Thursday, November 23, 2017

Another Time

Another Time
The Sexes

Sometime between 1991 and 1999, during the period when Boris Yeltsin was president of the new post Soviet Union, Russia, I was watching the news; I was living in Italy at that time. Somewhere in the Kremlin, President Yeltsin was changing locations and his passage from point A to point B, the cameras followed him as he past a long table where a row of women were working at something with their backs to the President. As he was walking past, he reached out smacked one of the women on the behind. There was a burst of laughter that lasted five to ten seconds; President Yeltsin laughed, the women laughed, the television people laughed and I laughed. Within seconds everything went back to covering the news of the event in progress. I had a feeling at that moment the whole world had laughed together for a few seconds.

What’s happening to us?

Beyond this point it’s an extremely complicated, provocative and clearly dangerous subject, I’m trying to stay contemporary. Learning the new protocols is a course in progress. Much of the continuous news is extremely clear; we have had an abundance of terrible examples from men in high positions that clearly demonstrate what is not acceptable; it’s easy to watch the news these days and to feel a sense of guilt just by the fact of being a man.
It’s clear that the time for change has arrived and the new protocols need to be observed. I.E., don’t touch, be careful what you say and  ….. STOP, wait! Don't look!? I am comfortable with the first two protocols but #3 is a problem for me. It means I have to stop going to the Zocalo (city Plaza in Oaxaca) {sometimes it’s a superb ‘people watching’ venue} and stop giving masterclasses, where there are always beautiful, intelligent, strong character young ladies with whom I have to concentrate on not looking at. Even before the new protocols arrived I had to concentrate not to look.

I expect to stay a man through my duration.

Roger Bobo, November 23, 2017, Oaxaca, Mexico

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Old Style – New Style

During the mid 90s I was engaged to present a masterclass and conduct a concert with the brass section of a medium sized city orchestra in Sweden. Things were going well for the first five minutes until one of the older gentleman, a trombonist, asked me if they should play in the old style or the new style. Very quickly the question erupted in to energized discussion amongst the brass players, which style they should play, new or old. As I listened I could easily see that it was a discussion between the older and the newer generation. I clearly remembered similar situations in the Rochester Philharmonic in the 50s and I acutely recall the stinging encounters that took place in the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in the early 60s. In all cases it was clearly a disagreement between the old guys against the young guys; the old guys always won these encounters because they were absolutely unable to change from their, “Old Style”. One stinging statement I can remember coming from one of the ‘Old School’ player friends was the words “Real Men Don’t Play That way”.

Perhaps one man’s verbal description of the old style would be interesting: It was rough, out of tune, unbalanced, unnuanced and musically unsophisticated. It’s not difficult to understand, brass players 70 years ago were largely from a different part of the population, the coal miners and factory workers, it took another generation and longer for them to join the contemporary musical community on a equal bases. Sometimes it was quite frustrating to go out in to the hall to listen and to discover that occasionally the old school players sounded pretty good!

There is an exquisite example of the ‘old school/new school’ differences in a recording made by my extraordinary basstrombone colleague in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Jeff Reynolds, in the 1980s. Jeff was acutely aware of the old and new styles and he beautifully exemplified them both in his Album of Orchestral Excerpts for Basstrombone. Jeff played the Beautiful lyric basstrombone solo from Richard Strauss’s Ein Helden Leben two times; once staright in the old style and once with nuance, expression and personality, both were beautifully played but the difference was stunning.

The new school has become dominant now and the old school players generally no longer fit in with the new generation, however, they still exist. I have observed while taking part as a judge in many competitions in the last years with many (other) older and retired players and have come to the conclusion that to many of the old school people, the newer styles just didn’t sound right; the old fashion players won the prizes.

I was astonished during my ten years of teaching at the Musashino Acadamia Musicae in Tokyo, to have been criticized for diverting from what they called the Japanese style, and later in this ten year period, I was told please keep my teaching in the Tokyo style. I’m still working on that! I was very happy a few days ago to have learned that two of the winners of the recent Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow were Japanese. This is very important and very good news.

We all have different performance needs; where we play, what we play, with whom we play and equally important is the development and expansion of our individualism. We are all unique and we are all special.

Roger Bobo, November 11, 2017 (In preparation for spending the next month in Japan)

Oaxaca, Mexico