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 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Songs and Words

Recently, I heard a superb recorded live performance of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer played by Steven Mead. Usually, when I hear those Mahler songs played on a brass instrument, even when played beautifully, I feel it falls quite short without the text, until I heard Steven Mead’s performance. I’m not sure to what extent Steven followed the text of the Mahler songs but I do know, whatever his thinking process, it worked splendidly.

Many purists have spoken out against instrumentalist playing songs arguing that the songs simply couldn’t be as successful as they would be when sung with the text. While many players go to great lengths trying to follow the text, this can lead to problems because many texts have been translated to various languages. For example, if the original text is Russian, the version we study could be in German, French, Italian or English.

Text is a powerful element in songs, but it is not essential, as we could hear in Mr. Mead's Mahler. It can also be confusing to an instrumentalist, depending in the language of the text, which can change the rhythm. For example, a quarter note in one language might very well be 2 eighth notes in another, a triplet in another or any number of other possibilities. In the abstract language of music without words, this requires a decision.

Linguists say there are between 110 and 120 consonants in world languages. Consonants translate to instrumental language as articulation; certainly, we have a wide verity of articulations with an instrument, but trying to simulate the consonants of some linguistic text would result in confusion and distraction of a performance.

Another consideration is the vowels, which in music would be timbre and tone coloration. Considering all the vowels there are with the diphthongs, triphthongs etc., that’s a lot of tone colors, certainly thousands.

Clearly, Steven Mead did a thorough study of the meaning behind Mahler’s poignant poetry. The appropriate mood was evident, and it was clearly performed in the eloquent language of a superb euphoniumist.

Successfully playing a song, which has words, is far more than just a vocalise sung on a single vowel. It must convey the mood of the text, albeit, in the abstract language of a single line instrument.

Thank you Steven Mead for this great example of how it’s done.

September 16, 2014, Tlahuitoltapec, Mexico

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Choosing a B Plan

Once upon a time, long ago, conductors, during their travels, could invite an exceptional player to come to his home city and join his orchestra. Today, unions and orchestra committees make that impossible. I can remember, also a very long time ago, a certain teacher absolutely guaranteeing two young boys that they would achieve a permanent spot in the tuba work place! Those days of, circa 65 years ago, are now gone forever; today, no one has a guaranteed future in the music business.

As tubists continue their incredibly remarkable ‘tuba evolution’, they must deal with the fact that there are no guarantees in realizing their dream of success in the business part of the musical world. Further, teachers continue looking for those right words that convey both honesty and encouragement. This is not an easy aspect of a teacher’s responsibilities!

Of course, this is not just a tubist’s situation, it’s happening in music centers all over the world. Japan, for example, has experienced a huge enrollment drop in its conservatories. Students, especially men, are unable to envision a profitable career in traditional musical performance, therefor women, now dominate the enrolment numbers in Japanese brass classes by around 80%. Perhaps this represents a general contempary work place dynamic in the Japan. This is not a bad thing, Japanese women are slowly becoming a genre of truly world-class great brass players; stand by, there will be a lot to hear and see in the future regarding Japanese women brass players.

For several decades the ‘big-prize’ has always been winning a position in a symphony orchestra; if one does win such a job, it’s a truly big accomplishment but in today’s musical world there are more alternatives to that coveted symphony orchestra position, equally fulfilling and arguably, sometimes more fulfilling.

Teaching positions in conservatories, music schools, collages and universities for many have become as coveted as symphonic positions with the result of an emergence of extraordinary teachers who ironically, are producing even greater numbers of highly qualified players.  Recently, there has been a huge emergence of the tuba appearing in diverse settings and with notable economic profit. This includes brass quintets, both small and especially larger brass ensembles. (This will be discussed at length in a near future blog called CHAMBER ENTERTAINMENT). Perhaps a course in marketing should be a part of the conservatory curriculum.

Sadly, the world is a troubled and turbulent place in these times leaving many people feeling helpless in what an individual can do to make it a better place. Music and the teaching of music could very well be one of the most positive things we can do. The world needs music and music needs teachers.

Our situation is not as grim as it used to be; there are new tuba (and all brass) activities visible and at greater frequencies including rock, jazz, country and all verities of pop music. It’s very smart thinking for all who hope to realize a career in music to have an alternative plan (a B plan) ready for life’s realities, i.e. having a job, forming a family. As you create your B plan, keep playing, have a direction and practice your butt off.

Good Luck.

August 31, 2014, Tlahuitoltepec, Mexico