“The Fourth Valve” tm interview series features the most outstanding tuba and euphonium players in the world. In 2015 the global reach of the tuba interviews alone spanned from Norway to Portugal and from Miami to Boston. From Scotland to Tennessee, and Arizona to Pittsburgh. The bass horns are front and center in 2015, with Boston and Pittsburgh symphonic greats Mike Roylance and Craig Knox, International soloists James Gourlay and Oystein Baadsvik, jazz sensations Bill Pritchard and Sergio Carolina, up and comers Aaron Tindall and Beth Wiese in addition to tuba phenomenon Patrick Sheridan. Oh yeah, and the legendary R. Winston Morris-buckle up! We have selected some of the top answers and woven them together for a year-end delight.
Arnold Jacobs extolled and inspired us all to become “story tellers of sound”, but in your case you seem (at times), utterly absorbed by the emotional content. Do you allow yourself to become deeply involved in the emotion of a piece, and what does it demand from your attention?
Personally I have always found Jacob’s statement confusing. Music to me is not about telling a story. Reading literature is, or perhaps singing a text. Instrumental music is much more abstract and about a series of emotional characters. Sometimes happy and sometimes sad, and everything in between.
In fact, I find it very liberating NOT having to construct a story. And when listening, to be free to construct my own personal dream castle inside my head. Totally different from the person next to me.
The result is that the spirit of music is freer, more individual on both the sending and receiving end.
It does not mean however, that you don’t need knowledge to perform music.
What you need is a deep knowledge about how to create musical and emotional characters, or archetypes, and how they work together.
A musical archetype is a way of phrasing that is immediately recognized by the audience as a particular character. For example, what technical tricks must we pull off to make the music sound romantic? Or espressivo, or joyful, or wild?
When playing, we should not let a bar go by without knowing what character we want in this particular bar, or even on this particular note.
Constructing long series of characters in combination with an immense focus on the present, makes for a good performance.
When audiences see me on stage as “utterly absorbed by the emotional content”, what they really see is me being focused on the present moment, trying to maximize the musical character that I am working just now.
Here is a transcribed quote from an actor:
One of the most important things in music is honesty. When you have learned how to fake that, you have come a long way!
This statement sound like a cynical joke, and most of the time it is.
However, there is much truth to it.
Music without emotional involvement is worthless.
On the other hand, musicians can’t allow themselves to get carried way beyond control.
What we should try though is to find the tipping point. The point where everything collapses because of too much involvement. A good performance balances constant
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: Oystein Baadsvik 2015
How do you conceive and describe the ideal tuba sound?
The ideal tuba sound/tone to me has an evenness of core and resonance/space in the sound. Having a symmetric space in the sound from the core/center of the tone is paramount to me. This is the place where other instruments within the orchestra are able to join “into” our sound, and find a resting point in the middle of the tone where our core should lie. The ways to achieve this delicate balance of “sound” are by learning to control various elements of our playing such as: volume of air/velocity of air and the appropriate mixture between the two based on register, aperture size, contact point/where a person’s lips meet, tongue position (front and back), soft palette height, oral cavity size/shape, teeth position, and the list goes on etc…
I never seem to be bothered if a student has a bright or dark sound. What is important to me is that he/she has a tone that is symmetrically even in all registers, and that along the way we are continuing to develop a broad spectrum of sound that can change at the drop of a hat when called upon to do so. Learning how to do this is where the rubber meets the road!
Euphonium – The ideal euphonium sound to me is as described above, but I would have to say that I tend to “prefer” more brilliance in a euphonium sound.
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: Aaron Tindall 2015
R. Winston Morris
When it comes to jobs, you certainly aren’t a “tire-kicker”! What are some things that you can only find out about yourself and a place when you are in it for the long haul?
Well as I conclude my 48th year of teaching at Tennessee Tech University I guess you could consider that a “long haul.”
What a lot of people don’t know is that I was a high school band director (Martinsville, Virginia) for two years in 1962-64 before I studied with the late great William J.(Bill) Bell at IU in 1964. I also spent a year teach at what was then known as Mansfield State University in Pennsylvania before coming to Tennessee. This provided a fairly broad background of music education/performance/higher education experience which I have found valuable in dealing with a diverse population of students over the years.
To the specifics of your question, “what do you find out about yourself,” you find out that you cannot depend on any outside influences to motivate your professional aspirations! If you don’t have an inner drive and motivation you WILL burn out! I have two rules that I have followed since graduate school which I guess I can share with you which may or may not seem “indelicate” but nevertheless it’s the way it is! One: Nobody gives a S%#t!!! And, Two: There Ain’t No Justice!!!”
If you sit around waiting on other people to inspire you to excellence it ain’t gonna happen! If you think it ain’t fair that someone else who works less than you and is less competent makes more money and gets more attention than you do AND you let that upset your applecart, then you’re out of business.
There’s nothing greater than colleague support, and I’ve had immense support all my professional career. I am extremely thankful for this on a daily basis and I truly love all my fellow colleagues, but they have their own agenda (as it should be), or they will not be successful. Find a successful person in ANY walk of life and, whether they realize it or not, they must adhere to this philosophy or they simply will not survive. All of us know colleagues who have “burned” out way before their time. Bottom line, they simply did not have that inner self-motivation and were not getting enough pats on the back to hang in there. Maybe harsh, but that’s the way I read it 50 years later.
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: R. Winston Morris 2015
How do you conceive of the ideal tuba sound?
Ultimately, I view sound as a vehicle for musical expression. Which isn’t to say that it’s not important, but that the concept of my “ideal tuba sound” is fluid. In a great sound, what I hear is musical integrity, character, class and presence. In effect, the goal is that the sound should not undermine the musical idea. I am often influenced by the idea of the “artisan” vs. the “artist.” The “artisan” represents the technical work that goes into playing our instrument, whereas the “artist” represents the musical expression. The relationship is symbiotic, and work on one aspect often leads to improvement in the other. Ultimately, however, I want people to hear the “artist,” not the “artisan.”
With specific regard to the tuba, I think a good sound is achieved through a balance of depth and clarity; namely, tone vs. articulation. A good tuba sound should consist mostly of tone, but the articulation is what provides the clarity, brilliance, and definition to our sound. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in achieving a good sound was from Rex Martin, who always emphasized the same characteristics of depth and clarity in our minds and on the mouthpiece. This invariably led to producing a richer, better sound on the instrument.
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: Beth Wiese 2015
When did you fall in love with the sound of the tuba, and why?
I’ve tried some instruments before the tuba: the trumpet and the bassoon but with no success. Then a professor told me: “Sérgio, there’s an old King EEb tuba in the corner, lets try it!” Since I already knew the fingerings from the trumpet, I immediately began to make some good sounds and could make a scale right way. So, it was like “Love at the first Sound!” ☺
What is it about jazz that makes you want to play it? What are the most satisfying ways that you can imagine a tubist playing in a jazz group?
Since I was a little boy learning tuba to play on the wind band, some of my closest friends and I discovered jazz, funky, Dixieland and second lines bands like Louis Armstrong (and his Hot Five and Hot Seven), Bob Scobey Frisco Band, Dukes of Dixieland, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Lester Bowie Brass Fantasy and Sam Pilafian’s Travelling Light.
We all started to catch on to this music, and wrote down on a paper some of these tunes. By making our own arrangements and starting to trying to understand how to phrase like them by spending thousand of hours listening and listening, imitating, trying to understand (so many hours, uffff!!!!)
Many of these friends are today professional musicians and I have been privileged to create bands and special projects with them!
I think that the most satisfying way that a tuba player can have playing in a jazz group would be to making the bass line, to imitate a double bass or electric band and make people forget that they are listening a tuba… Be a part of a great rhythm section with drums, guitar, piano, accordion or vibraphone it’s just amazing! Feeling that you are like the brain of the ensemble by knowing that the bass defines the tempo, harmony, style and controls the dynamic it’s just fabulous!
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: Sergio Carolina 2015
What did your learn from playing in traditional drum corps and how often do you draw upon those experiences now?
From my experiences with Suncoast Sound, a top-tier drum and bugle corps, I learned a great deal about the fundamentals of brass playing. I had several wonderful instructors, two of whom, Robert W Smith, Frank Williams were extremely well-versed in brass pedagogy. My daily fundamental routine, dubbed THUNDERDOME by several of my students is mostly the same routine that I was taught in those formative years. My practice discipline also comes from this period in my life, it was a bountiful time in my maturing as a musician. I am very thankful for that period in my life.
a What sort of chamber music and solo playing opportunities do you enjoy most? How important are they to you as a musician?
I helped form the BSO Brass Quintet which is comprised of all of the principal brass players of the BSO. Although we do not have too many opportunities to practice and perform with our busy lives, I treasure every moment with this group. Actually, I had a twelve year career as chamber musician at Walt Disney World with the Future Corps and other groups within the parks; if what defines a chamber group is the lack of conductor. Adjusting to life in the BSO or any orchestra or band after never relying on a conductor for anything was difficult, but made easier with the skills that I brought with me from my time on the streets of EPCOT. Time spent in chamber groups is of GREAT benefit to the developing musician. The intuitive ability to adjust pitch/time/dynamics/line in the moment will be finely honed in a chamber setting.
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: Mike Roylance 2015
Do you advocate essentially one embouchure, or a pivot system?
I do use a “single embouchure” approach. That is to say that I don’t use any “shifts”;
That said, I do not see the “pivot method” as being contradictory to this approach. The pivot method refers to the fact that as you play lower, the lower jaw protrudes, and as you play higher, it retracts. This can all happen while maintaining the same mouth placement on the mouthpiece. While I acknowledge this pivot phenomenon, I don’t concern myself with it very much, if at all; in fact, my caution about consciously employing the pivot method is that the player is very likely to over-compensate with the jaw movement, and to be overly concerned with jaw placement for each note, rather than with the consistency of tone.
This brings me to a very basic philosophy that I have regarding the use of physical instruction in general. While I think it is a good idea to have a solid understanding of good physical form for playing a brass instrument, if a player focuses on physical instruction in pursuit of a musical outcome, he or she is very likely to miss the mark, both because there is no longer a clear focus on the intended result, and because it is likely the player will over-compensate physically. Even when the result is basically satisfactory, it usually sounds musically stiff or contrived.
I believe the better approach is to focus on a clear, vivid musical directive, allowing the physical apparatus to respond as necessary. I find that the one physical instruction that can be helpful in this context is to stay “neutral”, which essentially means to stay as physically relaxed as possible, in a manner that allows for a fluid response towards the musical goal. Essentially, the stored knowledge you have on how to play the instrument kicks in on a subliminal level, and you allow yourself to play in the most efficient manner possible.
How long have you taken away from the tuba, and what sort of things do you do to get ready to play again? (Solos, in particular.)
The longest time I have spent without playing the tuba would be around one year. It was during my first year (1998-99) when I was Head of School of Wind, Brass and Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). I had a very fulfilling, but challenging, job, which was largely in administration. As I had directly come from a the Orchestra of the Opera House in Zurich, Switzerland, and had no training as an administrator, I felt I just had to concentrate on the task in hand, and as I wasn’t actually earning a living playing the tuba, that instrument went on the back burner. As a hobby, I took up the alto saxophone and was soon practicing quite diligently. It suddenly dawned on me, that I could do the same on my first instrument, so started to develop routines that didn’t take up much time, but got me into tuba playing again, and kept me in shape quite quickly.
Nowadays I earn a living as a conductor, and so I sometimes go for long periods without playing tuba. When I do have a tuba gig. I get into shape by playing scales and techniques for about one hour per day. I do this at 6.00 am using a practice mute. I don’t play repertoire until shortly before the first rehearsal, as I’ve learned to separate practice from performance.
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: James Gourlay 2015
BBb, CC, Eb, F, Sousaphone…
For the non-tubist, there are more different tubas than forks at a 12 course meal. Which “fork” do you use
when? (Best all around?). What does flying do to the equation?
Let me start by saying that I have heard fantastic performances from fantastic artists on every key of tuba. Let me start there…
I’ve played Eb tuba as my chamber and solo instrument since I was in 7th grade. While in college, I gave F tuba the old college try. But – the sound in my imagination will not come out of a F tuba, so Eb has always been preferable to F for me. And – the intonation battle that is F tuba…what the hell for? When someone makes an F tuba with piston valves that plays WELL in tune with a great low register…that would be fun to have in the arsenal of tonal possibilities! In the meantime, I’ll use a smaller mouthpiece and play in tune on an Eb to imitate F tuba rather than go to war with an actual F tuba. I remain completely baffled why the tuba community continues to mess with F tuba with its bad low register and horrible intonation when Eb tubas don’t present these problems. Tradition is a bitch, I guess.
CC tuba – I use this axe in large ensembles. For me – this is the instrument that I play the least in my current mix of playing. When I was a member of “The President’s Own” United State Marine Band, I used CC tuba. Same, in Brass Band of Battle Creek.
BBb Sousaphone – When I was a member of the Marine Band, I HATED sousaphone. (Ask Tom Holtz how much I hated the sousaphone.) I hated the sousaphone so much that I refused to play one for more than 10 years after leaving the Marines. THEN – I helped Jupiter Band Instruments with their sousaphone designs and a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the sousaphone. I love it so much that now I own TWO sousaphones. For playing bass lines, there isn’t a better axe to create the ‘pull’ and the ‘weight’ of a Ray Brown quarter note. Funk, Swing, Latin, Rock – sousaphone is now my instrument of choice when my job is bass function in commercial music.
Last year – when the community band I lead, The Salt River Brass, made a CD with Harry Watters, I did all the rhythm section playing and soloing on sousaphone. Pilafian pointed out that my jazz thinking head was definitely BBb sousaphone even though I play Eb tuba 95% of the time as an improviser.
Never say never…right?
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: Patrick Sheridan 2015
“Think outside the box”, must be a mantra for sousaphonist/tubist Bill Pritchard. If there are genres, he’ll blend them; if there are meters, he’ll mix them, and if you hire a bass player near Atlanta, you had better double check the case that instrument comes in! Bill believes that tuba bass fits anywhere. “The Fourth Valve” tm is delighted to mix it up with the sensational southerner Bill Pritchard. Enjoy!
What are the advantages of sousaphone? Any disadvantages?
The biggest advantage is you really have is the advantage that both trumpets and trombones have is that you can control your bell angle and decide where you want your sound to go. That of course goes away a bit when I’m in a rock club because I’m almost always mic’ed.
Another advantage is the mobility, I think it really adds to the visual element of a show when you can actually move around a bit.
The disadvantages are really intonation and in general, sousaphones feel pretty nebulous in the staff. I don’t think that sousaphone development has come as far along as tuba development has in even say the last 5 years.
I just recently became an artist for Eastman and along with playing their new CC tuba (632) I’m going to be working with them on tweaking their sousaphone. I’m really excited about that!
2. How do you approach mixed meter? When do you think the small notes, and when do you think the big ones?
I’d say that so much of what I do in both Mercury Orkestar and 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer (4WAKO) I’m focused on the big beats and the overall groove.
I remember being in an Alan Baer masterclass and he was taking about how excepts can be in time, but not groove. He recommended playing with a drum machine, and honestly that’s the best way to do it.
I’ve tried with my students to explain the difference, but I always come up short in expressing it verbally, but you can really hear it and when sting with a drum machine (or drummer for that matter) you can really feel it.
Playing Fountains or the Ride with a waltz beat completely changes how you approach it.
Don’t get me wrong, the subdivisions are vital and I’m hearing them in my head or the drummer is playing them, but as far as feel is concerned, I’m usually focused on the big beats.
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: Bill Pritchard
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com