Roger Bobo - Brass Legend: A Curmudgeon's Confessions

A Curmudgeon's Confessions

Moving is difficult; as I organize my 17 years of European accumulatia and make decisions on what to through away, give away, sell, store and carry with me on my move to Japan, my mind is moving in directions where I am not at all comfortable. In being honest with myself I have to admit I am somewhat ashamed that I have been hiding some thoughts, which I fear might place me in bad standing with some of my respected colleagues as I seek the politically correct words to expose this possibly unpopular thinking.

Sometimes the euphonium stands apart from the way I like to think about brass instruments! And further, to be complete in my true confessions, I have to say I also feel the same way about the British Eb tuba, which is really a bass euphonium.

I suppose after a statement like that I should give some reasons. I frequently find both the Euphonium and the British Eb tuba to be monochromatic, lacking in dynamic elasticity, and always pretty; it’s pretty in pp and it’s pretty in ff. This is not the way God created sound! The human voice, string instruments and most other brass instruments become richer in their ratio of harmonics as they get louder. Not euphonium and the British Eb tuba; they just stay pretty! I can remember my frustrations in my symphony days when we were playing works with tenor tuba and a euphonium was playing the tenor tuba parts; as the brass section would get louder and the general timbre would get more exciting the euphonium just stayed pretty. It’s this same reason that in euphonium/tuba ensembles, the euphoniums quite usually can’t keep up with the tubas in dynamic energy.

Very quickly I want to say that I was once a very happy owner of a Besson BE980 Eb. It sounded great; it was clearly the best tuba for the Hindemith Sonata that I’ve ever encountered. I used it for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s recording of the Dvorak New World Symphony, all 14 notes; it was wonderful. It was perfect also for parts of the Frank D minor, which we recorded in Los Angeles.

Because the Eb was British and the instrument Elgar envisioned for the Enigma Variations I decided to try it. It worked great BUT it simply did not have the mass for the more powerful parts of this work therefore the CC was much better and in the lighter passages the F was a much more homogeneous member of the brass.

Mine in only a small prejudice. Some of my best friends are euphonium and Eb tuba players, and in my heart I know they are equal, albeit chronically pretty.

Lausanne, Switzerland
August 3, 2005

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