Friday, April 29, 2011

Not just "oom paahs" - Czardas by Vittorio Monti

above: Patrick Sheridan with his uniquely finished Jupiter EEb playing Czardas.

Czardas is based on a Hungarian folk song. This Czardas was originally written for Violin in 1904. This is a great piece for Tuba players because it has a beautiful melodic section, and a fast moving technical section. It is also a fun piece to use because people who are unfamiliar with Tuba are often amazed that Tubas can play something faster than quarter notes. 
Here is a video of an orchestrated version of Czardas with the Violin solo:

Here is John Fletcher (playing a Besson EEb compensating Tuba) performing Czardas.
Here is Oystein Baadsvik (playing what looks like a Miraphone F) performing Czardas.
And lastly, here is the Miraphone Tuba Quartet performing Czardas.
Patrick Sheridan offers a great transcription of Czardas on his website. You can find it:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to...clean up heavily tarnished silver

above: Conn 24J Tuba body, covered in tarnish

Sometimes we come across Tubas or Sousaphones that have been left in a closet or attic for many years and developed a heavy coat of tarnish. Above is a Conn 24J that I am currently working on. It is best to have the Tuba perfectly clean and free of tarnish before attempting any work. There are a few different ways to remove tarnish. Here is one way that I do it. It is a little messy and smelly, but it works pretty well and leaves you with a pretty horn. Here is what you will need:

  • Tarn-X (available at most grocery stores in the cleaning aisle)
  • Baking Soda
  • A soft brush, like a toothbrush only bigger. NO METAL!
  • Rubber or vinyl gloves
  • 1 kitchen sponge
  • 1 bowl for the Tarn-X
The first step is to find a safe area to do this in. You do not want to further scratch the horn or damage it. The rubber gloves should provide some traction, but wet metal is slippery so be careful. Do this outside or an area that is well ventilated. The Tarn-X works great but is SMELLY. Make sure to wear gloves so your hands don't smell like the Tarn-X after you are done. 

above: Before pictures of 24J valve section.

Pour enough Tarn-X into the bowl to soak the sponge. Ring out the excess in the bowl. Scrub the horn with the Tarn-X. You should immediately notice the tarnish beginning to go away, but the finish will not yet be great. Repeat soaking the sponge and scrubbing away the tarnish until no more black remains. 

Next, rinse the horn and make sure the surface is wet. Then, mix some baking soda with water in your bowl to make a baking soda paste. Scrub the surface of your horn with the baking soda paste until you have a clean, silver finish. 

After this step, make sure to thoroughly rinse the horn of all baking soda, inside and out. None can be left on or inside the horn. This is VERY important.

If done correctly, your horn should look like this:

Using this process, you use no polish and put no risk to the silver plating and in my opinion you also make it look pretty darn good.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stolen Tuba (low brass) Database Project

I work for a company that deals heavily in used Tubas and Sousaphones. This means that I am on craigslist/ebay/auction web sites DAILY. Even on the weekends when I am not at the shop. I don't buy everything I come across, but I see a great deal of horns. 

The idea behind this database is that if I find an item that is stolen, I can check my database for the description and serial number then  reconnect the player with their horn.

Here is the information I am putting together:

City and Zip code
Phone number (will be kept private)
 Email (will be kept private)
Serial number 
Finish or other details about your horn
Any other details you would like to provide

I will keep 2 sets of spreadsheets. One that I will publish and one that will be my master sheet. The published list WILL NOT contain email addresses or phone numbers. 

I will also provide my data to all major retailers who deal in Tubas. 

If you have had a horn stolen or have any questions or comments, you can email me at:

or you can call me any time during business hours at my shop
9am - 6pm (central time) M-F
                                             (316) 684 - 0291 - ask for Kevin in the repair shop

Thanks for all the help. Hopefully we can work together to help bring people and their horns back together!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


above: the classic 1947 "Tubby the Tuba" cartoon

Tubby the Tuba is a classic tale that helps introduce young people to the orchestra. The story revolves around Tubby, a Tuba who feels left out because he doesn't ever get to play the melody. Tubby then goes down to the river to sulk where he meets a singing bullfrog who teaches him a tune. Very proud of his new tune, Tubby goes back to the orchestra to show everyone that he can sing too. At first Tubby is scoffed at, but after the other instruments hear his tune they join in. 

Tubby has become synonymous with Tuba even outside of musical circles. My own parents (whom I love dearly but don't have a musical bone in their bodies) know Tubby. This song was a big hit in it's day that was turned into this short cartoon in 1947 and then a feature length film in 1975. 

The song was inspired shortly after world war II, when Paul Tripp and George Kleinsinger had debuted another song. After the performance a Tuba player supposedly said "I can sing too!" and this was the genesis of the Tubby story. The story was written by Paul Tripp and the music was composed by George Kleinsinger.

Another important fact about Tubby is that while it is a comical children's story, it is also somewhat true. The most well known (in my opinion) piece of Tuba solo literature is the Ralph Vaughan Williams Concerto for Bass Tuba. This piece was not debuted until 1954. Solo music for Tubas was slim at best during this time period, aside from transcriptions. This is sort of to be expected as the Tuba has only existed for about 200 years, which is relatively young when compared to other instruments found in the orchestra. 
Tubby also breaks the unfortunate stereotype that Tubas can only "oompah." 

My favorite recording of Tubby is:
Am I wrong, or does Tubby look just like Tommy Johnson (who plays him on this recording)
Here is an NPR story from All Things Considered in 2002 after the passing of Paul Tripp:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fun practice: Lincolnshire Posy II - Horkstow Grange

Lincolnshire Posy is absolutely one of my favorite pieces of music for band. Like many other great pieces of wind band literature Lincolnshire Posy is based on folk songs. Lincolnshire Posy movement 2, Horkstow Grange is full of rich, colorful chord changes and just enough tension from dissonance to tear your heart out. The second movement also has sweeping dynamic changes, which makes it great to use as a personal exercise. 

My idea of a fun exercise is to get an excellent recording of Lincolnshire Posy and play along to the second movement. The music is not at all challenging in the technical sense. The tempo is fairly slow and the notes are mostly quarter notes. The fun part is using this piece of music to develop your tone quality, color, phrasing and dynamic range. 

The idea when doing this is to move from note to note while maintaining a "sweet" sound, even though you will be pushing the dynamics into double forte territory. Try to keep the transitions smooth, and maintain a musical sound. 

I think this is fun. I really love this piece. Below are a few Youtube videos. Enjoy!

Below: The Airforce Concert Band plays Lincolnshire Posey. Movement 2 begins around 1:35.

There are many fabulous recordings of this piece. You can find many of them:

Also, here is the recording I own (pictured at the top). It is the Dallas Wind Symphony performing Lincolnshire Posy. 

And just for fun, here is a Minnesota Public Radio show discussing the Dallas Wind Symphony's recording of Lincolnshire Posy.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Before: Conn "Rain Catcher" Sousaphone

above: yours truly with the Conn "rain catcher"

So the director of the local Shrine Band finally brought in his Conn "rain catcher" Sousaphone. I wonder why they called it that? Hmmm....  (If you missed the irony there, I can't help you...) 

This was one of the earlier designs by Conn, before the "recording" bell was introduced. This particular instrument has had some "interesting" repairs. I will take some pictures before I dig into it. I have yet to date it. More information will follow next week. I am waiting to see exactly what the owner would like done to it. 

Next week, I will get into the history of this piece including some catalogs and details about this instrument's specs.

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: