ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury High School graduate TJ Graf recently won the coveted Principal Tuba position with The Florida Orchestra, a feat that places the 21-year-old Succasunna resident among a very small cadre of musicians nationwide.
Graf, who graduated in 2016, just finished his junior junior year at University of Miami on a full ride scholarship. He won the Principal Tuba position last week, after auditioning for the position, and he will begin playing with the orchestra in September.
There are only about 35 major orchestra Principal Tuba players in the country.
“To put this into perspective, it is harder to land a principal tuba position in a major U.S. orchestra than it is to be drafted by the NFL or NBA,” said Graf’s proud mother, Beth. “It is even more impressive because he is only 21 years old and not even done with his undergraduate degree."
She noted that TJ has been competing against doctoral students and other professionals for the spots. "This was only his third professional audition and many take dozens upon dozens of them and never land a job,” she said.
A Short Break
Graf is relaxing at home for a few weeks. Then he’s headed to Colorado for the second year of a 2-year fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival, another highly sought position.
His skill with the tuba has landed him victories in many national and international competitions. He took second place at the 2017 Leonard Falcone International Euphonium and Tuba Festival, first place at the 2018 Southeast Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference and first place at the 2019 International Tuba Euphonium Conference in Iowa.
While still in Roxbury, Graf was a member of the Roxbury High School Honors Wind Ensemble and he participated in the Roxbury Marching Gaels, Roxbury Sound, Roxbury Jazz Bands and Classic Sounds.
He also was a member of New Jersey Region and All-State bands, the Eastern Wind Symphony Youth Band and New Jersey Youth Symphony.
Roxbury Music Program Among Nation's Best
In an interview, Graf offered high praise for the music programs offered to students in Roxbury. He said he talks with many musicians from all over the country and is convinced that Roxbury “really has one of the best music programs out there.”
Graf said the program is blessed with “really great teachers,” who specialize in what they teach.
“The biggest thing in the program is how much variety is in there,” Graf added. “There’s just lots to do there and it’ all really high quality. When I was in Miami, I spoke to a couple musicians who went to performing arts schools. The resources they had don’t even compare to the ones we have in Roxbury.”
Unlike some who succeed in music, Graf doesn’t come from a family of musicians. He became interested in music in middle schoo, somewhat by accidentl. “I was just playing the guitar, sort of having fun doing that, teaching myself, nothing structured,” he said.
The more formal study of music began with French horn lessons in fifth grade.
“I switched to tuba at Eisenhower Middle School in seventh grade,” he said. “I made the switch because the band needed more tuba players and because Roxbury Director of Bands Jeff Conrad asked him to give the instrument a shot. "I wasn’t really good at French horn so I figured I might as well try something else,” Graf said.
Graf’s mother noted that her son's success is largely due to his work ethic. “The work is the biggest part of it,” she said. “TJ practices a minimum of five hours a day which is on top of all his schoolwork and ensembles.”
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