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Tips for Tuba, Volume V-B
David Porter, Principal Tuba, The McLean Orchestra
SGP: Brand Name For Performance Smoothness
Today’s youth are extremely intelligent, gifted, talented and…sometimes very non-traditionalist. They have no qualms about doing or not doing anything that does or does not make sense to them. Forget the fact that there is historical reference and audience perspective–the idea is to only do things that makes sense to them, right? Maybe not. Picture a young tuba student in a solo recital whose only experience in music has been in a large ensemble from the back row. What have they learned about stage presence, gratitude, and public reaction? In these areas, many young students have trouble understanding how to combine their feelings and the listener’s feelings. I try to get my students to do solo appearances at least once a year to strengthen their musicality, playing proficiency, and, especially, their ability to handle themselves publicly. Lessons learned here carry on to all careers where any of us would be in a public forum.
Stage presence (S)
To any performing musician, pleasant, dignified, and confident stage presence seems like a must. Where do we get trained for this? While many countries may have training in stage presence for solo instruments, how does a young tubist learn to present themselves like a soloist? In most large ensembles, a tuba student can shuffle on stage, clank and bang, set up, warm up–all without much of a stage presence that anyone will notice. During the performance, that same tubist can usually look as dull or happy as they want. When the performance is finished, they can stand expressionless, straddling the chair, hidden by their peers. Most of the time, the audience will not notice them. Now put that student in a recital and, without training, watch what happens. Yikes! The same behavior that may go unnoticed in a large ensemble is suddenly really embarrassing and awkward. Why would it not dawn on a young tubist to behave like a solo pianist or violinist? Like the pianist or violinist, they have to be trained to behave that way. Realizing that this can be very individualized in different countries, my suggestions for good stage presence are as follows.
•Face–look pleasant and/or smile comfortable. Not necessary to show teeth.
•Stage entrance–enter walking tall, shoulders straight, confident, let the hips lead, walk along a line, do not let your body sway side to side, do not slouch, carry the tuba by your side or in front.
•Bow– put the tuba down first or hold to side or in front with your feet together, back straight, head bowed, bend at the belt line (waist), go down almost 90 degrees and back up in @three seconds. If holding tuba in front, bow over the instrument.
•Sitting–gracefully, control descent with leg muscles, do not plop.
•Emptying water–do not take out slides on stage or start blowing air through horn to remove water before playing the beginning of the piece. Do that before the solo. Learn to empty horn with slight gesture to spit valve, preferably not looking at it.
•Tuning–if not tuned ahead, then tune mezzo forte on two different octaves–gracefully. Keep slides greased so you are not hammering to adjust.
•Performance visual–remember that approximately 50% of the live performance enhancement is visual. Practice looking pleasant during rests, maybe adding a little body movement in phrases. Make breathing as big and soft as possible.
•Standing–gracefully, feet together–repeat bow as in #3.
•Accompanist/guests acknowledgment–turn, nod head once slowly while smiling. Gesture with hand if not holding tuba.
•Repeat #2 and #1 (in that order) to exit stage.
Many young students grow up wanting to show their reactions to how they do. In the student’s eyes, they feel a need to let their thoughts be known to their teachers and parents. This prevents any unwarranted critiques of performance about the things the student already knows. Nothing worse than being told something you already know. However, these reactions should probably wait until the student and teacher/parents are not in public. Most certainly not on stage. Definitely not immediately following the performance, whether in public or not. The big reason is gratitude (the state of being grateful: thankfulness). The listener is expected to show gratitude in any number of ways following a performance (depending on the country). The listener usually does not want to know what the performer thinks about the performance. The same goes for any backstage or hallway teachers, friends or relatives. They are expected to show some gratitude. Whether good or bad, the accomplishment of a young student performing as a soloist is worthy. At the same time, the performer should show gratitude towards the listener’s gratitude. This allows a pleasant atmosphere of exchange for completion of an accomplishment–performing. The tubist should not be anything but dignified and approachable during the gratitude exchange.
P ublic Reaction (P)
Hand in hand with gratitude is a performer’s public reaction. My experience is that this is not limited to professionals. When we see young students perform, we are expecting to see graciousness and politeness in a public forum (three or more people gathered together). Students have to be told that showing negative reactions brings everyone down. If that is their intent, then they need to be discouraged from dragging others into their own frustrations. Save that for their lessons or private talks with a music teacher, parent, relative, or a close friend. A positive reaction can be as small as just showing pleasantness or as large as a smile is wide. If anyone is religiously oriented, a word of thanks to their religious upbringing can enhance the spirit, yet keep the confidence humble and personal.
In all three of these areas, the image and poise of the tuba world needs to be at the forefront of professionalism. Taking things seriously will exhibit seriousness. These traits have to start young to carry through adulthood. I have seen adults who were not trained early, and getting adults to have good stage presence, gratitude, and good public reaction, if not already there, is like pulling teeth without anesthesia.
In contrast, many adult tuba musicians do know these things but limit it only to their solo performances. Stand and engage the audience. Imagine a large ensemble’s presence, gratitude and reaction being as good as a solo or chamber performance for every individual on stage. Would that not make the listener enjoy the performance more?
Something else to consider–will training in these areas help their tuba playing? My experience says yes. Good presence, sense of gratitude and ability to react well in public usually translates to better practice habits, better preparation, and more confidence when playing. Interestingly, breathing may not always be something that gets more fluid or relaxed, so a little reminder right as a student performs might be back to top
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