Thursday, April 29, 2021

Tubas in G and D

In 1955, while returning home from 8 weeks in Interlochen, the National Music camp in Michigan, I had made arrangements to stop in Chicago and meet Arnold Jacobs. I had an eight hour layover between the train from Travis City to Chicago and the train from Chicago to Los Angeles; even 66 years ago Arnold Jacobs held the reputation of being the center of knowledge and wisdom of all things regarding tuba. I was absolutely not disappointed. 

He invited me into his house where he immediately guided me into his basement, where he kept all his tubas and a formidable array of medical equipment with which he could measure every aspect of the human body in regard to playing the tuba.

He would talk and every word he said was something incredibly meaningful to my young and hungry mind. He would invite me to play and begin his amazing fountain of knowledge again. Finally, I asked what was that small silver tuba in the corner. He told me that that was a tuba in F; he had it because the conductor of the Chicago Symphony, Fritz Rainer, sometimes wanted him to play a smaller tuba. He picked it up and handed it to me and said,"Play it". I think he told me it was an Alexander tuba. I was involved only that it was silver, shiny and to my mind something exotic and unknown.. It felt like I was test driving a Lamborghini, it would do everything I wanted it to do.

Six years later, as a member of the Rochester Philharmonic I had an F tuba of my own. In a performance of Bruckner 7th symphony I used it on the first and 3rd movements and I understood the difference between a Contrabasstuba and a basstuba; Bruckner understood very well what he was doing when  he specified basstuba in the 1st and 3rd movements and, contrabasstuba in the 2nd and 4th movements. 

As the years passed I had the extraordinary opportunity to experiment in Rochester, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Florence and I learned how the general ambiance of a symphony orchestra was effected greatly by the equipment the tubist used. I also learned that with the influence of the trombones and the brass at large, plus, of course, the conductor, the decision which instrument worked best was largely the decision of the tubist.

In the 1950s, there was a rumor that the Lockie Music Exchange, the exclusive importer of Miraphone instruments, was in possession of a G tuba; How could this be, where did this rumor come from?

Miraphone -- called Mirafone then -- after the war was a Czech company among companies like Cherveny and Fuchs. In the early 50s Mirafone made the move with many of its workers to Waldkraiberg, Germany where it remained a Czech community for several years, working mostly for the military market.

German and Czech military bands in the post WW2 period built the instruments very high in pitch for brilliance, meaning a tuba in F was really in F#. It's my belief that this G tuba was an F# tuba originally made as a small military band instrument, it probably stayed in storage at the Lockie Music Exchange in Los Angeles for years. Having heard this rumor for several years and imagining the uses that a G tuba could have, I asked Lockie Music Exchange if I could possibly get a G tuba; it was given to me after two days!.

I never used it as a solo instrument although the potential as a solo instrument was great. I did use in   certain works by Berlioz, such as, Romeo and Juliet Overture and Benvenuto Cellini Overture and where the instrument shined most was Prelude to the 3rd act of Lohengrin by Wagner. (The first entrance where the theme is in the high octave).

The ophicleide parts of Berlioz on F tuba are sometimes to massive to blend with the trombones in those Berlioz unisons, when the F tuba is played at the volume to reach the exciting sound suitable for those unison passages, it becomes too dominant to blend with the trombones. With the G tuba I could play at a high volume and still be a part of the trombones.

There is a movement presently to actually use ophicleides on these passages which work wonderfully when the whole orchestra is using period instruments but ophicleides have a difficult time holding up with the sound of a modern symphony brass section.

Many symphony tubists prefer to choose one or two tubas and play beautifully for their whole career with those same instruments. Personally, my tendency to changing instruments was inspired by observing how trumpet players change instruments in dealing with diverse repertoires. Of course, trumpetists change when their repertoire appears as trumpet in A, Bb, C, D Eb, F, G and sometimes more, but the most interesting observation has been when because they believe a passage or a whole symphony sounds best on a specific instrument. That is the modal I used in selecting an appropriate instrument. two things: It makes the music sound as good as possible and it makes the job extraordinary more interesting. 

This brings my blog to a short discussion of why I needed a D tuba! Quite simply, I was just curious. I had an extremely fine Meraphone 184 (small C tuba) and with a small Besson Eb bell, great as it was I rarely used it and I imagined what it might be like if it were cut down to be a D tuba. Upon completion it turned out to be one of the best tubas I ever played; carefully, I began using it in the orchestra, I started with Brahms 2nd in D major, Dvorak 8th and 9th. It fit beautifully.

Both instruments are with old students now; the G in Japan and the D in the USA. I think both instruments might be for sale if anyone might be interested. Something wonderful for the curious minded tubist. Granted, the market for a fine G and a fine D tuba is small but I can tell you they are both superb and special instruments.

Curiosity: The more we explore, the more we learn, the more we learn the better wen sound.

Roger Bobo, April 30, 2021, Oaxaca, Mexico