Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happily Humbled--Again and Again

Leonardo Da Vinci said, “It is the duty of the student to surpass his teacher”. Da Vinci was very right, I would add that the greatest pleasure a teacher can have is to experience his students realizing that duty. I’ve seen increasingly more students reach that level recently; it’s a wonderful feeling.

This Da Vinci quote was really not new a new concept to me. In the years between 1956 and 1960 while attending the Eastman School of Music I was boasting once to my old teacher in Los Angeles, Robert Marsteller, that I had a fellow student, a trombonist, in Eastman who was reputed to be a better student than the famous Gordon Pulis, the first trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, was in the 1940s. Mr. Marsteller broke into laughter and said “God help the student who isn’t better than Gordon Pulis was when he was a student”. Robert Marsteller was a man of vision.

I’ve always been quite aware that there were two levels of tuba playing in my life, the one that existed in my mind and the one in my hands, which, with the physical encumberments of breathing, embouchure, tonguing and fingering, regardless of how much I worked, never reached the level of that tuba in my mind. It’s interesting that after I played my last concert in 2001, that tuba perceived in my mind continued to develop quicker and better without those physical encumberments of actually playing.

There was, however, something else happening in the tuba world that was broadening my tuba vision. A new generation of tubists was emerging that was abundantly realizing the words of Da Vinci. Through the last decade I have seen increasingly numerous students ‘surpassing their teachers’ and from my personal vista I have heard students in Asia, North America and Europe even surpassing that perceived tuba that existed only in my musical mind, in fact, much of my lately acquired tuba awareness has come from those students.

Our world of Tubadom is a superb microcosm of the changing world we live in. The growth, the awareness and the excellence seen in our art is truly amazing, but although nothing like it has ever happened before in music history, it’s just an example of what we see in our daily lives. Computer science, cell phones and automobiles are other examples of improvements coming so fast it’s nearly impossible for us to keep up.

There is a vast difference, however, between the progress in technologies and that of our small, isolated and idealistic world of the tuba. The world today needs better computers, better cell phones, and more efficient cars, and we could never go back in time even a few years. But there is another powerful motivation regarding computers, cell phones, cars and the other vast growing necessary products appearing in our world; the better these products become the more money there is to be made.

The development of the tuba is quite different and inspired by a different kind of energy. Our level of performance, the vision of what can be, the teaching, the institutions that promote our instruments and its performance are all primarily inspired by the fact that we love music and we love this instrument. The instrument manufactures are, of course, happy with our idealism and happy to provide us with the equipment we require; we are lucky to have them and our idealism means profit for them.

It’s dangerous to take too much time reflecting on our accomplishments of the past. Even so, it’s quite appropriate to reflect, a little retrospect is good; it can show us a clearer direction to continue this historical success.

Amsterdam, March 25, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Domaine Forget

It’s a habit now, a very good habit. It started in 1954 when I was 15 years old and got on a train in Los Angeles, destination the National Music Camp, Interlochen, Michigan; I returned there for the next three years. Almost every year since that time I’ve been involved in some music camp or some masterclass stage somewhere in the world; the venue changed but the habit remained.

Many of these courses occurred for several years and the attachments grew strong, it was always a little sad when circumstances, usually economics, caused these courses to end. There was the special course in Villa Nova De Castillion near Valencia, Spain, the band camp in Kalavrita, Greece, Musica Riva in Riva del Garda, Italy and the Yamaha Band Camp in Hamamatsu, Japan, all very special occasions, which offered the special atmospheres of the unique localities, renewing old and creating new friendships and most importantly high level learning experiences.

Of all these excellent summer courses there is one that stands out in my mind as being by far the best, that is Domaine Forget Académie de Musique et Dance in Quebec, Canada. Domaine Forget is located among the rolling hills of Saint-Irénée 90 minutes northeast of Québec City on a vast historical property overlooking the St. Lawrence River, an unparalleled setting providing visitors with a cultural experience unmatched anywhere in North America. Le Domaine Forget attracts mostly North American students but every year there are a few students that come from Europe and Asia.

The combination of fine students, very high-level internationally renowned teachers, a highly efficient and low profile administration, an unbelievably beautiful location, and at least of equal importance, it’s fun, it’s big fun. The brass classes this year are from June 1 to 13, however, if circumstances make two weeks impossible, it is possible to come for only one week.
I have aggressively avoided posting anything that may appear like an advertisement either on my blog or so please view this as an invitation, an invitation to a very special two weeks (or one), learning guaranteed, fun guaranteed; you will be very welcome.

For more information go to the Domaine Forget web page.

Riva del Guarda, Italy, March 16, 2009

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

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Specters Reunion

It seems my most successful essays for TubaNews are the ones that have dealt more with specific aspects of our instrumental function rather than broader thoughts regarding the world of music. I hope I can write about both. For issue 3 of TubaNews I wrote an essay, Specters, about some of the interesting people, those who would follow the various orchestras that I had played in through the years in our rehearsals and concerts.

Sadly, the stories of an old man who played in the Moscow Youth Orchestra when Tchaikovsky would bring by a new score by to hear the orchestration or another old man in another part of the world had a big part of his life rewriting symphony scores with all the inaudible orchestration deleted, do not hold the same interest as rotary vs. piston valves or "Is Bigger Better?" To me that's sad.

In any case, I saw these specters again a few days ago.

My daughter Melody was visiting for the last two weeks and as a finale for the visit I arranged that we would spend three days in Kyoto at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokans are famous for being havens of rest and tranquility and this one in Kyoto was no exception; entering one could feel ones pulse slowing, a wonderful nights sleep was guaranteed. That first night in the ryokan was one of the best nights sleep I've had in a long time.

Suddenly the fragrance of eucalyptus filled the air and the sunlight was fragmented as it shined through the high branches of the many trees. The old dirt road that was the driveway was just as it always had been. I was surprised not to be surprised being there, it seemed perfectly natural, nor was I surprised to be standing with the specters that I had been seeing at orchestra rehearsals and concerts for the last 48 years.

The two old men were there, the one from the Moscow Youth Orchestra and the deleter of orchestration; they stood next to each other looking similar and yet very different. The beautiful young girl dressed in white holding the red rose stood a little apart from the old men and the elegant old woman dressed in high fashion of Europe in the 1920s stood far apart from the other three at the end of the driveway where it met the road. She was just as always, standing very properly and smiling at the strange group of people standing on the driveway. I had no idea who this old woman was but she had the look of how I imagined Clara Schumann or Alma Mahler might appear. She was truly a specter.

"It's amazing to see you here," addressing the two old men first. "I only got to talk to you once and shortly after that you both disappeared. I wanted to talk again to both of you but never got the chance. I knew you in Rochester and I knew you in Los Angeles, do you know each other?"

The man from the Moscow Youth Orchestra answered first. "We know each other now."

"I remember so well your story about Tchaikovsky conducting his 5th Symphony to hear the orchestration; I wanted to hear more stories but never had the chance. Did other famous composers conduct your orchestra?"

"Oh yes, Rimsky-Korsakov used to come, sometimes we would play some of his works but many times he would come and play some of the works of Mussorgsky, he was always editing and reorchestrating Mussorgsky's works, the last time he came we played Night on Bald Mountain.

Talking to both men, I said, "It's really strange that one of you had such personal experience with the orchestrations of some of the worlds great composers and the other spent a big part of your life deleting orchestration and rewriting scores of great composers without the inaudible orchestration. What ever became of that project?"

He answered, "I put all the work in the attic of my sisters house in Rochester, I took the last stack of work there just a few weeks before I left your world."

"Do you know where the work is now?" I asked.

"It was a long time ago, all I can tell you is that it was the green house on Kansas St. in Rochester."

"How many people knew about the work you were doing?"

"I don't think anybody, my sister knew I was doing something with music but she never understood what it was."

The other man interupted, "when I was a young man in Moscow my big fascination was the orchestration so I think you can understand how very strange it sounds to me that someone would spend a large part of their life simplifying the orchestration of the worlds masterworks. What started you on such an odd project?"

The deleter answered, "I was never a good musician, I played piano as a boy but I have been a concert goer all my life, after hearing many of the great works many times it seemed just a natural thing to ask about the necessity of all this inaudible orchestration. I'm not even sure I believe in it but it was a study that I dedicated my life to."

"As a study I can see a little interest but I believe I can predict almost exactly what my conclusion would be if it were possible to hear your modified scores. When you see someone sleeping how do you know whether he is sleeping or dead?

"You can see and hear them breathing"

"Yes, and that's what orchestration is, it's the life of the music, the breath of the music."

After a short pause, I thought to myself, "I would like to find that green house on Kansas St. in Rochester and spend a day listening to those scores, we would learn a lot."

As the two men continued their conversation on orchestration I turned my attention to the girl in white holding the red rose. "I know you, we knew each other in Los Angeles; I suddenly remember your name, your name is Phyllis, you worked in the administration of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I remember that you were sweet and you were wise."

"I'm not really Phyllis, I only look like Phyllis, you chose that I would look like her."

"But who are you then?"

"You know me, you have seen me many times but I've looked very different every time I came to visit you."

"But who are you?"

"I'm really a teacher, you could call me a guide and you should just think of me as a friend"

"Have you come to teach me?"

"Not this time, this is just a visit to say hello and to talk."

"Somehow you make me feel special, but why have you come here and where are you when you are not here."

She was laughing and clearly enjoying this conversation. "Ha-ha, I have many people I like to visit, they are all different and all interesting. Some are curious like you and some are very frightened, but they all can learn."

"What is it that you teach?"

Still amused, "I never know what I will teach or even if I will teach, a better question would be what do you want to learn."

"There are only two questions I have right now. Who are the old man and woman who live in that house down these stairs. It seems I've known them for a long time and what is that strange language they speak, I've never understood it and I couldn't learn it"

"They were just caretakers, they were the caretakers of that house and they were your caretakers. Many times, but not always, the caretakers speak a strange language and when that's the case those who they are caring for develop extraordinary skills at communication."

"Can you tell me who the old woman is who is standing at the end of the driveway, I've seen her so many times all over the world, always listening and moving with symphony music. Who is she?"

"She is always around symphonic music but most of the time you can't see her, you are very lucky. We're going to go now, enjoy the rest of your vacation. Goodbye."

Before I could say goodbye the eucalyptus aroma blended into the wonderful smell of steam and cedar from the tub in the ryokan and the first sight was the small Japanese garden just out the sliding door. It was a wonderful nights sleep, Kyoto and ryokans are very special.

Kyoto, Japan, January 19, 2006