Meet the Musician: Principal Tubist/Cimbasso Seth Cook


What is your position in the orchestra?

My position is Principal Tuba and Cimbasso. Cimbasso is an instrument that is commonly used in 19th and 20th century Italian opera.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Middleborough, Massachusetts, which is a small town just south of Boston. Matt Guilford, Bass Trombone in the National Symphony Orchestra, is also from Middleborough, and has always been someone I aspired to be.

with Valery Gergiev, Japan, 2004

When did you join the KCOHO?

I officially won my position in the KCOHO in January 2019, though I began playing on an acting Principal basis in March 2015.

When did you start playing the tuba and what made you chose the instrument?

I started playing tuba when I was 12, after having played euphonium for 2 years prior. My grandparents on my father's side were both musicians, as was my father, who majored in tuba and music education at SUNY Potsdam, so music lessons were never up for debate. I began piano at 5 and when it came time to pick an instrument for band, I had a choice of what instruments were in the house: a trombone, a tuba (my dad's) and a clarinet. My older brother grabbed the trombone and I really didn't want to play clarinet, so I was stuck with tuba. At first I really didn't want to play it, but it quickly grew on me!

With Steve Dumaine from the NSO, playing serpent (Dumaine) and ophicleide (me) for Berlioz

Where did you do your musical training?

I started my formal training when I was 13 at New England Conservatory Preparatory School. I received my Bachelor of Music in Performance and Musicology from Northwestern University in 2004 and my Master of Music in Orchestral Performance from McGill University in 2006.

With Dante Azonlini, Melody Moore and members of WNO, Glass's Appomattox, 2015

With the low Brass and Alan Held, as Wotan, 2016

What was your audition experience like for our orchestra?

Auditioning for any orchestra is a stressful endeavor in its own right. Auditioning for your dream job only heightens that intensity. Auditioning for your friends and colleagues albeit blind, adds a whole other dimension to the experience. So I approached this audition with the utmost sincerity and determination, more than any other audition I've ever taken. I began preparations about 6 months before the audition by signing up to take another audition with another major orchestra. I wanted to go through the process of the audition relatively close to when the KCOHO audition would be, so that I could somehow try to normalize the very abnormal experience which is an audition. After that audition finished, I had about 8 weeks of time to focus solely on this audition and so I laid out daily, weekly, and monthly schedules and goals. Practicing 4 hours a day became the norm, all while I was still performing regularly with the orchestra. I did as much research about the repertoire as I could, from listening to different recordings to score study. I played for a lot of my colleagues, who were all so very helpful and supportive.

The day of the audition was intense for me, as I felt the weight of a possible bad outcome heavily on my shoulders. The final round was a thorough round, taking me about 35 minutes to complete. My nerves were at play in the beginning, but I managed to settle down and engage musically in the moment. Being a musician means that your mind tends to go critical as default, as we constantly are evaluating ourselves in practice and in performance. Walking off the stage, I thought it wasn't good enough, as I was obsessed with a few of the little issues that I had (as they had also grown larger than life in my head as well). I sat in my warm-up room for a long time during deliberations, cycling through the round in my head over and over. I was so convinced I wasn't good enough that when they announced the result, I didn't believe them! Finding out the committee had voted for me unanimously, led by the support from our new Principal Conductor, Evan Rogister, was overwhelming. It will be a feeling I will never forget!

You co-own Takoma Beverage Company; Describe that and what got you into that line of business.

I have had a love of coffee since I was 13. While I was at NEC Prep, all the college students would go to this nearby coffee shop, and, in an attempt to fit in, I'd tag along. Initially I did not like the flavor, but I quickly came around and eventually fell in love. My passion for coffee continued to grow during college, as both Chicago and Montreal had unique coffee scenes. It wasn't until I moved to Washington, D.C., to be Tim Higgins’ roommate that I began to think about pursuing coffee as a profession. There was a famous shop in Arlington called Murky Coffee, where I would sit daily to get coffee and check the internet. The coffee here was like none I had ever had, and I began to ask questions and learn. This was also around the founding of the U.S. Barista Championships, which fascinated me.

During the recession, around 2009, gigs began to slow down and I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I had always dreamed of owning a coffee shop, but I didn't know how it would work while being a freelance musician. My wife encouraged me to take the free time I had and get a job at a shop, so I could learn about the operation in case I ever did want to open my own shop. At first, no one would hire me, as I had no experience and I wanted flexibility for my musical pursuits. Finally, a new startup shop was coming together and they took a chance on me, and coincidentally took over the space where Murky Coffee used to be!

Sophia and Me after Hamburg Ballet, 2017

I worked at that shop for about 7 years as their Director of Coffee, and was able to compete twice in the U.S. Barista Championships. During my time there, I also hired my cousin, Chris, who eventually convinced me that we should do this on our own. I was hesitant at first, but it was the right thing to do, as my growth at my first job had really subsided.

In 2017, we opened Takoma Bev. Co. which is an all day cafe that focuses on high quality coffee, tea, wine, beer and cocktails while serving a full menu of composed dishes and pastries. Besides running the coffee program, I'm also the wine director for the restaurant, which has been a wonderful challenge.

I find a lot of joy in working with restaurants as it scratches the same itch that music does. It's a creative and personal environment that allows us to connect with each other. The inherent humanity embodied in these products, from coffee sourced from rural farms in Ethiopia to wines from Austria to Sicily to cocktails representing a great historical tradition, allows connections in a deep and tangible way. At Takoma Bev. Co., our jobs are to be stewards of these products. Similarly, in the pit, I feel my job is to be a steward to the music and our art form.

With the BSO on tour at the Proms in Royal Albert Hall, 2018

8. What do you do when you aren't playing the tuba or running a business?

My current passion is a little tied up in the restaurant, in that I would like to be a certified Sommelier in the Guild of Master Sommeliers. The top level of certification, Master Sommelier, is a very difficult and exclusive achievement, but I am fascinated by this world and want to learn everything there is to know. I'm spending a lot of time studying and going to tastings to help refine my palate and expand my knowledge. I know this whole process will take some time, but I'm excited to begin.

Opening Weekend at Takoma Bev. Co. 2017

in a wine cellar in Côte Rôtie, 2018