Monday, December 17, 2018

Bespoke Lessons
We all know that every student is unique and that the diverse learning needs for each are equally unique. Within a very short time, teachers are able to make a decision on how to begin working with a particular student. It’s a big step to determine whether to begin with basics, IE, breathing, tonguing, flexibility, tone, etc or to begin with musical ideas and to allow those musical thoughts to lead the body in finding the best solutions. There are many truly great teachers who specialize in the physical and acoustical aspects of playing a brass instrument and we have great teachers that encourage musicality to motivate the path to a successful result. Most teachers are skillful in following both of those pedagogical pathways, in other words ‘whatever works’.
During the time I held full-time positions in several music conservatories, I had the pleasure and advantage of meeting with my students once a week, sometimes for several years. With that frequency of lessons, a bonding with the student occurs and both student and teacher concurrently create a direction and a vision of the musical goals, whether for competitions, exams, auditions or simply growing toward becoming as good as possible. This kind of teaching is a luxury.
A personal luxury I’ve enjoyed for the last five years has been traveling to a number of countries in the world and to teach both private, (one-to-one), lessons and to present masterclasses. This is both fulfilling and frustrating. It’s an adventure to meet a student for the first time, listen to him or her play, determine what requires the most attention and start a procedure, which hopefully will offer a goal in the student's performance, … but then what? We say goodbye and perhaps we see each other again the next year or sadly, maybe never again, that’s the frustrating part.
It’s a good feeling when we hear a noticeable improvement in a short period of time, with a richer tone by using more air, or when a solo becomes more interesting by making small adjustments in articulation or dynamics. The real fulfillment, however, comes when hearing the same student a year later sounding much better. Of course, this is the result that the student, with the guidance of his or her teacher, had been working through the year. If my short moment with that student twelve months before helped that growth, it makes me very happy.
Among these‘number of places’, where I’ve had the pleasure to teach in the last five years, has been a yearly winter tour to Japan. I’m very happy to say that within a few weeks I will be in Japan again. The performance level in Japan and all the Asian countries in the last decade has been phenomenal, which is becoming increasingly evident both by hearing it in real time, and by observing the number of finalists we see in competitions and auditions.
After the three weeks in Japan, I will proceed to Thailand and participate with Steve Rosse and Anne Jelle Visser in the annual TUBA MANIA Festival that takes place on a barge cruising on the River Kwai. This event has attracted students, not only from all of Asia but also from Europe and North America. Aside from an extraordinary learning experience … IT’S FUN!
I’m grateful to the Eastman Music Company for their help in making this Asian tour possible.
December 17, 2018, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Is it a Woman's Brass World?

I wrote this blog nine years ago, I was right about most things then, still we all change and we all grow. Next May I'm proud to say I will be a guest at the Woman's International Brass Congress. I'm looking forward to this event.

Women have been active in the brass instrument world since the time I first started playing (a long time ago). But the frequency that they appear today definitely shows an enormous increase. Two days ago it was my pleasure to listen to exactly 50 freshman brass students play their exams at the Musashino Academia Musicae in Tokyo. Very early in the day it became apparent that a huge majority of these students were women; in fact, it was exactly 75% women and it was true of all the instruments; trumpet, horn, trombone, basstrombone, euphonium and tuba, plus in one of these instrument groups it was abundantly clear that nine women of the twelve players were hugely superior to the three men. (Perhaps that’s another discussion.)

Why this huge shift in the man woman ratio? Here in Japan many believe that because of the intense competitive circumstances of music performance as a profession, men are simply more attracted to venture into different fields where employment offers much greater chances for a secure income. Women, however, at least Japanese women, seem to show contentment moving into music related fields such as teaching. Many fine Japanese women brass players are happily living in their home towns teaching children; this is a good thing, it starts young players out at a very high level and therefore influences the rapidly growing level of brass playing throughout the whole country, which is strikingly impressive.

It’s interesting to point out that a similar situation existed in the middle of the last century in the United States. Many men considered a career in one of the military bands as a poor alternative to successfully playing professionally as a civilian, now a position in one of these bands is considered prestigious and secure.

In that same period of the last century women brass players correctly saw themselves as a minority group and as a minority group many organizations began to appear with the intension of correcting the prejudice that clearly existed toward women. Many, most, symphony orchestras throughout the world simply didn’t allow women as well as the military bands and throughout general musical work place. Most notable among these organizations was the International Woman’s Brass Congress, which met once every year and impressively demonstrated that women were by no means less good brass players than men.

Similarly, many extremely good women’s brass groups began to immerge into the musical world and many of them, taking advantage of their femininity, cleverly and successfully marketed themselves; this is not a bad thing, as well as creating a market, they proved again that women are at least equal to men. Although today the situation for woman brass players has largely corrected itself the International Woman’s Brass Congress is still visible and active and enjoys a high level of respect from the entire world brass community.

But there is another aspect to this discourse; there are differences between women and men. That beast that we homo sapiens once were certainly still exists in our DNA and in our basic characters. The males of the species were the hunters and warriors while the females were the domestics, the bearers of children and the nurturers of the communities; those differences still live within us. Personally speaking, as a young player I could definitely feel a difference in the atmosphere when a woman or women began to appear in the brass section and for the most part it was a clearly positive difference, and that same difference is still evident for me when even one woman is in a class.

This difference is more difficult to explain. Music encompasses many polarities, aggressive and passive, happy and sad, visceral and intellectual, and of course, masculine and feminine; it seems to me those polarities are more easily realized when the collective music making is made up of both genders.

I consider myself a clear thinking modern man with no gender prejudices, our musical community is a better place when it is made up of both men and women, but as a small codetta to this article, I have to admit to one flaw in my social evolution; I found it very difficult to feel at ease when my orchestra had a female conductor. It was a new thing then, and I left orchestra life before it became popular; I’m sure, will, I hope, I would have adjusted. I am completely sure that the modern symphony musician will haveto be comfortable with women conductors.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Tempi Today
(And Dynamics)

As we watched the moon landing 49 years ago, my father told me the story when, in 1909, he ran up to the road in Lynchburg Tennessee, to see what the noise was; “it was Three of them horseless carriages goin’ by up on the ol’ road, we ain’t never seen ‘em before”. I noticed just last week that we had just launched another Mars exploration, which will land on Mars in six months and will be enabled to take seismological readings on any Marsquakes that might be taking place. 

In the mid 1950s I remember the Rochester Philharmonic had a famous Austrian conductor in his 80s at the podium of our orchestra, we performed Meistersinger Overture and Bruckner 8thSymphony (A young tubist’s dream concert). Of course, I was thrilled to be playing that repertoire for the first time, however, the subsequent conversation among the orchestra and the musical community was that the performance that night was played at unbearably slow tempos; I imagine those were the tempos were an historical reference to what traditional tempos were during the early years of the 1900s. 

Yesterday, I heard online a performance of the 1stmovement of Beethoven’s 5thSymphony conducted by a young woman whose name and origin was not available. It was faster and a higher energy than I had known before in the hundreds of Beethoven 5ths that I have heard in my lifetime, it absolutely held my attention through the whole movement. 

Like old cars are to spaceships, our environment is accelerating at an unbelievable velocity. This begs the question: Are we mandated to perform at a tempo, which would have been considered appropriate at the time a composition was written or would we be more successful in the communication of music to perform at a tempo more compatible to our time? Symphony orchestras are not democracies, conductors make those decisions, the musicians need to obey but we are not obligated to agree.

The old maestro, Joseph Krips, who conducted Wagner and Bruckner with the Rochester Philharmonic in the late 1950s constantly asked for a “Singing fortissimo” when the dynamics got too loud for his tastes, in other words he meant “Not so loud please”. It was hard, even for a boy in my late teens, to restrain my instincts to open up and play.

The Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam has been a great orchestra for more than 100 years but the dynamics of symphony orchestras, the dynamics of music in general, in fact, the dynamics of the world have been in a constant crescendo in passed century. Once in the 1970s the Chicago Symphony played it’s first concert in the famous Concertgebouw (concert building) of Amsterdam. The famous Chicago Symphony and particularly the Chicago Symphony brass, which many thought to be the most glorious and best brass section in the world, horrified the Amsterdam concert going public, the Amsterdam music critics of the press and the members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It was said, “One just cannot play that loud I our Concertgebouw. 

It’s the same question again: Are we honor bound to adhere to tempi and dynamics of times passed or do we play within the references of our time?  Are we a finely curated sonic museum or a powerful source of artistic communication?   

Roger Bobo, Oaxaca, Mexico, May 9, 2018

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Verso 80

Verso 80
Approaching 80
It’s been a good run since I won that audition for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1956 during freshman week at the Eastman school of Music at age of 18. It’s tempting to let this essay unfold like a biography ; my purpose is to extend it as a prospectus into the future. It needs to be pointed out that my life after Rochester has lead me to Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Italy, Holland again, Italy, Switzerland, Japan and finally, at least for the time being, Mexico.
Of course, I don’t play anymore but I have had the good fortune to be invited to teach, give masterclasses and occasionally conduct in almost all the world; this is the life I deeply enjoy and the opportunities are abundant. My fees for this work are generally reasonable, the only problem is that frequently those ‘reasonable’ fees are less than the travel costs. This is a situation that cannot sustain itself. Sometimes the travel fees are far greater than the income I receive. 
This June and July I’ve booked myself what I consider a dream tour starting in Oaxaca to Los Angeles to Windsor, Canada, to Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania to Aligante, Spain to Firenze, Italy, for the amazing Italian Brass Week. Airline costs are getting higher and the longer we wait the higher they get. Something has to happen, something has to give or I have to cancel, which would be the most painful aspect I’ve ever faced in this business that I love so much.
I am well; I’ve had 3 knee surgeries that have slowed my mobility and a pacemaker installed, which has stabilized the arrhythmia of my heart. I have great pride in the many students I’ve had who not only have become great brass players but also have become great teachers. But quickly I want to say I am still learning and I am becoming a better teacher. Moving to a new location for a week or more and experiencing new students and helping to solve their problems has become the pleasure of my life, the only problem I’m facing is the outrageous airfares.
Perhaps I need to reduce the expanse of my work but that would be a disappointing reality. In any case, this is what I do and I hope to find a way to continue doing it.

   Roger Bobo, Firenze, Italia, April 8, 2018

Saturday, January 06, 2018

A Photo of Vaughn Williams and Me


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