Friday, March 21, 2014

Amsterdam, My First Step into the Big Musical World

It was 1962 when I got that phone call from the Concertgebouw Orchestra inviting me to come and audition; I was 23. I was half way through my sixth and final year with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and had I had finished my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Eastman School of Music. Those six years in Rochester as a student and a member of the Philharmonic Orchestra were the best learning years that I have ever experienced.

My sixth year, however, was only playing in the orchestra and, quite frankly, I missed the intensity of my simultaneous student life. That, plus a huge curiosity of how music was played abroad, particularly in Europe, was what prompted me to write letters to 20 different symphony orchestras asking if, by chance, there might be a tuba opening I could fill (I was naive 52 years ago!).

Miraculously, I received two positive responses, one from L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Genève, Switzerland and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Holland. First, I was asked by the Suise Romand to come to New York and audition for Ernst Ansermet. A violinist and I drove after a Saturday night pop concert, through a severe blizzard; in my 52 Chevrolet to a 9:00am meeting with Maestro Ansermet in his hotel room at the elegant Park Hotel, next to Central Park. Even without the malevolent specter of terrorism that we live with today, the security personal of the Park Hotel seemed extremely concerned that, at 8:40 in the morning, I was warming up in the 10th floor restroom. Well, at 9:00 I was in the maestro’s room playing through the standard orchestra audition pieces. It was the best audition I ever played. Short story: I was invited to join the L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and I immediately started studying French.
After returning to Rochester and taking my hero-lap through the halls of the Eastman School of Music, I received the phone call from Amsterdam. “We would like to invite you to the audition in Amsterdam in the Concertgebouw (concert building) this Saturday at 10:00 am; it was Tuesday! The next day I went to the KLM office to pick up the ticket they said would be waiting for me.
“Hello Mr. Bobo, may we see your passport please?”
“We have to see your passport to issue your ticket”
“Please go the New York Port Authority and explain your problem.”
I went and explained and I was told I would have to wait 3 weeks for the passport. In explained that I needed to get to Amsterdam the next day for the audition. They seemed shocked and told me that in special circumstances they could give me the passport on the same day but it would cost $150 dollars; that was a huge amount of money in 1962. Fortunately, I had the cash. When they gave me the passport it was warm just like a piece of bread that had popped out of the toaster. I took the passport and went to the airport and successfully boarded the flight to Amsterdam. I arrived in the evening, was met by the orchestra’s artistic secretary, taken to the hotel and told the audition would be the next morning in the Concertgebouw at 10:00. That night I learned the real meaning of a word I had only heard a few times: Jetlag!

The next morning I was at the front door of the Concertgebouw at 9:00, waiting for someone to open the place up. By 9:30 I was in a nice room able to freely warm up. At 10:00 I was called on to the stage of the Kleinezaal (small hall) and asked to play. The orchestras 1st trumpet player sat with me and told me what to play; he was a very nice, jolly man named Marinus Komst. Also as I heard from all the Condertgebouw Orchestra recordings I had listened during the past few days, I was abundantly aware that Heer Komst was a truly great trumpet player. He chose the pieces I would play.

The Overture to Mendelsohn’s Midsummernight’s Dream. It went well but he asked for the legato lines to be accented. Being legato (slurred) and having heard Mr., Kompts’ style on all the LPs, I knew he meant breath accents. Not only did it work fine but it was also clear in was stylistically correct.

Next came the overture to the Meistersinger. I knew very little about F tubas then and it worked very well on CC.

Next was to Prelude to the third act of Lohingrin, I asked him if he wanted me to play through the three bars that were left out because of the high register, he smiled and said that all tubist should play that, it sounds weak when the tuba drops out and the 3rd trumpet takes over. I did as he asked, which was what I wanted to do in the first place!

Next came Mahler’s 1st

And finally, the finale to Bruckner 7th, which I loved and knew. Forgive my small brag but I was on a roll.

There was only one other player and he, after a few years, became a very good friend and a highly respected teacher in the Friesland part of the Netherlands.

There was and still is an overwhelming atmosphere in the Concertgebouw; when you first enter you immediately sense something quite unusual. First. Even in complete silence there is an ambient accustic, a void of sound that had mystical presence. And the first note, that first note that I played in that new environment. The hall made it sound so beautiful it made me jump. After many years, I returned to the Concertgebouw on tour with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Returning to that same place where I had played that first magical note more than 40 years before I was no less shocked.

I still try to analyze this magical acoustic. Certainly there are many aspects that make it a great hall but I think the principal magical thing is this: It resonates at a very soft dynamic. In other places where I’ve played one can hear the hall “light up” at certain dynamics, usually f or even ff, it sets off a feedback, a sonic enhancement. In the Concertgebouw that enhancement takes place at a much softer dynamic.

Amsterdam and the Concertgebouw were my first steps in the real musical world, the world at large; that world is still expanding for me and I hope to be experiencing it for a long time.

Aboard Virgin Atlantic flight #901 from Tokyo to London, connecting to Amsterdam; the first stop on a masterclass tour through Europe ending with the weddings of my daughter, Melody, and of Steven Mead and Misa Akahoshi. March 21, 2014.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Tour from---Well, it's Intense!

I have just embarked on the longest and most intense tour of my life, I didn’t plan it this way but one tour merged into another and the frequency of one masterclass or concert to the next simply turned into a very long five month journey with very little thought to rest or geography.

If I had a manager who organized this mega tour (world tour feels a bit indulgent), I would fire the manager, but alas, I created it all myself!

At this moment I’m riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka, where I will teach and after 3 days on to Okayama. Without going into details, after returning to Tokyo I will travel to Amsterdam, Salzburg, Bamburg, Würzburg, London, Manchester, Tokyo, Penn State, Los Angeles, Bloomington IND (ITEC), Hong Kong, Osaka, Interlochen MI, Carlesbad, CA, Italy, (Italian Brass Week), London, Carlesbad, Jeju Korea, Japan and finally to Mexico, where I will stay in the town of Tlahuitoltepec. Ah, but that will certainly be the focus of future blogs.

Sadly, I had to pass on Steve Rosse’s TubaMania in Bangkok, Thailand, which would have been the week following Manchester; even with the kind support of Yamaha, the aspect of the same day travel from Manchester to Bangkok after the previous 3 weeks of travel schedule, my 75 years protested. I’ll be at TubaMania in 2015.

It was exactly one year ago that euphonium icons Steven Mead and Misa Akahoshi fell in love in Bangkok at TubaMania. After their wedding in the small town of Fenny Drayton, not far from Manchester, They will return to Bangkok for the 2014 TubaMania. I’m very happy that I will be able to attend their wedding. I always thought June was the appropriate month for weddings but this year, March clearly seems to be the month of choice.

The reason this mega tour formulated in the first place is that on March 15th my daughter Melody and her fiancé Matt Poole will have their wedding ceremony in London. A couple of years ago, when Melody told me she had a new boyfriend and it looked serious, I ask Melody what he did. “He’s a rock and roll drummer”, she said! “OMG”, I thought. As it turned out he was a writer for a technical magazine and now he has become a supervisor and advisor internationally for several technical magazines; I’m very proud of Melody, I’m very proud of Matt and their future together appears to be bright and happy.

Unlike many of my colleagues I’ve known in my orchestra days, I have always enjoyed being ‘on the road’ and this tour, because of the very special wedding days, seems to be one of special significance.

February 19, 2914 on the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka

Saturday, January 04, 2014


Feedback: information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

We have all heard it said that our principal teacher, the person who listens to us more than any other person, the one that tells us how to practice and prepare and the one who determines what sounds good and what needs work, is ourselves. Of course, we all have many more teachers; our official teachers from private or institutional study, our colleagues, our fellow students plus all and any criticism from whatever source it may come. Feedback is essential to our learning process.

In most conservatories, after an exam, there is a comprehensive discussion among the adjudicating professors to compile the reactions and pass on the information to the student. It’s a good system; the students get a collective view of their year’s progress and advise on how to proceed the following year to their best advantage. In other words, they get positive and valuable feedback.

Sadly, that is not always the case. As a foreign teacher, the only opportunity I had to communicate with most students was after exams, at which time most students in the school would come to me and ask for my feedback. Although I had all the information for each student in my iPad, language problems made it impossible to communicate the information the students wanted and needed to hear. After having my comments translated and written in Japanese I had them distributed to the students. The next day I was told that the students didn’t need my comments, they only needed my score, a number from 1 to 10!

As an evaluation for musical performance after a whole year of work, that is irresponsible pedagogy!!! Students need feedback, all musicians need feedback and feedback should never be exclusive to only a single teacher! Teachers need feedback too, the quality of the students reflects the quality of the teachers.

If we agree with Leonardo da Vinci, who said that it is the student’s duty to surpass the teacher. Certainly then, it is the teacher’s duty to make available and provide the feedback to make that possible.

Early in my career, while playing in the Rochester Philharmonic, I learned to make a point to tell colleagues when they had played exceptionally well. I was young and naïve but it was obvious that just a few positive words had an enormous and lasting effect. With three or more concerts a week it was too easy to forget the concert and just go home. Musicians need to both take and give feedback, it’s how we learn, it’s how we grow and evolve.

January 4, 2014, Tokyo

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sarah Willis's Horn Hangout

I was privileged today to be interviewed on Sarah Willis's Horn Hangouts. . As well as being an absolutely amazing low horn player in the Berlin Philharmonic, Sarah's energy, complimented by her charm, has lead her into enterprises other than just the Berlin Philharmonic, which is a pretty good start!

Horn Hangouts is just one of those projects.

Please go to the above site and scroll down to the Bobo picture.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where the Sun Never Shines

The following essay came up just today for the first time in a few years. I promised a new blog this month called "Feedback". Too serious, my mood has changed, I hope this will make everybody smile:

  Perhaps this is a small step over the threshold into the direction low life humour but this one is too good to let slip by.

My apartment in Tokyo is a very fine one; it has two bedrooms, one that has been transformed to a studio with the presence of a Yamaha grand piano. There is a very nice kitchen and a spacious livingroom / diningroom area, a comfortable Japanese style bath and shower and two toilets. Every room is computerized and in the living room there are no less than 5 computerized panels on the wall, all in a row, that control lighting (with a rheostat for each of the rooms lights) heat and air-conditioning controls, two other controls, which I have finally discovered are for the hot water in the apartment, although I have no idea why there are two, and another circular remote control device, which is beautifully designed, which I finally learned regulated the preferred heating of the tile floors. And, of course, there are the two completely computerized toilets.

On the wall of the two toilets are remote control devices that look very much like a TV remote control device. There are no less than 16 buttons to press on these devices; it only took me a day to determine that the top button was to flush; it was absolutely necessary to learn that, since there was no other visible way to do it! It also gives the advantage that if you forget to flush you can reach in the door, remove the remote and push the flush button from the living room!
The other buttons were a mystery, that is until two days ago. There are two buttons which I can only guess are to choose where you want to be washed off after use; one button has a picture of a girl and a spout of water centered on her most feminine area and there’s is a picture of a unisex being with the spout directed at the rear of the figure. It was, of course, a bidet, that omni present bathroom fixture found in Europe that one can refer to with children as a “bottom washer offer”. I personally never used a bidet through the years I lived in Europe, but I was quite aware of its purpose.

Two days ago while using the famous porcelain throne and while placing my Japanese phrase book on the floor I accidentally pushed one of the 16 buttons, which I’m very sure was the bidet. After the initial shock I was amazed by the accuracy and the just warmer than body temperature of the spout, I even questioned if there was some kind of radar in the bidet. The water pressure was quite impressive and within 30 seconds I was absolutely sure that I was totally spotless. Now came the high drama; how do I turn the thing off? It just didn’t stop and that reservoir of warm water, wherever it was, was coming to an end and I was beginning to feel the reality that the temperature in Tokyo dipped below freezing for the last two days.

I really wanted that thing turned off and as fast as possible, I looked at the 16 buttons, all in Japanese, fearful that random button pushing might open a Pandora’s box of unwelcome hygienic experiences. Finally, I choose the bottom button on the right and mercifully it was the right one. It was a very long bidet, I’m sure over a minute, had it lasted any longer I’m sure I would have frozen that proverbial place where the sun never shines. But alas, all is well that ends well. 

January 26, 2006, Tokyo