Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The New Giants
For the past thirteen years I have been writing almost monthly articles, and most of those have been published in Pipers magazine, one of the highly esteemed band magazines in Japan. In these thirteen years, at once a month, that is close to 150 articles. Lately, it appears to me some of my articles are saying the same things repeatedly but in different ways. I will continue writing but I will also try and explore new directions and enter the new doors I see being opened.
There is a tendency in my generation to reflect on ‘the good old times, the golden days of our time, holding to a great belief in the merits of the past; that’s hard to do without feeling a little shame. In previous articles I’ve refeared to what I call the ‘10-year generations of brass players’, that every 10 years there seems to come a wave of new players. I’ve also used the metaphor as these new generations appear as students, grand students and great grand students. I’m proud to be the great grand teacher of many brass players in this world.
But something new is happening, not only in tuba, not only in brass instruments but also throughout the musical world. There is a new kind of musical species emerging who seem to be far more evolved than the icons that were part of my time. There seems to be a generation of new and far greater icons; these are ‘The New Giants’.
Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.” - Leonardo da Vinci. There is an abundance of highly successful students in the world now who have exponentially surpassed their teachers, their icons and their examples, which are so abundantly evident in our lives through the endless references that the Internet offers us. In one day I heard the Chinese pianist, Yuga Wang, (a friend remarked, “She’s from another galaxy”), a 3 year old pianist who seems almost ready to concertize. Within a few minutes I was listening to the 14-year-old French girl, Tina S playing the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on electric guitar; beyond belief! The list could go on regarding trumpet, trombone, horn, it’s a new generation of musical giants; our future in the musical world is assured of taking us places that we can’t yet imagine.
Just by chance, today (March 8, 2017) is International Women’s day; this needs to be addressed in the context of our “New Giants”. Unfortunately, in many places and categories of our world where the unjustness of sexism still exists, but at least in the western world, at least to me in my lifetime, I have observed the status of women in the musical world grow to being proportional and equal. Of course, there are occasional reports of favoritism, prejudice, sexism, nationalism and municipalism that appear, however, these stories are absolutely are not limited to women. Every competition, audition, and job application results in someone being disappointed and each of these disappointed people have a story, this is human nature and it’s us, those who hear these stories of prejudice, who must discriminate there validity.
It was my honor to have been on the faculty of the Musashino Academy of Music for 10 years of my life. I took note in the biannual exams that generally 60% of the trumpet players were women 80% of the horns, 60% of trombones, 90% of euphoniumists and 20% of tubists were women. A little humor a little sadness: I used to joke that 1 out of 3 young Japanese girls played the euphonium, very very very few became professional!
Although Japan has a good representation of women in classical music, I have seen in Holland, Italy, Switzerland and United Kingdom, a shockingly large number of Japanese girls fighting to find a way to not have to return to Japan. It’s true that Japan is behind the west regarding woman’s equality in the musical world, however, the “New Giants” are well represented on all the instruments; in fact, many of the top women brass players today are the examples of state-of-the-art in brass playing.
It was 75 years ago, while sitting on my father’s shoulders, when I first heard that incredible sound of brass instruments coming from a church tower on a crisp winter Sunday morning. I feel advantaged to have that retrospective, It helps me to have a realistic vision of what may happen in the future, it was magic then and I hope it is still magic now and in the future. The men and women of the “New Giants” are opening doors for us.
Roger Bobo, March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Aeolus. Greek Mythology: The God of the Winds

Aeolus (ˈēələs) Greek Mythology:
The God of the Winds.

Something extraordinary happened this week (September 13-18, 2016) in Düsseldorf, Germany. The 11th edition of THE AEOLUS INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF WIND INSTRUMENTS was a major musical event. I was privileged to sit in the judges committee in this year’s competition for trumpet, trombone and tuba.

2016 is truly a year of international tuba competitions, from Jeju, Korea, the Aeolus competition in Düsseldorf, Germany, Brno, Check Republic, Japanese National Competition, and Portia, Italy. 2016 is an unusually active year for the tuba. Some players would like to have participated in all these competitions; very few had the recourses to cover all the expenses, plus the necessary study to learn five separate repertoires would be a daunting task.

All competitions have one thing in common, after months of specific preparation, many return to their homes dissatisfied. This is normal, similar to having prepared for the Olympics, concentrating a huge and lengthy amount of preparation and energy, into a few minutes of highly focused performance, can be quite stressful. Frequently, such prolonged stress and subsequent disappointment can translate into bitterness with hints of jury favoritism regarding nationalism, teacher-student history or other rationalisations to hide the pain of that disappointment; sometimes the stress and disappointment also affects the judges of the competition. This was ABSOLUTELY NOT the case at the Aeolus Competition in Düsseldorf; although not all the judges agreed with the results, which were very close, all finished the week only with deep respect for each other.

The extraordinary success of the Aeolus Competition can largely be attributed to the leadership and organisation of Dr. Sieghardt Rometsch who’s vision realised a competition with an extraordinary positive atmosphere for competitors, jurors and all concerned.

The winner of the final round of the Aeolus competition was Swedish trombonist, Louise Pollock with a stunning performance of the Concertino op. 4 of Ferdinand David.

During the semifinals of this competition something very significant happened: All the semifinalists were required to play a specific contemporary work, For the trombone, this piece was BLACK HAWK EAGLE, by trombonist, conductor, fellow juror and composer, Christian Lindberg. In the opinion of this listener, this was the finest new work for any brass instrument written in my lifetime. As a would-be writer, I try to avoid superlatives but I would like to share my quick written notes written directly after hearing the four sequential performances. Quoted from my notes: “Monumental, powerful, tenderness, Mahleresque, new world standard of a solo brass piece – pay attention!!” It’s understood these are strong adjectives but I invite you to listen to this piece and find your own impressions.

Again, it’s with thanks and appreciation to Dr. Sieghardt Rometsch for his vision and creation of the Aeolus competition.

October 24, 2016, Oaxaca, Mexico

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Music and Imagination, Aaron Copland 1952

I love Mariachi music. As a boy of 4, when I first learned how to work the old Philco radio in our living room, I knew exactly what number to turn the dial to for the Mariachi station and I also knew which knob to turn to make the music louder, which I liked to do. Among Superman, The Lone Ranger, The House of Mystery and The Shadow, Mariachi music was one of my favorites. 

I especially loved the trumpet playing and the sound of thirds or the intensity of that Mariachi three-part harmony. This was my first contact with the reality that I loved music. This Mariachi trumpet playing seemed to always be happy, always heroic and always powerful. Living now in Oaxaca, Mexico, I hear this kind of music daily and I still enjoy it.

As I grew musically through 50+ years of ensemble experience playing in symphony orchestras and subsequently conducting, I heard that my beloved Mariachi sound was not always perfect. Rarely were the trumpets and violins together, balanced or in tune. I still adored Mariachi music.

Yesterday while returning to my home from the Zocalo, Oaxaca’s city center, the taxi had Mariachi music playing on the radio. It took me a few seconds to realize something was wrong; it was absolutely perfect. The intonation was perfect, the balance was perfect, the attacks between the trumpets and violins were perfect and even the vibrato, that typical Mariachi slightly bottom heavy vibrato, was perfectly together. It made me a little uncomfortable. Obviously, it was an electronic Mariachi band, a very good electronically synthesized Mariachi band but it was not real.

Immediately, I was reminded of something I read in the book, Music and Imagination, by Aaron Copland, which was given to me in 1952 by a family member. Mr. Copland discussed the somber opening theme in the basses and cellos of the Shubert Unfinished Symphony. He mentioned that he had never heard that passage played with perfect intonation and further that the imperfect intonation, which we normally hear, sounds far more musical and dramatic than if it was played with perfect intonation.

As a very young, inexperienced and idealistic musician I was haunted by such a thought coming from such a great master composer. How was it possible something would sound better ‘out of tune’ than in tune?

It’s interesting how a listening experience in a Oaxaca taxi in 2016 could remind me of something I read in 1952, But this ‘perfect in every way’ Mariachi band playing on the radio lacked the charm and atmosphere of the real bands that played on the street.

We always strive for perfection in our preparations for the performance of music and many of our greatest players and ensembles come very close to this goal. Today it’s possible to electronically create performances of absolute perfection, but we need to remember that it’s our human individualism that makes music beautiful; we are not programmed computers, how boring it would be if that were so.

As we work toward achieving perfection, music requires our hearts, souls, imagination and our individualism to be a piece of that perfection. Imagination is the essence of an individual. 

Oaxaca, Mexico, August 11, 2016 It’s the e

Friday, July 01, 2016

Language in Teaching

Yesterday I returned to my home, Oaxaca, from the University of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania from an extraordinary week of lessons and masterclasses. I’m proud the event was called the Roger Bobo Festival of Brass but that will be for another article.

However, the week seemed to be especially successful and very satisfying; I had somewhat the same feeling a month ago while doing my annual lessons and masterclass at Pasadena City College near Los Angeles, California.

I’m fortunate to present such masterclasses all over the world and, although I don’t think I have experienced any failures, These classes mentioned above stood out in my memory, The common denominator, of course, was the classes were all presented in English with the students all being English as their first language.

Arnold Jacobs had warned me many years ago that the success of my classes would be contingent on the language skills of both my students and me. As usual, he was right.

That the trip I just returned from was called the Roger Bobo Festival of brass is not the reason for its success, it was that the principal language of both the students and me was English.

I have lived and taught in Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan and Mexico. Although I have had good results in all those places, resulting in students making a good living in music, it was clear to me that the students only understood a small percentage of what I had tried to teach.

Several years ago while attending a tuba event at the University of Redlands, I was traveling with a few Japanese students who were participating in the week’s festivities. The Japanese students were stunned by the spontaneity of my masterclass; they had never seen that spontaneity in Japan. They advised me at the end of the class to return to a country where English was the mutual language of both teacher and students.

Of course, my Japanese friends were right and I gave their advice a lot of thought only to leave Japan and move to Mexico. The language problem remained in Mexico but the spontaneity changed enormously.

An obvious short-term solution to communication, with students who didn’t understand English, is the use of a translator. This usually works better than nothing, but there are a few problems that need to be addressed.

There are several types of translators:
First and best is my translator, Shuko Kuramoto, who has translated my monthly articles for the passed 12 years for the Japanese band magazine, Pipers. When there is anything I didn’t make clear, which is frequent, we met on-line and fixed it. That’s translation at its best.

Then there are the translators for lectures, masterclasses and private lessons; these come in several types.
Type 1: The musically and instrumentally sophisticated person who speaks the other language fluently and without hesitation. With type 1 you can present your classes knowing the translator is doing an accurate job.
Type 2: The good-hearted teacher or student who wants to help but doesn’t speak the language very well that he or she is trying to translate.
Type 3: The professional translator who knows very little about music or performance issues and has no knowledge of that vocabulary.
Type 4: The teacher who, after making an acceptable translation, adds his or her personal views even when they are contrary to what has been said by the lecturer.
And Type 5 (Rare): Usually a fellow teacher who, because of jealousy or institutional politics, modifies or totally changes what was said to coincide with his thoughts or political well-being.

Personally, I have been in situations where I understood the language well enough that it was necessary to stop and correct the translator, of course, that slows down the class.

The world is shrinking; globalization is here and here to stay even in the pedagogical world of masterclasses in the musical community. English seems to be emerging as the principal international language but not yet fully accepted. I dream of a future when I can just buy a language chip that I can insert in my brain and be perfectly fluent in any language of choice, in the mean-time I expect to be cooperating with translators.  

July 1, 2016, Oaxaca, Mexico