Often the heartbeat of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, Timpanist, Steve Bulota, both a collector and photographer, brings a bit more to the table than meets the eye.
As a child in South Bend, Indiana, Steve was greatly influenced by his grandmother, a pianist and master of music theory. She taught him piano at the age of 6, teaching him everything she knew. “There’s a photo with my grandmother at her piano, showing me how to place my hands. Her fingers are curved, while mine are straight,” says Steve light-heartedly about his early learning days. This knowledge of music theory propelled Steve’s musical career in elementary school, “I was way ahead of everyone in first grade,” says Steve. “I could read music already.”
Steve began taking drum lessons when he was 12 years old, “I’d get these wild ideas and I’d be banging around the house,” says Steve. It wasn’t until high school that Steve’s band director, a percussionist, suggested he try the timpani.
Steve admits that he’s never played drums in a band, however, after his grandmother gave him an accordion book written in Lithuanian, Steve taught himself the accordion in 1981. He then began playing his accordion with a Lithuanian folk dance group.
The group was overseen by his mother, who along with his father is originally from Lithuania. They would perform at events sponsored by the Colorado Folk Arts Council and folk dance festivals that are held every four years. Many of Steve’s hobbies and musical talents have been influenced by his family in one way or another.
His love for photography was inspired by his grandfather, who was somewhat of a forerunner photographer in his native Lithuania. Many of Steve’s photos include construction of Denver’s light-rail and commuter rail lines. During his annual trips to college Homecoming, Steve photographs football games and the marching band of his alma mater, the University of Connecticut.
Steve’s detail-oriented and technical characteristics have equipped him for a career in the technological industry, “Electronics are the future,” says Steve. Steve earned a Bachelor’s in Music Education from the UConn with the hopes of becoming a music teacher. However, a job shortage forced Steve to take subbing positions for seven years, causing him to look into another career field. In 1985, he enrolled in Denver’s Electronic Technical Institute, earning an Associate’s in Electronics Technology in 1987.
Steve discovered his calling while working for a technology company in Boulder that manufactures flow measuring instruments. He tested circuit boards for the first four years, then worked in the repair shop, eventually shifting toward troubleshooting for the past 20 years.
Steve’s musical career has stretched for 45 years, if you include his junior high, high school and college years. Although Steve took a 25-year absence from band literature, he continued with orchestral music. “I’ve never put the mallets away,” says Steve. Since coming to Colorado in 1980, he’s performed with the Aurora Symphony, Lakewood Symphony and the Denver Concert Band. Steve is currently in his 25th season with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra and is also timpanist of the Colorado Wind Ensemble.
Fluent in Lithuanian, Steve’s heritage plays a large role in his life. He sits on the board of the Lithuanian-American Community of Colorado, serving as the editor of their bilingual newsletter, Žynys.
Steve’s hobbies include collecting stamps, which he began in third grade. His passion has continued well into his adult years. He also collects coins and American Flyer trains.
Bands on repeat: Steve enjoys ’60s and ’70s Classic Rock, which include The Beatles, Tom Petty, The Beach Boys, Santana, and Chicago.
Favorite orchestral work to perform: Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. “That’s the first classical work that I became familiar with as a child.” Steve says.
Top: at a DPO rehearsal
Second: Steve practicing piano with his grandmother
Third: at a DPO rehearsal
Fourth: statues atop the Cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania, photo by Steve Bulota
Bottom: Gedimino pilis in Vilnius, Lithuania, photo by Steve Bulota
By Julia Compton, DPO Embedded Reporter