Posted by Patrick Sheridan on January 11, 2000 at 10:51:12:
In Reply to: Is the Tuba a Solo Instrument?????? posted by Erik on January 11, 2000 at 07:33:46:
Thanks for your note! This is a comment I have heard so often from musicians. For much of the tuba's traditional repertoire this is a valid comment to an extent. However, I think it is a slight exaggeration or maybe a little un-educated.
If you compare the range of the world class baritone singers, you'd find that the tuba, even in its own repertoire, has a greater range (higher and lower, yet inclusive of the baritone range...and one can hardly classify singers like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Thomas Hampson, etc, as NOT being a soloist). If you look at the range of tuba's greatest players (ie Sam Pilafian, Warren Deck, Chester Schmitz, etc, etc) and tuba's most difficult original repertoire, you'd find that with the exception of the piano, there is no other instrument with a greater range.
The part of your comment that I think is valid is that much of our repertoire is written too low for too much of the piece. Not too low to play...too low for the average listener to digest, especially given the acoustic environments so often encountered in concert halls AND the direction the tuba bell faces. I have so often heard that the transcriptions I've done for myself are written extremely high. They are not. They fall into the exact range of a Baritone singer with some tenor notes. This is by choice knowing how audiences digest sound.
Part of the problem that tubists face as a solo instrument is not lack of range, but lack of tonal variety (colors). Much of this comes from training...the training to work where 99.9999% of the work is...ensemble playing. In this environment, the tuba is a blending instrument. So much of the teaching and attitudes are geared to this...and for good reason.
As soloists, it is not simply a smaller mouthpiece and smaller tuba that gives the tuba a solo sound. Too often this is considered satisfactory in terms of a sound change from "orchestral" to "solo" sounds. This is where the tuba has gained a reputation in musical circles for being colorless or as you said, "not allow(ing) for the range to fulfill musical satisfaction."
How to change this? By listening to live concerts, recordings of live concerts, and recordings a player can expand their imagination and thereby their musical (color) vocabulary. (Mr. Jacobs teachings exactly) When I sit with a student playing a particular piece (often without enough tonal variety) I ask if they've heard the recording sung by XYZ singer, and transcribed by XYZ cellist, and transcribed by XYZ trumpetist, and written for full orchestra by the following 10 orchestras with the following 10 conductors... If they (the student) haven't exhausted all the research on the performance possibilities of a particular piece...then they haven't begun to learn the tonal possibilities available to their imagination. And if the imagination isn't driving the musical product...yes, it is dull, colorless AND seems to lack range.
As for commercial viability of the instrument as a solo instrument. Well, I won't argue that in the concert management and concert presenting industry there is a great prejudice against the instrument. Part of this is an un-educated bias stemming from a lack of hearing the best players of our instrument playing the best music (most of it not tuba repertoire) packaged the best way. Part of this is a well founded bias stemming from having heard not so good players playing some of the not so good repertoire with unimaginative programming and presentation.
However, on a personal side, I have more than 140 solo concerts a year in 20 countries. (translated - great living financially although coming at a great sacrifice personally) I am playing really good music with well thought out programming and presented in a way that best suits my personality AND the audiences for which I play. This makes for a good musical product...not with musicians in mind but with the business of music in mind.
And...there are some many others that make a living at it as well...some full time, others not (by choice)...
Is the instrument as commercially viable as the violin or piano. Absolutely not! Not now. However, as a solo instrument, we haven't really scratched the surface of behaving (from a business standpoint) like concert violinists. NOR do we have the repertoire as they do. Nor do we stand in good favor with the music industry (managers/presenters) as they do.
Is it possible? Absolutely! Look at the first three tunes on Roland Szentpali's new CD. Commercially viable music performed in a commercially viable way! These are the right steps toward changing the industry's attitude toward the instrument.
Sorry for rambling on so...enough from the soapbox...hope this is helpful!
All the best,