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 12:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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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.
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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...
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