The sound of the woodwinds comes to Pima

By KYLE KERSEY

Mark Nelson isn’t just the acting dean of Arts at Pima Community College, he’s also an accomplished tuba player, teacher, band director and musical historian.

Nelson’s office, located near the entrance of the Center for the Arts building at West Campus, is adorned with stacks of CDs, old recording equipment and assorted instrument artifacts. 

On his wall, posters hang from every musical for which Nelson has conducted live music with a group of student performers. It’s a tradition that will continue this year, when Nelson conducts a student group for the theater production of “Mamma Mia!” which runs from Feb. 21 to March 3.

Five days later, Nelson will be conducting the PCC Wind Ensemble. The ensemble includes an assortment of flute, oboe, piccolo, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, clarinet, trombone, various percussion and tuba.

“I’m the tuba guy,” Nelson said with a chuckle. “There’s been a movement in the last 50 years to make solo literature for the tuba, and I’ve been part of that vanguard.”

Nelson has performed around the world in nations like Canada, England, Japan and his personal favorite, Austria, where he performed with a German police band. He was also the principal tubist for the Tempe Symphony Orchestra from 1998 to 2000, and he was even a member of the tuba/euphonium ensemble “Symphonia,” which received a Grammy nomination for their 2011 CD “Symphonia Fantastique.”

“I learned early on that working with living composers is really rewarding,” he said. “And I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some really great composers.”

Nelson began his tenure at Pima in 2000. He was working in the Scottsdale School District as a high school orchestra teacher when he was hired to be the Performing Arts department head and concert band director.

The Wind Ensemble will be performing a series of historically grounded pieces including “Suite of Old American Dances” and “Zapfenstreich.”

“ ‘Suite of Old American Dances’ is a real favorite of mine,” he said. “It’s just the right moment in time for our band to play this piece. It’s fun, it’s snappy, it’s old school.”

Meanwhile, “ ‘Zapfenstreich’ is part of three military tattoos (bugle calls) written by Beethoven of all people,” he said. “It’s for a military band of the time that had mostly woodwinds, a couple of hunting horns, snare drum and a bass drum. It’s this funky 18th Century march.”

Both of these songs will be performed at the March concert, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Proscenium Theatre, located at the West Campus. 

“The next level of your performance should be trying to get into ‘What does it mean?’ rather than just notes and rhythms,” he said. “We need to know ‘What are we trying to convey to the audience?’ ”

In addition to teaching Wind Ensemble, Nelson maintains the electronic music laboratory where he teaches Introduction to Electronic Music. The laboratory also hosts a class on music recording and production.

“We have a lot of ensembles that students could benefit from playing in, because they’re one credit classes so they’re not very expensive,” he said. “We have a nice mix of ages as well.”

Nelson is also points out that every credit after the 15th is free, meaning full-time students could take a music class without breaking out the checkbook.

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