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First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby Tom » Tue Feb 06, 2018 1:16 pm

There was a series of interesting-to-me posts that touched on this topic in the thread about playing low etudes on the "wrong" tuba. I very rarely start topics, but I thought this could warrant some further interesting discussion.

That is, the idea that was presented for owners/players of contrabass and bass tubas to first consider themselves to be bass tuba players. One poster commented that a not-specifically-named pro (I think we all know...) suggests such to maintain a focused buzz and efficiency.

This is actually the opposite of the philosophy I was taught when I started on bass tuba (F) playing. In other words, I was taught that the "work" should be done on the "big tuba" and that bass tuba playing would follow suit and be "easy" by comparison. That is, getting breathing, articulation, intonation and even technique together on the contrabass was to be the primary objective. All of that work done on contrabass would then cross over quickly and easily into bass tuba playing. Bass tuba playing would then be like driving a Corvette on the weekends when your daily driver is a semi truck by comparison.

The idea that the bass tuba would be primary and the contrabass secondary is intriguing to me and I can certainly understand the reasoning behind it.

I'm not really looking for a right or wrong here, just additional thoughts and discussion on the topic. What were you taught? What do YOU think about it?
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby bloke » Tue Feb 06, 2018 1:48 pm

I believe that person's primary idea might be concept-related, and is related to things that they (and most others...??) have approached in the wrong way for decades...

...i.e. "Playing the tuba is a bunch of WORK, and if I really work HARD, I can play the tuba really WELL."

...but instead: "If it's done right, it's not hard. In fact, it's easy."
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby swillafew » Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:17 pm

I played F only for a long time, I guess I would qualify. When I learned to play one, I was taking lessons from Ivan Hammond at BGSU and he never used the terms in question, everything was a "tuba". I didn't pick up the distinction until I started reading about it here in 2009. I can remember asking when I was in undergrad why it said "BassTuba" on the music, and the answer I got was, "it's a German Edition". Before college most of my music said, "BBb Bass". Now I sometimes play "Eb Bass" parts, and they are non transposed bass clef parts. It's no mystery to me, but trying to explain it to treble clef people is not easy. In fact, sometimes they think they are the ones not transposing, and the bass clef people are the ones that are.
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby Donn » Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:50 pm

Well, that's a historic issue. In my limited experience anyway, the parts I see labeled "Eb Bass" are just the tuba part, as conceived by someone a century ago or more in world where the "Bb bass" was more or less a euphonium and usually doubled the 3rd trombone. So ... I guess today it's not a bass tuba part, if you're playing in an ordinary contemporary band with every other instrument graduated up in size as they have done in the intervening century - trombones etc. It's the bottom of that ensemble and needs the gravity we normally look to the contrabass tuba for (don't we?)
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby lost » Tue Feb 06, 2018 3:54 pm

I have studied with 2 good prof. tuba players and both suggested I learn to play the biggest hardest tuba I had and bring that to my lesson.

The goal was starting with the hardest ax possible and the rest would be easier. Having started my brass playing on trombone, I feel this was expert advice, because when I picked up an eb tuba it was much easier.
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby Dan Tuba » Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:49 pm

If you haven’t read the following work by David Zerkel, you should check it out. Here’s an excerpt from his work: (Hopefully he doesn’t mind)

Do You C What I C?”: An Examination of Solo Literature for the Contrabass Tuba By David Zerkel

I have really fond memories of owning my first tuba. Everything about it was extraordinary...the sound, the case, the dents, but most importantly, the fact that (with some help from my parents) it was mine. I was a sophomore at the Peabody Conservatory studying with David Bragunier of the National Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Bragunier was, and still is, an Alexander man through and through and this was the direction that he wanted me to take in looking for an instrument. After about a year of searching, we found an Alex for sale and we bought it. I was on Cloud Nine!

Having been raised smack-dab in the middle of the middle class, I was extremely grateful to my folks for loaning me the money to buy this instrument, as the money loaned to me made up a healthy percentage of their savings. I cherished my new acquisition and spent innumerable hours in the practice room, learning anything and everything I could about my new horn. I also adopted the notion that this would probably be the only horn I’d ever own, so it would be in my best interest to learn everything in the literature on the CC tuba. Since I was in college before the F tuba boom hit the United States, and since Mr. Bragunier played everything on his Alex CC, I was reasonably certain that this is how it worked for everyone.

Some time around my junior year, I started to take orchestral auditions, and would find myself being the only guy in the semis or the finals who only had one instrument. After that point, when my parents would ask me what I wanted for Christmas, my standard reply was, “World Peace and an F Tuba”. I knew full well that my odds were about even regarding the likelihood of getting either, so I continued to toil away on my Vaughan Williams, my Berlioz excerpts, and everything else on my trusty Alex.

Eventually, at the age of 29 years old, I would buy my first F tuba. But I must confess that, even today, when I think of the tuba, it is always the sound of the CC that I hear in my head.

In my mind, there are several good reasons for that—primarily that the role of the tuba in any kind of ensemble playing is to provide the Bass voice. In the tuba family, I believe that there is a clear correlation between the instruments and the respective voices to which
they relate; the Euphonium is the Tenor voice, the F or Eb is the Baritone voice, and the CC or BBb is the Bass voice. While it is true that, as a solo voice, the tenor is about ten times sexier than the Bass, the Bass still needs to be competent and work twice as hard as the tenor in order to get across the same musical meaning across to the typical listener (whose comfortable “listening tessitura” is from the bottom of the Bass Staff to just above the top of the Treble Staff). As someone who plays both the tuba and the euphonium, I’ll readily admit that both the euphonium and the F tuba are more fun to play as solo instruments. It’s just easier to make the line sing on these instruments as opposed to the big horn. But we play Bass instruments, and it is imperative that we can communicate effectively in that particular voice.

Herein lies the problem: If the big tuba is so cumbersome as a solo vehicle, why bother? Here are my observations:

1. Economics- Let’s face it, tubas are expensive. For many families, it is a stretch to buy one instrument, let alone two. So for many players, there is only one tuba and it only makes sense to be able to do anything on that instrument until they are in a position to possibly purchase a second horn. One should not wait until their optimally set-up for equipment before they begin to develop their artistic and interpretive sensibilities

2. Musicianship- If you can make music sing on the big horn, you are ahead of the pack. In this age of dual roles of the Bass verses the Contrabass tubas, many players treat the big horn as merely a tool for playing big. All you need to do is look at what I call “The Arms Race” of bigger and bigger equipment to see that the desired end result is a more massive sound. This is not entirely a bad thing...I’ll be the first to admit that I get a rush out of hearing a great player provide a fat bottom to an ensemble. My fear though is that many younger players see the small tuba as the only one that they really need to concentrate as far as “artistic” playing goes, and that the big horn is just for footballs and oom-pah. Which leads me to my final point...

3. Working as a tubist- Let’s face it, in the U.S., the big tuba is still the bread and butter horn as far as band, orchestra, Dixieland, and quintet playing is concerned. If you cannot be artful, agile, sensitive, or otherwise generally versatile on the big tuba, your phone will not ring for work. If Die Bankersangerlieder means the same thing to you as Bruckner 7, you’ve got a serious big tuba problem.

The reason behind this study is my firm belief one of the best ways to become a musical player on the big horn is to attack the solo literature with zeal. There is no reason that a student who only has access to one instrument should feel any less compelled to succeed than a student who has an arsenal of instruments at their disposal. It seems to me that somewhere over the past 25 years, it has become “uncool” to play the big horn as a solo instrument. As a consequence, we (as a community) have become more reliant on equipment to solve our musical and technical problems and many players seem to forget our need to be effective artists on every horn that we play. After all, we play music to communicate ideas through our instruments, not just to impress our listening audience. (Aesthstics vs. Athletics...another topic for another day!)

It is my hope that this study will provide the one-horn crowd out there with a fairly substantial body of literature with which they might not be familiar. I hope too that this might nudge some players into really considering the aesthetic and musical possibilities of the big horn and not to be too quick into pigeon-holing their CC tuba into whole-note purgatory. While it is always good to move forward, we must never forget from where we have come.
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby swillafew » Tue Feb 06, 2018 6:05 pm

Image
My point before was that the composers and publishers throw the terms around in a way that encourages you to ignore just about everything and just play. This photo is from a brass band edition, and an ASCAP composer has penned it.
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby Donn » Tue Feb 06, 2018 8:52 pm

swillafew wrote:This photo is from a brass band edition, and an ASCAP composer has penned it.


Ah, well, you're right there.
Humpty Dumpty wrote:When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.


But back in the day, there really was a standard meaning for "Bb bass", above the Eb bass. (Lucky they resisted the urge to rationalize that by naming the Eb "contrabass", or we'd never have achieved the BBb tuba, pinnacle of tubosity, for lack of a name to classify it by.)
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Re: First considering yourself a bass tuba player

Postby ckalaher1 » Tue Feb 06, 2018 10:36 pm

At this point in my life, playing everything on CC in the name of collateral benefits sounds like the musical equivalent of pushing a blocking sled during two-a-days.

Just grab the one that works and try to do a good job. For me, that's my F tuba quite often. Probably 50/50 for me.
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