Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota in the United States, Ralph Hepola studied piano before starting on the tuba at age twelve. At seventeen, he was chosen to play before the British Royal Family in the Manitoba All-Province Band at Brandon, Manitoba in Canada. While still in high school, Ralph began performing as an extra musician with the Minnesota Orchestra, which later included recordings, and tours to Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. While still a teenager, Ralph won a position with The United States Army Band of Washington, D.C. At age twenty, he won a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in the Young Artist Competition of the Minnesota Orchestra/WAMSO.
Ralph earned his music degree at Northwestern University where he studied with renowned musician and teacher Arnold Jacobs. Three books have been published covering Mr. Jacobs’ celebrated career, which included forty-four years as Principal Tubaist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At Northwestern University, Ralph played and soloed with Jazz Ensemble I, which twice won Best Big Band at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival.
Subsequently, Ralph won an international audition for the Basel Symphony Orchestra. Basel is Switzerland’s third-largest city. There he performed under renowned conductors including Pierre Boulez and Antal Dorati. During five years in Europe, he performed as a soloist on Swiss Radio, and played in the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria under Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, and Lorin Maazel. Ralph then freelanced for two years in New York City with various jazz and classical ensembles.
Ralph Hepola performs professionally on three tubas, bass trombone, bass trumpet, cimbasso (Italian contrabass trombone) and piano. He is heard on thirty-seven professional recordings including the major labels EMI and Warner Bros., as well as twenty-three video productions. Ralph has performed for national tours of Broadway shows at the State and Orpheum Theatres in Minneapolis and Ordway Center in Saint Paul.
Ralph Hepola on cimbasso
The Minnesota State Arts Board awarded highly-competitive Artist Initiative Grants to Ralph Hepola for both 2010 and 2012. In 2004, Ralph completed a seven-week residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation (awarded internationally) in the esteemed arts community of Taos, New Mexico.
Ralph has also performed at Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina which "is internationally recognized as America's premier performing arts festival"; the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis, which is North America’s largest theatre for young people & their families; and the Guthrie Theater, the nation’s largest regional theater.
In addition to Arnold Jacobs, Ralph's teachers have included Ross Tolbert, Principal Tuba, Minnesota Orchestra, 1966-2004, and the very versatile Minneapolis pianist Peter Shu.
Ralph Hepola also serves as a teaching artist and clinician. He provides highly-informative educational presentations, which are suitable for any age level:
• Which Instrument Do You Want to Play?
• How to Compose Your Own Music
• Improvisation in Jazz, Rock and the Blues
• How Do You Play a Brass Instrument?
• A Very Special Instrument: the Tuba!
Ralph also mentors music students in clinics, workshops, rehearsals and a final concert.
All children deserve access to arts-related, educational experiences of the highest quality. Having skills in both teaching and music, Ralph helps students perform with confidence and pride. They have fun and work together as a team. He can also assist the music teacher in building a better music program.
Ralph was adjunct faculty at Hamline University from 1993 to 2015, and was a Minnesota Orchestra Adopt-a-School musician from 1997 to 2006 (when the program ended).
The South Dakota Arts Council has chosen Ralph for its Artists in Schools and Communities who "are professionals, selected by panels of in-state and out-of-state experts who evaluate the quality of the artists’ work. An Arts-In-Education Panel reviews the background experience that qualifies each artist to work in an education setting. Finally, the artists are approved by the SDAC."
Teaching Artist references are available.
Ralph has played performances of seventy-three different operas in ninety-eight opera productions with fifteen different musical organizations in the United States and Europe. He has performed on world premiere opera recordings including Kurt Weill's Die Buergschaft with Spoleto Festival USA on the EMI Classics label, and The Grapes of Wrath with Minnesota Opera. Composer Kevin Puts was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Silent Night which was commissioned and premiered by Minnesota Opera.