Friday, August 25, 2017


Articulation is on my mind these days. I am working on a new text on multibal tonguing and I remembered this article I wrote in 2006.  

In all the languages of the world, linguists can’t agree on the number of consonances there are. Some say there are around one hundred and others say there are over one hundred twenty. The disagreement comes from where to draw the distinction between consonances that are similar. The consonant T, for example, is quite different from language to language. In French T is pronounced with the tongue very forward in the mouth on the back of the upper front teeth, in English the T is placed on the rim of the gum at the point just before it rises up to the roof of the month, and in Chinese the T consonant is made high on the roof of the mouth; all are quite different in the way they sound.

If we can agree that there are over one hundred consonances in Languages, and if we can agree that articulation is virtually the consonance of the musical language, then how many types of articulation are there in music, and much more specifically, how many  types of articulation do we have the possibility of producing on brass  instruments?

Vocal consonants have been used successfully in teaching brass instruments for a very long time; every brass player has learned to start a note with Ta, Da or an occasional Ka, but, in fact, there are huge differences between consonants in speech and articulations on brass instruments.

Nature created our vocal mechanism in a very functional and wonderful way; the sound source comes first and the consonant comes second. It works beautifully, the vibration from the larynx reaches the mouth and with vowels and consonances we have an infinite possibility of sounds, in fact, we have language.

But what happens when the articulation mechanism (the tongue) comes first and the sound source (the lips) come second? The results are so different that comparisons can be dangerous or at least difficult.

Still, most of our references to playing brass instruments come from vocal concepts. I was very surprised in 1990 when performing and recording Verdi’s Il Trovatore with the Maggio Musicalli di Firenze with Luciano Pavarotti singing the lead. I was amazed to hear Pavarotti vocalizing (warming up) on one of the exercises in my book, an exercise from the famous James Stamp trumpet book which I took and modified and which Mr. Stamp had taken and modified from the time proven copious repertoire of vocal exercises. From Maestro Pavarotti I was hearing this exercise in its original form for the first time. These old vocal methods work for brass instruments and they will continue to work, but there are a few differences that need to be addressed.

For example, what is the difference between Ta and Da? Ta, is what linguists call a non vocalized plosive, first we hear the sound of the consonant (articulation) then the sound of the vowel (tone); this works very well on a brass instrument. But Da, the articulation that we are taught to use for a softer attack is a vocalized plosive, quite a different situation. With Da, first is the vocal sound then the consonant. That’s not possible on a brass instrument, except when connected to a note that is already sounding. Ta and Da have nevertheless worked well for generations to guide brass students to discriminate different articulations, but they are limited in their scope.

There are four aspects to articulating on brass instruments and when a player can coordinate those four things, the capacity for a wide spectrum of articulations is enormous. The four aspects are:
1.        Airflow at impact.
2.        Embouchure resistance at impact.
3.        Tongue placement at impact.
4.        Air compression released by the tongue at impact; i.e. Articulation.

Of course, airflow at impact is determined largely by dynamic and register, the lower and the louder requiring greater airflow. Embouchure resistance is created when the air meets the embouchure. That resistance together with the airflow broadens even more the potential verity of articulations.

Tongue placement modifies attack in a very important way. Like the different Ts mentioned above, tongue placement changes the articulation from a clear instant attack when it is forward and a less instant attack with the tongue further back in the mouth. It should also be noted that generally the low register responds better with the tongue forward, even between the lips, and in the higher register to avoid being too abrupt, it works better further back in the mouth. The compression of air behind the tongue at impact determines the type of the attack. Suddenly, the potential becomes evident. The possibilities are enormous.

Now come two tasks: learning to use these four articulation functions and far more importantly, which mix of the four possibilities serve best our musical purpose?

With essentially an infinite number of possibilities these articulations need to be on demand from the information in our musical mind’s ear; this is one of the many reasons for listening to music of all kinds. The more we know and the more we have experienced, the more sonic vocabulary we have to call upon for expressing our own individual musicality. The danger here is that we too easily learn a small vocabulary of articulations and dogmatically continue using only those that are familiar.

In an essay on articulation, something should be said about starting a note without using the tongue at all. This can occasionally be a good therapy for correcting poor response but as a normal day-to-day articulation it is limited. Articulation is the fine-tuning of rhythm and most of the time the rhythmic energy of the music requires articulation be focused and clear.

In language when we are unclear with our consonants we have a tendency to sound either drunk or stupid, we all know that sound! But when clear consonants are returned in our speaking we can give the impression of intelligence! It’s very much the same with musical performance particularly in lower instruments. In low registers the human ear hears less clearly, therefore we who play in those low registers need to make a special effort in articulating clearly. Music becomes more enjoyable to play and to hear.

Hiroshima, Japan, January 22, 2006
Republished August 25, 2017, Oaxaca, Mexico

Saturday, August 12, 2017

If Money didn’t Matter
Universities, Conservatories and
Brass Instrments

The advantages of education, particuly music education, are incresingly becomng more elusive. Tuition for American universities, conservatories and music schools is just out of reach for many, if not most, students. Lones are available for some but the the burden of paying the lones is heavy and long.

The situation is exacerbated for those who are studying advanced music performance and require high quality instruments, which are expensive, very expensive, but are necessary to benefit the optimum of what higher music education offers. All these costly realities combined can create economic situations that are extremely difficult if not impossible to live with.

There are alternatives that should be examined.  
There are alternatives to the prestigious music schools in the USA that many students espier toward. Tuition of these alternatives may be as low as 10% of what the famous American schools require. There are Music schools in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France where the teachers are great and show excellent results. Even with the living expenses and the required “Beer money”, the costs are far less than the prestigious schools in the USA.

There is a much deeper reason for turning to study abroad than just tuition costs and shopping for the best deal. Studying abroad will open your view to the world, which means much more than just a high quality music education; it is an education of life, learning another culture, another mentality, another language and other broadening aspects.

In our search for high quality music schools and instruments we are all, in fact, shoppers, shoppers who insist on excellence. For example, excellence in leather goods with the prestige of famous labels such Gucci or Yves Saint Laurent, which certainly are of the highest quality but also carry a very expensive price tag. However, on the Piazza San Lorenzo in Firenze (Florence), Italy, one can buy leather goods of equal or higher quality at a much lower price than the high-end labels. The same situation exists with universities, conservatries and brass instruments.

Welcome China, to the brass instrument market. There are now Chinese instruments available for those who are looking for new instruments but simply don’t have the funds to buy the popular “high-end” brands. As Japan did many years ago, the Chinese brass instrument makers have very successfully copied many of the most popular brass instruments in the world market with excellent results. Some of these copies are now being modified with improvements that are superb. These instruments are available now at about 25% of the price required today form the bigger and established world makers.

There are countries in the world where musical talent is huge but economics make it impossible even to dream of purchasing a high-end famous brand instrument. Even at 25% of the high-end prices it’s very expensive in the poorer countries but the dream can be possible.

This is not an add for Chinese brass instrument makers; rather it’s an alert for students who do not have the funds to consider buying an instrument with a major brand name. There are options available that cost less that are also high quality.

Roger Bobo, August 12, 2917, Oaxaca, Mexico

Sunday, July 23, 2017

With a Knuckle and a Belt

It’s been my pleasure and good fortune to attend a music camp or some form of summer musical event since my first year at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan in 1954. These music camps were fewer then, but today they seem to exist in almost every village or every college or university campus. This is a good thing, a wonderful thing; at this time in our turbulent world we need to connect with our creative aspects more than ever before.
I just arrived back to my home in Oaxaca, Mexico and awaking at 3:am jet lagged and energized. It’s dangerous to speak in superlatives in today's world, they seem abundant in just about everything but in my thoughts at this moment Italian Brass Week resonates as a superb event. The venues of all the concerts and events in this historical magical city of Firenze are certainly without compare. One such event that must be noted was an antiphonal concert with over 100 players in three different locations: from the Pontevecchio, 4 Gondolas anchored in the middle of the Arno River and from the bank of the Arno River. The players on the Pontevecchio and from the riverbank were largely students and the players on the 4 gondolas were mostly the Italian Brass Week faculty.
The faculty for this year’s Italian Brass Week was comprised of some of the best young (younger than I) palyers and theachers we have. I deeply appreciate them for what they have taught me. As in all the summer music events I’ve enjoyed since my 1954 Interlochen experience I have returned much more enlightened. However, we cannot ignore time or history.
I remember so well performing at what I considered a high level and being aware that there was a growing number of younger players who were surpassing me in both tuba skills and musicality. It was clearly time to turn my attention to teaching; this was a new direction that freed me from the encumbrances of tuba performance and opened the door to a wider view. Da Vinci said it’s the student’s duty to surpass the teacher. I have seen and enjoyed many times that da Vinci was right.
But there is another serious dimension to address. We cannot escape history or ignore the future. As in performance, new ideas, methods and techniques in teaching are rapidly emerging. An aging teacher cannot continue functioning in a period from a time that has past. The knowledge and thoughts of the new generation of teachers, maestros and senseis are the key to moving ahead. We have a choice here: we either incorporate the new thoughts and ideas and add them to our greater experience or stubbornly hold to our inevitable obsolescence. It needs to be mentioned that much of the ‘old school’ pedagogical methods are harmful to our students. The time of the knuckle and the belt have past.
Hopefully aging brings knowledge and wisdom with it. Da Vinci is right again, the new generation of teachers have become the mentors of their Maestros.

Roger Bobo, Oaxaca, Mexico, July 23, 2017

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The New Giants
For the past thirteen years I have been writing almost monthly articles, and most of those have been published in Pipers magazine, one of the highly esteemed band magazines in Japan. In these thirteen years, at once a month, that is close to 150 articles. Lately, it appears to me some of my articles are saying the same things repeatedly but in different ways. I will continue writing but I will also try and explore new directions and enter the new doors I see being opened.
There is a tendency in my generation to reflect on ‘the good old times, the golden days of our time, holding to a great belief in the merits of the past; that’s hard to do without feeling a little shame. In previous articles I’ve refeared to what I call the ‘10-year generations of brass players’, that every 10 years there seems to come a wave of new players. I’ve also used the metaphor as these new generations appear as students, grand students and great grand students. I’m proud to be the great grand teacher of many brass players in this world.
But something new is happening, not only in tuba, not only in brass instruments but also throughout the musical world. There is a new kind of musical species emerging who seem to be far more evolved than the icons that were part of my time. There seems to be a generation of new and far greater icons; these are ‘The New Giants’.
Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.” - Leonardo da Vinci. There is an abundance of highly successful students in the world now who have exponentially surpassed their teachers, their icons and their examples, which are so abundantly evident in our lives through the endless references that the Internet offers us. In one day I heard the Chinese pianist, Yuga Wang, (a friend remarked, “She’s from another galaxy”), a 3 year old pianist who seems almost ready to concertize. Within a few minutes I was listening to the 14-year-old French girl, Tina S playing the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on electric guitar; beyond belief! The list could go on regarding trumpet, trombone, horn, it’s a new generation of musical giants; our future in the musical world is assured of taking us places that we can’t yet imagine.
Just by chance, today (March 8, 2017) is International Women’s day; this needs to be addressed in the context of our “New Giants”. Unfortunately, in many places and categories of our world where the unjustness of sexism still exists, but at least in the western world, at least to me in my lifetime, I have observed the status of women in the musical world grow to being proportional and equal. Of course, there are occasional reports of favoritism, prejudice, sexism, nationalism and municipalism that appear, however, these stories are absolutely are not limited to women. Every competition, audition, and job application results in someone being disappointed and each of these disappointed people have a story, this is human nature and it’s us, those who hear these stories of prejudice, who must discriminate there validity.
It was my honor to have been on the faculty of the Musashino Academy of Music for 10 years of my life. I took note in the biannual exams that generally 60% of the trumpet players were women 80% of the horns, 60% of trombones, 90% of euphoniumists and 20% of tubists were women. A little humor a little sadness: I used to joke that 1 out of 3 young Japanese girls played the euphonium, very very very few became professional!
Although Japan has a good representation of women in classical music, I have seen in Holland, Italy, Switzerland and United Kingdom, a shockingly large number of Japanese girls fighting to find a way to not have to return to Japan. It’s true that Japan is behind the west regarding woman’s equality in the musical world, however, the “New Giants” are well represented on all the instruments; in fact, many of the top women brass players today are the examples of state-of-the-art in brass playing.
It was 75 years ago, while sitting on my father’s shoulders, when I first heard that incredible sound of brass instruments coming from a church tower on a crisp winter Sunday morning. I feel advantaged to have that retrospective, It helps me to have a realistic vision of what may happen in the future, it was magic then and I hope it is still magic now and in the future. The men and women of the “New Giants” are opening doors for us.
Roger Bobo, March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Aeolus. Greek Mythology: The God of the Winds

Aeolus (ˈēələs) Greek Mythology:
The God of the Winds.

Something extraordinary happened this week (September 13-18, 2016) in Düsseldorf, Germany. The 11th edition of THE AEOLUS INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF WIND INSTRUMENTS was a major musical event. I was privileged to sit in the judges committee in this year’s competition for trumpet, trombone and tuba.

2016 is truly a year of international tuba competitions, from Jeju, Korea, the Aeolus competition in Düsseldorf, Germany, Brno, Check Republic, Japanese National Competition, and Portia, Italy. 2016 is an unusually active year for the tuba. Some players would like to have participated in all these competitions; very few had the recourses to cover all the expenses, plus the necessary study to learn five separate repertoires would be a daunting task.

All competitions have one thing in common, after months of specific preparation, many return to their homes dissatisfied. This is normal, similar to having prepared for the Olympics, concentrating a huge and lengthy amount of preparation and energy, into a few minutes of highly focused performance, can be quite stressful. Frequently, such prolonged stress and subsequent disappointment can translate into bitterness with hints of jury favoritism regarding nationalism, teacher-student history or other rationalisations to hide the pain of that disappointment; sometimes the stress and disappointment also affects the judges of the competition. This was ABSOLUTELY NOT the case at the Aeolus Competition in Düsseldorf; although not all the judges agreed with the results, which were very close, all finished the week only with deep respect for each other.

The extraordinary success of the Aeolus Competition can largely be attributed to the leadership and organisation of Dr. Sieghardt Rometsch who’s vision realised a competition with an extraordinary positive atmosphere for competitors, jurors and all concerned.

The winner of the final round of the Aeolus competition was Swedish trombonist, Louise Pollock with a stunning performance of the Concertino op. 4 of Ferdinand David.

During the semifinals of this competition something very significant happened: All the semifinalists were required to play a specific contemporary work, For the trombone, this piece was BLACK HAWK EAGLE, by trombonist, conductor, fellow juror and composer, Christian Lindberg. In the opinion of this listener, this was the finest new work for any brass instrument written in my lifetime. As a would-be writer, I try to avoid superlatives but I would like to share my quick written notes written directly after hearing the four sequential performances. Quoted from my notes: “Monumental, powerful, tenderness, Mahleresque, new world standard of a solo brass piece – pay attention!!” It’s understood these are strong adjectives but I invite you to listen to this piece and find your own impressions.

Again, it’s with thanks and appreciation to Dr. Sieghardt Rometsch for his vision and creation of the Aeolus competition.

October 24, 2016, Oaxaca, Mexico