicing, I realized “Wow, I really like this; it’s amazing!” I love the flute, but when I played the tuba, it was just a different feeling. So, I went back to school the next day and told her “Yes, I want to play it!”
I began to see how much having or not having a tuba impacted the whole group; one of my teachers says playing tuba is “being able to drive the bus from the bottom.” It really made me realize how important each and every instrument and musician is—how they play an important part in the band.
How did you first come to Colburn?
I came to Colburn during my freshman year of high school. I’d auditioned at an arts high school and was just starting there when I heard there was a spot open for tuba in the Chamber Ensemble [at Colburn]. So, I gave [Chamber Ensemble] a try, and I really liked it! Then my chamber coach, at the time, Mike Zonshine, asked “Hey, why don’t you take lessons?” since I’d never taken lessons before, and he recommended I audition for a Herbert Zipper Scholarship. And I did and got it!
How has receiving the Herbert Zipper Scholarship changed your study of music?
It has really impacted my life a lot. Now I have an amazing private instructor, Dr. Doug Tornquist. I feel super comfortable asking questions; he really helps me with everything. I feel like I have a space to learn everything that’s going on with my instrument, how everything works, and to be able to hear the perspective of someone who plays the same instrument as me.
What is a typical day in the Wind Ensemble like?
I have a music theory class before Wind Ensemble, so I end up getting to campus an hour early. I like to use that time to warm up and practice, really get a sense of how I’m feeling that day, what we’re doing, and what I need to watch out for when I’m playing with the group. Once everyone else arrives and class gets started, Ms. Eleanor [Núñez] usually starts with specific parts of the music the ensemble is struggling with. Then, when that’s solid, we put the different parts together.
Since you play in both the Wind Ensemble and the Chamber Ensemble, have you found a preference for playing in a smaller or larger group?
I feel that each is special in its own way. I like the diversity of instrumentation in the larger group—how many parts are happening. You need to be much more alert, watch the conductor, and listen, but also the conductor is the one in charge, whereas in the smaller group, you have much more freedom of style to decide how we want to sound as a group. When I’m in the smaller group, I tend to take what I’ve learned from the larger ensemble and apply it there.
How do you feel participating in the Colburn Bands program has influenced your experience of playing?
It’s helped me a lot when it comes to playing in my regular school day and as a solo musician. We focus a lot on style at Colburn, whereas I feel my weekday concert band focuses more on precise technique, that kind of thing. It’s also helped my practicing and my warmups. I remember my Colburn lessons, from posture tips to style, and take them with me wherever I’m playing.
You have been helping out with Colburn’s Concert Band. Would you share a little about that experience serving in a support role ?
When I’m in the Concert Band, I feel much more pressure to get things right, because I’m setting an example. I like being able to show younger kids how important my instrument is, it reminds me why I do what I do and why I like it.
As you are participating in the December Wind and Chamber Ensemble performances, how are you preparing for them?
I like to listen to recordings of the pieces we’re playing. I compare how the recording sounds to what my teachers suggest, then combine [that information] as I practice. Mentally, I tell myself that this is just one performance; it’s a learning experience and it probably won’t be perfect, but there will be others. So, it’s a lot of keeping calm and practicing—because if you practice, it will be fine.
Band Day is scheduled for January and will provide participants with a great way to receive additional practice and training through exposure to a band experience. Would you recommend other student musicians who aren’t currently at Colburn to participate?
Yes! I believe it’s something band students should definitely participate in, especially musicians new to Colburn. You’ll work with musicians you don’t usually play with and work with a new conductor. Plus, when else do you get to play and perform a brand-new piece on the same day? Usually, you practice for months and months before a performance, so this is a special experience.
Have you given thought to the role music might play in your life down the road?
I really want to do music in the future, that’s a given, but I’m not quite sure how yet. There are so many things you can do with music—you can be a teacher, or performer, you can go into musical engineering, or even open your own business. I don’t want to make too many decisions too soon; I just know music will be in my life.