Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Die Tuba ist Keine Solo Instrument"

“The Tuba is Not a Solo Instrument”

Sometimes I regret that frequently in my life I have missed wonderful opportunities to keep my mouth shut! My mother used to tell me: “Roger, You don’t have to say everything you think”; I’m still working on that! There is, however, one vivid moment in my history when I did keep my mouth shut and I’ve been frustrated about it ever since!

It was the 1976 First International Brass Symposium in Montreux, Switzerland, an amazing event that was organized by Harvey Phillips, which brought together most of the major brass players in the world for one extraordinarily enlightening week. Anyone who has ever been involved in the organization of any International, national or regional symposium knows what a formidable task that can be and can understand what Harvey Phillips did in 1976 was absolutely amazing.

It wasn’t only the logistical challenges of getting the world’s great brass players of all instruments together in the same place at the same time, Harvey’s task was exacerbated by the fact that 1976 was a time of far less international consciousness in brass performance then now. Many of the participants in that symposium who were considered the best in their separate nationalities and comfortably isolated musical environments, I fear naively considered themselves simply the best, not just at home.

On the first night of the symposium I was a part of the opening night recital, a very long concert (many hours), it was one of those marathon concerts we encounter sometimes at symposia with a huge number of soloists. I played the Kraft Encounters ll and as I recall it was not a particularly good performance but most of the people that night had never heard anything like that before (the Kraft Encounters ll is a virtuoso unaccompanied piece with multiphonics and other new techniques) and I suspect many of them had never even heard a tuba as a solo instrument before; it caused a lot of attention.

The next morning was met by many of the symposium participants with greetings, handshakes and congratulations. Finally one rather pompous and arrogant looking man came to me, smiled, put his nose in the air, said “Good Morning” and quickly turned and walked away; it was a small unpleasant and insignificant moment in an otherwise very enjoyable week.

Later I learned this man was the passed tubist in what many people considered, and still consider, the greatest orchestra in the world, and he was reputed at the time of being the premium tuba professor in Europe. Because of that reputation I went to his masterclass later in the day to see what I could learn. I sat in the back row and waited until he finally made his entrance, which had more the atmosphere of a presidential press conference than a tuba masterclass. As he entered, the class led by his student disciples, stood and one of them dutifully lifted the distinguished maesrto’s overcoat from his shoulders, he asked the class to please be seated and we waited in anticipation.

When he finally spoke these were his words: “Good Morning, before we begin the occasion of this masterclass there is one basic thing we must all understand, ‘Die tuba ist keine solo instrument’ (the tuba is not a solo instrument), when we all can agree that the tuba is not a solo instrument we will begin”. I didn’t want to be responsible for holding up the class so I quietly got up and left the room, I was glad I was seated in the back row.

A few years later I went into an attractive little music shop in Salzburg, Austria and asked the very nice old lady, who appeared to be the owner of the shop, if they had any music for tuba and it happened again; “Die tuba ist keine solo instrument, we only have music for solo instruments here”, at which time she opened a drawer of flute music and explained to me that the flute was a solo instrument and the tuba was not. Well, she was a very sweet old lady; I thanked her and quietly left the shop.

The old adage that success is the best revenge seems to be the appropriate philosophy to remember these events but the stories point out in a special way to those who have enjoyed watching the evolution of the tuba through most of the last century, that happily things have changed! It’s moments like this, while writing this article, I think about the women of Afghanistan and the suppression of their equal rights. We can be very proud and satisfied how the tuba has evolved to the status it enjoys today.

Lahti, Finland, March 7, 2009

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