Monday, April 4, 2011

Interview: Scott Watson - Professor of Tuba, University of Kansas

above: Scott Watson

This weekend I had the great pleasure of traveling to the University of Kansas on business. While there I got the chance to talk to Scott Watson for a little while. Here I made a mistake that I will never make again; I did NOT record the interview. It was a brief interview, but full of great talk about gear...which I couldn't jot down because I couldn't write fast enough. Since the interview wasn't recorded, I wanted to be as accurate as possible so unfortunately, some material had to be left out. 

Scott Watson has been professor of Tuba at the University of Kansas since 1979. He performs with The Fountain City Brass Band and the Kansas City Brass Works. He is a Besson performing artist/clinician. 

Do you have any suggestions for young players who want to pursue a career as a professional Tuba player?

Scott - Start seriously working on your fundamentals; especially learn how to play in time. Learn how to play "in-the-pocket." One of the most difficult things to do is to learn how to properly play in time. 
Second, develop artistry in terms of musicianship. Learn how to develop a good sound. Listen to great performances of any kind. It doesn't matter whether or not they are Tuba recordings, you just need to listen to great musicians to help you develop a good sound. With the internet, players now have almost anything at their fingertips. 

What is the best advice you can offer to young students preparing for college auditions?

Scott - Pick repertoire that shows your strengths, not your weaknesses. We are interested in your strengths. I want to know what you do well.  
Secondly, record yourself... a lot. Then play the recordings for people. What you are trying to do in a short amount of time is to say, "here is what I can do well, I have a skill set to build on and I am teachable." 

What would you tell a young player who wants help learning how to properly tune their instrument?

Scott - Most young players need to understand that when tuning a brass instrument that 2+2 does not equal 4. 2+2 equals 3.978699999. What I mean is that not all instruments are created the same way. Even two Tubas built one after the other on the same day at the same factory will be different. The first thing that the student needs to do is check the open partials and get the tuning slide in the correct position. If the open partials aren't in tune, then there really isn't anything you can do to tune the rest of the instrument. 
Once the main tuning slide is set, then check each individual valve then valve combinations. Check all of these multiple times to figure out the pitch tendencies of your particular instrument. 

Another thing that a student can do is learn alternate fingerings for their instrument. There are some horns (in BBb) that are sharper than others on B and G natural using 1+2. Sometimes these can be played more in tune using 3 instead.

The last thing a young student can do is buy or use a 4 valve Tuba. A 4 valve Tuba is critical for tuning low C and low B natural. B should never be played as 1+2+3, it should always be played as 2+4. 

What kind of mouth piece would you recommend for a beginner/young player?

Scott - For high school students, I would recommend that they choose a "middle of the road" mouth piece. Not too big, not too small. The mouth piece needs to be a good fit for the horn and the player. 
For high school students I would recommend a Conn Helleberg, a Miraphone H2 (the H stands for Helleberg) or a Perantucci PT-44. 
For younger students I would recommend a Bach 24AW or a Perantucci PT-44.
I would say that 95% of people can use a PT-44 mouth piece and get a good sound.
Tuba choice: BBb or CC?

Scott - I am glad that you asked me this. A few years ago I would have said CC without hesitation, but lately I have found the usefulness and beauty of a BBb sound. 

The real difference between a BBb and a CC is the density of the sound. The extra tubing in a BBb  gives it a rich, darker color than a CC. I can get a darker color out of a BBb. If I ever got the chance to play Wagner's The Ring cycle (and I would give my left arm to do so), I would use a BBb because it is darker. At times, BBb is just the right color.
In Europe some orchestras use BBb Tubas. Some German orchestras like F Tubas because they blend in well with the Trombone section. In brass bands EEb and BBb Tubas are used. In American orchestras CC Tubas are typically used.
The BBb has a more "basso profundo" sound. The CC is more like a pipe organ and has more "nobleness." 

Both BBb and CC have their place, but if you have to have one Tuba for multiple styles or types of groups like chamber, quintets or orchestra use a CC Tuba. The CC Tuba needs to be your mother ship.   

I would like to thank Scott Watson for taking time to sit down and chat with me. You can find Scott Watson's CD's for sale here:


1 comment:

  1. Heh, the Ring cycle! That's what AJ used on the Ring - a BBb Holton, not the famous York