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

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Warmups and Daily Routines

Warmups and Daily Routines

There are two basic reasons we need to warm up; to maintain the skills that we have already developed in our playing and to create the skills that are not yet fully developed (sometimes that part is called ‘daily routines’).

It was already visible in the middle of the last century. While I was a student at the Eastman School of Music there were two kinds of brass players; those who religiously would process their warmups and daily routines for long periods of time every day, sometimes hours. They sounded wonderful, tone quality, dynamics and articulation were usually excellent and they indeed became virtuosos of function.
The second group was the ones who would do their warmup routine in 20-30 minutes and immediately move on to their musical materials of the day. Most of the time they simply sounded better. 
My personal definition of a warmup:
Athletes always warm up; a pitcher always spends time “the bullpen” before a baseball game; swimmers, track runners, shot putters and all other kinds of athletes all perform better in their events after they warm up.Ballet dancers always warm up by stretching on the bar before practice, rehearsal or performance; they wouldn’t think of starting any other way.

And far closer to the discipline of playing a brass instrument; singers need to vocalize (warm up) to be their best in performance. Singing and brass playing are very much the same because the sound source is organic; with singers it’s the vocal chords (larynx), with brass players it’s the lips. Most of our warmup materials in the several superb warm up books we use in the brass community are modifications of vocalizing methods created by European vocal teachers of the 18th century. Like brass players today, different teachers and different singers vocalized (warmed up) in different ways. These were decisions that were made by specific teachers and students.

Referring back to the fact that the students who warmed up for 20 – 30 minutes simply sounded better than the warmup virtuosos, who sometimes did there daily routines for as long a 2 hours. The daily routine of the 20-30 minutes players was, in fact, making music. This seems to me a much healthier direction to go.

Playing music develops the strength and suppleness that we need much more than a lot of long tones, plus it develops our musicality…, which is more fun and helps to play good exams, win competitions and get jobs.

Roger Bobo, October 13, 2017, Oaxaca, Mexico

Friday, August 25, 2017


Articulation is on my mind these days. I am working on a new text on multibal tonguing and I remembered this article I wrote in 2006.  

In all the languages of the world, linguists can’t agree on the number of consonances there are. Some say there are around one hundred and others say there are over one hundred twenty. The disagreement comes from where to draw the distinction between consonances that are similar. The consonant T, for example, is quite different from language to language. In French T is pronounced with the tongue very forward in the mouth on the back of the upper front teeth, in English the T is placed on the rim of the gum at the point just before it rises up to the roof of the month, and in Chinese the T consonant is made high on the roof of the mouth; all are quite different in the way they sound.

If we can agree that there are over one hundred consonances in Languages, and if we can agree that articulation is virtually the consonance of the musical language, then how many types of articulation are there in music, and much more specifically, how many  types of articulation do we have the possibility of producing on brass  instruments?

Vocal consonants have been used successfully in teaching brass instruments for a very long time; every brass player has learned to start a note with Ta, Da or an occasional Ka, but, in fact, there are huge differences between consonants in speech and articulations on brass instruments.

Nature created our vocal mechanism in a very functional and wonderful way; the sound source comes first and the consonant comes second. It works beautifully, the vibration from the larynx reaches the mouth and with vowels and consonances we have an infinite possibility of sounds, in fact, we have language.

But what happens when the articulation mechanism (the tongue) comes first and the sound source (the lips) come second? The results are so different that comparisons can be dangerous or at least difficult.

Still, most of our references to playing brass instruments come from vocal concepts. I was very surprised in 1990 when performing and recording Verdi’s Il Trovatore with the Maggio Musicalli di Firenze with Luciano Pavarotti singing the lead. I was amazed to hear Pavarotti vocalizing (warming up) on one of the exercises in my book, an exercise from the famous James Stamp trumpet book which I took and modified and which Mr. Stamp had taken and modified from the time proven copious repertoire of vocal exercises. From Maestro Pavarotti I was hearing this exercise in its original form for the first time. These old vocal methods work for brass instruments and they will continue to work, but there are a few differences that need to be addressed.

For example, what is the difference between Ta and Da? Ta, is what linguists call a non vocalized plosive, first we hear the sound of the consonant (articulation) then the sound of the vowel (tone); this works very well on a brass instrument. But Da, the articulation that we are taught to use for a softer attack is a vocalized plosive, quite a different situation. With Da, first is the vocal sound then the consonant. That’s not possible on a brass instrument, except when connected to a note that is already sounding. Ta and Da have nevertheless worked well for generations to guide brass students to discriminate different articulations, but they are limited in their scope.

There are four aspects to articulating on brass instruments and when a player can coordinate those four things, the capacity for a wide spectrum of articulations is enormous. The four aspects are:
1.        Airflow at impact.
2.        Embouchure resistance at impact.
3.        Tongue placement at impact.
4.        Air compression released by the tongue at impact; i.e. Articulation.

Of course, airflow at impact is determined largely by dynamic and register, the lower and the louder requiring greater airflow. Embouchure resistance is created when the air meets the embouchure. That resistance together with the airflow broadens even more the potential verity of articulations.

Tongue placement modifies attack in a very important way. Like the different Ts mentioned above, tongue placement changes the articulation from a clear instant attack when it is forward and a less instant attack with the tongue further back in the mouth. It should also be noted that generally the low register responds better with the tongue forward, even between the lips, and in the higher register to avoid being too abrupt, it works better further back in the mouth. The compression of air behind the tongue at impact determines the type of the attack. Suddenly, the potential becomes evident. The possibilities are enormous.

Now come two tasks: learning to use these four articulation functions and far more importantly, which mix of the four possibilities serve best our musical purpose?

With essentially an infinite number of possibilities these articulations need to be on demand from the information in our musical mind’s ear; this is one of the many reasons for listening to music of all kinds. The more we know and the more we have experienced, the more sonic vocabulary we have to call upon for expressing our own individual musicality. The danger here is that we too easily learn a small vocabulary of articulations and dogmatically continue using only those that are familiar.

In an essay on articulation, something should be said about starting a note without using the tongue at all. This can occasionally be a good therapy for correcting poor response but as a normal day-to-day articulation it is limited. Articulation is the fine-tuning of rhythm and most of the time the rhythmic energy of the music requires articulation be focused and clear.

In language when we are unclear with our consonants we have a tendency to sound either drunk or stupid, we all know that sound! But when clear consonants are returned in our speaking we can give the impression of intelligence! It’s very much the same with musical performance particularly in lower instruments. In low registers the human ear hears less clearly, therefore we who play in those low registers need to make a special effort in articulating clearly. Music becomes more enjoyable to play and to hear.

Hiroshima, Japan, January 22, 2006
Republished August 25, 2017, Oaxaca, Mexico