Nuance and Slide Grease

I’ve seen it so many times, the old generation criticizing the younger generation for not keeping to old ideas and the old values. I’ve seen it in the television and film industry, in sports and in religion. I’ve seen it in the slow demise of the “old school” of symphony orchestra brass, and I’ve seen it in almost every aspect of life I can think of.

As a young man working in The Disneyland Band in the late 50’s I experienced the elderly conductor, while trying to impress me with the band (and perhaps himself) so that I would join full time, who definitely impressed me but not in the way he had hoped. He proudly told me, after hearing complaints of fatigue from some of the band members, that in the old days a good bandsman would play until his lips bled if it was necessary. Those were the good old days! The Disneyland Band did not seem attractive at that time!

I have in my life without exception taken the side of youth in these chronic discourses, and I still do, even though I’m just a little more than 3 years away from 70. But perhaps for the first time I find myself taking the viewpoint of age (and I would hope wisdom) in one of the most personally sensitive topics I know, the tuba.

What’s happening to our noble goal of uplifting the tuba to a highly respected instrument in the musical community? We’ve made musical history in this regard; there has never been anything like it.

Enter the “BAT”! What is this new word, the acronym for “Big Ass Tuba”?! Etymology, the history of words, is a hobby of mine. I adore seeing new words come and go in our language, and although BAT would be classified as professional jargon, it could survive the test of time. Now comes the question of how it’s meaning would change through time; Etymological history tells us it would change.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is BAT, the acronym born in English speaking North America, a result of thinking tubists, seeking equipment with a big and solid sound, or is it a result of a trucker mentality seeking the big rig mean machine hard body 4 wheel drive heavy duty off road gas guzzler recreational vehicle but if you’re a real man it’s worth it tuba?

I remember very well getting a new instrument and going on stage to a rehearsal with a “let’s see what this baby can do” attitude, and I can remember what big fun it was “opening it up”. But was this the main thing?

Of course we need to know the evolution of our equipment. Superb equipment is essential to superb music making, but what is the mentality that is carrying so many of us into the BAT world? I would suggest that it is the high testosterone jock mentality, and I would suggest that there might be a better path to follow for the enjoyment musical performance.

The music world is a world of polarities: age and youth, genius and naivety, innocence and worldliness, masculine and feminine, good and evil, aggressive and passive, and so the list could continue. A complete musician is able to place himself in an appropriate point amidst those polarities and delicately or forcefully navigate in that esoteric world. One has to ask if a BAT is the best vehicle for this journey.

Our musical world is much too rich to give in to machismo.

The word “BAT” may survive. In some years it may even make it in to the dictionary; let’s hope it evolves from being a quaint word from a careless moment in musical history into a word with a musical definition.

Porto, Portugal - February 20, 2005

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