Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rise Decline and Growth

Rise, Decline and Growth

A few days ago I got a big surprise when I visited and unexpectedly heard the opening movement of the Galliard Sonata #5 that I recorded on my first album 40 years ago! My Webmaster, manager, and longtime friend, Emily Harris put the sound file on my site and frankly, hearing it wasn’t a bad experience. How I would like to have this 28-year-old young man as a student; he plays beautifully! He is slightly rhythmically pushy, far too obedient to the printed articulations, a little conservative in his use of dynamics; but he’s musical and he has one of the loveliest vibratos I’ve heard. The kid definitely is a natural musician, and in the right environment should develop into a wonderful player. I think I could help him, but alas; this is all fantasy.

The fact is, that was about as good as I ever got! I got musically smarter and more experienced, I became a cleverer player and learned how to play music that was much more difficult, but the fact is that as a tubist, I didn’t get much better than that period between my first New York recital in 1961 and the first recording in 1966. The rest of the playing years were spent growing musically and trying to keep my tuba playing at the level it was in the 60s.

It’s inevitable; every athlete will begin to perform less well as the aging process takes place, and for athletes that’s usually in the late 20s or early 30s. The reality is that brass playing is quite an athletic function; the positive aspect of this is that the age of decline for brass players seems to come much later than that of ice hockey players, basketball players or swimmers. But this is the mystery; what makes some brass players decline earlier and others play well into their 60s? I’m sure to some degree it’s genetic, some people just age slower than others but from my personal view I believe that the decline curve of a brass player is largely due to the circumstances of the individual and there are no two players with the same circumstances.

I was lucky, I had a job playing the tuba; so many times I’ve had students who played spectacular senior recitals and never played that well again, I’ve always thought that this was very sad, but to stay at that high level they reached at their time of graduation requires that playing continues on very frequent basis.

I’m tempted to share how I view my own decline and the decision to stop playing and I most certainly will share that sometime, but not today, not here. I will just say that our personal lives, our artistic growth and our pure “brass player stubbornness” have a lot to do with it. Further, I will only say now that in my case my tuba playing simply could not keep up with my musical awareness and the frustration became painful and increasingly audible. I felt I had to leave the orchestra; I hoped that leaving it would help.

It did; I was a much happier man without the burden of symphonic responsibilities, still I wasn’t playing any better and at the same time I was no longer making enough money. It’s strange really; I was forced to fulfill my lifetime dream of becoming a soloist; I needed the money---that was not the best reason! If only I still had had the tuba playing facility of that kid I heard on the 1966 recording.

My only big regret is that I never had the opportunity to record the Vaughan Williams Concerto; that was my piece. The first copy I had of it was a gift from Dr. Vaughan Williams himself, whom I met when I was 15. I’ve lost count now, but I think I’ve performed that piece well over seventy times. A recording date with an Italian band of the Vaughan Williams and the Aratiunian Concerti is what made me realize I should stop; I couldn’t get to that level of that kid from the 60s and I didn’t want to be remembered as anything less, so I canceled the recording session and made the decision to stop playing.

Was it a sad day? No! Without being encumbered trying to create beauty through the big heavy brass tube, my musical growth accelerated and made me a better musician, a better teacher and conductor and a much happier man.

I try not to get too personal in these articles, musical or narrative, but I hope the information in these more personal essays may be useful.

For now I’m happy the tuba still holds an important part in my musical life, and I hope and expect it to stay that way.

Tokyo, September 1, 2006

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Terminals of Excellence

Terminals of Excellence

I fear I’ve been slow in seeing it, I wonder how much I may have missed. We all can see, in abundance, how the Internet has changed, is changing, and with very little imagination project the changes, which will surely appear in the not too distant future.

When Facebook first appeared on the net I mistakenly thought it was a format for teenagers; I was wrong, within a very short period of time I had made contact with old friends in high school and conservatory that I hadn’t seen or heard from in more years that I care to count. Among other surprises on Facebook were numerous YouTube postings, which again, I saw as a medium for young people to show their garage rock bands or share their various modes of partying; it was that, but it was much more.

During the last few days I’ve found posted on my Facebook homepage several YouTube videos that represented absolutely superb performances of various types of music. As an example:

And this, which is funny at a genius level:

These four items are examples of world-class excellence found on my Facebook home page in JUST ONE DAY.

I have no intention of doing a review here but I can assure you of the superb level and that if you look, you will encounter at these sites and that these sites will be required viewing for all my students.

In music, the best method for learning is by listening to example and imitating it. It seems the examples of excellence available now on the Internet are abundant and far easier to find and experience than to research and discriminate the latest CDs.

Learning resources are changing, we are able to experience new materials at a grater frequency than ever before; the results are already evident and it seems clear that this greater frequency is accelerating. Take advantage and enjoy.

Tokyo, November 21, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Music Education----Japanese Style

Recently, several phenomenal Japanese student wind ensembles, including the Mama Elementary School and the Kodaira Dairoku Junior High School Band, plus the recent phenomenal success of the Musashino Acadamia Musicae Wind Ensemble at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago, USA, have caused enormous chatter on the Internet. The evidence is abundant that music education is alive and very healthy in Japan. Whether it’s an elementary, junior high school or Musashino Academia Musicae, a university, these organizations represent the very best there is in student ensembles, anywhere.

Now, at the same time, the very existence of music education in North America is threatened. Funds have been cut back so severely that an alarmingly large number of schools have simply removed music from their curriculum. Similarly in Europe, countries like Italy, with its musically rich history, have to resort more and more to private funding if music education can hope to continue to exist. At the present time, however, even with its economy struggling, Japan continues with its growing and passionate quest for making music a part of its national culture, and there seems little question that funding needed for this quest will be available.

As well as the good fortune that allows musical growth to flourish in Japan, there is much more to this music education success story: Japanese students have the will, perseverance and discipline needed to achieve these extraordinarily high levels of performance. Many western teachers and band directors have marveled at the openness of the Japanese students to new ideas and remarked at the seemingly absence of “Attitude” or a “Chip on the shoulder” (The accumulation from unknown sources of a resistance to accepting new information and learning), which they have all experienced in their home institutional environments. Japanese students want to learn, they accept the information and instructions given them and most importantly, they do the work necessary to realize the desired results.

The sensational performances that were seen on YouTube and caused all the exclamation on the Internet were most certainly the result of an extraordinary amount of rehearsal. First of all, it should be noted that the Mama Elementary School Band played by memory; that alone indicates a massive amount of rehearsal time! Further, the performances from both bands were of their concerts that were prepared for the Japanese school bands competitions; this means they most probably had most of the school year and several days a week to work up to the level they achieved.

The preparations of the Musashino Academia Musicae Wind Ensemble, Musashino being a music university was, of course, more professional. However, the preparation time was still extremely generous, perhaps between two and three months and at least two rehearsals a week, plus the advantage of some of the very best and world-renowned American band directors. The results have been absolutely amazing.

Of course, not all these accomplished musicians will become professional players but ironically this makes the Japanese music education system even better. Many of these very accomplished young players become teachers themselves and continue high-level music teaching in their respective home environments. The future of music education in Japan is in very good hands.

Now an important question has to be addressed: Performing musical organizations today, for example symphony orchestras, need to present as many concerts as possible, as frequently as possible, to attract as large a public as possible in order to make as much money as possible so the musical organization can continue to Survive; that’s the reality the professional musician faces today. Are the concerts presented by these Japanese musical institutions, which are prepared with nearly unlimited rehearsal time, appropriate in our present day world, where an absolute minimum of rehearsal time is scheduled in order to present a maximum number of performances?

The answer is a very clear and resounding “Yes”! Such thorough and complete preparation gives the students of these Japanese institutions the opportunity to experience excellence, and such experiences create an understanding of what finished preparation can be, and helps it become easier to achieve superb ensemble playing in the less idealistic professional circumstances.

Another aspect of teaching music in Japan that needs to be approached is the development of musical individualism, a singular musical personality. This is a more delicate part of the pedagogical process, not only in Japan but also all over the world. There is in Japan, however, an old saying that “The nail that sticks up gets pounded down”! This is a wonderful image for maintaining perhaps the most socially harmonious society in the world but one that might not always represent a healthy attitude for developing a creative musician. Japanese players, especially brass players, strive for perfection but in the musical world we live in, a world that is composed of examinations, auditions, competitions and performing under all conditions, perfect is, quite simply, not good enough. Of course, performances need to be perfect but that alone does not determine greatness.

True greatness requires musicality and musicality is the composite of our personal use of dynamics, rhythmic energy, variations in articulation, vibrato and all the other facets of music making. It is using these musical tools with the right mix, knowing when to use them, knowing when not to use them, knowing how much to use them, and possessing a real passion for music that can make music special. Great musicians must have the courage to show their individualism, to show their musical personality.

Japan is blessed with an abundance of great musicians and with the characteristics of discipline, perseverance, will and dedication, it is absolutely inevitable that we will see an increasing presence of Japanese musicians in the international musical community.

Written in Jeju, Korea and Okinawa, Japan, and finished August 27, 2010    

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Avocados, Kiwis, Mangos and the Tuba

When I was a young boy I slept outside most of the time, the reason; I liked it, it was exciting to sleep outside, the air was fresh, I could smell the trees and the flowers, watch the sky and see how the stars and the planets changed through the months and the seasons. And the sounds; I got to know the different birds and the insects, and I could tell when the wind blew through the trees, whether it was the eucalyptus trees up in the back of the yard or the avocado tree that grew next to the fish pond in the yard next door.

There was a special sound I will never forget, when an avocado would fall from the tree and splash in the pond. Most of the time it was a perfect sound, like several percussionists hitting so exactly together, it resulted in one unique impact. I was also able to discriminate the difference when the avocado hit only water or if it hit one of the round flat fleshy water lily leaves that covered much of the surface.

I loved avocados; they were a part of my life as far back as I can remember. When my family ate together we would frequently have an avocado salad with dinner or sometimes my mother would make an avocado sandwich for my lunch that I would carry to school. They were great and they were a part of the Mexican heritage that was part of growing up in Southern California.

When I was 18 years old, and went away to study at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, it was 1956 and I was shocked to discover most of my schoolmates had never heard of an avocado. I can remember trying to explain what an avocado was; it was difficult; It's a fruit that's like a vegetable, not sweet; oily and never cooked, good with lemon and salt and pepper and frequently used with Mexican food. We would mash it, put in a little onion and make guacamole! Once, my brother-in-law Harry, told me that he had sent 12 avocados from California. I was counting the days, telling my class mates what they could expect; it took weeks and when they arrived they were crushed, black and smelled bad.

One of my summers back in California, after a year in Rochester, I was given a new fruit I had never seen or heard of called a kiwi. It came from New Zealand and it was wonderful. It tasted great in a fruit salad or just by itself, it was like having sex or hearing a Mahler symphony for the first time; after you've experienced it you feel you know one of the great secrets of the universe, ready to share it with the right person.

Mangos were not much different than kiwis except I had heard of mangos in songs, mostly Hawaiian or Polynesian. In these vocal lyrics, mangos were presented as an exotic sweet secret of the tropics. When the time came to taste my first mango I was not disappointed, it was better than all the songs had hinted, like an orange but better, like a peach but better and a little like a banana but better.

It seemed to me in those days, that everything came a little sooner in Southern California. I looked forward to bringing avocados, kiwis and mangos to the places that hadn't had the good fortune to those exclusive Southern California privileges. I wanted to go out into the world and share the wonderful discoveries and in one or two occurrences I was successful.

But something unexpected happened, avocados, kiwis, mangos and even papayas started to show up in the markets of the world; Kiwis grown in Italy, 4 times larger and sweeter than anything I had ever seen from New Zealand appeared in Italian village markets, avocados were available all over the world and had become a staple in sushi, and mangos became as common as apples. They were not exotic anymore, they were there to be enjoyed by anyone shopping in any market in any village. They became part of life, available there, if you liked them. I could not take responsibility for having discovered them.

The tuba was not that so different. Short version: a boy in Southern California (or anywhere, there were many such boys) discovered something wonderful and showed it to the world as much as he could, finding that much of the world had already experienced his discovery before he was finished showing it.

That's the story of our time. How lucky to live in this period where ideas, when there time has come, spread around the world like radio waves.

Success is anticipating the future, because if we adjust only to the present, we will be late.

Island of Lesvos, Greece. Summer 2003
Updated in Tokyo, July 24, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Brass Pedagogy and Moving On

It was 2003 when I first started writing my essays, articles, blogs, or whatever you want to call them, for the now defunct website, TubaNews. For the past seven years I’ve written about all things tuba and music; breathing, tonguing, fingering, embouchure, articulation, dynamics, tone quality, vibrato, phrasing, mouthpieces, mutes, choosing an instrument, history and evolution of the tuba and just about everything I could think of regarding the teaching and playing of brass instruments. Frequently, I have written about the same subjects more than once and retrospectively have been embarrassed to find that I have often stated the same information, only just using different words.

As I continue to seek pedagogical article subjects that are not redundant but still beneficial, it has become abundantly clear that verbal information on playing brass instruments is completely secondary to simply listening to ourselves and finding solutions that lead us to our desired musical results. If only it was sufficient to read about breathing, high register, or any aspect of brass performance, in order to master them.

The study of music requires that we first learn how we want the music sound and that we let that be the motivation for our work (practising); without that sonic image of an end result we are moving in a very inefficient direction.

LISTENING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF MUSICAL STUDY; listening to others and listening to ourselves.

Certainly, I intend to continue writing, both pedagogical and musical articles as well as more personal articles, but certainly, I will lean more in the musical aspect rather than toward the technical (Brass Function) direction.

Next month, August 2010, the major competitions of Jeju, Korea and Tokyo, Japan will take place; I am honoured to be a judge at both these competitions. As in the past, these events create interesting thoughts for articles and I hope my readers will also find these thoughts interesting. These competitions always expose new trends in repertoire, playing and perhaps most interesting of all, they expose us to the new generation of emerging artists. They also open the door for thoughts on “The Quest for Excellence”, which will be the title for one of these post competition blogs.

I have enjoyed the advantage of working for composers of solo repertoire, orchestra and chamber music in the past half century, one of the new blogs that will appear in the near future will be reviewing some of the interesting stories regarding the collaboration with composers in the creation of new repertoire.

I feel a need to write but with that need also comes the need to learn, that seems to be a very good combination.

July 11, 2010, Tokyo

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Tricks, Masks and Shortcuts

In 1973 at First International Brass Symposium in Montreux, Switzerland, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion among several orchestral low brass players from various orchestras throughout Europe and North America. I was clearly the junior in this group of players and I had enough sense to keep quiet, but I will never forget that discussion. I was amazed at all the tricks these players proudly exposed, it seemed they covered everything in every way other than just playing the parts correctly. The first topic was playing on time; some sections dealt with the problem of lateness by consciously playing everything a 16th note ahead! I wanted to say, “Why don’t you just listen?” but I was 25 years younger than any of these seasoned players.

Subsequently, I calculated just how long it took sound to travel from the back to the front of an orchestra. At the speed of sound, 3.4029 meters in 0.01 of a second, it would take a little less than 0.02 of a second; 0.018 to be exact, 0.018 of a second for sound to travel six meters from the back row to the conductor’s podium. It’s highly questionable if eighteen thousandths of a second is perceptible to our hearing and certainly it’s not enough to excuse the trombones and tuba for being late. The best way to play on time is to listen!

The same panel discussed how to play dotted rhythms, dotted 8ths and 16ths or the double dotted 8ths and 32nd notes as in this following passage from the finale of Buckner’s 7th Symphony.

Three solutions were offered; to play the 32nds on the beat, to play the 32nds as close to the long notes as possible and to accent the 32nds. No one offered the idea of playing the 32nds clearly, on time, and balanced with the long notes.

Several years a year ago a visiting tubist gave some masterclasses in Japan and offered the same solution of accenting the 32nds on the above Bruckner passage, not as a solution for lateness but as an adjustment to assure the balance between the long and short notes was equal. It can work --- sometimes; if it’s done well and in rhythm it can be a good solution to the phenomenon that short notes sound less loud than long notes even if they are exactly the same dynamic. The negative side of this practice is when students take the idea too an extreme, it results in hyper accented short notes. This was the case in Japan and as several students came for lessons in preparation for an orchestra audition. I had to correct the tendency many of them showed of grotesquely over accenting the short notes.

One more trick of our time: There is fad at the present time; the very dubious belief that low register legato sounds better if the fingers move the valves slowly. I don’t know where this fad came from but I personally find it one of the more un-thought-out tricks I have ever encountered, it stands in absolute opposition to the evolution of tuba technique becoming more and more refined. It probably came about as an unconscious masking and compensating for the fact that fingering in the low register is simply more complicated and frequently the fingers are unclear and uneven changing from note to note. Moving the fingers slowly masks that problem.

Articulation is the focus of rhythm and legato is an articulation. Clarity and precision are very important in the low register simply because our human hearing mechanism does not easily discriminate clearity in that register. Playing a rapid passage on the piano in the middle high register and playing the same passage in the piano’s lowest octave easily proves that. As I told my valued colleague who was teaching this trick, “It sounds like a sluggish bass section all by itself!” Rumors have it that some basstrombone and contrabassoon players are frustrated by this practice.

There are different ways to deal with instrumental problems and I strongly believe the best way is to approach them as honestly as possible and to correct them without resorting to masking or shortcuts, it’s not that much more difficult and it sounds enormously better.

- May 11, 2010, Tokyo, Japan

Monday, April 12, 2010

Art and Income

Art and Income

Art and Income quickly proved to be a weak, narrow and incomplete premise for the subject I wanted to address in this essay, but maybe it’s a good start. Perhaps economic hard times can serve as nourishment for the creative force, but not always. That grist for the creative mill necessary for the traction of progress takes many forms: economics, family, love, and health or just about any other aspect of life that we allow to become obsessive. What would Shakespeare have been without the tensions of love, or Hemingway and Mahler without their obsessions with death?

There is a huge difference in the artistic product between what comes easily and what takes the action of work. We can see that in the history of our civilizations on this planet. Those civilizations where life was easy simply didn’t evolve; why should they when the most demanding thing in life is reaching up to pick a banana? Where as those civilizations that depended on intelligence and cunning to hunt, build a fire, make tools and clothing simply to stay alive, and to form architecture, cities, art and music, developed and flourished. Yet we can’t forget those civilizations that simply faded away because the harsh conditions, weather, nutrition needs, and other hostile environments, were just too overwhelming for survival.

This certainly can’t mean that what comes easily in the creative process is less good than that which requires intense labor; certainly the music of Mozart came easily to him with no negative affect on greatness, but one has to wonder at the profound difference in Mozart’s Requiem, written from his death bed, compared to most of his other works.

Today the question has to be asked if the integrity of the creative force is diminished in greatness since much of our creativity is inspired by its potential of economic reward, i.e. “will this project bring income --- will it make money?” Is the film soundtrack music of John Williams any less good than it would have been had he written it simply because of a powerful visceral need to compose? Does music created specifically for maximum sales have soul?

More poignantly to the personal perspective of an instrumental musician, is artistic integrity compromised by many symphony orchestras calculating programs for an entire season by the potential ticket sales? Is it possible economic necessity is compromising that artistic integrity?

Now comes the really difficult question: Are we instrumental musicians really creative artists? Painful to contemplate! Is the music we play in our various gigs true art, are we instrumentalists worthy to compare ourselves in any way with the likes of Shakespeare, Mahler, Hemingway, Mozart or even John Williams? Is playing a single line instrument in a symphony orchestra, a single sonic fiber, perhaps of great beauty, but only one colorful thread in a rich tapestry of sound, where real individualism and creativity is frequently discouraged, an art form? Or are we really just a kind of sonic soldier repeating our sonic tasks. And again I find myself forming uncomfortable questions that I avoid or am unable to answer.

I remember occasionally hearing great moments of magic from certain symphony musicians but it seems to me that today, that little bit of individualism, where we occasionally get to shine, has become a non personal non spontaneous approach to music making, i.e. the Sonic Soldier Syndrome.

If so, I personally will fight my hardest to not to fall in that category and hopefully the fight itself might enhance my creative forces beyond that of the rank and file. Musicians need a soul.

Kyoto, January 14, 2009
Modified April 13, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Simultaneous Multiple Teachers

It’s only natural that some of my thoughts have been in reflection of my long friendship with Tommy Johnson. Among those thoughts were the many students we shared, to us it was a natural thing and was never problematic. In the 25 years that we both played and taught in Los Angeles we have recommended to dozens of students that they take some lessons from the other teacher. Similarly, I also remember receiving many telephone calls from Harvey Phillips over the years asking if I would please give lessons to a student who would be passing through Los Angeles. Fortunately, most of our brass community agrees with this practice of a student studying with more than one teacher.

It’s hasn’t always been that way, however, and even today we occasionally encounter jealousies and insecurities from some of our colleague teachers. It’s been known that certain tubists giving concerts in major European cities have been made aware that local students were discouraged from attending the concert. “I don’t want my students exposed to those kind of things” was the explanation given by the nervous teachers. However, human behavior being as it is, the ban on the concerts resulted in the very students who were discouraged to attend being all the more motivated to go and listen. There have also been occasions of masterclasses that were canceled, especially in the old Soviet block Eastern Europe countries because, “It would influence the students in a unhealthy direction”. Happily this kind of thinking is rare and diminishing.

Of course, there have never been any rules about studying with more than one teacher but there are a few commonsense things that deserve our thought.

Both for teachers and students it’s very important to be honest about the lessons; if it’s necessary to be secretive, which is a very clear sign there is a problem, one simply has to question if it’s worth it.

For students, it is a wise idea to avoid studying the same repertoire with both teachers, especially, when one of the teachers has strong and singular ideas regarding that repertoire. And as a teacher, I have avoided working on repertoire that another teacher is helping to prepare for an exam or a recital unless I have a specific request from the permanent teacher to do so.

It is always a very good idea that both the permanent and temporary teachers communicate as much as possible. A phone call from the permanent to the temporary teacher requesting he accept his student for some lessons is a wonderful way to avoid any awkwardness and, of course, it is a great advantage to the student when the two teachers can discuss the student’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s also a wonderful thing when the initiative to study with another teacher comes from the permanent teacher, especially when the permanent teacher can guide the student to the visiting teacher’s specialties.

The principal duty of a great teacher is to provide the student with as much quality information as possible and recommending study with other teachers certainly is part of that teaching responsibility. We are very lucky that this practice is usually accepted in our unique community.

December 20, 2006, Kyoto, Japan
Reposted March 31, 2010, Tokyo

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Harvey Phillips has been a very smart man for a very long time.

In the late 50’s while I was an undergraduate at the Eastman School of Music, the New York Brass Quintet came to Rochester and presented a master class and concert I will never forget. This was a time when the members of the Canadian Brass Quintet were still children or weren’t even born, and the New York Brass Quintet was the first such group to make a success of concertizing; as I recall I was 20, and it was still a time when dreams and heroes were strategic to my motivation. What a quintet they were, they played the Bozza Quintet like I never imagined possible and, as I remember it, they played the world premier of the Malcolm Arnold Quintet which I thought was the most exciting brass piece I had ever heard.

There was a small controversy at the Eastman school at that time regarding the correctness and acceptability of performing transcriptions. There was the unofficial doctrine of Eastman, which held that transcriptions were in poor taste and simply shouldn’t be done, and there was a much smaller school of thought, which maintained that transcriptions were acceptable as long as they worked and they sounded good. In Amsterdam in the 60’s it was even more rigid; one simply could not play transcriptions in Holland during that period. I, being a good Eastman student choose to obediently and comfortably follow the school’s view but with the New York Brass Quintet in town playing superb performances of some of their excellent transcriptions, these conservative views that dominated the thinking in Eastman were hard to sustain.

That afternoon the New York Brass Quintet gave an unforgettable master class. Among the abundance of mind expanding thoughts that were heard that day came the question regarding the acceptability of transcriptions. Harvey Phillips immediately stood up and offered his answer; I can’t remember his exact words but it was something very close to the following, directly after an extraordinary performance of a Bach contrapuntus: “If those who would like to forbid us the performance of transcriptions are going to have their way, then they should go all the way; They should insist that music should never be played in any setting other than how the composer intended it, they should insist music should be played only on the instruments that existed during the period the composer wrote it and further, just to be sure, they should insist music should be played only by the musicians who were alive in that period!” The normally conservative Eastman audience broke in to a spontaneous explosion of applause and cheers. Personally, those words opened up a whole new world to me; a fresh new path.

In all honesty I have to tell a small coda to this story. Many years later I remember having a conversation with Harvey where he was advocating the playing transcriptions of symphony orchestra music with band, both because it sounded good and that it also would give band players the experience of playing works they otherwise may never get the chance to play. I argued the point, saying that was going too far. Now that I am a conductor of a wind ensemble in a Japanese conservatory, I realized how right Harvey was.

Still, we shouldn’t stop discussing the question. I have a question I’ve been posing to my master class audiences for the last 25 years.

Imagine you are in a concert hall and you are about to hear the best horn player in the world perform the Adagio and Allegro by Schumann. This is not one of the great horn players you could name but it is the best horn player in the world that exists in your sonic imagination; close your eyes and listen in your mind to this great horn player… Now do the same thing but with a cellist. (The Schumann Adagio and Allegro for horn has been transcribed for many instruments including cello and it has been performed and recorded by the greatest cello players.) But like the horn player, this cellist is not one of the famous cellists in the world; it is the greatest cellist in the world that exists in your imagination. Close your eyes and listen… Now do the experiment with tuba; close your eyes and listen.

Now ask yourself the following questions:

Which did I like the best, horn, cello or tuba?


If you choose cello do you believe the tuba has the capabilities of sounding equally beautiful?

This survey, which I’ve taken all over the world for 25 years invariably, results in favor of cello by about 85%, even when the audience is exclusively brass players! This is not a bad thing; it means that the brass playing community is a realistic and musically discriminating group. It means that that “best in the world” horn player, cellist or tubist is very high quality indeed and that means that in all of us, in our musical imaginations can create excellence. How to realize that excellence while playing our chosen instrument is the challenge all of us face!

In the poll of issue 10 of TubaNews the question was asked: Is a brass instrument capable of making the Bach Suites as beautiful as a cello? Out of 266 votes 71% said YES, they thought the Bach Suites could be played at equal beauty to the cello. Personally, I voted YES too, but it was a YES in faith and hope; I look forward to the day when I hear these suites played at the level of beauty we are accustomed to with a fine cellist.

(This article was written in June 2005. Recently, in Benjamin Pierces’ new CD “Pierce plays Bach, we are able to hear some of the Bach Cello Suites played as beautifully as they have been played on any instrument.) --- And the evolution continues.

Fortunately, the old prejudices regarding transcriptions are all but gone and we are free to play what pleases us and what sounds good; if you are not a composer try making some transcriptions and enjoy opening new repertoire for our instrument.

June 5, 1005, Le Domaine Forget, Quebec, Canada
Reposted and updated March 28, 2010, Tokyo

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tradition and Evolution

We have so much to be proud of when we look back over our short history; in just a few hundred years we tubists have developed from the primitive serpent to the sophisticated instrument we have today, with wonderful repertoire, amazing improvements in instrument design, and virtuoso creative artists; and this high velocity evolution seems to have no end in sight.

Like religion, politics, arts, and technology, and in all aspects of life, we too have our liberals and our conservatives, those who choose to look to the future for new ideas and those who prefer to look back at our past structures and systems and try to maintain the established ways.

In the mid 20th century there were two great conductors in the world who became the classical music standard bearers for these liberal and conservative views: Arturo Toscanini, the purist, who was absolutely faithful to the printed score and Leopold Stokowsky, who freely changed the score to what he thought would represent what the composer would have written if he had had the resources of the modern orchestra and/or the abilities of the modern player.

In Tubadom (the world of the tuba) it’s pretty much the same; we have our visionaries and we have our strict traditionalists. I will try not to suggest which of these philosophies I support other than to point out that in our very short history there are but few well-developed traditions that merit our consideration compared to what appears to be our brilliant future; sometimes I feel a little sorry for our strict traditionalists.

Another great conductor of the past century, Eric Leinsdorf, used to say that there were two kinds of tradition: magical musical moments that we try to repeat whenever possible and one hundred years of bad habits that we can’t seem to correct! The essential question here is this: is the symphony orchestra a sonic museum which must adhere to the state of the art in the composers time and place of the world, or is it a living art work of sound structured on a canvas of time and realized by today’s musicians in today’s world?

The tuba repertoire in the symphony orchestra is abundant with works that were written for both lesser-developed instruments and performers than we have today. Had the magnificent instruments and the abundance of amazing virtuosos we have today been available then at the time much of our repertoire was composed, things probably would have been quite different. I would like to discuss examples from four master composers, of how I believe they might have treated their orchestrations regarding tuba if they had had today’s resources.

Berlioz: Symphonie Phantastique

Berlioz did not write for the tuba, he wrote for the ophiclide, that last of our tuba ancestors before the emergence of the real tuba. The obsolete ophiclide at this moment is making a small comeback into the musical world, and particularly, I have seen one very interesting and charming televised performance of the Symphonie Phantastique not only using ophiclide, but also using all the wind instruments from Berlioz’s period. The key to the success of that performance is the fact that all the wind instruments were from the time of Berlioz. It’s dubious, if only the ophiclide was used in an otherwise setting of modern instruments. The performance wouldn’t have been as successful.

Berlioz orchestrated the famous Dies Irae passage of the fifth movement, March to the Scaffold, for four bassoons on the low octave and two ophiclides on the top octave; this resulted in an appropriately earthy, raucous and well balanced sound. However, in modern orchestration, the four bassoons in the low octave, compared to two tubas in the upper octave, are usually inaudible. The correction is simple when the tubas play in octaves, with the lower tuba doubling the four bassoons. Most conductors, players, critics and listeners agree the results of this combination are both successful and effective.

Wagner: Prelude to the Third Act of Lohengrin

A lesser known fact than Berlioz never having orchestrated for tuba, only ophiclide, is that the earlier operas of Wagner, specifically Rienzi, Flying Dutchman, and Lohengrin, were also originally orchestrated for ophiclide. As the ophiclide became more obsolete, Wagner began to write for the tuba and in agreement with his publisher he dropped ophiclide in the early works and in its place he specified tuba. It’s very easy to see in these early operas a very clear similarity with the way Berlioz orchestrated for ophiclide.

In this famous passage the tuba (ophiclide) plays this sequential theme in unison with the trombones until the three measures where the theme goes up to the high G, at which time Wagner removes the tuba and replaces it with the third trumpet. When the tuba drops out of this passage the body of the unison becomes noticeably thinner. Once, while discussing this passage with a valued colleague I was told, “Wagner knew what he was doing”. I absolutely agree, writing that part up to the high G at that time would probably have not functioned well, but in today’s world it is not problematic and the passage is much improved when the tuba continues through those three bars.

Mahler: First and Fifth Symphonies

The famous tuba passage at the beginning of the slow movement of Mahler’s first symphony is a very unusual orchestration. The round, Frère Jacques in D minor, starts with solo muted contrabass, (string bass), perhaps the most feeble sound in the symphony orchestra, then goes to the bassoon, then to muted celli, then to the tuba; blending with those light weight instruments can be problematic. Mahler wrote this symphony for bass tuba (F) and, although many players choose to use Contrabass tuba through most of the symphony, most players change to F tuba for this passage to better blend with the muted solo contrabass, the solo bassoon, and the muted celli.

In the very last measures of Part One of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is a very similarly orchestrated passage of a three note thematic fragment passed and repeated through the lower instruments and finally played by the tuba. This symphony is written for contrabass tuba and most tubists agree contrabass tuba is favorable for the greater mass required in the many dramatic low register passages. Because this three-note theme fragment always felt much too thick on the contrabass tuba, I began playing it on the F and the results were strikingly preferable. Still, even the F tuba seemed too thick to me after all the other much thinner instruments had played, which lead me to try these three notes on the F tuba muted. The results were exactly what I had hoped, and I could see that the conductors were pleased, so I continued to mute those notes for the rest of my orchestra-playing carrier.

In retrospect, now that I am no longer playing in an orchestra, I asked myself if the mute worked so well in the closing of the first part of Mahler’s Fifth, wouldn’t it have also worked equally well in the opening passage of the slow movement of the First Symphony? I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to hear some courageous tubist try this so I can know for sure if it would be as successful as I imagine.


And if imagination can open the vision, why not let it open all the way! There is no risk in thought.

I have seen Siegfried twice, heard it on recording a few times and I have played some of the Fafner passages in orchestral concerts; I was disappointed both in the performances that I heard and those that I played. And frankly, I have never heard a performance of Siegfried when Fafner was the least bit menacing. I could even go so far as to say that the poor dragon struck me as a toothless, sickly castrato. Well, maybe I have worked in Hollywood too long; I’m used to dragons and monsters that are truly scary!

Wagner was a creative genius, a visionary, and an innovator. Essentially, he invented the contrabass trombone and “Wagner” Tuben for the orchestra of the Ring Operas; he was the innovator of chromaticism, which opened the door to the last stages of romanticism in composition. He was involved in the scenic design of his own operas and also in the stage direction. He was the essence of the modernist.

I have read many accounts over the years of Wagner opera productions where the scenic design was highly praised by the critics for its experimentation in the avant-garde. I’ve always been amazed that with a man like Wagner, with an eye far in the future, we are so adherent to tradition when it comes to playing the tuba parts of his music. Rather than that strict traditionalism I would think, as in the scenic design of his operas, it would be far more appropriate to try and imagine what Wagner might have done if he were alive today. How might Wagner have realized Fafner, what might he have done if he had the sonic palette of John Williams for example? (Imagination has no boundaries) Think of the Fafner we could hear with the same technique used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when the alien space ship arrived on Earth and communicated through music. A Mirafone 185 CC was used in the middle register and played electronically through an octave divider resulting in perhaps the most powerful and dramatic tuba writing we have. What would Wagner have done if he had heard that? Fafner might have been a far more impressive beast. I hope someday soon to create circumstances where I can hear what that powerful, visceral and frightening Fafner might have sounded like.

I hope that we tubists can continue our remarkable evolution with the same vision and energy that we have experienced in our short history; there will always be a lot to learn and a lot to do.

June 9 2006, Le Domaine Forget, Quebec, Canada
Reposted March 24, 2010, Tokyo

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tuba Study in Japan

Since arriving in Japan four years ago it’s clear that my biggest frustration is having no North American or European students. The fact is that non-Japanese students are quite welcome at the Musashino Academia Musicae the only problem is that they need to pass a comprehensive Japanese reading and writing examination to be accepted. Musashino is a university and, Of course, all classes are conducted in Japanese.

I am very happy to announce that starting this April 2010, there will be a class opening for tubists who do not speak Japanese, it is not a class that offers a degree but at completion of the class each student will play a full recital and receive a certificate from the Musashino Academia Musicae.

This course itself is not new but that but that the prospectus and application form is available now in English is very new. (Rather that trying to describe this course myself I include a copy of this prospectus below).

There is much more to this possibility that just the study of the tuba. Japan offers a cultural experience that cannot be duplicated: Life within the rich tradition of this fascinating country and the availability of the frequent performances of the great orchestras, chamber music groups and soloists of the world; I’m dubious if there is any city that can compare with Tokyo in this regard.

If you might be interested in this opportunity please contact me at my email address, or at my Skype address. <bobosensei>. I look forward to answering your questions.

Roger Bobo



Parnassos Eminence Courses

These courses were started in 1994 for graduates of music universities or people of equivalent standing who wished to continue high level music study.

Subjects: Piano, Strings (violin, viola), Wind Instrument (flute, clarinet, tuba), Percussion (marimba or other percussion), Voice

Number of students accepted each year : 25

Application Period : January 7 to January 15

Application Process : The following must be lodged with the application.

Address: Musashino Academia Musicae Parnassos Tama
5-7-1 Ochiai, Tama-shi, Tokyo 206-0033, Japan

1. Application Form
2. 2 passport style photos (3 x 4 cm)
3. Last college attended graduation certificate copy or verification of same.
4. Recommendation (necessary only for non music college or non music major graduates.)

Date of Examination : January 23 (marimba, percussion), January 25 (piano, violin, viola, flute, clarinet, voice) May (Tuba).

Examination detail : Examinations consist of a demonstration of instrument ability and an interview.

Examination Place : Musashino Academia Musicae Parnassos Tama Campus
5-7-1 Ochiai, Tama-shi, Tokyo 206-0033

Examination Result : Successful applicant will be advised by registered mail.

Acceptance : Passports must be presented for inspection and fees paid by the beginning of term.

It is not possible to change courses (instrument) following acceptance.
Fees :
Entrance examination fee : \20,000
Entrance fee : \80,000
Lesson fee : \380,000 (yearly)

All fees are inclusive of tax. No refund can be made once fees have been paid.
The lesson fee only can be paid in two installments of \190,000, if required. In this case the second installment must be paid in September, 2010.

Lesson time and hours

First term
 Lessons : April 1 lesson, May 2 lessons, June 2 lessons, July 2 lessons
 Lectures : May 1 lecture, June 1 lecture, July 1 lecture

Second term
 Lessons : September 2 lessons, October 2 lessons, November 2 lessons
 Lectures : September 1 lecture, October 1 lecture, November 1 lecture

All lessons are one hour lessons, lectures are two hour lectures.

●To obtain the course completion certificate at least two thirds of both lessons and lectures must be  taken and a final recital of between 30 and 40 minutes must be given.

● Please be aware that completion of the course does not qualify for credit at any university.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Le Domaine Forget 2010 May 29 to June 14

Le Domaine Forget is the Crown jewel of the plethora summer masterclasses available throughout the world today; it is the meeting place of talented younger tubists and euphonium players from North America, Europe and Asia students to professionals, who are looking for a supercharged learning experience of masterclasses, private lessons and chamber music. It’s also a very enjoyable social occasion with bonding with their international colleagues.

Personally speaking it’s become 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 the one that stands out in my mind as being by far the best 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 May 31 to June 14, 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.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Old Timers Then and Now

Being incarcerated in this Tokyo hospital while recuperating knee surgery has given me the benefit of having time to think and reflect; mostly that’s a good thing but with this much time my thoughts have taken me to some surprising places.

Ever since I was a boy, since that time I took those first baby steps into the world of music and especially since the realm of brass playing became part of my consciousness, I have maintained an eye toward the future, which I immodestly would call vision. It was a natural thing to think that way then; brass playing was less evolved than the other instrumental families and tuba was truly at the infancy its evolution, that evolution that was destined to be unique in music history.

As I observed this evolution, which was moving at sifi velocity, I was always a little amazed to hear older players telling me; “things are not like they used to be”, “we are loosing the ‘real tuba’ sound like it was supposed to be”, or simply, “ The younger players today are loosing the magic of the ‘good old days’ ”. I was always amused by those archaic and quaint statements and the more forceful they were the more clearly I kept my eyes fixed toward the future. As surely as computers and the internet would have confused and frightened my parents if they were here today, so would the world of brass and particularly tuba have amazed and perhaps frightened those “Old Timers” many of whom, by the way, started us on our amazing evolution.

Today I still consider myself looking far more forward than to the past, perhaps that’s just the way I am but there is also a logic to the forward vista; in our short history there is very little to look back on, as tubists, it’s sad to be a conservative!

Yesterday, during this unwanted forced period of free time and while browsing the archives of my computer I ran across a recording of myself giving a masterclass at the annual symposium presented by the military bands of Washington DC; I’m sure this masterclass was at least 25 years ago and I’m also sure it’s been at least 25 years since I’ve listened to it; it wasn’t bad! I’m a little more organized now, less repetitious, I’ve added a few new points and certainly more focused but my basic message was very much the same, IE, specific ideas on phrasing, dynamics, where to breath and keeping our sights on the tuba of the future to guide our growth in a good direction.

But now I have to ask myself if I am becoming one of the “Old Timers” teaching the same old “ Eye toward the Future” stuff? I will continue thinking about that.

One thing I know for sure is that the old days in my musical life were good. And their influences on my formative musical thinking was profound. The lush sound of the Philadelphia strings, the beauty of phrasing of Marcel Tabuteau (1st oboist of the Philadelphia Symphony) and the tone coloration William Kincaid (1st flutist also of Philadelphia in the 1940s and 50s). The robust musicality of trumpeter William Vacchiano of the New York Philharmonic and unwavering power and presence of Bud Herseth in the Chicago Symphony, the poetry of the horn players Philip Frakas (Chicago) and Mason Jones (Philadelphia) when they played their personal treatments of the famous horn solos from the symphonic repertoire of the romantic period. And I will never forget when I was 14 years old and the New York Philharmonic was on tour in Los Angeles. I had just finished a lesson with William Bell. After the lesson he took me backstage before their Sunday afternoon concert. The trombone section of Gordon Pulis, Lewis van Haney and Allen Ostrander was rehearsing the choral from the last movement of Brahms 1st. They played trough it several times; it was a religious experience for me.

And probably the most impressive of all these sonic icons was Arnold Jacobs and that perfectly blended and balanced brass section of the Chicago Symphony in the 1950s. I hesitate to say this but I don’t think there has subsequently been a brass section equal that elegant, powerful and homogenious, wall of sound that Chicago had more than a half century ago. Now I’ve scared myself, clearly I’m showing a tendency to that quaint old thinking; things just ain’t what they used to be!

Instruments are getting better, repertoire is expanding and clearly players are far more virtuosic and able than the middle of the last century, but I still miss some of the sounds from my romanticized teenage sonic iconic memory. I try to stay focused on the future, that’s the only way to continue growth in this musical world but to ignore history in order to keep sight of the future would be a mistake. We are a beast with the capacity to simultaneously view the past, present and future, we need all three to be complete.

Tokyo, Nichidai Itabashi Hospital, recovering knee surgery, January 4, 2010.