Elucidating the Sound of It: A Performance Philosophy of Contrabass Tuba in Symphonic Wind Ensembles

Published year:




Author email:



Griffith University

Country of institution:




Abstract URL:

Website URL:

Project PDF:


Elucidating the Sound of It is an artistic tuba performance action research project

investigating wind-bass sound and musical performance practice in an adult community wind

orchestra. An autoethnographic, musical process philosophy of symphonic wind-brass-bass

performance, employing a cognition analysis tool 4E (embodied, embedded, enabled,

extended) in a cross disciplinary, humanistic investigation framed within cultural history,

classical philosophy, and transpersonal psychology.


The thesis discusses bass sound as an elemental, acoustically immersive phenomenon

foundational to psychologically affective somatic experiences of musical depth, size, and

power. An acoustical sensation, first encountered in landscapes and later replicated to effect

somatic awe in ceremonies and rituals for thousands of years. Bass sounds, manifested in

more recent times, by massive brass bells, mighty wind driven pipe organs and the eventual

development of brass wind-bass orchestral instruments. The tuba, an industrial era, military

band, chromatic, contrabass brass instrument was significantly employed by Richard Wagner

in composing the Ring Cycle. Wagner expressed an innovative and expansive conception of

bass brass symphonic sounds, consequently, establishing an important musical role for tuba

in orchestral performance.


The playing of tuba in a symphonic wind ensemble is the focus of this performative research,

which is framed by the orchestral tuba performance and wind instrument pedagogy of Arnold

Jacobs (1915-1998) principal tuba of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1944-1988). Jacobs

(teacher to generations of accomplished brass players and the author) is renowned for his

musical knowledge, orchestral experience, and pioneering study of the anatomical and

neurological aspects of effective wind instrument respiration. A pedagogy expressed in a

personal style of individualized mentoring often conveyed in cryptic oral maxims. Jacobs’

teaching philosophy is verified in a growing body of published accounts by former students

and his recorded masterclasses available online. Evidence of Jacobs’ allegorical, enigmatic,

common-sense emphasis of developing an attentive, focused, and imaginative conception of

tuba sound and performance excellence. An oral teaching, demonstrated in the thesis to

possess meaningful etymological precedents in classical Greek philosophy; an empirical

observation that Jacobs’ oral teaching style displays cogent pre-Socratic roots. A classical

foundation to a process based, metaphorically expressive, performative philosophy

articulating an embodied relationship of music, player, and instrument manifesting

imaginative musical products; a poetic process Jacobs characterized as Song & Wind.


The dissertation evidences its qualitative enquiry of tuba wind-bass sound by both examining

and documenting the instruments performative role within a symphonic wind ensemble. The

bass parts, encountered and performed in concert, of five wind orchestra masterworks are

discussed: Gustav Holst, First Suite in E-flat for Military Band – Percy Grainger,

Lincolnshire Posy – Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront – Julie

Giroux, Symphony IV: Bookmarks from Japan – John Mackey, The Frozen Cathedral.

Embedded within the dissertation are recent concert performances of these works

demonstrating the authors tuba performance and process philosophy as practiced within a

musically accomplished adult community wind orchestra.