Thursday, April 04, 2013
At nearly 75 years old and with 68 of those years involved with brass instruments (I started playing trumpet at age 7), I have seen a lot of change in brass instruments and brass playing and accumulated a fair view of the brass evolution in the world.
At the end of the 19th century, brass playing was already developing to a high level in Europe. Many of those great players of that time immigrated to the “New World”. Players from Italy, France, Germany, England and other countries went to America and Canada, took positions in North American orchestras and bands and became teachers. With the influence of the great bandmasters like Sousa, Clark, Pryor and others, North America became a center of brass virtuosos. Soon many of those North American Virtuosos returned to their homelands in Europe, influencing the very European countries that brought great brass playing to the "New World".
Of course, this very short view of brass playing includes euphonium and tuba. Perhaps because the tuba is the youngest instrument of today’s brass family, its growth has been the most noticeable. In the course of the last 50 years and there has been virtually an explosion of tuba virtuosos in Europe, first in Scandinavia, then Hungary then all of Europe, and this “Tuba Explosion” seems to still be accelerating. Tuba and Euphonium symposiums began to take place frequently around the world and, of course, this included Asia.
From March 25-29, was perhaps the finest of these euphonium/tuba symposiums, year 14th of TUBAMANIA took place in Bangkok, Thailand. This event was conceived and organized by American tubist, now playing in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia, Steven Rosse. Mr. Rosse created an event this year that brought together participants from Thailand, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Korea; all together approximately 200 hundred students.
The featured artists were Steven Mead, Steven Rosse, Tim Buzbee, Mathew van Emmerik, and myself, Roger Bobo.
Contributing artists were, Misa Akahoshi, Manit Buchachanok, Satit Chomchewchan, Hidehiro Fujita, Paul Luxenberg, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Kitti Sawetkittikul, Bret Stemple and Kazumasa Yamagishi. The ensembles represented were the E-Tan Tuba Quartet (Thailand), Low Fat Tuba Ensemble (Thailand), Sydney Conservatorium Tuba Quartet (Australia), Mahidol University Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble (Thailand) and the Mahidou Brass Band.
As one who has taught and taken part in Symposiums in Europe, North America, Australia and Japan for the last 40 years I can say not only are these, plus the 200 students, a impressive array of artists and talent but it puts into prospective that the center of the euphonium and tuba world is now moving in the direction of Asia and Australia.
As in Hungary twenty years ago, I was amazed to hear the huge potential of talent that is developing here in Asia and Australia; it was evident in in all the countries that were represented at TUBAMANIA and it is absolutely a sure thing that these countries will be (many players already are) at the highest international level we have of euphonium and tuba performance.
One might ask; “How can you be so sure the Asian countries will be at the highest international level?” Fifty years ago there were very few tubists and euphoniumists to look to as references for high level playing; we had to look to other instrumentalists for examples. Twenty years ago there were much more, and today the numbers are stunning. However, the talent today is as high as ever; with the abundance of wonderful players we have as references today, it’s inevitable that the Asians will be at least as good as the best we have at present and probably better. Leonardo di Vinci said, “It’s the student's duty to become better than the teacher”. Personally, I have, with great joy, experienced that with several students and I expect to experience it many more times, most likely in Asia and Australia.
Since I started writing, it’s been my policy in my blogs and articles to avoid writing reviews, however, there were several performances at TUBAMANIA that were so amazing something has to be said.
Of course, we expect anything we hear from Steven Mead to be superb and certainly his recital was that, but as a man who has been listening to brass players for a very long time I feel a need to point out that the Puccini aria, Vissi d’art from Tosca, was as beautiful and moving as any soprano I’ve heard. It was unforgettable!
Steven Mead is a superstar but there is an emerging new superstar in the Euphonium world. Remember this name: Misa Akahoshi from Japan. She has the musicality, virtuosity and charisma to assure her place in superstardom. One amazing moment: Steven played one of the most virtuosic pieces on his recital I’ve heard, Hummingbird by Steve Bryant. For an encore, he invited Misa Akahoshi to come on stage and play it with him in Unison. It was perfect, and except for a few passages where they split into octaves one could have suspected it was one person. The audience exploded with applause and bravos.
Japanese tubist Hidehiro Fujita played his arrangement of Introduction, Theme and Variations by Johann Hummel, it was beautiful playing and Fujita san used at times a remarkable pianissimo that was clear, high energy and very very soft.
We expect tubist Steve Rosse to be great but to be great on six different occasions and with the added pressure of organizing TUBAMANIA was beyond belief.
It was my honor and pleasure to conduct the TUBAMANIA Artist Ensemble; all I will say is that it was really good! With great players like that a conductor can’t go wrong.
Thank you Steve Rosse for your vision, and thanks to coordinators Mananya Chitteerahandu and Daren Robbens for causing everything to go smoothly and enjoyably.
And personal thanks to Yamaha for being my sponsor and making it possible to attend.
April 3, 2013, Tokyo
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Roger Bobo
Although this was written 34 years ago it still seems to be appropriate. The winner of that New York Philharmonic audition 34 years ago, Warren Deck, is now retired from the orchestra and holds a highly respected faculty position himself and now has to face that same question about training tubists.
Printed courtesy of International Brass Bulletin.
At the time of this writing, preliminary auditions are being held for the tuba position in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. From a field of ninety-five applicants one man will be chosen to fill the prestigious position with the great orchestra. We can be sure that this man will be a great tubist and that he is more than deserving of our congratulations. But, with only one opening and with increasing
infrequency of new vacancies, what of the other 94?
Conductors and orchestra audition committees hope that from the applicants there will be one player who is obviously best suited for the position, but with fewer openings and more players than ever, this is rarely the case. It is not at all unusual to find several qualified applicants, especially from such large
numbers, and those final decisions can be tedious and tense. With so many qualified players the decision is rarely, simply who is the best player, but who is the best player for a particular orchestra. With so many excellent players the final decision is more often made in regard to tastes and traditions of the particular orchestra or conductor.
Tuba, of course, is not the only instrumental group where the supply overwhelms the demand but for many reasons it seems to be the most out of proportion. Discussions in regard to specific reasons could be made but the final question still is: 'What of the other 94?'.
Many of the applicants hold positions already, either in other orchestras or on faculties of various music schools, but many of them see this audition as their one and perhaps only big chance. Future Tuba Christmases, pizza parlor tuba quartet jobs or pending tuba symposia will hardly seem fulfilling compared to what these players had wished. Many of them returning to their faculty positions may look at their roster of "tuba majors" in a different light.
With this lopsided ratio between supply and demand can we in good conscience continue training professional quality tubists? We must, of course, offer instruction to all qualified students who wish it, but with this instruction must also come a realistic picture of the professional situation and what the statistics are like for the aspiring tubist. For those who are members of large music school faculties and for music school administrators who allow large numbers of tuba majors (that is a student whose principal interest in an institute of higher learning is preparation for a career in professional tuba playing), it might be prudent if this situation were reexamined.
To the 94, what can be said? Many professions on this planet are overcrowded. There will be more openings every few years, and very occasionally there will be another opening in a major orchestra. There are many related professions that might be attractive to the tubist without work: instrument design
and repair, music composition, conducting, various types of musical administration and even the increasingly controversial field of tuba pedagogy.
Onward and Good Luck!
1979, Los Angeles, California, USA
Reissued March 20, 2013
Friday, March 15, 2013
Its time has come, its emergence into the music education
world is inevitable, we have both the audio and video technology now to assure
that it can work. I have enjoyed exploring this new teaching mode possibility
and am struck by its efficiency and the potential that it opens for the future.
Getting started is easy; in most
of the world today dependable high-speed internet and social networks such as
Skype are available. Of course, in order to take advantage of this gift of our
time, we need a computer; plus a microphone and a camera, which fortunately have become standard. Occasionally, there are internet problems but, as time passes, they’re
The video aspect is usually not
a problem; sometimes I‘ve encountered video problems due to severe weather
conditions, either at the location of the student or the teacher, however, when
the weather improves the problems stop.
Most microphones, and sound
systems in computers today are good; of course, we can improve the audio quality
by investing in high quality microphones, speakers and earphones. This is a
decision that needs to be made by each teacher and each student as required by
the sound system of his or her personal computer and the limitations of on-line
Most teachers at some point
during a lesson like to interact with a student; this would include, singing,
playing, or keeping time, (clapping for example). The on-line problem is; the sound
for the listener will always arrive late to the sound of the speaker (player).
For example, if the teacher counts to four, to establish a tempo for the
student to play on the following first beat, the teacher will hear the note
arrive after the first beat. The
student will begin in the tempo of the teacher’s count but the teacher will
hear it late; this makes playing together almost impossible. If the teacher
makes an adjustment to be together with the student, then the student has to
make another adjustment. In other words, it just doesn’t work!
Dynamics are a major part of music;
unfortunately, the audio system of the internet has not yet taken that into
consideration. The difference between a fortissimo and a pianissimo over the internet
is very small; we hear a difference in tone quality because a fortissimo has a
greater number of harmonics than a pianissimo, but the on-line dynamic is almost
These are small and temporary problems,
which certainly will be resolved as the technology evolves. There is absolutely
no question that this new mode of music education will become increasingly more
efficient and available. Of course, it’s been available in general education
for the last decade but the study of mathematics, medicine, language etc., rarely
require the high quality digital sound necessary for music.
Payment for e-lessons is only another small problem;
PayPal seems to be the obvious solution.
If you are interested to take a free trial e-lesson please
contact me, I would like to hear from you.
Tokyo, July 9, 2009
Revised March 15. 2013, Tokyo
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Soon I will be on the road again, Checking in at airports, passing security, sitting long hours on transcontinental flights and enduring jetlag. Of course, I really dislike this but otherwise I’m looking forward to these trips, a new series of masterclasses, this time in North America and Europe. This is one of my greatest pleasures in life.
When I was beginning to learn the tuba at age 13 (1952), I was extremely lucky to have connected with a great teacher, his name was Robert Marsteller; he was first trombonist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and a virtuoso euphonium player. But he was much more than just that, he was a visionary. Not only was he a great teacher of musicality and the basics of instrumental function, but also, he was able to see the potential of the tuba, the tuba of the future. And the tuba that he envisioned over 50 years ago was, in fact, very close to the tuba that’s emerged into today’s world. This growth process, this tuba evolution that Mr. Marsteller predicted over a half century ago, is still in progress.
Never before has anything like this happened in music history; a relatively new instrument arrives on the scene, and in an incredibly short period of time, considering the big vista of music history, evolves to the level that the tuba has become today... with virtuoso artists in classical, popular, jazz, and almost all genres of music, a formidable solo repertoire, and an amazing collective energy amongst its aficionados. The tuba, just over a century old, is the newest instrument to be accepted into the symphony orchestra community. Its development has been huge, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Where will it go from here?
A difficult question with no sure answer, but with over sixty years of retrospective I can certainly make an educated guess, and my guess is that this tuba evolution is going to continue.
But I’m preparing for a masterclass today, in today’s world.
Playing a brass instrument, not only tuba, but any brass instrument, is very much like singing. Of course, it’s similar because of the use of air to make the sound, but more importantly it’s that the source of the sound is organic; the sound comes from a part of our body. For voice, it’s the vibration of the larynx, our vocal chords, and in brass playing it’s our lips that make the sound. We’ve all seen how great singers prepare their voices by vocalizing before performing, or even before just practicing; it’s exactly the same for brass players.
When I lived in Florence, Italy, in the 1990s, I would occasionally play with the Maggio Musicalli Orchestra, that’s Florence’s symphony and opera orchestra. One of the projects I was involved in during that time was a production of several performances and a recording of Verdi’s opera, Il Trovatore, with Luciano Pavarotti singing the male lead, the part of Manrico. In my playing career I always enjoyed arriving early for performances, so I could relax, have a cup of coffee, make a good warmup, and to observe the performance preparations of the great artists that I’ve been privileged to work with. Maestro Pavarotti had three things he always did before a performance. He would put on his makeup, in this case for the part of Manrico in Il Trovatore. He seemed to enjoy talking to people and he would vocalize. These vocalizations that he did were particularly interesting to me because one of them was almost exactly what I had written several years before in my book of brass warmups and exercises called Mastering the Tuba.
My joke is that it makes me very proud that Luciano Pavarotti used the Bobo Mastering the Tuba book as part of his vocalizing --- or, in brass jargon, as part of his warmup routine!! Of course, that’s a joke, but then, where did he find that same exercise? The fact is, many of these vocal exercises have been around for hundreds of years and because they’ve been proven to work so well for voice, and because of the strong similarities between singing and brass playing, it’s only logical that these old vocal materials were frequently borrowed and adapted by the brass teachers and players of the time. Mastering the Tuba is no exception; much of the material has been adapted from those old vocal methods, and some from less old, brass methods, which many originated from older vocal methods.
There are really just two things involved in musical performance; first and always is the music. Primeraly, knowing the way we want the music to sound. Secondly, in order to realize the music as we hear it in our minds ear, we need to develop and maintain the necessary instrumental skills. For brass playing that would include breathing, articulation, embouchure and fingering. Hopefully, the music will inspire us to develop those skills. Of course, in the study of music performance we need to deal with both.
I’m fortunate that in my masterclasses I usually attract advanced students and with these advanced students, we usually concentrate on the musical aspects, but if working for that musical result requires it, then we need to take a closer look at those more fundamental skills.
Every student is different, very different. The interest, fascination and the joy of teaching is perhaps the most important aspect of music. These differences occur with each individual, each nationality, each municipality and each age group. This upcoming teaching tour is going to be very enjoyable.
February 24, 2013, Tokyo
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
‘Magdalena’s Quest’ was written nine years ago as I was in the process of changing my home from Lausanne, Switzerland to Tokyo, Japan. I’ve decided not to modify anything to fit today’s situation, the situation today remains pretty much the same! RB.
My good friend Magdalena is a cellist, a very fine cellist from Romania; for the past year she's been auditioning for orchestral positions. When she started this quest to find an orchestra job she was typical of many of the East European string players, strong on musicality and naïve regarding orchestral repertoire. That's changed. She now knows all the passages beautifully that a cellist should expect in an audition, plus many passages that are particular to the specific countries: Spain, Portugal, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, where she has auditioned. She's had an enormous year of traveling and audition experience. She is also broke!
Magda's going to be ok; symphony orchestras have cello sections of between 6 to 10 players, depending on the size of the orchestra, and openings are many and frequent. With her extreme musical ability and her present knowledge of the repertoire, Magdalena is all but assured that at some point in time she will win a position. Of course, once she gets this position she'll have to spend her first year's salary paying back what she's borrowed over the past year to cover her expenses getting to the auditions!
Magda is lucky she doesn't play tuba; there is only one tuba position in a symphony orchestra and as luck would have it, young and very good players hold most of them. A tubist, with the same high level of musicality and orchestral experience as Magda, simply does not have the same assuredness of eventually winning a position. So what's a teacher to do? We know that there are some music schools and some teachers that concentrate exclusively on orchestra passages for the duration of a college education. And there are some students who have no interest at all in studying anything other than these passages. That's crazy! That's crazy while only considering the statistics, not to mention the lack of musical growth and the probable resulting neuroses. But there's still a lot more we have to think about and it's not all good!
It's difficult to take a hard realistic look at the world of symphony orchestra auditions without becoming a cynic. Did you know, for example, that not all symphony orchestra auditions are fair?! How does a teacher tell that to a young idealistic student?
In what ways are symphony auditions unfair (the cynic says this could be a long essay!)? Favoritism is probably the number one problem; it comes in many forms. Nationalism is always a problem; certainly you have a better chance of winning an audition in France if you're French. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If two players are equal it's only logical to pick the player from the country of the orchestra, but then, when are two players really equal? And when one is selected is it always because he or she is the better of the two? Prejudice is real and it does exist at auditions. Magdalena knows that some orchestras just don't like East Europeans, but it could just as well be Blacks, Jews, Americans, women and the list could go on and on. Whatever you are, there is probably some musician who doesn't like you or wouldn't want to work with you no matter how well you play!
I once observed an audition in the 60’s where in the finals there was a local favorite, an African-American man from a city thousands of miles away and a woman (a pretty blonde) from a city hundreds of miles away. The drama and dialog that day as the audition took place was something I will never forget. I hope to write a one-act play on it sometime if I can find a way to accurately deal with it and still stay politically correct.
Many auditions are held when the orchestra already clearly knows whom they want to fill the position, but the rules require that an audition take place. They don't consider the time, stress and money it takes for the musicians to prepare and make the trip. And this is frequently a surprise to many musicians: In some countries they hold auditions, frequently for every position in the orchestra, when there are really no openings at all; these orchestras get government money to hold auditions; they use auditions as fundraisers! Unfortunately, neither Musical Chairs (www.musicalchairs.com) nor Das Orchester can supply us the specific conditions and “subtleties” of the announced openings, so if we want the job we have to come up with the expenses, make the trip to the audition and compete.
And, in our indignation regarding the questionable integrity of audition procedures we must not ignore another part of the ambiguous credibility, which seems equally present. In every audition, some people, most people, return home disappointed. Disappointment leads to frustration, which leads to pain, which frequently leads to anger, and that can lead to lack of clarity. The one thing that is clear is that the post audition reporting by those who competed for the position is frequently historically dubious!
That's the way it is. That's the reality we have to face. Music is changing extremely fast, and no one knows for sure the direction that symphony orchestras are going to take; the only thing we do know for sure is that there will be change. We can only guess that there will probably always be some symphony orchestras, albeit probably less. (The cynic might ask now, “why even bother with circumstances like this?”) Because mankind needs music, a musical person needs to play music, and the more music we have in this turbulent world the better off we'll be. There are going to be changes in music and in the business of music, but all we can do is continue our quest, whether it's a cello position for Magdalena or a tuba position for our disproportionately growing tuba community.
And who says that a symphony orchestra job is the only pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? We can explore other possibilities: chamber music, popular music; we can use our imagination; we can become the best and most thorough musicians possible and try to anticipate the musical world that we'll be living in. Need an idea? Start a group that's a fusion of Romanian Gypsy, Irish folk and Balinese Gamelan! In other words, try something new!
The study of music is a noble quest; enjoy it.
Tokyo, Japan, June, 2004.