The bulk of the musical talk
Pointing out some of the things here can easily be interpreted as snobbery. The truth is, I'm greedy. I want more gigs. If anything motivates this thread, then, it is my greed, and not any sort of snobbery.
I would encourage MORE tubas players - players who aspire to be "professional" players (ie. players who get paid to play) to put down the band/orchestral excerpts sometimes, and find ways to learn how to play bass lines. I'm not necessarily even talking about playing bass lines without written-down music (though that would help), but I'm mostly talking about INTERPRETING written-out bass lines.
- Many tuba players seem to not understand how to imitate the sound and the decay of a string bass.
- Many tuba players seem to not understand that there are quite a few types of articulations that are appropriate - under different circumstances - for different types of music. EVEN WITHIN "Tin Pan Alley" music (which is commonly imitated in Broadway musicals) there are MANY types of articulations combined with different types of amounts of decay (sure: up-to-and-including "zero" decay) that are appropriate.
- Many tuba players (often "hanging over") seem to not be willing to stop sounds with their tongue (when necessary to match woodwind ultra-staccatos) or to play some sounds long ENOUGH (such as the quarter-note/eighth-rest bass lines in 6/8 time).
- Many tuba players seem to "follow" the beat (rather than DEFINING the beat), and do not understand that if they can hear the sound of a drum stick hitting a drum, their sound is ALREADY late.
- (sensitive material here) As so many tubas players seem to value resonance over intonation, many other types of musicians (including music directors and music composers/arrangers/orchestrators) have come to expect intonation problems with tuba sounds - problems which simply are not often heard with paid string bassists. IF (??) it is the ensemble's job to tune to the tuba, it - then - is the TUBA's job to offer nearly flawless intonation and to focus on this like a laser beam.
- "2nd call" Tuba players (frankly) as a group don't seem to be able to read at sight as well as "10th call" string bassists.
There are other issues, but I've probably annoyed enough readers with these comments.
Far more tuba players will NOT be "full time" bandsmen or orchestra musicians. Far more tuba players will work freelance. Why concentrate 100% on 150-or-so segments of 50-or-so pieces of music (pieces of music that most who concentrate on those pieces will never play), rather than spending at least SOME time on developing the types of skills that other musicians value in (what other musicians consider to be) "fine" tuba playing?
As many tuba players have walked away from the traditional string bass "double", is there any reason to not be as strong - in commercial settings (as "tuba-only" players) - as are many string bass players?
Most touring Broadway shows - in the last decade or more - have leaned more-and-more strongly towards string bass, and more-and-more away from tuba - EVEN THOUGH a fine tuba, arguably, would be MUCH MORE APPROPRIATE that string bass for much of the scoring. Broadway shows, arguably, are some of the more lucrative and extended types of gigs that freelance musicians can hope to be offered. Typically, full-time orchestra musicians are not available to accept this work, so the "second call" and freelance players - many of whom can, through more experience, tend to be better readers and interpreters of commercial music - are often offered this work. Tuba players, as a group, quite obviously, are being phased out of touring Broadway orchestration. Has anyone else wondered why?
I know a guy who is a good tuba player and an absolutely amazing bass guitarist. We're constantly arguing (or making fun of each other ) about note length. He insists on almost everything being played like a string bass- which to him means long and sustained. No diminish, no short notes, no pops,... You know, the things a good bass player actually does. Is this the difference between a bass guitarist and a double bassist? I've never played upright and stopped being mildly competent on electric over a decade ago.
I can agree with almost everything Bloke said except for the bass intonation comment. He's from a market with bassists who have good intonation. In smaller markets like mine, bassists who play well in tune are more of a rarity . . .
[whiny pet peeve]One maddening thing about a lot of band conductors is their insistence that every note of a walking bass line be played with extreme staccato, "like a string bass," and there's no way you can talk them out of it. Even demonstrating sustain and decay with a bass can't shake them.[/whiny pet peeve]
But as Bloke says, correct style is HUGE in pit orchestras (and, for that matter, any professional gig). Getting every note right the first and every other time won't keep your job and get you more if you can't fit with the style of the music and the group.
Last edited by GC on Mon Mar 04, 2013 1:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
1914 Conn Monster Eb (my avatar), ~1905 Fillmore Bros 1/4-size Eb; Kellyberg, Conn Helleberg 7B, Rudolf Meinl RM-9, Wick 3 & 4; Bach 42B trombone; Ibanez SR-506 6-string bass, MarkBass 102P combo bass amp
One summer when I was playing principal string bass with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra at Interlochen, we were rehearsing Gunther Schuller's "Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee" with the composer as guest conductor. One of the movements ("The Little Blue Devil," if I remember correctly) is "jazzy" and features a solo bass player on a "walking" line. I played the line in a jazz style with a pretty heavy stress on beats 2 and 4.
Several of my colleagues in the section asked me during that week of rehearsals why I played it like that when the music showed no such markings. Mr. Shuller gave me a nice compliment about it after the concert, stating he had never before NOT had to tell the principal bass player to "make it groove."
As for why tubas are being phased out of pits...EVERYONE is being phased out of pits. The trend continues to push towards more and more keyboards and fewer and fewer "real" instruments.
Nice post - you hit the nail on the head.
Tuba players need to "take the edge" off the attack and learn to warm up the note. The notion that everyone will sit in the back of an orchestra or concert band is mistaken - I did most of my work over the years in rhythm sections - pushing time and changes in jazz bands, dance bands and shows - and changing up musical styles freqently.
In other words - trying to be a competent musician...
I admire Arnold Jacobs and William Bell as much as anyone - young tubas players need to listen to Country Washburn, Joe Tarto and Bill Stanley's records too. They all worked because they played for the band...
Listen to Guy Lombardo with Johnny Evans on tuba - the band is extremely tight - Benny Goodman's favorite! The tuba gives the band its "lilt" and "bounce" and was an integral part of that group's commercial success for over 60 years.
1926 Martin Handcraft 3v upright bell front action ; 1933 Martin Handcraft 3v bellfront; Bach (nee King) fiberglass sousaphone.
EVERY college professor who hopes to teach their students to have careers performing needs to take this advice... Bloke is 100% on point here, and this goes WAY beyond just Broadway types of performance.
(even Arnold Jacobs would encourage students to learn to play bass changes)
In fact, it's so on point, that I am going to post it again.
The tuba is a phenomenally versatile instrument. Many players are not.
(but things are getting better...)
"When you control sound, you control meat." -Arnold Jacobs
I agree with everything posited here, but wanted to chime in on this part:
A few years ago, I attended an ITEC session on doubling with four panelists who were all some combination of tuba/euphonium/trombone doublers and who were all respected professors/performers. They spent the time explaining the windfall of gigs and money that come with doubling on other low brass instruments. During the Q-and-A, I asked what they thought of doubling on a more 'commercial' instrument (specifically electric bass, but also upright bass or piano)*. They thoroughly pooh-pooh'd this idea as "too distracting" from the practice of your primary duty, which they considered to be playing the tuba or euphonium. Their idea was that a double should be an instrument that replaces your primary instrument in certain settings, i.e. bass trombone in a big band.
This was among the most stupid things I've heard at a tuba conference, which is really saying something. A few months after that ITEC, I started taking lessons with a more successful tuba doubler than all four panelists put together, who, when I expressed an interest in furthering my musical marketability, encouraged me to buy a used electric bass and become competent at its operation. Even if I never made any money as a bassist, he advised, I'd get better at hearing and deconstructing bass harmonies, particularly those in 'commercial' music. This turned out to be extremely true.
Long story short, I think bloke's observation that tuba/bass doubling has shrunk is accurate and can be explained by the tunnel vision espoused by too many influential folks in our community.
' wondering if the panelists were not only doublers (frankly, I consider tuba/euphonium about as much of a "double" as I consider Bb trumpet/Eb trumpet to be a "double", but whatev'...) but also 'fessers, who really didn't want their stoonts in others' private lesson studios....(??)
If you want to play in Europe and wind up with one of the smaller orchestras there (the Hofer Symphoniker for one), you will be REQUIRED to play double bass as a section player to win the contract.
Versatility is a vital part of what we do. Being employable is essential if you want to play for a living. I worry about all the euphonium players coming out of the schools with so few jobs available to them and heavy competition at every turn. Without delivering pizzas or working in the fast food business, you need to be able to handle a lot of different types of music and instruments.
A very dear friend of mine in Texas plays tuba incredibly well but also plays acoustic and electric bass at a very high level. He requires his euphonium students to learn tuba AND trombone so that they will have more options in the business.
Personally I double on bass trombone and euphonium, but played bass guitar and drums in a couple of rock bands back in my youth.
Just my observations.
"The music business is a cruel and shallow trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." Hunter S Thompson
That's very interesting. Unfortunately, in the states, it's not even a "plus."
' seems as though it would be great if the tuba-guy in the orchestra could pick up his bass and play on the Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, etc., etc., etc...
I am surprised how fast the need to double on bass or electric bass has faded. As some have pointed out, there are actually people who discourage this now. I have read that Arnold Jacobs became a good enough double bass doubler (because he needed to, in the Indianapolis Orchestra) to handle Beethoven symphonies well. That is no small feat. My own teacher in the Conservatory in Cincinnati, Sam Green, was playing bass in a hotel orchestra immediately before taking (and winning) the Cincinnati Symphony job on tuba in 1943. When I was in high school (1973-77) enlightened band directors sent the school's double bass home with me in the summers so I could learn it. This was seen by the local union pros in Cincinnati (all of whom doubled on bass, some well enough to play in orchestras) as a pre-requisite to being a working tuba player.
I never became a good enough double bassist to handle Beethoven, but I have gigged a lot with it and, especially, the electric bass. Of necessity, I also added bass saxophone to the stable. I know at least one fine New Orleans player who was playing tuba, bass, and bass saxophone every week. As others have pointed out, it changes your approach to style on the tuba when you know how a bass feels and sounds in your hands.
Yes, yes, and YES!
When I was called in 2007 to play for the traveling show, "Chicago", the contractors were delighted when they were able to have one person play the tuba/bass book. On the 2nd night, at the end of sound check, one of the performers came up to me and said, "That's cool - it isn't often that we have a tuba-bass doubler". Hint to performance majors - if you want to work, develop skills that not everyone else possesses.
Agreeing with Bloke, tuba and euphonium are so close that I scarcely consider that a double. It should be a given that if you are a pro and play tuba, you can play euphonium to a certain level, and vice-versa. Trombone has been an important double for me, and experience gained playing bass trombone, electric bass and string bass in various jazz groups has given me knowledge and opportunities that a tuba-only player would have missed. Once you have learned how to create with your own two hands certain sounds and effects on bass, particularly string bass, it is so much easier to reproduce that effect on tuba. And, just like a really fine trumpeter should be able to play both jazz and classical music styles, there's no reason for us tubists not to study and play jazz really well. It's science, but not rocket science.
My favorite anecdote about this was one evening at the US Army Band's Tuba-Euphonium Conference, back in the mid' 1980's, when a Premier Band buddy of mine and I were discussing doubling. He knew that I played a lot of electric bass at that time, and said that I could do whatever I wanted, but as for him, he felt that it was best (implied, noblest) to concentrate on just one instrument, the tuba. We were walking down a hallway, and at that point were next to Marty Ericksen, who the night before had sounded like a million bucks with the Navy Band's brass quintet, so I turned to him, and drew him into the conversation by asking him what he thought of doubling. His reply was, "I play electric bass 4 nights a week with a band - what do you think?"
I'm not a great string bass player, and will never be, but I've managed over the past 5 seasons to learn enough bass repertoire as a section member of a local symphony to become much better. This past Fall, I thought that Beethoven's 5th Symphony would kill me, but it didn't, and neither has Strauss, Wagner, Shostakovitch, Bach, Mozart, etc. I would highly recommend digging in, and being able to play some repertoire that has no tuba, but a ton of bass work, regardless of the style of music. If I had sat here at home for the past 6 years, waiting for the orchestral tuba job, I would have played exactly three gigs, which is less than one percent of how much I've played.
Develop a variety of skills, and let people know that you have them. In the business world it's known as diversification, and can keep you employed when others are not.
Lee A. Stofer, Jr.
Bravo, Bloke, Lee and others who have contributed to this thread. You all are right on the spot. Diversification is the key to a successful free-lance career. Though I was trained at the Philadelphia Musical Academy for a career in a full-time orchestra, so were hundreds of others trained in their respective schools. I played in several small orchestras along the way, but, would have starved to death if I had depended on that type of work. In addition, I have also played a part of a local run with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus as well as working summer stock musical theater on both double bass and tuba as well as playing in some Dixieland and ethnic bands.
As Bloke said, diversify your skills for success in today's musical market.
Instructor of Applied Brass Performance
Maryland Conservatory of Music
Bel Air and Havre de Grace, Maryland USA
As an Electric bass/tuba guy I think this thread is very insightful. I agree with you in that I don't think that improving your skills at any instrument other than your primary is "too distracting." If you do improve your skills to a workable level on another instrument, it could lead you to being "too employed."
I think to really understand the concept of bass as it is commonly thought of, you have to actually play bass. I've played "bass" on tuba a lot and it works just as well as a bass if you understand the sound concept, which bloke did well describing. I've even been told that people can't even tell the difference if they don't look onstage (take it with a grain of salt, they're mostly hammered.)
If I recall correctly, I seem to remember that one of the things Chester Schmitz did when playing with the US Army Band (before getting the Boston Symphony gig) was to double on string bass with the United States Army "Strolling Strings."
It is impossible for one with their finite mind to comprehend the incredible miracles, mercies, and powers of an infinite God. It is good to know He's there and loves us, though.
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1968 Besson New Standard Eb
Bravo to you Bloke, Lee,Tom, et al.
Doubling Uprite, Electric and Tuba/Euph for the past 30+ years has allowed me to rub elbows with great musicians that I wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in hell to make music with, not to mention the fact that I could earn a living.
My only regret is that I didn't do it right after my 1st lesson with Jake (as he recommended) at 16 y.o. but waited 'til I was 25.
My best to all of you!
*More than doubling, my post is more about musical genre and musical literacy outside the realms of (music department/music conservatory -propagated) band/orchestra/quintet literature.
If we can concentrate on "just how to play one particular note" in an orchestral excerpt (an excerpt of a piece of music that few of us will ever perform), why not ALSO concentrate on "just how to play one particular note" in a (what we are asked to do far more often , commercially) certain type of stylized bass line ...??
*That having been said, I've had more than one person at more than one gig come up to me and ask, "You play bass, don't you?" ...so there must be SOMETHING of value to tuba players to be gleaned from learning to play the bass.
Absolutely!! The more styles you can nail the better musician you become, which leads to more gigs and more $$. It of course takes much study and hard work, but it's certainly worth it.
I appreciate your posts, Sir Bloke, and hope you've open some eyes/minds among the unwashed.
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