There’s a reason, many of them in fact, New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment – from sun-drenched vistas to clear blue skies, from brilliant desert landscapes to picturesque mountains, from culture and cuisine to the diversity of its population as well as a simple quality of life are just a few of the reasons that draw people to live in New Mexico.
For Dr. Richard White, associate professor of music at The University of New Mexico, the journey from Indianapolis to Albuquerque took an unconventional path considering where it started decades ago as a homeless young boy doing everything he could to survive living on the streets of Baltimore.
“Basically, I came here for a living wage symphony job that was supposed to be one year,” said White, a tuba player who came to New Mexico some 15 years ago. “I had looked at the landscape in that one-year timeframe and thought, ‘ahhh, it doesn’t pay a lot, but if I could get Santa Fe Opera, that would probably be something great to do for one year.’ And I did just that, I moved here for one year with the intent to just play in the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra (NMSO) and in the Santa Fe Opera.”
White, an Adams Tuba Artist, held the position of principal tubist with the Orchestra from 2004 until its untimely demise in 2011. Soon, he’ll be starting his ninth season as the principal tubist for the New Mexico Philharmonic. One of the twists that kept White in New Mexico came after the end of his first season with the New Mexico Symphony when the conductor said to White, ‘hey, our tuba player, just won principal (tubist) in Minnesota and he’s not coming back. Will you do another year?’
"Everything we need to be great is here in New Mexico. Most places you go, you wake up and you say, ‘I wish we had this, I wish we had that.' In New Mexico, I go, 'we should do this. We should do that.’ There's a difference, right?" – Dr. Richard Antoine White
“At that point, he (the departing musician) was the principal tubist in New Mexico, Colorado and Minnesota, so I was like sure,” said White. “And then after that second year, they were like ‘we want you to stay’ so I was given tenure with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. And then, unfortunately, a few years later, it went down.”
The director of bands at UNM, Eric Rombach-Kendall, soon got word that White was in town and smartly approached him about a teaching position in the UNM College of Fine Arts (CFA) saying, ‘hey, we could use a tuba teacher, are you interested?’ So, White came in, did a little audition and was hired as an adjunct professor, a position he held at UNM until 2008 that supplemented his income.
While the troubles were brewing with the NMSO, the landscape was also changing at UNM, which bode well for White. UNM’s College of Fine Arts also wanted him to stay, but White was somewhat reluctant. “I was like, man, I gotta' go. I gotta' take some auditions,” he said. “And they were basically like, ‘well, we want you to stay. We just don't have the money.’ So, I said, ‘Well, okay.’ I went home and thought about it – ‘like, who has the money at the University?’”
Well, as luck would have it for White, UNM pulled together a proposal to supplement his salary by teaching respiratory function to student-athletes, which led to a three-quarter tenure track position. Later in 2011, White was asked if he was interested in a full-time, tenure-track position in UNM’s College of Fine Arts. By then, it was clear the NMSO was going under so White took the position, and ever since, he’s been associate marching band director and associate music professor for tuba and euphonium at UNM.
'R.A.W.Tuba: From Sandtown to Symphony'
Prior to his move to New Mexico, White was one of the top freelance musicians in the Indianapolis-area, where he recorded with such greats as movie composer John Williams, Cincinnati Pops conductor Eric Kunzel, and the late-great wind ensemble conductor Frederick Fennell. With more than two decades of performing on the world’s classical music stages, White matured into a musician known for his clear sound and stylistic flexibility.
However, the road to success for one of the best tuba players in the world was full of twists and turns down a winding road that oftentimes was discouraging and quite difficult. White’s story is eloquently presented in the recently-released documentary titled “R.A.W.Tuba: From Sandtown to Symphony,” that tells a story of a young, elementary-aged boy in Baltimore, Md., who was frequently looking for his mom, who was battling alcoholism, while his biological father was imprisoned. He was left on his own often, growing up mostly homeless, sleeping on a cardboard bed under trees, eating out of trash cans, stashing food whenever he could and using a water fountain in a city park as a place to clean up.
The inspiring journey is told by Baltimore-filmmakers Darren Durlach and David Larson of Early Light Media, who were led to White as they searched for stories to personalize the power of arts education in their city. A story of determination, inspiration and perseverance, White’s life begins to unfold and change dramatically after his adoption by Vivian and Richard McClain, and the discovery of the tuba in mid-school. Subsequently, he was fortunate enough to be educated at several of the most prestigious music schools under some of the toughest musical instructors in the U.S.
His instructors included Ed Goldstein at The Baltimore Schools for the Performing Arts, David Fedderly at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the legendary Daniel Perantoni at Indiana University (IU), where he became the first-ever African American to receive a Doctor of Music (DM) in Tuba, which led to White playing on some of the biggest stages around the world.
Currently, the film is being shown as part of the Mountainfilm World Tour and outside of that at various other festivals. “It’s still fairly early in the film festival circuit, but the hope is to have Hulu, Netflix or Sony pick it up or make an offer for a feature film,” White said.
“I hope to touch everyone or as many people as I can in America with my story and show them that regardless of their circumstances, they can achieve. Your background, your circumstances shouldn't dictate your ability to climb the ladder of success." – Dr. Richard Antoine White
The release of the documentary has also provided White, whose initials, R.A.W., spell out Richard Antoine White, a bigger platform for another passion of his – motivational speaking – where his increased popularity has helped to promote his passions, both personal and professional, in a variety of social arenas. His website, RAWTuba.com, is a place where he shares inspirational thoughts and philosophies that have helped shape him into the person he is today.
“My idea as a motivational speaker is to empower people to be the best version of themselves,” said White. “I think we underestimate kindness and I think we underestimate an individual's potential based on kindness. I really do believe 99 percent of the world's problems can be solved with kindness. In my motivational speaking, I try to inspire people through kindness, through inspiration, and just telling them that ‘hey, you can do it.’
One of White’s favorite motivational areas involves inspiring young children. To White, children are a group of individuals that are important to reach. He knows through his own life’s experiences that if you provide a child with opportunity and the right amount of help, they too, can succeed. White was fortunately able to garner the right amount of support he needed in mid-school after being adopted.
“There's a hunger that exists in inner cities like Baltimore that drives people to want to achieve, want to do, they like the opportunity,” said White. “I think the opposite is true here in New Mexico. I think there's opportunity, but everything is just ‘okay.’ Somehow we have to install that drive and the ability for kids to dream and achieve, and I think it starts from the ground up. I think the state has to be involved, the flagship institution has to be involved, and collectively we have to invest in every student – in every kid. The saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a kid,’ I think is 100 percent true. We're lucky here because we actually have the village.”
While White wouldn’t change anything about his upbringing saying “it’s the hand he was dealt and I believe I played it to the best of my ability,” he feels part of the problem with society today is that it assumes everyone has the same amount of strength and therefore needs the same amount of help.
“We definitely have and provide opportunities institutionally and in America, but we hand out – everybody gets level five help and maybe the second person needs level six or seven help before they get over that hump,” he said. “But we don't provide level six or seven help. We just provide five, and if you don't achieve with five, you’re labeled lazy and a non-achiever. I don't think that's right because we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I was lucky enough to receive the right amount to help me to get over the hump and I'm grateful for that and the people that helped me do so because it definitely wasn't on my own.”
A Passion for Social Concerns
White is also passionate about social concerns including affirmative action, diversity, and equity and inclusion, all areas where he’d like to help make an impact. He believes affirmative action “should be implemented to give people an opportunity, not a handout. That’s the best way I can explain it,” White said. “I think everything should be based on merit and work. If you don't work for it, you don't deserve it. However, I do think that everyone deserves the same opportunity and that's where I think affirmative action is most valuable.”
“I definitely believe in chance, choice and change. We have to definitely give people a chance to make the right choices to create change.” – Dr. Richard Antoine White
While the awareness regarding diversity, and equity and inclusion has increased locally, statewide and nationally over the last decade, he feels “the number of action items still remains very close to what they were 10 years ago. There’s still work to do in this state and at this institution,” he says. “I'm hoping the University recognizes that. Yeah, I'm a tuba teacher and it’s great to play, but there's a voice here. There's a definite connection to diversity and I think right now with, with all the issues we have in terms of image, this is an opportunity. This is a window for us to say, ‘here's who we are,’ and in as many areas as possible, reach that potential that I saw when I first moved here. That still exists.”
White feels there’s quite a bit in the way of opportunity and potential within the state, a thought that’s not lost when he considers his future. White talks about wanting to take on an important and critical role by helping to bring that potential full circle through chance, choice and change especially here at The University of New Mexico.
“When I moved here, I liked The University of New Mexico. Now, I love it,” White says. “Everyone was telling me I could get other offers. Why don't you go here? Why don't you go there? I'm where I'm supposed to be. I fell into a place that provides everything I need, but to what degree? That's what we need to work on. Everything we need to be great is here in New Mexico. Most places you go, you wake up and you say, ‘I wish we had this, I wish we had that.' In New Mexico, I go, 'we should do this. We should do that.’ There's a difference, right?
“We have one of the most diverse populations of any state, but they're not necessarily represented in specific sectors of government and education. I think we've become aware of it, but I think there's a difference between awareness and action. I definitely believe in chance, choice and change. We have to definitely give people a chance to make the right choices to create change.”
In his motivational speaking, White doesn’t just talk about change. He wants to be at the forefront, and the best way to do that is by getting involved and taking action to help bring about the change he talks about. His popularity right now through his music, the documentary and his motivational speaking, which has taken him to locations in Mexico, South America, Europe, South East Asia and across the United States of America with more engagements on the horizon, offers a unique window of opportunity.
“I don't think I'm going to have a longer reach than I have right now with various communities abroad and domestically, and I hopefully can take advantage of that,” White emphasized. “Right now, my aspirations are to be involved in outreach, diversity and recruitment for the University.”
White’s open-minded, optimistic philosophy is one that can help to build stronger communities by bringing people together and opening the doors of opportunity, and enabling and rewarding those willing to work for success. He feels if the University can open up more windows of opportunity, it’ll increase its diversity, which is important because other states don’t necessarily have an actual population base that New Mexico does in terms of its diversity.
“I've never been in a place with so much potential that actually doesn’t reach it, and that's what keeps me here. That's the exciting thing,” White says. “What we do with that potential is our responsibility. I was once told that potential means right now you aren't doing the things you need to do, but if you do them, you can achieve great things.”
In the Classroom
As for his classroom teaching, it wasn’t something White gave that much consideration in college. His desire was to be a great orchestra musician. However, an instructor in college mentioned it during one of their conversations. “I had a serious talk with my teacher at Indiana, Daniel Perantoni, and he said, ‘I know you want to play in an orchestra and I know you want to be a great orchestra musician. I've never said this to any of my students, and Harvey Phillips, said this to me and I'm going to say it to you – it's meant for you to be a teacher.’”
White had other thoughts and said, “Whoa, I want to play. And then he looked at me and said, ‘well, why do you have to choose?’ And that also changed my life. I was like, ‘hey, good point there.’ So that was a defining moment in my teaching. I had always taught as a teaching assistant at Indiana, and the kids would always come back and get lessons. I just wasn't that interested and when he told me that, I guess I started believing in it.
“Then I started to see that this was not something that I had to rehearse or practice and I thought, ‘oh, he's right, it’s meant for me to be a teacher because it's just in me.’ And I think I'm a good teacher because I've had every problem from A to Z. When I see a kid I'm like ‘this is what you're doing and this is what you need to do.’ I can identify with kids because I had that problem.”
“I've never been in a place with so much potential that actually doesn't reach it, and that's what keeps me here. That's the exicting thing. What we do with that potential is our responsibility. I was once told that potential means right now you aren't doing the things you need to do, but if you do them, you can achieve great things.” – Dr. Richard Antoine White
White’s pedagogy sounds just as simple with only three rules – have fun, always sound good and always make great music.
“I know that's incredibly simple, but it really is that simple to me,” White said. “I think I install in my students' imagination the ability to believe in the impossible. I also tell them that ‘this should be fun and that if it's not fun; you’ve got to go back and check things out because something is wrong.’ I am most grateful when my students can pass the torch. This is contagious – I teach you, you learn from me, you pass it on. I think paying it forward is important. It's also something that we have to do more of in this world.”
Book Deal on the Table
In between his work as a musician, motivational speaker and professor, White is also working on book plans with a deal already on the table. He envisions three books including a regular book, a young adult version and also a picture book.
“I’m excited for the book,” White said. “I really think the book is going to move people. My goal is that it’s a book of hope. I believe in the power of imagination. There's always hope – that's the angle. It's hard to think about life and not think about politics, but in my book, I'm not looking to be a hero like a Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. I'm just looking to shine some light on some areas that are very dark right now. I hope that it ends up in every institution across the world.”
White’s motivational words of determination, inspiration and perseverance, as well as his music already help to shine a light in a world that often times leaves individuals defeated, discouraged and disappointed. He feels everyone needs to show the world what they’ve got to help make it a better place for everyone.
“If you want to do things, let the world see you, the best version of you because every individual matters and the world needs each of us,” White said. “I encourage every individual to offer the world their best. That's why we are here. Don't deprive the world of the best version of yourself.”