Saturday, February 23, 2013

Prologue for a Masterclass Tour

Soon I will be on the road again, Checking in at airports, passing security, sitting long hours on transcontinental flights and enduring jetlag. Of course, I really dislike this but otherwise I’m looking forward to these trips, a new series of masterclasses, this time in North America and Europe. This is one of my greatest pleasures in life.   


When I was beginning to learn the tuba at age 13 (1952), I was extremely lucky to have connected with a great teacher, his name was Robert Marsteller; he was first trombonist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and a virtuoso euphonium player. But he was much more than just that, he was a visionary. Not only was he a great teacher of musicality and the basics of instrumental function, but also, he was able to see the potential of the tuba, the tuba of the future. And the tuba that he envisioned over 50 years ago was, in fact, very close to the tuba that’s emerged into today’s world. This growth process, this tuba evolution that Mr. Marsteller predicted over a half century ago, is still in progress. 

Never before has anything like this happened in music history; a relatively new instrument arrives on the scene, and in an incredibly short period of time, considering the big vista of music history, evolves to the level that the tuba has become today... with virtuoso artists in classical, popular, jazz, and almost all genres of music, a formidable solo repertoire, and an amazing collective energy amongst its aficionados. The tuba, just over a century old, is the newest instrument to be accepted into the symphony orchestra community. Its development has been huge, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Where will it go from here?

A difficult question with no sure answer, but with over sixty years of retrospective I can certainly make an educated guess, and my guess is that this tuba evolution is going to continue.

But I’m preparing for a masterclass today, in today’s world.

Playing a brass instrument, not only tuba, but any brass instrument, is very much like singing. Of course, it’s similar because of the use of air to make the sound, but more importantly it’s that the source of the sound is organic; the sound comes from a part of our body. For voice, it’s the vibration of the larynx, our vocal chords, and in brass playing it’s our lips that make the sound. We’ve all seen how great singers prepare their voices by vocalizing before performing, or even before just practicing; it’s exactly the same for brass players.

When I lived in Florence, Italy, in the 1990s, I would occasionally play with the Maggio Musicalli Orchestra, that’s Florence’s symphony and opera orchestra. One of the projects I was involved in during that time was a production of several performances and a recording of Verdi’s opera, Il Trovatore, with Luciano Pavarotti singing the male lead, the part of Manrico. In my playing career I always enjoyed arriving early for performances, so I could relax, have a cup of coffee, make a good warmup, and to observe the performance preparations of the great artists that I’ve been privileged to work with. Maestro Pavarotti had three things he always did before a performance. He would put on his makeup, in this case for the part of Manrico in Il Trovatore. He seemed to enjoy talking to people and he would vocalize. These vocalizations that he did were particularly interesting to me because one of them was almost exactly what I had written several years before in my book of brass warmups and exercises called Mastering the Tuba.

My joke is that it makes me very proud that Luciano Pavarotti used the Bobo Mastering the Tuba book as part of his vocalizing --- or, in brass jargon, as part of his warmup routine!! Of course, that’s a joke, but then, where did he find that same exercise? The fact is, many of these vocal exercises have been around for hundreds of years and because they’ve been proven to work so well for voice, and because of the strong similarities between singing and brass playing, it’s only logical that these old vocal materials were frequently borrowed and adapted by the brass teachers and players of the time. Mastering the Tuba is no exception; much of the material has been adapted from those old vocal methods, and some from less old, brass methods, which many originated from older vocal methods.

There are really just two things involved in musical performance; first and always is the music. Primeraly, knowing the way we want the music to sound. Secondly, in order to realize the music as we hear it in our minds ear, we need to develop and maintain the necessary instrumental skills. For brass playing that would include breathing, articulation, embouchure and fingering. Hopefully, the music will inspire us to develop those skills. Of course, in the study of music performance we need to deal with both.

I’m fortunate that in my masterclasses I usually attract advanced students and with these advanced students, we usually concentrate on the musical aspects, but if working for that musical result requires it, then we need to take a closer look at those more fundamental skills.

Every student is different, very different. The interest, fascination and the joy of teaching is perhaps the most important aspect of music. These differences occur with each individual, each nationality, each municipality and each age group. This upcoming teaching tour is going to be very enjoyable. 

February 24, 2013, Tokyo