Asking Paul and Stephen Tucker if they ever played duets is, admittedly, a silly question.
“Oh, yeah,” they respond, laughing. Only probably since before they can remember.
The Tuckers, 61, are both musicians and conductors. They are also identical twins.
Through the years, many duets — at varying stages of musical prowess — have been sung or played. It’s more unusual for the brothers to conduct together, which they will do Saturday at the Annual Scholarship Concert performed by the University of Kansas Symphony Orchestra and Choirs.
Paul Tucker is director of choral activities and associate professor of music in the School of Music at KU. Stephen Tucker, who is visiting Lawrence as a guest conductor for this weekend’s performance, is director of orchestras and associate professor of music at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at University of California, Irvine.
The Tucker brothers were born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up with one other brother and three sisters.
From the time they were 7 or so, the two played the piano at church, they said, and later learned the organ, too. They had a piano in their house, which a couple of their sisters played. The brothers started on that, teaching themselves.
“We had been making musical noises all our lives,” Stephen said, adding that they weren't entirely self-taught in their early years: “My mother decided, even though she’s not a musician, she gave us our first lesson.”
That involved basics, they said, like showing them a key, explaining it was a "C" and showing them the corresponding note written on paper.
Did they fight over who got to play the piano? Sure.
“We would chase each other to make it there first,” Paul recalled.
“The rest of the family suffered, because we were playing while they were trying to sleep,” Stephen added.
They also got their start in musical leadership at church — again, together — when their eldest sister, one of the choir directors, assigned her eager 10-year-old brothers to help lead the singers.
The family moved from Jamaica to New York City when Paul and Stephen were 17. The twins stayed only a few months before returning to the island to attend the Jamaica School of Music.
There, they studied with the same teacher. That included being paired up for assigned duets, which some of the other teachers and students thought was unfair. After all, none of the other students shared special twin powers with their partner.
“It was the easiest thing to do, because we were in the same place all the time,” Paul said.
“We sensed it," Stephen added. "... We were in sync.”
The brothers recalled one teacher who initially taught them both separately, one after the other. They played a trick on him in which one brother would come to the lesson, leave and change shirts, then return and learn the same lesson as the first. The instructor couldn’t figure out how the second brother picked it up so quickly.
Once he caught on, the instructor decided to teach both in the same lesson, the Tuckers said.
The instructor later told them he would return home after each lesson, feeling so mentally drained he’d have to take a nap. The twins liked to challenge the musical rules, but their discussions involved mainly looks and nods.
“He felt like there was communication,” Stephen said. “It took him a long time to figure out that he was fighting two brains at once.”
Upon pinpointing the source of his exhaustion, the instructor split them up again. But the brothers said they continued putting their own spin on assignments, and they still thought along the same lines.
“We just changed the rules, so that it would sound more pleasing,” Paul said. “... We weren’t troublemakers.”
Stephen elaborated: “We were problem solvers.”
It was at the Jamaica School of Music that Stephen took his first conducting class and knew he wanted to be a conductor. The next years included musical conservatories and advanced degrees at institutions in Massachusetts and Vienna and California, before he began teaching at Irvine.
This is where the twins’ paths diverge — for a few years, at least.
Paul went to flight school. He’d already earned his private pilot’s license before he moved to Oklahoma to study aeronautics. He went on to become a flight instructor and flew corporate jets.
Eventually, though, Paul decided to finish his advanced degrees in music and landed at KU, where he’s been since 2004.
On Saturday they won’t conduct side-by-side, but rather “tag team,” the brothers said. Stephen will open the concert by conducting Johannes Brahms’ “Tragic Overture,” then Paul will conduct Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”
Attendees may not be able to tell them apart when they take the stage — the identical twins do, in fact, still look nearly identical. They said that musically, they also have a similar approach to conducting, but people may be able to tell them apart by the way they move and gesture in front of the musicians.
“The approach to music is the same," Stephen said. "I don’t think our physical styles are the same.”
“What we aim for musically, you can see the similarities there,” Paul added.
If you go
The University of Kansas Symphony Orchestra and Choirs will perform the Seventh Annual Scholarship Concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lied Center.
Tickets are $13.50 for adults and $11 for children, seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased at the Lied Center Ticket Office, by phone at 785-864-2787. The concert also will be streamed live online at livestream.com/liedcenter/scholar21817.
The concert will begin with the Symphony Orchestra performing Johannes Brahms’ “Tragic Overture,” followed by Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” including the cantata’s dramatic opening number, “O Fortuna.”
The annual Scholarship Concert highlights the importance of music scholarships and honors donors who support KU School of Music scholarships.