Sunday, July 29, 2012

Roger Bannister and the Four Minute Mile

Dear Mr. Bobo,

If you get this, I’m tuba player from North Carolina. I'm just writing to tell you that my journey is about to begin. I told my brother that I was going to be the best tuba player in the world, hands down, but he doesn't believe me. I'll be auditioning for 5 music schools my senior year in high school, but I'm going to take the time now until then to find and perfect my solos. Have you ever heard of ''Dream of a Witches' Sabbath''? Well, if you choose to read this, I've finally proven that I'm one of the best here in North Carolina, but now it's time to prove it to the world. If you're still around in about 10 years, I will be the best tuba in the world, hopefully and I hope that you'll be proud to see that a small town boy has achieved the highest level of success. So, I hope we will meet, eventually.

Thank you for your letter,

It's strange to have received your letter in my email inbox the very day I planned on starting this essay. I sincerely hope that you will realize your tuba playing goals, that we will meet someday and… that I will still be around. I remember very clearly a letter I wrote to William Bell a very long time ago, when I was in my early teens, which was much the same as your letter to me is today. But I wonder if you know who William Bell was? William Bell was the daddy, well, let's change that to granddaddy, or is it greatgranddaddy of all American tubists. You see, the generations of tubists are not the same as regular generations, by my observations through the 54 years of my tuba awareness; a tuba generation is about every ten years, and as each of these ten-year tuba generations passes into the next I am absolutely amazed at how the level of playing and musicianship improves.

About the same time that I wrote that letter to William Bell, it might have been 1950, I was quite interested in sports, particularly swimming as a competitor and track and field as a spectator. It was a great thrill for me to see world records fall and to see the track and swimming times getting faster and faster. One of my heroes in that period was the Australian mile runner Roger Bannister. He was the man whom the world thought would break the seemingly unachievable goal of the 'four-minute mile'. The world watched as Roger Bannister trained and prepared his strategy for his record breaking run; finely the news came that he had done it. It was a milestone (pun unintended) in track history. Today a four-minute mile is still a very good time but there are hundreds of college and even high school runners that can do it.

When I was a young man, the composer William Kraft, wrote a very fine and special piece for me called Encounters #2; it was considered extremely difficult at that time, and I had heard it said that I was the only person who could play it. If that was true it was only true for a short time; today you can frequently hear it played by high school and college players. I enjoy very much watching this happen.

But, I'm troubled by one thing; how far can it go? How fast will it be possible for a man to run a mile, will we ever see a limit? And in our tuba community will we continue to excel at the same unbelievable rate that we've seen so far? Of course, I want to believe we can but when we look at the evolution of more traditional instruments like the violin, for example, we don't see the continuing remarkable growth that is presently visible in the tuba. We see generation after generation of remarkable violinists, but we do not see the expansion of the technical capacities any more. Rather we see their ability to express their musicality, their musical soul, their musical personality. Today, when we listen to the international competitions for tuba we begin to hear the same thing, the same growing ability to project a musical atmosphere. Everybody in these competitions has an extraordinary technique; it's their musicality they make that makes them winners!

Your goal to become the world's greatest tubist is a noble one, but there are a few things you should know as you begin this quest. First, please keep in mind that there are other young men and women your age that have the same goal. It's very much like the Olympics, not every athlete can win a gold medal. However, the performance of these athletes is enhanced by the energy they receive from their competitors; don't forget that.

There are three pieces of advice I would like to offer as you set off on this tuba quest:
1. Become part of the extraordinary tuba community; read the magazines and books, join the associations, attend every masterclass and symposium that you can so that you will know what's happening in the tuba world, and listen; listen to every CD, recital and concert possible. Be aware of every aspect of this tuba world that you are entering.

2. Remember that this tuba community is only a small part of the much bigger and richer musical community; look beyond the tuba, look far beyond the tuba world.

3. And, be your own teacher. I'm sure you have a great teacher but he or she is your second most important teacher; you are number one! It is fun to think about the things you want in a teacher; let me start your list for you: Good musician, intelligence, kind, wise, patience, perseverance, and please don't forget a good sense of humor. Use the learning tools you have: metronome, tuner, and I hope you have and use some recording device so you can play something and instantly hear it back. We hear things differently when we hear ourselves without the horn in our hands!

Just one more thing; the experience you'll have in pursuing your quest for the next ten years will probably be more important in your life than achieving your goal of becoming the greatest tubist. Enjoy this time.

So, I wish you luck in this journey, and I look forward to that meeting in ten years.

I'll be around.

Tokyo, Japan - June 30, 2004.

Revised July 29, 2012, Firenze, Italy