One of my most valued possessions was a photograph taken in 1954 of me and Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams at a reception at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) after a lecture he had just given.
Moving to a new location is difficult whether it’s a mile away or 10,000 miles away and packing up all one’s belongings and determining where they should go is dramatic; which pile to throwaway, store, giveaway or take? Mistakes are always made. I left 13 boxes of stuff I couldn’t throw away in my sister’s garage in Los Angeles in 1989 when I left for Europe; after thirteen years she asked if I would please come and get them. I had a student that lived in LA pack them up in a crate, call the movers and send them to me in Lausanne, Switzerland where they sat, still unpacked for another five years. When my good friends Todd and Rose came to help me pack for the move to Japan, I was embarrassed when after opening the boxes that had been closed for 17 years, I felt I couldn’t part with their contents!
Not only were we packing for my move to Japan, we were looking through all my possessions in the world for my cherished photograph of Vaughan Williams and me.
I was fifteen and a half, I had read about the tuba concerto in Time magazine and had tried everything to get a copy of it. I even wrote a letter to the Library of Congress and received a letter that read something like this:
Dear Roger Bobo,
We have no record of a Concerto for Tuba by Ralph Vaughan Williams and you can be sure that if a composer of the stature of Ralph Vaughan Williams had written a tuba concerto we would know about it.
Good luck in your musical studies.
Library of Congress, Music Department
I heard about his lecture at UCLA, went to it and crashed the reception afterward to meet him. He was a very nice and kind man, he was also completely deaf; Beethoven could not have been deafer! During the lecture he would play musical examples and he had to have somebody tell him when the music had stopped; well almost completely deaf, as his wife, Ursula served as his ears. She was a wonderful woman with a piercing sonic laser beam voice that was able to penetrate his poor hearing.
I waited my turn in the reception line and when I introduced myself and spoke about the tuba concerto Ursula Vaughan Williams translated. “RALPH, THIS YOUNG MAN IS A TUBIST AND HE WOULD LIKE TO KNOW HOW TO GET A COPY OF THE CONCERTO”. Of course everyone in the room was looking by then. I was no longer the low profile boy who crashed the reception. Dr. Vaughan Williams put his arm around my shoulder and told me that the music was being edited at the time and as soon as it was finished he would have the Oxford University Press send me the first copy. While he was talking to me Mrs. Vaughan Williams took a picture of us. I gave them my address and went home and waited.
About a month later I received a copy of the photograph Ursula Vaughan Williams had taken and a note from her saying that they hadn’t forgotten about me and that they expected the edited version to be ready soon. I framed the photo, hung it in my room and waited for the music; it took more than half a year before it came. It arrived rolled up in a tube and when I opened it, “Sent At The Request of Dr. Vaughan Williams”, was printed on the cover. Within minutes after receiving the music it was on my stand and I was trying to play it. It was high! The fact is that I essentially learned how to play the tuba by that piece and little did I know that I would perform that concerto more that 70 times during my career. One of those performances was with the London Philharmonia in 1964 with Joseph Horowitz conducting, it was a good performance, the reviews were very good and best of all Ursula Vaughan Williams was at the performance; seeing her there was a wonderful moment.
Todd, Rose and I spent the better part of a week looking for that picture; while packing for the move to Japan we went through every page of every book, every piece of music and everything looking for it. I know I put it someplace special so that I would never lose it, but I don’t remember where. Or I gave it to someone to keep it for me but I don’t remember who. Very sadly, I think it’s gone forever, however, if ever it miraculously appears you can be sure it will become very visible very quickly.
Lausanne, December 4, 2005