Creative power: Film documents tuba player’s dramatic rise from childhood of poverty

Richard Antoine White plays music at Mobtown Studios in Baltimore. (Darren Durlach/Early Light Media)

Darren Durlach and David Larson first met Richard Antoine White about nine months before starting the project on him.

The co-directors – once journalists – fell for White’s story and wanted to weave it into a documentary about art education in America.

White experienced poverty and homelessness on the streets of West Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood while living with his mother, who struggled with alcoholism.

He was eventually raised by his mother’s adoptive parents, Richard and Vivian McClain, who gave him his first instrument, a trumpet, in fourth grade.

In middle school, he switched from the trumpet to the baritone horn before deciding on the tuba and, in eighth grade, despite turning up a day late for the school’s annual auditions, he won admittance to the Baltimore School for the Arts, one of the top public arts high schools in the country.

Since then, White has gone on to earn his Ph.D. He serves as principal tuba for the Santa Fe Symphony and New Mexico Philharmonic, and as an associate professor of tuba and euphonium at the University of New Mexico.

His story is told in the documentary “R.A.W. Tuba: From Sandtown to Symphony.”

The pair of filmmakers spent four days filming in New Mexico nearly two years ago.

Spencer Grundler and Tyler Davis prepare for a shot as director Darren Durlach chats with King Sullivan for the documentary “R.A.W. Tuba: From Sandtown to Symphony.” (Courtesy of Early Light Media)

“We followed Richard through the day and interviewed a bunch of his colleagues and mentors,” Larson says. “We spent a good amount of time following Richard’s journey and how he’s making an impact on the students of today.”

Larson says being in New Mexico was different.

“There’s a different feel to the entire state,” Larson says. “It really surprised me.”

Then they filmed for five days in Baltimore.

The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association are presenting a free screening of the documentary via RawTubaSantaFe.com through Sunday, Jan. 31.

Directors David Larson and Darren Durlach prepare King Sullivan for a scene. (Courtesy of Early Light Media)

The 29-minute film was produced by Early Light Media as part of its Invisible Thread series, which focuses on “people-driven stories” and “explores human connectivity.”

“The bottom line is that it’s a really great story,” Larson says. “Art in America is underappreciated and underfunded. His story shows exactly how art and music can make a difference in someone’s life.”

In addition to the film, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association will present a free, live conversation with White at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30.

Viewers can register to watch both the film and the conversation at RawTubaSantaFe.com. After they’ve registered, they will receive emails containing links to view both.

It is free to watch both the film and/or the conversation. Donations are encouraged, however. All donations will benefit the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association’s music education and performance programs. The suggested donation is $25.

Richard Antoine White plays at sunset in Albuquerque. (David Larson/Early Light Media)

“This project, which includes presenting the film ‘R.A.W. Tuba’ and helping to share Dr. White’s story, is an outgrowth of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s reason for providing exceptional opportunities in music for youth,” says Leanne DeVane, the festival’s director of education and outreach. “Training in music is more than a meaningful, rewarding avocation; it provides an academically rigorous pathway to a bright, successful, hopeful future – one in which possibilities are limitless and one in which kids, in their adult years, may, as empowered individuals, contribute to their community and their world.”

Richard Antoine White is interviewed at the Baltimore School for the Arts. (David Larson/Early Light Media)

As part of a further collaboration with the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association, White will give a free master class on at 6 p.m. March 10 on Zoom. The class is part of the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association’s Inspired by Excellence series, which features acclaimed musicians and educators instructing Santa Fe Youth Symphony students on refining and improving their technique. Registration is available at sfysa.org/richardwhite.html

“The heartfelt and inspiring story in R. A. W. Tuba reminds us of the transformative power of music,” says Andrea Cassutt, SFYSA executive director. “Our two organizations, dedicated to providing music and performance education for students in northern New Mexico, share this story with you to uplift your own sense of hope and possibility and to invite you to join us in making music a lifeline for kids in New Mexico.”

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