Conductor Zubin Mehta once told Robert Ryker that Mehta's two orchestras, the Montreal Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, had the world's two finest tuba players. Ryker, then 22 years old, was one of them. It was a rare compliment for any musician, most of whom never gain professional recognition.

Audiences typically recognize the conductor because they are famous, but most musicians nobody knows. Ryker says he remembers thinking as a young tuba player, "If I ever have an orchestra, I want to change all that."

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1938, Ryker can recall wanting to play tuba from the age of 5, but says he had to wait until he grew a bit to handle the large instrument.