Thursday, March 25, 2021


Specters Reunion

It seems my most successful essays for TubaNews are the ones that have dealt more with specific aspects of our instrumental function rather than broader thoughts regarding the world of music. I hope I can write about both.

For issue 3 of TubaNews (A Tuba Magazine of 20 years ago) I wrote the essay, "Specters", about some of the interesting people, those who would follow the various orchestras that I had played in through the years in our rehearsals and concerts.

Sadly, the stories of an old man who played in the Moscow Youth Orchestra when Tchaikovsky would bring by a new score by to hear the orchestration or another old man in another part of the world had a big part of his life rewriting symphony scores with all the inaudible orchestration deleted, do not hold the same interest as rotary vs. piston valves or "Is Bigger Better?" To me that's sad.

In any case, I saw these specters again a few days ago.

My daughter Melody was visiting for the last two weeks and as a finale for the visit I arranged that we would spend three days in Kyoto at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokans are famous for being havens of rest and tranquility and this one in Kyoto was no exception; entering one could feel ones pulse slowing, a wonderful nights sleep was guaranteed. That first night in the ryokan was one of the best nights sleep I've had in a long time.

Suddenly the fragrance of eucalyptus filled the air and the sunlight was fragmented as it shined through the high branches of the many trees. The old dirt road that was the driveway was just as it always had been. I was surprised not to be surprised being there, it seemed perfectly natural, nor was I surprised to be standing with the specters that I had been seeing at orchestra rehearsals and concerts for the last 48 years.

The two old men were there, the one from the Moscow Youth Orchestra and the deleter of orchestration; they stood next to each other looking similar and yet very different. The beautiful young girl dressed in white holding the red rose stood a little apart from the old men and the elegant old woman dressed in high fashion of Europe in the 1920s stood far apart from the other three at the end of the driveway where it met the road. She was just as always, standing very properly and smiling at the strange group of people standing on the driveway. I had no idea who this old woman was but she had the look of how I imagined Clara Schumann or Alma Mahler might appear. She was truly a specter.

"It's amazing to see you here," addressing the two old men first. "I only got to talk to you once and shortly after that you both disappeared. I wanted to talk again to both of you but never got the chance. I knew you in Rochester and I knew you in Los Angeles, do you know each other?"

The man from the Moscow Youth Orchestra answered first. "We know each other now."

"I remember so well your story about Tchaikovsky conducting his 5th Symphony to hear the orchestration; I wanted to hear more stories but never had the chance. Did other famous composers conduct your orchestra?"

"Oh yes, Rimsky-Korsakov used to come, sometimes we would play some of his works but many times he would come and play some of the works of Mussorgsky, he was always editing and reorchestrating Mussorgsky's works, the last time he came we played Night on Bald Mountain.

Talking to both men, I said, "It's really strange that one of you had such personal experience with the orchestrations of some of the worlds great composers and the other spent a big part of your life deleting orchestration and rewriting scores of great composers without the inaudible orchestration. What ever became of that project?"

He answered, "I put all the work in the attic of my sisters house in Rochester, I took the last stack of work there just a few weeks before I left your world."

"Do you know where the work is now?" I asked.

"It was a long time ago, all I can tell you is that it was the green house on Kansas St. in Rochester."

"How many people knew about the work you were doing?"

"I don't think anybody, my sister knew I was doing something with music but she never understood what it was."

The other man interupted, "when I was a young man in Moscow my big fascination was the orchestration so I think you can understand how very strange it sounds to me that someone would spend a large part of their life simplifying the orchestration of the worlds masterworks. What started you on such an odd project?"

The deleter answered, "I was never a good musician, I played piano as a boy but I have been a concert goer all my life, after hearing many of the great works many times it seemed just a natural thing to ask about the necessity of all this inaudible orchestration. I'm not even sure I believe in it but it was a study that I dedicated my life to."

"As a study I can see a little interest but I believe I can predict almost exactly what my conclusion would be if it were possible to hear your modified scores. When you see someone sleeping how do you know whether he is sleeping or dead?

"You can see and hear them breathing"

"Yes, and that's what orchestration is, it's the life of the music, the breath of the music."

After a short pause, I thought to myself, "I would like to find that green house on Kansas St. in Rochester and spend a day listening to those scores, we would learn a lot."

As the two men continued their conversation on orchestration I turned my attention to the girl in white holding the red rose. "I know you, we knew each other in Los Angeles; I suddenly remember your name, your name is Phyllis, you worked in the administration of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I remember that you were sweet and you were wise."

"I'm not really Phyllis, I only look like Phyllis, you chose that I would look like her."

"But who are you then?"

"You know me, you have seen me many times but I've looked very different every time I came to visit you."

"But who are you?"

"I'm really a teacher, you could call me a guide and you should just think of me as a friend"

"Have you come to teach me?"

"Not this time, this is just a visit to say hello and to talk."

"Somehow you make me feel special, but why have you come here and where are you when you are not here."

She was laughing and clearly enjoying this conversation. "Ha-ha, I have many people I like to visit, they are all different and all interesting. Some are curious like you and some are very frightened, but they all can learn."

"What is it that you teach?"

Still amused, "I never know what I will teach or even if I will teach, a better question would be what do you want to learn."

"There are only two questions I have right now. Who are the old man and woman who live in that house down these stairs. It seems I've known them for a long time and what is that strange language they speak, I've never understood it and I couldn't learn it"

"They were just caretakers, they were the caretakers of that house and they were your caretakers. Many times, but not always, the caretakers speak a strange language and when that's the case those who they are caring for develop extraordinary skills at communication."

"Can you tell me who the old woman is who is standing at the end of the driveway, I've seen her so many times all over the world, always listening and moving with symphony music. Who is she?"

"She is always around symphonic music but most of the time you can't see her, you are very lucky. We're going to go now, enjoy the rest of your vacation. Goodbye."

Before I could say goodbye the eucalyptus aroma blended into the wonderful smell of steam and cedar from the tub in the ryokan and the first sight was the small Japanese garden just out the sliding door. It was a wonderful nights sleep, Kyoto and ryokans are very special.

Kyoto, Japan, January 19, 2006

Tuesday, March 23, 2021



In In the places and in the ensembles where I’ve lived and played, there seemed to always be a number of followers, people that were just there, day to day and year to year. It didn’t seem to be important where or what the ensemble was; it was almost as though it was the same people, whether it was Rochester in the 50s, Amsterdam in the 60s, Los Angeles in the late 60s, 70s and 80s or Florence in the 90’s. They sat in the hall and listened to the rehearsals, usually in the same seat, and usually they wore the same clothes. There was the elegant old woman who would move to the music, whatever it was she was listening to, as though she had conducted it numerous times. There was the old man with an intense, brooding, Beethovenesque expression on his face, looking always very critical and writing in a notebook and there was the attractive young girl holding a single rose with a look and demeanor from generations passed.

Generally, there was very little communication between these groupie specters and the musicians in the orchestra. When the rehearsal was over these followers and the orchestra musicians found there own exits into their own worlds, and most of the time we never saw these people other than from our seat in the orchestra

In my years with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra between the 56/57 season and the 61/62 seasons, there was such a man. Although totally benign, he had that look of intensity and concentration, like the busts of a brooding Beethoven that I’ve seen in concert halls where I’ve played all over the world. He was present at most of the rehearsals during those 6 years I played in Rochester, and as he listened he was always writing; he had a score and he had manuscript paper.

One morning in rehearsal, when I wasn’t playing the concerto, I went into the hall to listen to the soloist and by chance sat directly behind the old man. Quickly, I lost interest in the rehearsal and found myself completely captivated by what this old man was writing. Basically, he was crossing certain things out of the score, but it wasn’t clear what or why. When the break arrived I introduced myself and asked what he was doing. He was very surprised, it may have been the first time he had ever talked to an orchestra member, and he was quite excited that someone was interested.

I was amazed as he told me of his lifetime project. For the past 20 years this old man had been attending rehearsals, listening and crossing out all the orchestration that was not audible. He would cross out what he couldn’t hear and go home and rewrite the score without all the superfluous and inaudible passages. At this point he reached into his old, worn briefcase and handed me a complete handwritten score to Brahms 2nd Symphony with all the passages he couldn’t hear deleted.

Of course, the easy reaction to this story is to envision it as the crazy ideas of an eccentric old man. But wait! Wouldn’t it be interesting to spend a day with an orchestra reading this man’s modifications and give his 20-year project a moment of consideration? Who knows for sure what we would hear. Surely we would be a little smarter by the end of that day.

It’s sad. Nobody knows this mans name. Nobody knows where he lived, and nobody knows where the material of this 20-year project is. What we would have learned is probably lost forever.

A symphony orchestra tubist is blessed or damned, depending on your point of view on any particular day, with an embarrassment of inactive time; the most difficult part of the job was to remember where you are and where to come in. Symphony orchestra tubists have lots of time to observe, to think and to dream. I used to joke that I was the highest paid symphony orchestra musician in the USA per note! Maybe it was even true. I wonder how many kilometers I walked in my 35 years of full time orchestra playing, while I paced back and forth back stage during tacit tuba parts.

During my years in Los Angeles, after returning from two years with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, an incredibly similar old man to the one that deleted inaudible orchestration was still visible; he was there all the time, year after year, brooding and intensely listening. It was in the Hollywood Bowl, which was the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

I had seen him out in the amphitheater of Hollywood Bowl for a couple of years before the day came when we found ourselves walking from the parking lot together for a morning rehearsal. We greeted each other; I heard that he had a thick Eastern Europe accent and I asked him where he was from. “Russia, I was born in Moscow.”

“What’s your connection with symphonic music? I’ve seen you out in the audience almost every rehearsal for a couple of years.”

“I’m a musician. I used to play percussion. I played in the Moscow Youth Symphony when I was a boy.”

Like the old man in Rochester, it seemed this was the first time he had had contact with anyone in the orchestra; this is not because of rudeness of orchestra musicians but simply because the paths almost never crossed. I listened and as we walked toward the stage. I began wishing it was a lot further away, wishing that walk would last a very long time and wishing the rehearsal wasn’t going to start in five minutes.

“I played in the Moscow Youth Orchestra in my teen age years. We used to rehearse every Saturday. I played timpani. I loved playing, and I still miss it even today. We had great conductors come and work with us. Sometimes Tchaikovsky would come and play something he wrote with us, just to see how it sounded with the orchestration. Once he brought in the Andante Cantabile from the 5th Symphony. "Oh!, you should have heard that boy who played 1st horn, oh!; he was such a wonderful player. I think Tchaikovsky loved him; after the reading of the part with the horn solo, Tchaikovsky stopped the orchestra; he was crying and he walked through the orchestra to the boy who played the solo and gave him a big kiss on the lips… "Well, I’ll go take my seat now, enjoy your rehearsal, Goodbye".

I couldn’t wait to meet him again. I saw him a couple of more times that week from the stage but I was preoccupied with other things, and then I never saw him again. I had never even asked his name.

In the 70,s there were two strange women who became almost a peripheral part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. One was young and in her 20’s. She usually dressed in white and held a red rose in her hands. At performances, during the applause, she would stand up and hold the rose to her heart with a haunted look on her face. She reminded me of a young girl who I remember having seen in a film, or perhaps films, who was in love with a young Beethoven or some other classical superstar; she was essentially a nineteenth century groupie following her object of infatuation from concert to concert. I talked to this girl several times and found her very attractive; she was intelligent, multi lingual and the personification of how I would imagine a sophisticated 19th century girl. Even with my proclivity to younger women this girl in fact was about 100 years too old for me and my 20th century 60’s fads and fashions. The last I heard she had fallen in love with a fencing master. Perhaps she had found her compatible time zone.

During the same period there was another misplaced person from another time. This woman was old, surely in her 80’s, and dressed in the high fashion style of Europe in the 1920’s. Who was she and why was she following us on our tours throughout the United States and Europe? She had a chronic smile, as if painted on her face, which was very disconcerting as she moved with the music, every phrase and every note! She was a true specter.

Neither of these chronologically misplaced women were ever seen at the same time and in my science fiction, Star Trek episode imagination I mused that these two women might be the same entity, a time traveler that for some reason was attracted to the symphony orchestras of the 20th century. I wonder if she (they) is (are) ever seen anymore. I hope she has found what she was looking for.

Edinburgh, Scotland. April, 2004.  

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Time and Perception

Once, a long time ago (maybe it was 1946) a new 1st trombone player joined an orchestra far away; he was by far the best brass player in the orchestra. The other players in the orchestra were what we call now "old school," and it clearly stayed "old school" for many years after the new 1st trombonist arrived; the horns were primitive, the trumpets were symphonically ignorant and the trombones and tuba were pretty much the same. They did the thing all untrained brass players do; they played late. The new trombone player was the only one who made an effort to be on time. Of course, in comparison with the other brass he was always early. As time passed and more experienced players began to join the orchestra slowly the brass section started to play on time, all except the 1st trombone player (who wasn't new anymore); he had been ahead of the section for so many years that when things finally got corrected it didn't seem right to him. His perception of what was correct was simply ahead of the rest of the section. Therefore he continued to play ahead all the way to the day he retired.

During these years of adjustment a new and younger 1st trombonist came into the orchestra. He was intelligent, a wonderful musician and a student of the older 1st trombonist. He immediately realized that his teacher was always early and found himself becoming very frustrated. Sharing that common quality that all great brass players seem to have, stubbornness, the new trombonist soon developed the habit of always being behind his teacher because he knew if he was with him he would be early. 25 years after the older trombonist passed away, his replacement was still playing late and thinking he was right. He had been playing late to his teacher for so many years that not being behind felt wrong. Finally, when the new trombonist reached retirement the problem seemed to resolve. It took 50 years to correct the time perception problem in the section!

And in another place long ago and far away there was a remarkable young trombonist and composer, it was in the early 70s. He was so far ahead of the rest of us that he captured our imaginations, our vision and pointed out to us a new direction. He knew that he was in new territory and that he was opening minds; he liked his role in the avant garde as the enfant terrible. He liked blowing minds and creating new sounds. Today he is a brilliant, perhaps genius composer, and he is charismatic. His avant garde school, though, has become an old-fashioned school, and he's still fighting the same old fight. Now frustrated because he is loosing the fight, he finds that most people think his music is ugly and vulgar. While he was stuck being the outrageous enfant terrible, the rest of the world passed him by and left him behind, yet his perception of himself in the musical world has not changed with the times.

Here's the artistic danger sequence: Motivation, Perception, Growth, Dogma, then Stagnation. It didn't happen to Stravinsky, he grew until he died. It hasn't happened to Boulez or Rostroprovitch. I'm afraid of it. If it happens to me, I will know it is time to stop.

When the pensioners sit on a bench and stare at the sea, what do they think about?

Between Tokyo and Hiroshima, Japan. November 15, 2004.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

This blog was actually written twenty years ago in Lausanne, Switzerland at the time when I had just started to learn how to write. I hope now, twenty years later and at a time when democracy is on everyone's mind, it will be an interesting read.



Is Music a Democracy?


Frequently, while giving masterclasses, I will ask students to play a passage several different ways and then ask the class to vote on which they preferred. The results are always interesting and enlightening, but then I ask the class this question; “Is music a democracy and do their vote results necessarily indicate the best musical option?” With that question, people are usually reluctant to show an opinion; that’s a good thing, I hope it means they’re thinking about it.


Symphony orchestras, for example, are probably among the last vestiges of a non-democracy we have and possibly could be called a “good dictatorship”! A successful musical performance needs a strong musical personality and strong musical personalities occur far more frequently in the individual than the collective. The conductor of a symphony orchestra holds a very powerful position, a position that almost requires he be a dictator; musical decisions need to be made singularly. Assuming the conductor is a powerful musical personality, and a wise, kind and sensitive person, everything should be okay! … Well, that’s a huge assumption! We all know that not all conductors are powerful musical personalities, kind, wise and sensitive. Still, music needs that individualism to project to a listener. How to deal with conductor incompetence and power abuse is a delicate matter to be addressed by orchestra committees and administrations, however, this article is about the need for individualism in musical performance.


I once played in a brass quintet made up of five men with five very strong and distinct personalities, musical and otherwise, each of who were qualified to make musical decisions and to present memorable performances. Sometimes, during nostalgic moments, when I listen to the old LPs we recorded (now safely stored in my computer), I hear very little of those strong personalities which should have been apparent and extraordinary; quite simply, the powerful musical personalities just weren’t there! Why? Was it that perhaps the personalities were too strong; perhaps it was just easier to compromise the individualism for the sake of peace during rehearsals; or perhaps those five strong personalities were simply incompatible, or the brilliant individual colors just neutralized each other to shades of gray. I may never know an accurate answer.


Since I moved to Europe it has been a pleasure to be invited as a judge for many brass ensembles, especially brass quintet competitions. In listening to hundreds of quintets, three things have become evident: 


1. There could be no weak link in the ensemble, all the members had to be great players. 


2. They had to project some kind of positivity while performing; this could be called “joy” for want of a better word. 


3. And all the truly great groups, the winners, had a leader. It was abundantly clear that the winning groups had a musical leader that, with his or her strong personal musicality, influenced the other players. This became very apparent when the same quintet participated over the years and we, the judges, could hear the influence of that musical leader growing among the other players through time.


There were groups that played perfectly together and projected no musical personality whatsoever. These groups, absolutely amazed by not being advanced to further rounds, were invariably the ones who would approach the judges, demanding an explanation as to why. Trying to explain was not easy.


It’s interesting to vote in a masterclass situation and see what pleases most people, but just like testing mouthpieces for a group of colleagues, the final decision has to come from the individual. 


Have the courage to be an individual, have the courage to be unique, it will serve you, it well take you further.


Tokyo, September 6, 2005 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

 Low Register Beauty 


All tubists are looking for ways to improve the low register and there are several low register methods available for that purpose. Some are very good, none are bad, but I would like to suggest that perhaps the very best method available has been available for a very long time.


First, let’s review a couple of the very unique idiosyncrasies of low register on the tuba. Work in the low register is slower to show results than any other aspect of tuba study. In a tubist’s formative period, progress becomes audible in almost all parts of playing but more often than not the low register seems to be at a developmental standstill. It’s during these frustrating times that it’s most important to preserver; improvement is taking place, just slower than we would like.


The other aspect to remember is that there is nothing else (that I know of) in human endeavor that resembles the adeptness necessary to play the tuba in the low register. Of course, I’m referring to the very large volumes of air we need to play low and the maintenance of the air pressure necessary to support the large, fast moving flow of air. Remember that at one octave lower at the same dynamic, a note will take twice as much air. This takes work, patience and perseverance to master. 


This reality of air volume and pressure can sometimes push us beyond our performance comfort zone, which frequently results in a rough and unmusical mode of playing in the low register. Here is one of the major rules of performance: LOUD IS NEVER MORE IMPORTANT THAN BEAUTY. 


Many players work on their low register by playing the Bordogni vocalizes, whether the tuba version or the Melodious Etudes for Trombone, down an octave; this can be dangerous because the physical demands at that extreme low register are so great that they frequently result in the rough and ugly playing as mentioned above. 


I have had very positive success with my basstrombone students in the past by having them play those same Bordogni Vocalizes in tenor clef down an octave, which essentially lowers them a fourth and puts them in the central basstrombone tessitura; since that works so very well for basstrombone why not the same for tuba? Although I will use examples here referring to F and CC tubas, of course, it will work equally well for Eb, BBb or any combination.


Please try the following: When learning the Bordogni vocalizes, learn them on both CC and F tubas. When they are finished, then play the same etudes on the CC tuba using the F fingerings. It puts the vocalize down a fourth and in a way that makes the transposition very easy. It places the tessitura at an optimum Register for the contrabasstuba parts we meet in Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, and it can be played from a standpoint of beauty rather than as a physical feat. 


An extra but wonderful benefit of this method is that when these same vocalizes are played on F tuba with CC fingerings it puts the tessitura up a fourth, in the central bass/baritone Vaughn Williams Concerto and a large number of solo and symphonic basstuba repertoire.


This means that one will play the vocalizes in four different ways; as written on the CC and the F tuba, on the CC tuba with F fingerings and the on F tuba with CC fingerings. These four modes support each other very well and lead to rapid improvement, ... and it’s easy and it’s fun! 

December 29, 2020, ... Oaxaca, Mexico