Saturday, August 12, 2017

If Money didn’t Matter
Universities, Conservatories and
Brass Instrments

The advantages of education, particuly music education, are incresingly becomng more elusive. Tuition for American universities, conservatories and music schools is just out of reach for many, if not most, students. Lones are available for some but the the burden of paying the lones is heavy and long.

The situation is exacerbated for those who are studying advanced music performance and require high quality instruments, which are expensive, very expensive, but are necessary to benefit the optimum of what higher music education offers. All these costly realities combined can create economic situations that are extremely difficult if not impossible to live with.

There are alternatives that should be examined.  
There are alternatives to the prestigious music schools in the USA that many students espier toward. Tuition of these alternatives may be as low as 10% of what the famous American schools require. There are Music schools in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France where the teachers are great and show excellent results. Even with the living expenses and the required “Beer money”, the costs are far less than the prestigious schools in the USA.

There is a much deeper reason for turning to study abroad than just tuition costs and shopping for the best deal. Studying abroad will open your view to the world, which means much more than just a high quality music education; it is an education of life, learning another culture, another mentality, another language and other broadening aspects.

In our search for high quality music schools and instruments we are all, in fact, shoppers, shoppers who insist on excellence. For example, excellence in leather goods with the prestige of famous labels such Gucci or Yves Saint Laurent, which certainly are of the highest quality but also carry a very expensive price tag. However, on the Piazza San Lorenzo in Firenze (Florence), Italy, one can buy leather goods of equal or higher quality at a much lower price than the high-end labels. The same situation exists with universities, conservatries and brass instruments.

Welcome China, to the brass instrument market. There are now Chinese instruments available for those who are looking for new instruments but simply don’t have the funds to buy the popular “high-end” brands. As Japan did many years ago, the Chinese brass instrument makers have very successfully copied many of the most popular brass instruments in the world market with excellent results. Some of these copies are now being modified with improvements that are superb. These instruments are available now at about 25% of the price required today form the bigger and established world makers.

There are countries in the world where musical talent is huge but economics make it impossible even to dream of purchasing a high-end famous brand instrument. Even at 25% of the high-end prices it’s very expensive in the poorer countries but the dream can be possible.

This is not an add for Chinese brass instrument makers; rather it’s an alert for students who do not have the funds to consider buying an instrument with a major brand name. There are options available that cost less that are also high quality.

Roger Bobo, August 12, 2917, Oaxaca, Mexico

Sunday, July 23, 2017

With a Knuckle and a Belt

It’s been my pleasure and good fortune to attend a music camp or some form of summer musical event since my first year at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan in 1954. These music camps were fewer then, but today they seem to exist in almost every village or every college or university campus. This is a good thing, a wonderful thing; at this time in our turbulent world we need to connect with our creative aspects more than ever before.
I just arrived back to my home in Oaxaca, Mexico and awaking at 3:am jet lagged and energized. It’s dangerous to speak in superlatives in today's world, they seem abundant in just about everything but in my thoughts at this moment Italian Brass Week resonates as a superb event. The venues of all the concerts and events in this historical magical city of Firenze are certainly without compare. One such event that must be noted was an antiphonal concert with over 100 players in three different locations: from the Pontevecchio, 4 Gondolas anchored in the middle of the Arno River and from the bank of the Arno River. The players on the Pontevecchio and from the riverbank were largely students and the players on the 4 gondolas were mostly the Italian Brass Week faculty.
The faculty for this year’s Italian Brass Week was comprised of some of the best young (younger than I) palyers and theachers we have. I deeply appreciate them for what they have taught me. As in all the summer music events I’ve enjoyed since my 1954 Interlochen experience I have returned much more enlightened. However, we cannot ignore time or history.
I remember so well performing at what I considered a high level and being aware that there was a growing number of younger players who were surpassing me in both tuba skills and musicality. It was clearly time to turn my attention to teaching; this was a new direction that freed me from the encumbrances of tuba performance and opened the door to a wider view. Da Vinci said it’s the student’s duty to surpass the teacher. I have seen and enjoyed many times that da Vinci was right.
But there is another serious dimension to address. We cannot escape history or ignore the future. As in performance, new ideas, methods and techniques in teaching are rapidly emerging. An aging teacher cannot continue functioning in a period from a time that has past. The knowledge and thoughts of the new generation of teachers, maestros and senseis are the key to moving ahead. We have a choice here: we either incorporate the new thoughts and ideas and add them to our greater experience or stubbornly hold to our inevitable obsolescence. It needs to be mentioned that much of the ‘old school’ pedagogical methods are harmful to our students. The time of the knuckle and the belt have past.
Hopefully aging brings knowledge and wisdom with it. Da Vinci is right again, the new generation of teachers have become the mentors of their Maestros.

Roger Bobo, Oaxaca, Mexico, July 23, 2017

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