Tuesday, July 27, 2010



“Think your sound to the back of the auditorium.”
As a student at Curtis, young Arnold Jacobs took musicianship classes with the Philadelphia’s legendary oboist Marcel Tabuteau. “Think your sound to the back of the auditorium” was an axiom Jake took from those classes.

Being quite poor in 1968 (the Army paid $89 month when I first went in) I usually sat in ‘student’ heaven when attending Chicago Symphony concerts. The steep rake of the upper balcony in Symphony Hall gives one the feeling one is sitting right over the tuba. We marveled at the amount of sound coming from the back row of the orchestra. Moreover, it was a wonderfully articulate and clear sound. Was it that magical Helleberg mouthpiece? Was it that unique enormous tuba? Most of my studies with Jake were between 1968 and 1972. Walter Nirschl had not yet made the copy of the York. Holton had made a few approximations but they were somehow not as good. Was there something unique about Jake’s equipment? I had acquired an original Helleberg mouthpiece from a fireman’s bandhall on a pickup gig. They were pleased to have a shiny new mouthpiece in exchange for the old Helleberg stuck in the old tuba kept in the hall. Years later I cobbled a third York together from Holton CC and 6/4 York BBb tubas. It was very gratifying on gigs to hear other musicians say “Good to see you on this gig. I know we will hear the tuba tonight.” A heady thing for a tuba player to hear. (I didn’t practice hard and lug this big beast to the gig to not be heard.) Concept of Jake well in my head and ‘magical equipment’ in hand, I made the pilgrimage back to Chicago for a tune-up lesson. No longer teaching in the storied basement on South Normal, I went to the studio on Michigan Avenue, pulled out my big York. The sound images memorized in the upper balcony of Symphony Hall in mind, I played Wagner excerpts at a marvelous fortissimo only to be told “That’s nice Dick, but you play too loud.” We played ‘pass-the-horn’. Would that that lesson had stayed with me. Unfortunately it’s like the golf swing and I learn it over and over. Ken Venturi said, “Golf is a game of finding your swing, losing it and finding it again.”

Although I had played in the Chicago Civic Orchestra, I had never had the opportunity to play in the Chicago Symphony next to Mr. Jacobs. Now we played ‘pass the horn’. In spite of all the technical knowledge Jake loved what he called the regurgitation method of teaching. He played on my tuba. I played on my tuba. It was like watching Freddy Couples swing the driver up close and then handing it to me. No effort. But he ‘hit it on the screws’ and put it down the middle of the fairway. Although golf is a game made playable by all levels because of the handicap system, there is something about playing with someone whose swing you admire. It does rub off. I have had the extreme good fortune to have played in many wonderful musical ensembles with many great players. I hope some of it rubbed off. Music and golf parallel.

Mr. Jacobs spoke of a pseudo-inspiratory maneuver. He was referring to a change of body posture that emulated a big breath but did not result in much air being taken in. He had students work with a breathing tube. It was nothing more than a 1” diameter pipe a few inches long. When inhaling through it the focus was on the air, not on the anatomy. He tricked us into focusing on the result, not the method. Golf catalogs are filled with pages and pages of teaching aids.

Hitting long is like playing loud: a clear sound projects better to the back of the hall than a distorted sound resulting from an aggressive maneuver. A ball goes farther down the fairway than it does down the rough. An in-tune note projects better than an out of tune note. A ball struck squarely on the sweet spot travels farther than a ball mashed on the toe. Pseudo-inspiratory maneuvers and isometric contractions are counter-productive to flow. Let the club (tuba) do the work. Our job is simply to guide it.

Raise your arm with a bent elbow as when you ‘make a muscle’. Have someone pull on your fist to add resistance. Your bicep performs this maneuver. Have your assistant offer resistance as you push your arm down in the opposite direction. Your tricep performs this maneuver. Now slowly lower your arm without the resistance of an assistant. This is your bicep relaxing. And so it is when you expel air. The diaphragm simply relaxes. It may require assistance near the end of a long exhalation. It will be the abdominal muscles and other surrounding the thoracic cavity that assist. It is not the diaphragm. When it activates during exhalation it causes isometric contractions.

The great golfer Bobby Jones said “Many shots are spoiled at the last instant by efforts to add a few yards.”

All of this is not to say you shouldn’t try to hit a long drive; all of this is not to say you shouldn’t try to play loud. I find in trying to play relaxed at golf I sometimes get mentally relaxed. This is not good. I see it happen to my wife on the golf course. When, and only when, she asks what went wrong with a shot, I simply say “Stay with it.” Loud and long are best achieved through movement, not by isometric contraction.

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