Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A few thoughts on music, learning music and a message for beginners...

above: logo for Vh1's Save The Music Foundation

Okay, this has been bothering me for a while but I was reminded about it recently. Today I was helping fifth graders try brass instruments at a local grade school. During a break between classes, a colleague of mine who was showing students Trumpets came over to me and said, "I really hate it when they struggle to make a sound and say 'since I am not instantly amazing at this I will give up.'"

I tend to agree with his sentiment. I have heard from people very close to me that "...I am not musically inclined."   This bothers me very much, and I will explain why. 

Music is a skill. Just like other skills it comes easy to some and might be more difficult for others, and just like other skills, developing musical ability requires work. From learning to read music to playing an instrument or singing and developing your aural skills it's all just practice and work.  

I am not claiming that there aren't gifted people whom music comes easier to. I am also not claiming that for some playing music seems like an insurmountable obstacle. I just want to communicate this message to people who struggle while in the beginning stages of learning an instrument: don't give up. 

It is so easy to be lazy in what a very smart man called our "3 minute microwave" culture. In the age of the internet when you can have almost anything very quickly it is very easy to give up when you aren't instantly Arnold Jacobs when you pick up a Tuba for the first time. 

But don't give up. If you are a parent with a child in band or orchestra, don't let them quit. Find out why they wish to quit and talk to them about it. Help them have fun with it. If they don't like the music at school, help them find music that is fun. I think that is the most important factor: Fun.
It sounds kind of stupid, but I don't care. If you are having fun with your music, you are doing something right. I think that some of the students who have trouble initially don't understand how much FUN they can have learning and working on music. This is true for older folks too. Don't be scared of music, just jump in and have fun with it. 

This rant is officially over. Just my goofy opinion. Let me know what you think in the comments section, or send me a message via facebook or email.

(yup, even for this...)
(why? because I like them)

After Pictures - Conn 14K Sousaphone

above: A finished Conn 14K

First, let me apologize for some of these pictures. I took them with my phone and I can't always tell from the phone screen whether they are very good or not. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't. Moving on...

This one came out pretty good. They can't all be perfect. In my opinion the end result of some repairs are tempered by the condition of the instrument when it arrives to be fixed. You can produce stunning over-haul quality results, but often it just isn't worth it to invest that sort of time commitment to something. You can, however still produce good results that you can be happy with. I think this is a good example of that.

Below are some more photos. Let me know what you think!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Before / In Progress: Besson Compensating Euphonium

above: Before pics of this Besson Compensating Euphonium
 This is another, old, abused and fantastic instrument. It has REALLY been put through the ringer, but I hope to breathe some new life into it. Let's have a look at it, and see where we are at right now. As always, click on the images for a larger view.

First, this horn has quite a few loose solder joints. They are noted with red circles and arrows. The specific locations are;
  • 4th piston tubing leading from the piston to the tuning slide
  • 3rd slide knuckle to left side outer slide tube
  • 4th piston shorter tubing on the back side of the horn
  • 2nd slide leg
 Obviously, this sort of thing makes it difficult to play, so the instrument is going to have to be taken apart to properly repair it. How far apart? This far...

Was it completely necessary to take it this far apart? Yes, because to properly re-solder those joints, they must be taken apart to be properly cleaned and prepped for soldering. This also conveniently allows me easiest access to the nastiest dents that are in the knuckles. 

 Below is a good indicator of a bad solder joint. Notice how the color on the inside of the ferrule is green. This is corrosion between brass that is caused by moisture, which means that this joint has been loose for some time.
 Here is the same tube next to another solder joint that was still intact. Notice the metallic color of the solder in the ferrule on the right and the corrosion in the ferrule on the left.
The bell has a hole in it and a few patched sections. I am going to try to replace the bell rather than patch these up if possible. Stay tuned for further updates but don't fret, I have good help...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Before / In Progress: Conn 14K Sousaphone

above: In progress Conn 14K in satin silver
 (note: click on the photo to enlarge the image)
So here goes another one. Why do I work on a large number of Conn's and King's? Well, it's a pretty simple answer. First, they are very common and plentiful, so I get quite a few of them through the shop. Also, people who keep up with this blog will notice that I have recently posted in-progress or before pictures of a few other horns. It isn't un-common for me to have to juggle multiple projects at once. Priorities change from day to day...

We have a pretty good example here. The damage is typical for most used Sousas of this age. This horn was purchased from someone who reads this blog (thanks Bill!). He claims that the lady face on the bell told him that my company should give him a higher price. We met him in the middle. I believe him...

Here are some more pictures of this horn.

above: dented crooks and 2nd branch


above: The back of the horn, typical damage
  above: top down view
The first step to working on these is to disassemble them and clean them. Even the smallest amount of cleaning can make a world of difference in how they look. The image below has the instrument ONLY being cleaned and having the tarnish removed. It has not yet had any dent work and it hasn't been polished. The valve section had to be removed because it was only being held on by one brace and the solder joint that connects it to the fifth branch. 


Monday, August 8, 2011

WORKS - The Ralph Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto

above: the cover for the RVW Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra

Written in 1954, the Ralph Vaughan Williams Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra is one of, if not the most important works in the Tuba repertoire. One of the reasons it is so important aside from the fact that it is a fantastic piece of music is that it is one of the first major works for solo Tuba and orchestra. In all honesty, the opening melody to the first movement should have been the song Tubby sang in Tubby the Tuba. 

The work was premiered on June 13, 1954 by Philip Catelinet whom the piece was also written for.  Philip Catelinet was the first chair Tubist in the London Symphony Orchestra. Philip wrote about the premiere in an article titled, "The Truth about the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto," ; 

"Tuning was a problem. It appeared to me, in that hall, that I gave out a sound similar to that of a sick cow. It seemed to meet the approval of the conductor, and we were off. The first movement was not too comfortable. A lack of togetherness on my part, hopefully, was not noticeable to the audience. The cadenza came off, though I wasn't too satisfied with my intonation. There is little, if any, resonance in that hall, so your solo sound seems to stop at the end of the bell. The beautiful second movement was, to me, one of my best efforts. I didn't care if the audience, critics or anyone else, for that matter, disliked the tuba sound or not. I really enjoyed myself. The last movement rollicked along, musically sketchy, but somehow held together with the confidence coming from under-rehearsed orchestral players determined not to admit musical defeat under any circumstances. The applause seemed sincere enough; probably happy, along with me, that I had finally made a tuba concerto sufficiently plausible musically to be acceptable. Vaughan Williams came to the front of the stage and linked hands with Sir John Barbirolli and myself, and we took our bows of the audience."

The full article is linked at the end of the post.

Below is a recording of James Gourlay performing the first movement:

The formal title of the piece is Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra. This means that the piece was intended to be performed on either Eb or F Tuba. These are Bass Tubas. In the United States, the more common BBb and CC Tubas are Contra Bass Tubas. You can still perform the Concerto on BBb or CC Tuba, but it is more difficult to play the upper register passages, like the lyrical second movement.  

As a "tip of the hat" the opening 5 notes are quoted briefly in the first movement of the Edward Gregson Tuba Concerto. The quote occurs two measures before rehearsal number seven in the score of the Gregson Tuba Concerto. You can see the Vaughan Williams on the left and the Gregson on the right:


There are MANY excellent recordings of this work. Nearly every Tubist who make recordings has recorded this piece. You can find one recording with the master himself, Arnold Jacobs by clicking on the album cover below:

If you get the opportunity, please go see Gene Pokorny, principal Tuba with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform the Ralph Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto on Thursday May 17th, 2012 at 8:00 PM (central time).  Click on the picture of Gene Pokorny below for more details.