Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Question

Singularly, the most frequent question I’ve received in my international travels and in my many opportunities to know large numbers of diverse students, has been, “What is the difference between brass players in various countries”? It’s a very good and interesting question; in fact, it’s exactly the same question I asked myself 60 years ago while attending the Eastman School of Music and playing in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s the question that moved me to write twenty letters to various European orchestras. Consequently, in 1961 I auditioned and was accepted for both the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and the Suisse Romand Orchestra of Geneva, Switzerland. I choose the Concertgebouw.

The answer to that question then was much different then than it is today; in that span of time from then to the present, the brass world has seen a huge evolution in the way of playing, the equipment played, and in the mentalities of the players.

Classical musicians in the middle of the last century were hugely more nationalistic and territorial than they are today. As the global community proceeds to emerge, the musical communities are experiencing much more difficulty in maintaining their isolationism. Although there still exists cells of a dogmatic ‘closed shop’ territorialism, it’s visibly disappearing quickly. The premium example of this trend is the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Because their artistic integrity has grown with the times, they now seek the best available players worldwide and consequently enjoy the highest level of music making.

Part of the nationalistic tendencies from the last century came from the type of instruments that were played largely because of the simple fact that they were available. Musicians then were quite resistant to change, especially on something so personal as the type of instrument they played and the kind of sound that they were used to. Instruments are essentially an extension of our body. In the Concertgebouw Orchestra, for example, in the early 60s the trombone section played on very small French instruments, which had a bore size slightly smaller than the symphonic trumpets of today! Very quickly and personally, I want to say that’s not necessarily a bad thing, when used on the right repertoire, these, now nearly obsolete trombones sounded wonderful. Similarly, in 1989 I had the opportunity to hear the Maggio Musicale Orchestra (the Symphony orchestra of Florence, Italy,) while playing for conductor who was 84 years old and who requested a section of valve trombones (the traditional old Italian style) in a Donizetti opera; it was so right, it was so beautiful.

This begs the question: Should the modern symphony orchestra use the finest most sophisticated instruments available to play the masterworks of past centuries or should it play from the viewpoint of a ‘sonic museum’ and use the instruments of the repertoire’s period?

There are rumors the Vienna Philharmonic, a very traditional orchestra, is dealing with exactly that question, there are those who want to keep the true Vienna sound at all costs, and those who want to move one to the finest modern and most sophisticated instruments available. It’s a difficult question; is it possible to have it both ways?

But that’s answering the question, as it would have been perceived 60 years ago. There were huge differences then in both nationalistic and individual performance development. Today, wherever we go, we encounter great players and great ensembles. There are highly developed individuals and ensembles everywhere and it is no longer national tendencies that lead these high levels of performance, it is far more the personal qualities and universal musical influences that have led this development. Of course, as in all aspects of our lives now, we have the Internet showing us the best, (and worst) in our shrinking global community, particularly, the Internet is reaching musicians.

Today there is excellence everywhere and it’s becoming clearly evident that superb excellence comes in many verities; just think of the variations that can appear in one brass quintet. A brass quintet, for example, has 31 collective personalities; each individual, each combination of 2, each of 3, of four and the complete 5, that opens doors to a lot of stylistic ideas, and of course, there will be no two brass quintets that will sound the same. A superb world-class quintet in Hungary and another in Italy will certainly sound completely different yet absolutely beautiful in their own way. The time of nationalistic characteristics is passing and the time of unique collective and personal characteristics and musicality has arrived.

Since the last tuba symposium I attended I was struck by the change that has happened in the last half century. Instead of perhaps one or two players out of twenty-five that may have sounded musical 50 years ago, today the number might very well be the whole twenty-five are musical players.

So back to the question: “What is the difference between brass players in various countries”? Today’s answer is that there is excellence everywhere, the language will change, the mentality will be different, the sense of humor will strikingly differ from place to place but excellence in performance is a worldwide thing now and it’s spreading. Let’s hope this evolution continues and let’s remember we are all a part of it.

Keep asking questions.

June 29, 2015, Xochimilco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


It was a tough 70 days, all my friends advised me against it, it involved 10 venues 21 different flights (and securiy checks) and airports (and security checks) plus a few trains. 90% of this tour I organized myself; if this was one of the many Los Angeles Philharmonic tours I have taken in the past, I would have been an aggressive complainer, but looking back on this tour I see pleasure and fulfillment.

The logistics of this tour, for example, were the essence of poor management, my own poor management! It started with two short masterclasses in Northern Arizona University and the University of Redlands in Southern California then Direct to Tempare, Finland for a week, then immediately to Boston to participate in the annual Boston Brass Bash. I was smart enough to give myself a 48-hour jet lag adjustment time on all the trans Atlantic fights.

From Boston the tour took me to Penn State University and from there to the NERTEC tuba symposium in Ithaca, New York. At this point I want to mention that the organizers in all these venues managed all their events superbly.

After the NERTEC event I went to New York City for little rest and recreation. In 3 days we went to see and hear Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, The Musical, Chicago, and the Boston Symphony in Carnagie Hall. That’s more listening to live music in a short time than I have experience in 40 years! All the performances were great but in the company of my Japanese friends I enjoyed it more.

The next day I got on a plane again and made the necessary connections to get to Ljubljana, Slovenia for 9 days to conduct brass ensembles in several cities and give masterclasses. By this time culture shock was normal to me; food, people, language, were always in adjustment, which I always found invigorating.

Next came my old work place, the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK. It’s always a good feeling to return there. After Manchester I went to London and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which, as RNCM, now seem to have evolved in to annual venues that I can depend on for the future.

The nest day was another trans Atlantic flight to Los Angeles and to the campus of the Pasadena City College, for 28 private lessons, which subsidized the trip. This was my second time there and I will be there again May 9-13 next year, 2016. Mexico City was the next stop and again it was a week of masterclasses lessons and again that very special kind of culture shock that keeps life interesting.

 I’ve never encountered such a tour, cultural experience or adventure like this tour since 1967 when I traveled with the Los Angeles Philharmonic around the world with Zubin Mehta, which included Europe, most of the pre 1989 communist countries of Eastern Europe, Greece, Turkey, Tehran, Iran, where we played for the coronation of the Shaw and an unforgettable week in Zubin’s home country of India. I’m absolutely sure that this trip in 1967 was the influence that has created such a deep need in me to travel and experience as much of the world as possible.

But now this article seems like just a wordy printout of Bobo’s 2015 spring world tour. However, the focal point of this tour was music, brass music and teaching brass music; this has become a need and a passion for me that is far greater than just the traveling. I’m asked in every place I go ‘what is the difference between students in different parts of the world?’ The differences are vast and interesting but what is more impressive is the fact that playing is getting better all over the world and one can fine extraordinary young players almost everywhere today. It’s an exciting thing to see, and with my more than sixty years of observing the growth of brass playing in the world, I am able to make an experienced guess of what we might see in the next 60 years. I can absolutely guarantee there will be some amazing and unbelievable things to see and hear.

May 20, 2015, Oaxaca, Mexico

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Italian Brass Week

 Expanding Our Experience

The world of music, the brass world and, of course, our comparably small world of trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium and tuba, is passing through an enormous change. We have passed the place in our musical environments, where city, or country can dictate the “Right” way to play. No teacher today possesses the complete knowledge of the myriad styles and techniques that an aware student needs in the huge world of music. It’s the student’s responsibility to explore beyond the teachings, probably superb teaching, of a single teacher and seek as full as possible of a world view.

Of course, this is abundantly available and visible now online. However, expanding our musical perceptions and thoughts on line is only a small step in the right direction.

It has been my pleasure in the last years to be affiliated a festival of music performance and masterclasses it the highest level called Italian Brass Week. This year, 2015, IBW has a faculty that certainly represents an extraordinary list of both masterteachers and performers.

Trumpets: Pacho Flores from Venezuela, Barbara Butler, Charlie Geyer, USA, Otto Sauter, Germany and Andrea Dell’Ira, Italy.  
Horns: Dale Clevenger, USA Luca Benucci, Italy and Han Xiaoming, China.

Admittedly, I did not know Pacho Flores. I just visited his website and heard him play and speak. This is a world-class artist and powerful pedagogue.

Similarly, I had not heard of Han Xiaoming. I listened to samples of his Mozart Concertos and was hugely impressed.

Trombones: Alain Trudel, Canada and Jörgen Van Rijen, Netherlands.

Tubas: Anne Jelle Visser, Netherlands/Switzerland, Steven Rosse, USA/Australia and me, Roger Bobo, USA/Netherlands/Italy/Switzerland/Japan/Mexico.

This year Italian Brass Week is proud to open a course for euphonium with Fletcher Mitchell from Australia.

This is a brass faculty of the highest level that is guaranteed to open your ideas not only of brass playing but to expand your styles and musicality. I’m sure most of the names on this impressive list are already known to you but if there are names you don’t know please go online and look at them.

But there is much more about Italian Brass Week:

This year IBW will take place in Firenze, which is known as one of the most beautiful and historically significant cities in the world. The cuisine is delicious, the people are friendly but most importantly, the students at IBW will be from all over the world and the friendships you make will probably last your lifetime.

Please come and experience this extraordinary event, it’s a chance of a lifetime, You will be very welcome.

February 15, 2015, Oaxaca, Mexico

Friday, January 23, 2015


Only a few minutes ago I was chatting on Facebook from Oaxaca, Mexico, with a friend in Lahti, Finland. I told him that I would be in Finland next month and perhaps we could meet while I’m there. I pointed out to him that I was living in a chronic ‘on tour’ mode and was beginning to wish I had a home and could stop living out of a suitcase. He told me it seemed to him that I am a “Tuba Gipsy”. I liked that! Here is the tour schedule that I had just posted on Facebook:

Spring Tour Agenda
March 7-9
     Masterclass, Ensemble coaching and Private Lessons.
University of Redlands, Redlands, California
March 16-23
     Working with brass section of the Tampere Symphony, Masterclasses, Tampere, Finland.
March 29-April 3
     Boston Brass Bash, Boston, Mass
April 6-8
     Penn State University, Masterclass, Ensemble coaching and Private Lessons.
April 10-12
     NERTEC, Ithaca, NewYork
April 17-24
     Brass Ensemble Tour through Slovenia.
April 26-28
     Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, GB
April 29-May 1
     Guildhall School of Music, Drama and Dance, Adjudication, of Brass Competition, and Masterclasses, London, GB
May 4-8
Pasadena City College, Masterclasses, Ensembles and Private Lessons, Pasadena, California.
May 11-15
Mexico City College of Music, Brass Ensembles and Wind Ensemble.
Rest!! (Back in Oaxaca)

The “Tuba Gipsy” image seemed right to me and perhaps correct for our times. Music, because of the Internet, is becoming more international; our references to all the arts are becoming global. The learning material available to us today is huge and easily obtainable.
As we use the advantages of this source and as we expand our views of tuba, brass, music, all the arts we can also maintain our individualism, and our various traditions. This is a gift of our times in a frequently troubled world.

Sadly, it frequently appears we, as individuals, have little effect in changing the world, but through the arts we can share our views of life through the abstract, realism or anything in-between. Being rich is having the courage to be special.

So being called a “Tuba Gipsy” is not at all distasteful but perhaps “Wandering Student” appeals to me more.

I hope this “Wandering Student” continues the same roads and encounters continuing lessons.

And still I seek a home, maybe Oaxaca, Mexico

January 22, Oaxaca, Mexico

Sunday, December 14, 2014


It was 1963 when I was fortunate enough to have had the first opportunity to play for Stravinsky. Although I was young and very inexperienced at the time I was able to understand two things very clearly. This man who had created some of the most powerful music ever written was in reality quite old and frail. Secondly, I was quite conscious of the fact that I was hopelessly star struck by the reality that I was playing in the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and Igor Stravinsky was the conductor.
In the years that followed my good fortune continued; I had moved to Los Angeles to play with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which was Maestro Stravinsky’s home and where he was an occasional guest conductor. Los Angeles was also the venue of the Columbia Symphony, which was a freelance orchestra made up of both LAPO musicians and the superb musicians who made their living playing in the Hollywood studios. This orchestra, exclusively a recording orchestra, recorded many of Stravinsky’s better-known works as well as a large amount of his lesser-performed ones. 
These recording sessions were usually rehearsed and recorded in one or two days. On such a recording session I arrived about an hour early to look over what ever the music might be, as I took my seat the music was being passed out. Suddenly, I realized that Maestro Stravinsky and renowned Columbia Records producer John McClure had also taken seats right behind the tuba chair. Mr. McClure was interviewing the Maestro. Immediately, I stopped playing, tried to look busy and listened as much as I could (there were other musicians warming up) to the interview.     
Stravinsky was talking about a naïve and ambitious young boy who lived and studied in St Petersburg early in the 20th century who wrote a symphony that in his opinion was not a good piece. The boy was a great admirer of Tchaikovsky. As he was telling this story the music being passed out arrived on my music stand, it was called Symphony #1 in Eb. It looked like a Tchaikovsky tuba part, the font was the same as a Tchaikovsky symphony and the page appeared old and discolored. It was the Symphony #1 by Stravinsky written between 1905 and 1907, the naïve boy in Stravinsky’s story was himself!
One morning at a Columbia Records recording session after having played Petrushka with the Los Angeles Philharmonic the night before Maestro Stravinsky came up to me and said “Roger, that was a very fine bear last night.” It was a very quiet moment but it was certainly one of the high points in my memories of orchestra playing; I was also moved that he called me by my first name, However, I never called him Igor!!
That was not the only time he called me Roger. We were recording the music from his ballet Jeu de cartes. It was a lighter piece with many charming passages for trombones and tuba. I was still reverting back to the star-struck young player and being so impressed by what I was hearing and watching Maestro Stravinsky, I simply forgot to play the passage. Maestro, a shorter man in shaky condition suddenly straightened up to what I felt was well over six feet, raised his fist in the air and crashed it on his music stand, eyes that looked like they were going pop out of his head and as he looked at me he screamed a very loud and very staccato “ROGER”! Then in a very shaky small voice he said, “Tuba you did not play the waltz.” My star struckness was cured.
By the middle of the 60s it was sadly clear the old Maestro’s condition was declining rapidly, Robert Craft, was doing most all of the rehearsals and sometimes even the concerts and recordings; that growing contrast between the incredibly powerful music and the Maestro’s increasingly frail condition was difficult to watch. We had arrived at that difficult state where every word, every facial expression and hand jester were full of meaning, further his suffering made it abundantly clear his conducting wasn’t as it had been in the past.
In this last session there was only one work to record, it was the Opera, Oedipus Rex. That was the most painful and the most difficult recording I had ever encountered. Most of the time during that two day session were spent working with the tenor who either hadn’t prepared properly for the opera or Stravinsky in his poor state was out of faze. In any case he tortured the poor tenor without mercy. I’ve never seen any person in all music be treated like that even for one minute not to mention two days. I believe that was the last time he conducted.
At the risk of sounding like old man, it seems to me the conductors, of course, including Stravinsky, of the past held a greater dignity and a greater elegance than the newer ones we see today. Of course, the one thing we can depend on in this world is change, change is coming faster than ever in these times; let us hope it is good change.

December 14, 2014, Tokyo, Japan