ITEA Student Activity Column
An American Tubist in Paris: A Student’s Account of Study Abroad
by Jay Walton
Imagine yourself studying in the very same conservatory as did Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Gounod, or Boulez (just to name a few). Maybe you are even practicing your tuba or euphonium in the same studio as they practiced. Intimidating? It shouldn’t be. Being a tuba or euphonium student at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris (CNSM) is like belonging to a family. Oh, but if the walls could talk…well, I guess they would speak in French. Of course, the conservatoire is very modernized today, but you can feel the same brilliance emanating from the practice rooms as was probably here when Chopin himself was present.
Jay Walton in front of Paris’ Nation monument
I have been sitting in on tuba and euphonium lessons for the past couple of months at CNSM captivated by the differences and similarities between American and French tuba and euphonium playing. Allow me to describe what I have absorbed in Paris as far as the low brass scene is concerned.
The initial thing noticed in my first tuba lesson was the informality. It was not just my teacher, myself, and about seven other tuba and euphonium players. This was scary because this was my first time playing for my teacher, and I had many other ears to hear my mistakes. I am sure that was the idea: to make lessons more like a miniature recital. In fact, an accompanist is even present during lessons.
Let me back up for a moment to before the lesson begins. I like to warm-up before my lessons and maybe play through the pieces that I have prepared. I was quite interested in knowing how the other tubists and euphoniumists warmedup before their lessons.
I asked Jérémie Dufort, a friend and fellow student at CNSM, how and to what extent he warms-up before a lesson or rehearsal. “Warm-up?” questioned Jérémie. It was not that he did not understand my English, but that he (and the majority of the players here) do not warm-up!
Jérémie elaborated by saying, “there are going to be times when a tuba player cannot warm-up before a concert or performance. We must be prepared to play our best even when we are not given the chance to warm-up. The conductor will not wait for us to warm-up.” Jérémie would know because besides studying at the conservatoire he plays tuba with the Police Band here in Paris, teaches tuba at the Malakoff Conservatoire, and freelances in Paris.
It is not that technical facility and “warm-ups” such as lip slurs or tonguing do not receive attention. (They may be good here in Paris, but they’re only human!) Warm-ups are just not a regular component in one’s preparation.
One of the teachers here, Gerard Buquet, teaches Tai Chi for the tuba. This would be more appropriate for a prelesson warm-up: becoming acquainted with proper breathing and posture.
Being an American, I know that nothing is free. I pay a pretty hefty fee to my teachers in the U.S. If one is good enough to get into a conservatory in France, all fees are paid! It is not entirely free for there is a registration fee of a couple hundred euro, but nothing like the tuition that Americans have to pay each semester. I asked one of my teachers outside of the conservatoire how much he wanted for the lesson and he said the only thing he wants is for me to practice. The lessons are not really free, then. The teachers here want something in return: professionalism. It is unheard of to come to a lesson unprepared in Paris. If one does not have something prepared for the lesson that a lot of time and energy went into, then why should the teacher put time and energy into the student?
It is true that no vibrato is used over here. If a tubist goes into an audition and uses vibrato, he doesn’t get the job. Precision is key. Vibrato adds character to a composition, but so does precision!
After listening to some euphoniumists in the studio of Philippe Fritsch, I noticed the preparedness of the students, for the precision with which they played made that evident. At the same time, music over here is not mechanical. It is very beautiful indeed. It is quite often I hear advice given to “make it come from the heart” or “sing.” Of course I have translated these phrases from French, but someone who does not know a lick of French can tell that the students are singing from their hearts in CNSM. After all, this IS Paris! Love is abundant here.
Of course, it is not all work and no play. At the end of a lesson (or an entire day of lessons), it is pretty much assumed that the studio goes for dinner and drinks. After all, American, French, or whatever nationality we are, we ARE ONLY TUBISTS!
I interviewed one of the tuba teachers at The Conservatoire National Supérieur du Musique du Paris, Bernard Neuranter.
Where did you study and who were your teachers?
I began studying tuba with Mr. Ballarin of the Opera de Paris and continued my studies at Conservatoiré National Superieur du Musique du Paris (CNSM) with Mr. Lelong of the Paris Orchestra.
What positions do you currently hold?
I am currently principal tubist with the Orchestra National de France and teach tuba lessons at CNSM and at Val Maubuée- National School.
In the United States, many orchestral musicians teach at conservatories/ universities nearby. Is that typical in France?
Are your students required to take any non-musical classes at the conservatoire?
No. At CNSM, one only learns music. For those interested, English lessons are available, but CNSM is strictly a conservatory for music and dance.
When I come to lessons, I hear mostly F tuba. Is F tuba the predominant tuba in France?
Yes. When many composers write music in France, they write it with the F tuba in mind. It captures the lightness of character of certain pieces of music better.
Name some orchestral works where the F tuba would be played…some tuba concertos….
For me, I play F tuba in just about everything in the orchestra for it captures the character better than contrabass tuba (CC, BBflat) does: Pictures at an Exhibition, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, The Damnation of Faust, all on F. Gregson Tuba Concerto, Vaughn Williams Tuba Concerto, Broughton Sonata, Effie Suite, all these would only be played on F tuba in France.
Is CC tuba just as important? Do people typically buy a CC tuba (like in America) and then later on buy an F tuba?
In France, F tuba is definitely the predominant tuba. When students start out in school, they usually play saxhorn first and then switch to an F tuba. Eventually one would buy a CC tuba if they had the money for it, but F tuba, to me, is more important because of its character. When you see music, it indicates whether a basstuba or contrabass tuba should be used and many times, it is basstuba (F or E-flat tuba).
Author’s note: I spent a day at Theatre Champs-Elysees listening to the Orchestre National de France of which Kurt Masur is conductor. I attended both the dress rehearsal for a concert and the concert itself, so I had plenty of time to familiarize myself with the acoustics of the venue. Both performances were absolutely stunning; however, the concert halls in France (and much of Europe) are quite small when compared with our massive concert halls in North America. I suppose this is one of the reasons also that the French use the F tuba as much as they do (the point being that they don’t have to project as far in a concert hall in France as American tuba players do at, say, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore or Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh). Even the size of the orchestra itself was a bit smaller than the American orchestra. The program consisted of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (in which the F tuba was utilized), Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Major, and finally Berg’s Three Movements for Orchestra (in which CC tuba was actually utilized). I have to say that one of the most impressive things about the concert was the guest conductor, Daniele Gatti. He conducted all three pieces from memory! If you know these pieces, then you know that to memorize these pieces is quite a feat!
Jay Walton began his undergraduate career at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV where he majored in Music Education. With versatility in mind, Jay cultivated his saxophone performance at the same time as taking conducting lessons and tuba lessons at WVU. Performing at every opportunity that was given to him, Jay played in every instrumental ensemble from playing alto saxophone with the Mountaineer Marching Band to playing tuba with the Wind Ensemble to playing baritone saxophone with the Jazz Ensemble. Major teachers and influences at WVU include tuba professor Dave McCollum, orchestra conductor Lawrence Christianson, and Don Wilcox, director of bands. Jay graduated cum laude in WVU’s class of 2003 with the degree Bachelor of Music Education.
With only a few months of summer vacation following graduation, Jay began studies at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Fall 2003. It was here where his performing career was refined. Major teachers and influences at Peabody include tuba professors Toby Hanks and Ed Goldstein, and Dr. Harlan Parker, director of the Peabody Wind Ensemble. Finishing his master’s degree in tuba performance in three semesters, Jay had to wait another semester to graduate with his classmates in the spring of 2005. Not content with merely waiting around, Jay studied at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris for that semester. Jay’s tuba teachers in Paris included Gerard Buquet, Bernard Neuranter, and Laurent Peziere.
In May 2005, Jay returned to America and graduated from the Peabody Conservatory with his master’s degree in music performance. He is currently in demand as a tubist and educator while living in Baltimore, MD.