Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Visionary Award for the Most Visionary

The recent ITEC (International Tuba and Euphonium Congress) was an amazing event, it’s impressive to recall the great playing, presentations, ensembles, friendships and just the fact that there were 850 participants from all over the world; that it was an unforgettable event is an understatement. There is, however, one event that may very well be remembered as the most significant in that one-week of continuous tuba/euphonium presentations.

At the official ITEC dinner, Composer/tubist Jim Self announced the formation of the Jim and Jamie Self Creative award. This is a monumental new item in the Tuba/Euphonium community; the following is the introduction of this award in Jim Self’s words: For several years I would call up one of my college professor friends and ask if they had a particularly talented and creative student. If so I would award a $500 scholarship to that student. But it was random and tedious--(plus every college that got a scholarship still hits me up for money--probably forever--what a drag!). I wanted to formalize it, internationalize it and make it have longevity beyond my years. So we set up a $25,000 endowment fund through ITEA to administer it--in perpetuity. The endowed principal is never to be used for the award and others can contribute to it--so hopefully it will grow.”

This award is a huge step in perpetuation of the frequently stated fact that there has never been anything in music history like the growth of the tuba through the last 100 years. More importantly, it’s an insurance policy that we will never become complacent in the wake of our amazing evolution.

Jim also points out “It’s difficult to define creativity”. This is where this award becomes most interesting. The purpose is to encourage creative projects in the tuba/euphonium world and to think "outside of the box". Thinking outside of the box has been our specialty and the energy source through our amazing growth period.

Choosing a winner for this award will be a rewarding and challenging job; ‘outside of the box’ opens unlimited possibilities. The first award of $1500 was given to Norwegian tubist, Kristoffer Lo for his Ryvingen Lighthouse Recording Project--where he is taking modern computer and electronic effects on the tuba to new places. This does not mean that it will be an award for electronic music; it only means something in a new direction, which opens a huge vista of possibilities.

Thank you Jim for creating this award. Just the fact that such a thought expander exists will expand the vision of the contestants, the ITEA (International Tuba Euphonium Association) judges who will choose a winner and the entire international community. We all will benefit from this new visionary award.

Roger Bobo, July 24, 2015, Carlsbad, California

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The 15th Harmonic: it's Useful

The tuba evolution is still actively progressing in many ways including technique and, of course, part of that amazingly expanding technique is the extension of the high register. I can point out with great clarity that what was considered high register 25 years ago has changed today. Further, the same situation exists between 25 and 50 (in my case 60) years ago. When we view the great tubists of today it is not unusual to see players successfully performing up to and beyond the C an octave higher than middle C on the piano.

In the process of developing a usable and functional high register our criteria, our success is best evaluated not only just by just getting the note but also by getting the note with clarity and good intonation. Part of that development is discovering the best fingering for that clarity and intonation, in fact, it can prove to be strategic.

For example, (all examples are calculate for an instrument in C, but, of course, it should be calculated for instruments in F, Eb, C or Bb.) Most of us have learned that playing a high D or Db usually sounds better if we play the 9th harmonic rather that the 10th harmonic, which has the same flatness tendency as octave lower 5th harmonic, that would mean  the high Db with the 2nd valve, and the high D open.

The same situation exists in the much higher register when we substitute the 2nd valve 16th harmonic fingering for a double high B, with the 15th harmonic open fingering. This fingering seems strange to many players who haven’t tried it, some students have actually looked at me in disbelief and said “Not on my tuba”.

Here is a small list of 15th harmonic fingerings all calculated for C tuba.

There is another advantage to these fingerings; there is a bigger margin of safety using the 9th harmonic in place of the 10th or the 15th in place of the 16th. Quite simply, that slightly larger margin between the harmonics above and below can create greater security as well as greater clarity and better intonation.

When I was a young man and just starting my career a wonderful piece by composer William Kraft called ENCOUNTERS #2 was written for me. It was said I was the only person who could play it; that lasted a very short time. Today that piece, while still difficult, is played frequently on college and university recitals and I have seen it occasionally performed by younger, high school age players. (Please read September 2009 [written in 2004] blog Roger Bannister and the Four Minute Mile).

The tuba is still experiencing an active evolution, which is unique in music history, never before has an instrument emerged and grown in status so rapidly. Viewing that rapid growth retrospectively lets us to more easily predict the changes that may come. The need for our expanding high register has already arrived; the 15th harmonic may prove useful.

July 18, 2014, Carlsbad, California

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Mr. Rupp

Recently I was in Osaka, Japan doing many things; I was giving private lessons at various venues throughout the west of Japan, Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, home of the famous Kobe steak. Giving masterclasses, enjoying superb Osakan cuisine and, most memorably, I had two wonderful days of conducting the Toba High School and Fushimi Jr. High School Bands. This was fulfilling work and, of course, the two bands were amazing. But there was more to this happy experience; seeing the students and their interaction with their teachers triggered memories of very happy years from my Jr. high and high school days when music became a major part of my life.

His name was Fred Rupp, he was the music teacher of a beginning instrumental class where I had first studied the tuba, Jr band, Sr, Band, Jr Orchestra and Sr, orchestra of Eagle Rock (a suburb of Los Angeles), Jr and Sr High School. He changed my life; he put the tuba in my hands in 1951.

Mr. Rupp could play all the instruments in the band and orchestra, yet, maybe cleverly, he never picked up the tuba to demonstrate. His verbal introduction seemed to be just the right words to get me started. I remember so clearly, “Roger, the tuba works just like a trumpet (I had played cornet since age 7) but two octaves lower, it takes more air than the trumpet but you’re a big guy so it shouldn’t be any problem for you.

“The tuba tone should be like a silk ribbon of sound, always beautiful and never blasty”.
In the next days and weeks the memorable quotes kept coming:
“Beauty is always more important than loudness”.
 “Breathing is part of the music”.
It’s a little strange really, because many of the things Mr. Rupp told us during band and orchestra rehearsals were beyond in wisdom what musicians in professional ensembles hear from conductors.
“Never stop the notes with your tongue, it causes an unnatural ending to a note”
Mr. Rupp pointed out to me at the age of thirteen, that the word “Tuba” meant very different things to different composers” And he would play records of those differences.
Here, are a few other quotes I’ve never forgotten:
“If you close your ear with one finger you can easily hear if your intonation is good”
“While listening to others, if you close both ears with your fingers you can very easily hear if the instruments are together.”

These simple quotes have stayed with me for over 60 years, I remembered them as a player and I still use them as a teacher.
Mr. Rupp was a visionary. During the annual spring music high school festivals when most of the bands and orchestras were playing simple pieces from list of recommended repertoire, Mr. Rupp had the Eagle Rock High School Orchestra play the first movement of the Brahms Symphony Number 2. What an experience! We were both commended and criticized for taking on such a grand project. I still remember what one of the judges said. “Bravo for attempting the Brahms but for the next festival please do something easier.” Mr. Rupp responded the next year by doing the first movement of the Franck D minor!! Mr. Rupp remains one of my lifetime heroes.

The effect a great and visionary teacher can have on the life of a student is enormous. Thank you Mr. Rupp for your wisdom and vision, I will never forget your influence. 

July 8, 2014, Firenze, Italia

Friday, March 21, 2014

Amsterdam, My First Step into the Big Musical World

It was 1962 when I got that phone call from the Concertgebouw Orchestra inviting me to come and audition; I was 23. I was half way through my sixth and final year with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and had I had finished my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Eastman School of Music. Those six years in Rochester as a student and a member of the Philharmonic Orchestra were the best learning years that I have ever experienced.

My sixth year, however, was only playing in the orchestra and, quite frankly, I missed the intensity of my simultaneous student life. That, plus a huge curiosity of how music was played abroad, particularly in Europe, was what prompted me to write letters to 20 different symphony orchestras asking if, by chance, there might be a tuba opening I could fill (I was naive 52 years ago!).

Miraculously, I received two positive responses, one from L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Genève, Switzerland and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Holland. First, I was asked by the Suise Romand to come to New York and audition for Ernst Ansermet. A violinist and I drove after a Saturday night pop concert, through a severe blizzard; in my 52 Chevrolet to a 9:00am meeting with Maestro Ansermet in his hotel room at the elegant Park Hotel, next to Central Park. Even without the malevolent specter of terrorism that we live with today, the security personal of the Park Hotel seemed extremely concerned that, at 8:40 in the morning, I was warming up in the 10th floor restroom. Well, at 9:00 I was in the maestro’s room playing through the standard orchestra audition pieces. It was the best audition I ever played. Short story: I was invited to join the L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and I immediately started studying French.
After returning to Rochester and taking my hero-lap through the halls of the Eastman School of Music, I received the phone call from Amsterdam. “We would like to invite you to the audition in Amsterdam in the Concertgebouw (concert building) this Saturday at 10:00 am; it was Tuesday! The next day I went to the KLM office to pick up the ticket they said would be waiting for me.
“Hello Mr. Bobo, may we see your passport please?”
“We have to see your passport to issue your ticket”
“Please go the New York Port Authority and explain your problem.”
I went and explained and I was told I would have to wait 3 weeks for the passport. In explained that I needed to get to Amsterdam the next day for the audition. They seemed shocked and told me that in special circumstances they could give me the passport on the same day but it would cost $150 dollars; that was a huge amount of money in 1962. Fortunately, I had the cash. When they gave me the passport it was warm just like a piece of bread that had popped out of the toaster. I took the passport and went to the airport and successfully boarded the flight to Amsterdam. I arrived in the evening, was met by the orchestra’s artistic secretary, taken to the hotel and told the audition would be the next morning in the Concertgebouw at 10:00. That night I learned the real meaning of a word I had only heard a few times: Jetlag!

The next morning I was at the front door of the Concertgebouw at 9:00, waiting for someone to open the place up. By 9:30 I was in a nice room able to freely warm up. At 10:00 I was called on to the stage of the Kleinezaal (small hall) and asked to play. The orchestras 1st trumpet player sat with me and told me what to play; he was a very nice, jolly man named Marinus Komst. Also as I heard from all the Condertgebouw Orchestra recordings I had listened during the past few days, I was abundantly aware that Heer Komst was a truly great trumpet player. He chose the pieces I would play.

The Overture to Mendelsohn’s Midsummernight’s Dream. It went well but he asked for the legato lines to be accented. Being legato (slurred) and having heard Mr., Kompts’ style on all the LPs, I knew he meant breath accents. Not only did it work fine but it was also clear in was stylistically correct.

Next came the overture to the Meistersinger. I knew very little about F tubas then and it worked very well on CC.

Next was to Prelude to the third act of Lohingrin, I asked him if he wanted me to play through the three bars that were left out because of the high register, he smiled and said that all tubist should play that, it sounds weak when the tuba drops out and the 3rd trumpet takes over. I did as he asked, which was what I wanted to do in the first place!

Next came Mahler’s 1st

And finally, the finale to Bruckner 7th, which I loved and knew. Forgive my small brag but I was on a roll.

There was only one other player and he, after a few years, became a very good friend and a highly respected teacher in the Friesland part of the Netherlands.

There was and still is an overwhelming atmosphere in the Concertgebouw; when you first enter you immediately sense something quite unusual. First. Even in complete silence there is an ambient accustic, a void of sound that had mystical presence. And the first note, that first note that I played in that new environment. The hall made it sound so beautiful it made me jump. After many years, I returned to the Concertgebouw on tour with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Returning to that same place where I had played that first magical note more than 40 years before I was no less shocked.

I still try to analyze this magical acoustic. Certainly there are many aspects that make it a great hall but I think the principal magical thing is this: It resonates at a very soft dynamic. In other places where I’ve played one can hear the hall “light up” at certain dynamics, usually f or even ff, it sets off a feedback, a sonic enhancement. In the Concertgebouw that enhancement takes place at a much softer dynamic.

Amsterdam and the Concertgebouw were my first steps in the real musical world, the world at large; that world is still expanding for me and I hope to be experiencing it for a long time.

Aboard Virgin Atlantic flight #901 from Tokyo to London, connecting to Amsterdam; the first stop on a masterclass tour through Europe ending with the weddings of my daughter, Melody, and of Steven Mead and Misa Akahoshi. March 21, 2014.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Tour from---Well, it's Intense!

I have just embarked on the longest and most intense tour of my life, I didn’t plan it this way but one tour merged into another and the frequency of one masterclass or concert to the next simply turned into a very long five month journey with very little thought to rest or geography.

If I had a manager who organized this mega tour (world tour feels a bit indulgent), I would fire the manager, but alas, I created it all myself!

At this moment I’m riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka, where I will teach and after 3 days on to Okayama. Without going into details, after returning to Tokyo I will travel to Amsterdam, Salzburg, Bamburg, Würzburg, London, Manchester, Tokyo, Penn State, Los Angeles, Bloomington IND (ITEC), Hong Kong, Osaka, Interlochen MI, Carlesbad, CA, Italy, (Italian Brass Week), London, Carlesbad, Jeju Korea, Japan and finally to Mexico, where I will stay in the town of Tlahuitoltepec. Ah, but that will certainly be the focus of future blogs.

Sadly, I had to pass on Steve Rosse’s TubaMania in Bangkok, Thailand, which would have been the week following Manchester; even with the kind support of Yamaha, the aspect of the same day travel from Manchester to Bangkok after the previous 3 weeks of travel schedule, my 75 years protested. I’ll be at TubaMania in 2015.

It was exactly one year ago that euphonium icons Steven Mead and Misa Akahoshi fell in love in Bangkok at TubaMania. After their wedding in the small town of Fenny Drayton, not far from Manchester, They will return to Bangkok for the 2014 TubaMania. I’m very happy that I will be able to attend their wedding. I always thought June was the appropriate month for weddings but this year, March clearly seems to be the month of choice.

The reason this mega tour formulated in the first place is that on March 15th my daughter Melody and her fiancé Matt Poole will have their wedding ceremony in London. A couple of years ago, when Melody told me she had a new boyfriend and it looked serious, I ask Melody what he did. “He’s a rock and roll drummer”, she said! “OMG”, I thought. As it turned out he was a writer for a technical magazine and now he has become a supervisor and advisor internationally for several technical magazines; I’m very proud of Melody, I’m very proud of Matt and their future together appears to be bright and happy.

Unlike many of my colleagues I’ve known in my orchestra days, I have always enjoyed being ‘on the road’ and this tour, because of the very special wedding days, seems to be one of special significance.

February 19, 2914 on the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka