Sunday, April 03, 2011


When I arrived home from my biennial spring tour in Europe, I only had two things in mind; to get rest and try to get past the 180° change to the Japanese clock jet lag and to check the house for any earthquake damage---there was none. But I had a surprise; it was the 50th anniversary of the New York recital I gave in Carnegie Recital Hall on March 31, 1961 and I was amazed and moved by how many people remembered it.

Something has to be said: First of all, thank you all for your comments and accolades, of course, it was a huge deal to me on that Friday night 50 years ago but I had no idea what a defining moment it was to be to my future, and by the reaction of all the notices I received on Facebook, TubeNet, Skype, and the e-mails yesterday and today, I have to be aware now that it was also a defining moment for tuba.

In the past I have tried to avoid making these essays, articles, blogs, or whatever one wants to call them, too personal; until April 1 (today) the next blog was going to be a very comfortable pedagogical essay called “AIR”. Well, after this is done it will be the next; I think now, though, the recital of 50 years ago requires a retrospective.

The idea for the New York recital came from a fellow student at the Eastman School of Music by the name of Fred Lieberman; he approached a clarinetist in school named Elsa Ludewig and me with the idea and we both said yes very quickly. Elsa was a superb player but the post concert publicity for her was small compared to mine; the reason, the only reason, was that New York’s first tuba recital attracted more attention. I got great reviews, it seems most of the critics 50 years ago were just very surprised that a tuba could do anything but be comical not to mention be good! Plus the combination of my name, Bobo, and tuba inspired the great writer and poet John Updike to write the following poem:

Eskimos in Manitoba,
Barracuda off Aruba,
Cock an ear when Roger Bobo
Starts to solo on the tuba.
Men of every station -- Pooh-Bah,
Nabob, bozo, toff, and hobo --
Cry in unison, "Indubi-
Tably, there is simply nobo-
Dy who oompahs on the tubo,
Solo, quite like Roger Bubo!"

Of course, Mr. Updike wasn’t there but those two words, Bobo and tuba, together triggered his genius for words to create the poem.

I was a little nervous before the recital but when I arrived at the hall there were 23 telegrams, mostly from my Los Angeles musical heroes that would later become colleagues, wishing me good luck. My teacher at the time at Eastman, Donald Knaub, the incredible basstrombonist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, had offered me the following advice: “When you walk on stage and face the audience, imagine that they all nude except for wearing fishing boots”, plus when entering through the stage door my trousers caught on the door and caused a rip; I wasn’t only smiling, I was laughing! I think all those things helped me to get a good start.

For not having much repertoire to choose from 50 years ago I think the program I selected wasn’t so bad:

The Bach bass arias were melosmatic and worked very well instrumentally, the Prince Igor’s Aria, quite simply, has beautiful melodies that sound great on tuba. The two French pieces worked well, although one would have been enough. The Two Songs written by Robert Spillman in 1957 was the first piece written for me and is still frequently performed. The Hindemith and Alec Wilder Sonatas, although hugely different, were about all that were available then by known composers and the Suite Concertante by Armand Russell, who tolerantly played contrabass in the Rochester Philharmonic for six years with my bell only a few feet from his ear, was written for me in 1959.

Of the many letters I received at this 50 year career terminal the most personally touching was from my old student and good friend Norm Pearson, who is the present tubist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and who has given me his permission to include it in this article, it’s part of the whole 50 year experience I would like to share:

 Congratulations on the 50th anniversary of your Carnegie Hall recital! 
 You set the standard for every tuba player in the world then and kept it going for fifty years. You set the standard of sound, technique and musicianship on the tuba that is still awe inspiring. I know, today there are some incredibly gifted young tubists who are real musical artists but when it comes to an inspiring and dynamic musical performance you are still without peer. A Roger Bobo recital, master class or even ensemble concert with “Roger Bobo the sideman” were awe-inspiring events. Your technical command of the tuba, your musicianship and commanding and charismatic stage presence were inspiring to me and made me excited about music and the tuba.
 I will never forget the sound in my right ear on all of those performances of Alpine Symphony, Also Sprach, Symphonie Fantastique, Rite of Spring etc…. the most beautiful, articulate robust tuba sound I have ever heard and always musical. It was always about the music: that is easy to forget as an orchestral tubist. I want to remember the music I heard from you in the orchestra and never forget it IS about the music.
 Thank you for taking me on as students 30 years ago (yes, 30 years!). Thank you for the inspiration and thank you for believing in me. I was blessed to be in Los Angeles at that time with you, Tommy and Jim. I know my life would have taken a much different and not as satisfying path. I will continue to be inspired by what you taught me in those lessons and will be forever grateful. Thank you.

Certainly, I was aware of the recital’s importance to me but I was astonished at its seemingly importance to the present day tuba evolution, I had a vision, or should I say I was constantly trying to catch up with that beautiful sounding tuba in my minds ear. Predictably, after a lot of years, I started to lose ground in this quest for excellence and it became clear was time to step down. Now, today there are tubists that play beyond those sonic images that motivated me years ago. Many have been my students, now they teach me and inspire me to become better teacher. We continue!

Looking forward to returning to “Air” and the pedagogical stuff I usually write, and hoping in the wake of this self-indulgent essay it not to be confused with hot air.
Tokyo, April 1 (no joke), 2011