A Lesson with a Master: Roger Bobo & Steven Mead
by Dawn Holte
This summer, I had the opportunity to cover the Lieksa Tuba Competition that took place during Lieksa Brass Week (see the Fall 2001 issue of the ITEA Journal “Lieksan Vaskiviildw). While 1was working on the story, 1also spent some time speaking with some of the artists/ adjudicators for the week trying to sponge up whatever wisdom I could. Following are my conversations with Roger Bobo and Steven Mead.
An Interview with Roger Bobo
Dawn Holte: When someone studies with you, what types of things can they expect?
Roger Bobo: I like to teach students how to deal with problems and fix them, instead of having me just fix them. Teaching is fascinating to me. Far more fascinating than playing is. You know, you can play Mahler’s Fifth Symphony 500 times, and it’s still playing this single line in this wonderful piece of music. But a student is absolutely individual. No two students are alike. You have to treat each case completely differently. It’s fascinating. Also, the students are not the same from day to day, and, by the way, neither is the teacher. All students want to playa certain way. They want to play their way, so I want to help them find their way and be able to sound like they want to sound. I really think that a good teacher does not have a lot of students who all sound the same, and I’m proud that all of my students sound very different from each other.
DH: What types of things do you expect from your students?
RB: Well, I’m really lucky to have an extraordinarily high level class. All of my students are graduate students, and they all play very well. I expect them to do the work. They’re there to learn how to play the tuba, and most of them don’t have any other subjects except tuba and ensembles (this is in the Lausanne Conservatory of Switzerland). They have to put in the hours per day that it takes. There’s no other way. I mean, look at the [Lieksa Tuba] Competition. It’s the same in a symphony orchestra job, except maybe there are a hundred applicants instead of twenty-five. They have to be able to play, and one of the ways to develop into a good tuba player is to practice. Write that down! (Laughs) Okay, divided into two different things, this is what a tuba player should be working to achieve. One aspect is tuba playing, function, so I have a lot of warm-up materials that help, number one, to warm up. The warm up materials als help to develop skill that aren’t quite fini h d yet and then maintain the ones that you already have.
Then, within the area of function, I use a lot of lesson books and study books that cover all kinds of styles. Styles to maintain function ability, and styles to develop musicality, which is the other aspect that a tuba player should be working to achieve.
I know that sounds a little dry, but then the enjoyable part [as a teacher] is watching the musicality grow. I always enjoy the day when I suggest something, and the student discovers that he’d rather do it a different way. (Pause) I enjoy that most of the time, rshould say. Sometimes somebody gets there and the second week that they get there [they make those decisions] when they’re not quite ready to make those decisions. DH: Now, you just gave your final solo performance this past spring. Was that hard, or exciting?
RB: Exciting. It was exciting. There were a couple of emotional feelings when I walked backstage after the last piece. I was thinking, it went okay. Pretty good. Not bad, and then I put my horn down and my daughter came running up to me crying and I’m thinking, “what’s going on?” I didn’t quite understand it. But I haven’t looked back, and I haven’t had time to even miss it, because my activities are so dense that I haven’t even had time to reflect on not playing anymore.
DH: And you’re keeping yourself busy with conducting, and teaching, and things like the Lieksa Brass Week?
RB: Master Classes. I give master classes, I conduct, I teach, and I serve on juries. I guess that’s what I do.
DH: Do you have any future ambitions with conducting certain groups, or anything like that ?
RB: I’ll have to see where it goes. I don’t want to start focusing on some impossible dream. I don’t envision myself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the next ten years. I wouldn’t mind doing some work in various symphony orchestras. That’s what I would like to do. In the meantime, I conduct a lot of brass. I conduct wind music frequently, and unfortunately symphonic music least of all, which is the material that I know the best, and the material that I really want to do. Let me tell you a funny story. I was judging a competition in Trondheim, Norway, and the competition took place in the facilities of the Trondheim Symphony. Our room where we took a break and had coffee was the break room and coffee room of the administration of the Trondheim Symphony, and I heard by word of mouth that they were looking for a conductor. So I said to myself, okay, they’re looking for a conductor, I want to conduct, I’m here. So, I came back the next day, wore my most pressed clothes, and I stood up really straight and tried to pretend a demeanor of intelligence. (Laughs) I said, “I’m a conductor, you’re looking for one, is there any chance that I could come?” I talked to them for about a half hour. They were very polite, and I got a gig. So, I’m going up there the first week of October to conduct.
DH: Congratulations! Now, on a differ ent note, are you pleased with the direction tuba playing is going, with the emerging younger players?
RB: Yeah, sure. I might say this. I’m a little disturbed with some schools of playing that say bigger is better. Now, the sound is getting bigger and bigger and louder and louder, and there’s less care for more subtle things. Even if orchestral playing was the only thing that people in the world were interested in doing, it’s still a bad thing, because it’s hard to make music that way. God help the tuba player who wants to be a professional who has no goal in his vision other than to be a symphony orchestra tuba player, because he’s going to end up sad, and there’s a good chance that he’s going to end up frustrated. There are a hundred guys for every position, or more! So, it’s extremely important to discover other field in which to make music. Chamber music, popular music, jazz, polka. There are more lights than one at th nd f the tunnel.
DH: Do you have any advice for young, aspiring tuba players out there?
RB: Practice. (pause) And listen. Listen to violinists and singers and cellists and pianists… and brass players. Listen to all kinds of music. Broaden your musical view as much as possible. Develop your musical ideas, then train yourself to realize them as a player. Do not develop your tuba techniques and then let your musical ideas grow inside those confines. If you don’t have musicality, you’re not going to get a job in anything you audi tion for. Or you’re not going to get re engaged when your brass quintet plays a job. It’s the second engagement that gets the deal. If I don’t get re-engaged in Trondheim, I’m going to be disappointed. Finally, enjoy music.
An Interview with Steven Mead
Dawn Holte: When someone studies with you, either at the University, or privately, what types of things do you try to teach them?
Steven Mead: Just like every human being, every euphonium player comes to me with very different strengths and weaknesses. They also sometimes are in different stages of development in their lives. So, I don’t have a set checklist of things that I want to do. The ultimate goal is that I want the students to be very happy, content, confident human beings who play their instrument really well. So, we do whatever we need to do to achieve that.
DH: What do you expect from your students?
SM: From my regular students, I expect 100% effort all the time. I expect them to be honest. I expect them to practice as much as they need to practice, whatever that is. I think that’s basically it really.
DH: What direction would you like to see the euphonium go?
SM: Up! UP!! (pause) That’s a very complicated question. I’ve spent my whole life playing and teaching euphonium. Occasion ally I have to step back and try to be really objective about what the euphonium is doing and where it is in the world. And occasionally it’s quite hard to actually acknowledge to yourself that it’s a very, very minority instrument – many places in the world, people don’t even know what it is. But the good thing is that whenever people hear it, they like it. So, it’s a question really for me of energizing the people I work with, the students as well, to actually do everything they can. That’s the only way that people will make the euphonium more well known. That is, by individuals, many of them, all doing what they can for the instrument. Every now and then, something big comes along. Somebody will win a competition, and for a short time, you’ll get a little publicity. But the main work always has to be by good musicians playing really well on the euphonium. I mean, they’ve become the most powerful kind of advertiSing for the instrument. So, we need good music. We need good players to play well and to be spokespeople for the instrument.
DH: Do you have any suggestions for what amateurs and college students can do to enhance the reputation of the euphonium?
SM: Well, first of all, they need to call it a euphonium. I think the more that we actually clarify the name of the isntrrument, rather than calling it a baritone horn, or tenor tuba. If we all called it the euphonium, the world over, people wouldn’t say, “Is that the same as the German tenor horn?”
I’d like to see, and there are good signs of it already, but I’d like to see publishers invest in a lot of method books for euphonium players, rather than used trombone and trumpet books. And in some areas it’s happening already. I’ve managed to persuade some publishers to do some things for euphonium. (Pause) There are so many different sides to this question. (Pause) I’d like to see universities start to hire more eupho nium specialists, rather than pretend that trombone and tuba teachers know all about the instrument.
I’d like to see composers of orchestral music and chamber orchestras use the euphonium a lot more. I’d like to see brass quintets use euphonium a lot more as a bass instrument. Not the C-tuba. It sounds like a whale. I think that at all universities, all trombone players should be required to have euphonium as a second instrument. They should take lessons on the euphonium for a valve experience. They should be proficient in euphonium if they are going to teach it.
DH: Do you think that all euphonium players should be able to play trombone too?
SM: If they want to ever get any work in the future.
DH: Do you have any advice for aspiring young euphonium players, like me?
SM: Okay, imagine that we just had a lesson, and I said to you, “What do you think is my most important piece of advice?” You kind of know don’t you? Practice hard. Develop your all around musical skills, rather than just (buzzes lips) what happens there. Listen to as much music as possible. Take an interest in the music, rather than just in playing. Trytoworkoutwhatyoumightdofora career, otherwise you’re just trodding around without a map, and you don’t know where to go. Get the best teacher you can, and buy all of my CDs! (laughs)
DM: That’s going into print!
SM: Well, in that case (jokingly), put my web address in there as well.
[And here IS Steven Mead’s web site: www.euphonium.net.]
About the interviewer…
Dawn Holte has been Assistant Editor of the ITEA Journal since the fall, 2000 issue. She is a sophomore music education major and a Blugold Fellow at The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Thanks to the Finland Ministry of Culture and to the University ofWisconsin – Eau Claire Office of Research for making these interviews possible.