Born in Kingsport and raised in Church Hill, Self marched with a tuba for Church Hill High School’s band, played euphonium in the school’s concert band and tuba in the jazz band.
He enrolled at Tennessee Technological University in 1970 as a music major, but then the United States Air Force Band came to town. Believing it was one of the few career paths open to him, Self auditioned for the band on euphonium. He joined the Air Force in the fall of 1972.
He was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and Robins Air Force Base in Georgia before finishing his career at the Pentagon.
He has 26 years worth of Air Force memories, but a few experiences stand out:
On May 28,1984, Self was part of the funeral procession that brought the Vietnam Unknown to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. President Ronald Reagan presided over the funeral and presented the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift (1949-1989), he joined others in the Band of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe to record the “Bridge of Freedom” album, narrated by Walter Cronkite. Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people in West Berlin in 1948 and 1949.
He joined the Air Force Reserve Band in 1992 for a celebration of the 47th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender during World War II. U.S., Russian, Italian and German parade regiments filled Red Square.
“We played ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ in front of [Soviet founder] Lenin’s tomb,” he said. “To think about Lenin and [Joseph] Stalin hearing that in Russia is quite a change to what would have happened five years before, before the [Berlin] Wall came down. ... That was one of the highlights of my career.”
While stationed at Pease Air Force Base, Self finished his bachelor of arts degree in music performance on trombone at the University of New Hampshire. He also holds an associate of applied science in music from the Community College of the Air Force.
On his last active duty assignment to the Pentagon, he served as the manager of the entire Air Force Band program, managing 897 military musicians stationed around the world in 12 Air Force bands. He retired in 1998 with the rank of chief master sergeant and moved back to Church Hill, figuring his musical career was over.
It was anything but. A year later, he found himself an adjunct faculty member at East Tennessee State University, where he teaches low brass, conducts the tuba and euphonium ensemble, teaches brass methods, and performs with the ETSU Faculty Brass Ensemble.
He will retire from ETSU in May but will continue to serve as principal trombonist with the Symphony of the Mountains and freelance as a performer, clinician and private instructor.
Among the highlights of his career as a performer following his retirement from the military are an appearance as a guest artist at the 2006 International Tuba and Euphonium Association Conference in Denver and being featured on the national PBS documentary “TUBA U,” which spotlighted him and other professional tuba and euphonium players in concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. In 2012, he gave the world premiere performance of Mark Harrell’s “Concerto for Euphonium,” which was commissioned for him and the Symphony of the Mountains by the Lambda Sigma chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity at ETSU.
He has more than 18 professional albums to his credit, many of which are with Air Force Bands. His most recent recordings include “Kings of Brass,” “Euphoniums Unlimited,” and “Tubas Unlimited,” all of which are available through Mark Custom Records and Walking Frog Records.
He has performed on stage or recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Clarke Terry, Phil Wilson, Crystal Gale, Gary Morris and Charlie Daniels.
“I am one of the most blessed individuals who has ever lived,” he said. “I always loved what I was doing. My whole 26 years in the Air Force, playing with the [ETSU] faculty and the symphony, the whole time doing what I love,” Self said