• Ben Vasko

Tuba-Less 1.3.3: Listening for study

Hey y'all. All is well here in Lemoore, CA. It is HOT, the bus stinks, and the kids are killin' it. As always, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to those of you who continue to read my rambles. Your feedback and support are so appreciated. I apologize for spending so much time discussing listening. Though it can be a dry topic, I am trying to show the critically important role that listening plays in being a musician, on and off the horn. And though I thought today's specific topic would be the driest yet, I have had a good deal of fun researching it and listening along, and I hope you will too.

Using listening as a reference for music you are studying/preparing is vital. By understanding historical and popular interpretations, we can either make sure to pay homage to artists before us or be decided in charting our own course through a piece. Since most of you readers are tuba people, I have decided to use the first movement Vaughan Williams tuba concerto to make this point (A playlist with different recordings I used is at the bottom for Today's Listening).

The Vaughan Williams is by and large the standard work for tuba and orchestra. It is called upon in countless auditions and taught to most players at a relatively young age. And in its young, 64-year-old life, the piece has been played many ways by many distinct players. With interpretations rooted in different editions, I have decided to look at two sections of the piece and compare their performance by different tubists.

Fig. 1. As written

Fig, 2. A common interpretation

I have always played this section of the piece as shown in Fig. 2. It was how my teacher, Sam Pilafian, taught me. Oddly enough, in his recording with Empire Brass from 1986, he plays that section as written- I wonder when he changed his mind on the interpretation. In the playlist, I reference five recordings- Sam Pilafian, Øystein Baadsvik, Patrick Harrild, Walter Hilgers, and Ben Pierce. Of those five, only Baadsvik's recording utilizes the phrase from Fig. 2. By listening to different artists, we are able to discover different roads to take when navigating a piece.

Fig. 3. The Cadenza with options, written and unwritten

In most performances of this piece I have heard, players typically leave out the printed ossia and include the marked Ab. Personally, I omit the first ossia, play the second, and play the Ab. Ultimately, it is the performers choice. Of the recordings I referenced, Sam and Øystein omitted the written ossia and played the Ab. Patrick Harrild included ossia in a unique way by making the Ab's in the printed part a phrase destination and then playing the third line figure as written. My favorite interpretations, however, were from Walter Hilgers and Ben Pierce. Both started the cadenza normally and then went into their own versions. Each of them developed the themes of the piece and each one was so refreshing to tired ears. By studying these interpretations, written and otherwise, one can gain a new perspective into performing this pillar of tuba literature.

While today's topic may seem dry and tedious, referencing different recordings, studying parts, and noticing those differences allows us to be authentic in our performance and present pieces in new ways, giving them permission to live on through our own artistry. When I listen to someone perform a piece, I want to hear their version, not someone else's. Being able to hear the thought and effort someone puts into their playing by way of listening and studying greatly enhances a performance. The playing is more confident, assured, and engaging. I encourage you all to find pieces you enjoy performing and dissect them in this way to gain a deeper understanding! I certainly learned a lot by doing this.

-Scroll down for Pic of the Day and Today's Listening-

Pic of the Day: A view from my nature run back in San Ramon

Today's Listening: The playlist I reference in the blog containing five different recordings of the first movement of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto:

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©2018 by Ben Vasko.

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