Thursday, May 02, 2019

Living With Time

Friday, March 08, 2019

Recently there has been a lot of discussion on the Internet regarding the pros and cons of mouthpiece buzzing. I can offer no definitive opinion but I can share 66 years of observation and some history.
On the west coast of the USA, Los Angeles, California, where I grew up and where I began my life in brass music, there were two very major teachers at the time: James Stamp, who was a trumpet teacher and Robert Marsteller who taught trombone and tuba. Both men were great and beloved by their students and have to this day left a legacy among their students and their student’s students.
 Mr. Stamp was the culmination of generations of brass basics, which he modified and which have been collected into what many feel is the essential collection of brass basics, included in this collection are numerous exercises to be played just on the mouthpiece. Brass players all over the world use these exercises today.
Mr. Marsteller, on the other hand held the opinion that mouthpiece exercises were harmful and lead to stiff non-fluid playing. I, being a Marsteller student, followed his doctrine for several decades. In that period I had the pleasure to teach Christian Lindberg who had come to Los Angeles for a year to study with Ralph Sauer and me. When the question of mouthpiece practice came up in a lesson I recommended that mouthpiece playing could have negative results. In a recent short online discussion on mouthpiece practice, Christian demonstrated very convincingly, by playing the same passage before and after buzzing, that buzzing had a negative effect on his sound quality. I don’t know how much my advice of 40 years ago influenced his opinion but I am sure that his very clear opinion today was reached through carful thought.
In my last years with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra I began working with the mouthpiece and found the benefits were very little and that stiffness was apparent, but there was something more that is very important. Quite simply, buzzing is not beautiful; it makes a sound that is not dissimilar to the buzzy sound we hear when an oboist or a bassoonist make squawks on their reeds; there is no resonance, or at most very little resonance, on the mouthpiece alone. The beauty of our sound is dependent on resonance and the micro-adjustments we make seeking that resonance are the same adjustments we need to develop an efficient embouchure.
By adding a little extra length to the mouthpiece, 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) will create significantly more resonance. Similar to adding a little extra tubing is a devise called the BERP. It is available for all brass instruments and the resistance is adjustable, which, in fact, also adjusts the resonance. 
Whether buzzing is benificial or not it's up to each player to determan for him or herself. After 66 years of experiminting I have personally come to the conclusion that it is not. I urdge all players to not take my word for it. Experiment and make your own decision.
Roger Bobo
March 8, 2019
Oaxaca, Mexico

Friday, February 22, 2019

Many assistant conductors reach their success, fame and fortune as a result of the principal conductor becoming ill and by being prepared to take over the conducting responsibilities. This is a classic example of luck; the principal conductor’s sudden illness becomes the good luck of the ambitious assistant. 
Calculation:Can luck be influenced by our individual attitudes and behaviors? There are numerous and fascinating academic studies showing copious statistics that those with optimistic attitudes have a greater incidence experiencing what they wish for, IE, good luck. Studying the best options to realize that wish gives an advantage whether we are playing the slot machines in the Las Vegas or Montecarlo casinos or measuring the circumstances of an upcoming event; studying the odds of a horse race or the surrounding conditions of an audition or competition. There are those who can calculate higher frequencies of winning and there are those who by instinct just feel ‘Lady Luck’ is there at certain times. In the casino world, virtuoso gamblers make in depth studies to anticipate as closely as possible when the best moment is to take the chanceon luck, and when to make their move. For classical musicians, knowing the conditions for a symphony orchestra position or solo competition, it’s advantageous to be aware of who the judges are, who are the other competitors, and what is the history. This gives us a greater chance of being lucky or perhaps avoiding a probability of being unlucky.
Preparation: Of course, everyone has hopes regarding many things, work, money, love, and fulfillment. Hope alone is a weak option for bringing good luck, statisticians point out that those who believe they will be lucky have a better chance for success. In 1956 a young boy of 18 years old went of to study tuba at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Just by chance the tubist in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra had unexpectedly just been drafted into military service. The young man, just entering his freshman year, was asked to audition; he played and was asked to join the orchestra. That was a classic example of pure luck and the boy was prepared. Because of extremely good luck and thorough preparation a long and successful career was put in motion.
Random: We don’t know when luck, good luck or bad luck, will appear. Winning the lottery or being hit by a truck, the one thing that we can be sure of is that luck will touch our lives. Some may call it destiny, karma, spiritual, superstition or just plain luck.Luck is an aspect of our private lives that we can choose, it exists for everyone. 
Be prepared and GOOD LUCK
Roger Bobo
February 22, 2019, Oaxaca, Mexico

Monday, December 17, 2018

Bespoke Lessons
We all know that every student is unique and that the diverse learning needs for each are equally unique. Within a very short time, teachers are able to make a decision on how to begin working with a particular student. It’s a big step to determine whether to begin with basics, IE, breathing, tonguing, flexibility, tone, etc or to begin with musical ideas and to allow those musical thoughts to lead the body in finding the best solutions. There are many truly great teachers who specialize in the physical and acoustical aspects of playing a brass instrument and we have great teachers that encourage musicality to motivate the path to a successful result. Most teachers are skillful in following both of those pedagogical pathways, in other words ‘whatever works’.
During the time I held full-time positions in several music conservatories, I had the pleasure and advantage of meeting with my students once a week, sometimes for several years. With that frequency of lessons, a bonding with the student occurs and both student and teacher concurrently create a direction and a vision of the musical goals, whether for competitions, exams, auditions or simply growing toward becoming as good as possible. This kind of teaching is a luxury.
A personal luxury I’ve enjoyed for the last five years has been traveling to a number of countries in the world and to teach both private, (one-to-one), lessons and to present masterclasses. This is both fulfilling and frustrating. It’s an adventure to meet a student for the first time, listen to him or her play, determine what requires the most attention and start a procedure, which hopefully will offer a goal in the student's performance, … but then what? We say goodbye and perhaps we see each other again the next year or sadly, maybe never again, that’s the frustrating part.
It’s a good feeling when we hear a noticeable improvement in a short period of time, with a richer tone by using more air, or when a solo becomes more interesting by making small adjustments in articulation or dynamics. The real fulfillment, however, comes when hearing the same student a year later sounding much better. Of course, this is the result that the student, with the guidance of his or her teacher, had been working through the year. If my short moment with that student twelve months before helped that growth, it makes me very happy.
Among these‘number of places’, where I’ve had the pleasure to teach in the last five years, has been a yearly winter tour to Japan. I’m very happy to say that within a few weeks I will be in Japan again. The performance level in Japan and all the Asian countries in the last decade has been phenomenal, which is becoming increasingly evident both by hearing it in real time, and by observing the number of finalists we see in competitions and auditions.
After the three weeks in Japan, I will proceed to Thailand and participate with Steve Rosse and Anne Jelle Visser in the annual TUBA MANIA Festival that takes place on a barge cruising on the River Kwai. This event has attracted students, not only from all of Asia but also from Europe and North America. Aside from an extraordinary learning experience … IT’S FUN!
I’m grateful to the Eastman Music Company for their help in making this Asian tour possible.
December 17, 2018, Oaxaca, Mexico.