Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happily Humbled--Again and Again

Leonardo Da Vinci said, “It is the duty of the student to surpass his teacher”. Da Vinci was very right, I would add that the greatest pleasure a teacher can have is to experience his students realizing that duty. I’ve seen increasingly more students reach that level recently; it’s a wonderful feeling.

This Da Vinci quote was really not new a new concept to me. In the years between 1956 and 1960 while attending the Eastman School of Music I was boasting once to my old teacher in Los Angeles, Robert Marsteller, that I had a fellow student, a trombonist, in Eastman who was reputed to be a better student than the famous Gordon Pulis, the first trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, was in the 1940s. Mr. Marsteller broke into laughter and said “God help the student who isn’t better than Gordon Pulis was when he was a student”. Robert Marsteller was a man of vision.

I’ve always been quite aware that there were two levels of tuba playing in my life, the one that existed in my mind and the one in my hands, which, with the physical encumberments of breathing, embouchure, tonguing and fingering, regardless of how much I worked, never reached the level of that tuba in my mind. It’s interesting that after I played my last concert in 2001, that tuba perceived in my mind continued to develop quicker and better without those physical encumberments of actually playing.

There was, however, something else happening in the tuba world that was broadening my tuba vision. A new generation of tubists was emerging that was abundantly realizing the words of Da Vinci. Through the last decade I have seen increasingly numerous students ‘surpassing their teachers’ and from my personal vista I have heard students in Asia, North America and Europe even surpassing that perceived tuba that existed only in my musical mind, in fact, much of my lately acquired tuba awareness has come from those students.

Our world of Tubadom is a superb microcosm of the changing world we live in. The growth, the awareness and the excellence seen in our art is truly amazing, but although nothing like it has ever happened before in music history, it’s just an example of what we see in our daily lives. Computer science, cell phones and automobiles are other examples of improvements coming so fast it’s nearly impossible for us to keep up.

There is a vast difference, however, between the progress in technologies and that of our small, isolated and idealistic world of the tuba. The world today needs better computers, better cell phones, and more efficient cars, and we could never go back in time even a few years. But there is another powerful motivation regarding computers, cell phones, cars and the other vast growing necessary products appearing in our world; the better these products become the more money there is to be made.

The development of the tuba is quite different and inspired by a different kind of energy. Our level of performance, the vision of what can be, the teaching, the institutions that promote our instruments and its performance are all primarily inspired by the fact that we love music and we love this instrument. The instrument manufactures are, of course, happy with our idealism and happy to provide us with the equipment we require; we are lucky to have them and our idealism means profit for them.

It’s dangerous to take too much time reflecting on our accomplishments of the past. Even so, it’s quite appropriate to reflect, a little retrospect is good; it can show us a clearer direction to continue this historical success.

Amsterdam, March 25, 2009

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