Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Mr. Rupp

Recently I was in Osaka, Japan doing many things; I was giving private lessons at various venues throughout the west of Japan, Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, home of the famous Kobe steak. Giving masterclasses, enjoying superb Osakan cuisine and, most memorably, I had two wonderful days of conducting the Toba High School and Fushimi Jr. High School Bands. This was fulfilling work and, of course, the two bands were amazing. But there was more to this happy experience; seeing the students and their interaction with their teachers triggered memories of very happy years from my Jr. high and high school days when music became a major part of my life.

His name was Fred Rupp, he was the music teacher of a beginning instrumental class where I had first studied the tuba, Jr band, Sr, Band, Jr Orchestra and Sr, orchestra of Eagle Rock (a suburb of Los Angeles), Jr and Sr High School. He changed my life; he put the tuba in my hands in 1951.

Mr. Rupp could play all the instruments in the band and orchestra, yet, maybe cleverly, he never picked up the tuba to demonstrate. His verbal introduction seemed to be just the right words to get me started. I remember so clearly, “Roger, the tuba works just like a trumpet (I had played cornet since age 7) but two octaves lower, it takes more air than the trumpet but you’re a big guy so it shouldn’t be any problem for you.

“The tuba tone should be like a silk ribbon of sound, always beautiful and never blasty”.
In the next days and weeks the memorable quotes kept coming:
“Beauty is always more important than loudness”.
 “Breathing is part of the music”.
It’s a little strange really, because many of the things Mr. Rupp told us during band and orchestra rehearsals were beyond in wisdom what musicians in professional ensembles hear from conductors.
“Never stop the notes with your tongue, it causes an unnatural ending to a note”
Mr. Rupp pointed out to me at the age of thirteen, that the word “Tuba” meant very different things to different composers” And he would play records of those differences.
Here, are a few other quotes I’ve never forgotten:
“If you close your ear with one finger you can easily hear if your intonation is good”
“While listening to others, if you close both ears with your fingers you can very easily hear if the instruments are together.”

These simple quotes have stayed with me for over 60 years, I remembered them as a player and I still use them as a teacher.
Mr. Rupp was a visionary. During the annual spring music high school festivals when most of the bands and orchestras were playing simple pieces from list of recommended repertoire, Mr. Rupp had the Eagle Rock High School Orchestra play the first movement of the Brahms Symphony Number 2. What an experience! We were both commended and criticized for taking on such a grand project. I still remember what one of the judges said. “Bravo for attempting the Brahms but for the next festival please do something easier.” Mr. Rupp responded the next year by doing the first movement of the Franck D minor!! Mr. Rupp remains one of my lifetime heroes.

The effect a great and visionary teacher can have on the life of a student is enormous. Thank you Mr. Rupp for your wisdom and vision, I will never forget your influence. 

July 8, 2014, Firenze, Italia