Abe Torchinsky:
1920-2009
Abe Torchinsky

Abe Torchinsky, tubist, who served on the faculty at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance from 1973 until 1989, died in his sleep at home in Plymouth Meeting, PA, in August at age 89. His wife Berta preceded him in death.

Torchinsky, known for his deep, dark sound, was born in Philadelphia, son of émigrés from Kiev. He found the tuba quite by accident, when the director of a local boys band told him “learn to play an instrument.” The one and only instrument available—along with one remaining uniform—was
a tuba.

He took lessons at the Curtis Institute with Arnold Jacobs, later enrolling and entering the studio of Philip Donatelli, then the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal tuba. He played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, under Arturo Toscanini, and performed in the original cast productions of Billy Rose’s Seven Lively Arts and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel and Allegro, and was in the cast of the movie Carnegie Hall.

Torchinsky was hired by Eugene Ormandy in 1949 to succeed Donatelli. He remained as principal tubist until 1972, in an era when the orchestra’s brass section was among the most admired in the world.

When he joined the music faculty at Michigan in 1973, Torchinsky continued his association with the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble. With them, he won a Grammy for The Glorious Sound of Brass, and, with the Chicago and Cleveland Brass Ensembles, another for the Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli, which also won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque.

With the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, Torchinsky went on to record Hindemith: The Complete Sonatas for Brass and Piano, with pianist Glenn Gould, also nominated for a Grammy. A less familiar early recording, Catch the Brass Ring, by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble under the moniker the Torchy Jones Quintet, had the dubious distinction of being pulled from distribution after Eugene Ormandy objected to orchestra members making a “jazz” recording. 

With his students at Michigan, he recorded The Brass Menagerie, touted as “serious music for the tuba-euphonium.” Featured on that recording was the overture to Marriage of Figaro, arranged by U-M alumnus Arthur Gottschalk (BM ’74, MM ’75, DMA ’78, composition), premiered at a Collage concert the previous year, to rave audience reaction. In a 1979 article in The Ann Arbor News, Torchinsky bemoaned the limited repertoire for the tuba, often associated with “playful bears, inflated cheeks, and oompah.’”

“I’m not trying to say the tuba should replace the trumpet or the violin,” he said, “but I think just because it’s large, that doesn’t relegate it to a place in life as an elephant.”

Torchinsky authored The Tuba Player’s Orchestral Repertoire, which went into 17 editions. “He wrote the most definitive orchestra excerpt books, still in use today,” says Fritz Kaenzig, his successor on the faculty here, “as well as numerous other highly respected publications. His warm-hearted and outgoing nature will be greatly missed by all those who came in contact with him.”

In an ongoing legacy, Carolyn Jantsch (BM ’06), former student of Fritz Kaenzig, now holds the principal tuba chair with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She is one of the first women to hold such a position with a major U.S. orchestra.

1930s

Marjorie (Parsons) Benner, BM ‘38, in public school music, died May 24, 2009

Helen C. (Horn) Lea, BM ‘38, in public school music, died August 16, 2009

Charles F. Nordman, BM ‘37, in public school music, died March 28, 2009

1940s

Scott C. Callaway, MM ‘49, in music education, died May 3, 2009.

Betty J. (Correll) Davis, NODEG ‘42, died May 21, 2008

Helen J. (Jarvis) Hitchcock, BM ‘47, MM ’49, in piano, died May 11, 2009

Robert L. Shorer, MM ‘47, in music education, died April 30, 2009

1950s

Emmet L. Harstine, MM ‘53, in music education, died May 24, 2009

Frederic M. Hindley, NODEG ‘56, died August 10, 2009

Richard Dean Miller, BM ‘50, MM ’51, in music literature, died May 5, 2009

Mark Hughes Moyer, BM ’58, in music education, died, July 24, 2008

Jon Edwin Petersen, BM ’55, MM ’57, in piano, died August 24, 2009

Charles Hamilton White, BM ’53, MM ’59, in music education, died June 10, 2009

1960s

Herbert E. Garske, MA ’69, in music, died April 17, 2009

Janet Louise Kasmirski, MM ’66, in music theory, died August 19, 2008

Vera M. (Chopra) Lind, BM ’69, ‘MM ‘71, in clarinet, died December 28, 2008

Jonathan M. Sweat, MA ’67, in piano, died April 14, 2009

1970s

David G. Klocko, Ph.D. ’78, in musicology, died June 21, 2009