Posted by Klaus on December 31, 2001 at 23:34:54:
In Reply to: Re: Better tuba tuning posted by js on December 31, 2001 at 20:16:17:
"ensemble intonation - at its absolute ideal - is a constantly shifting existance, depending on context" is a point, where I think, that we would agree unlimitedly despite our different platforms with you as the far better and more versatile player and I maybe having read a few more books and having followed a few more classes.
Where "constantly shifting" becomes a problem is when it perverts into "constantly drifting". Let me take a sample somewhat too familiar to me:
I used to play in a small local band, the main quality of which is, that it is local. At some time I doubled on bass bone and euph according to the needs of the music. The lone tuba player and I had run another band together, so we were very close personally. Which ment that we always (at least mostly) were together in intonation, dynamics, breathing, and general phrasing (one guess about who determined the fingerings, slide pulls, and pencil markings for the tuba is allowed).
At a Christmas concert we played the Mendelssohn Christmas hymn so popular in the Englishspoken countries (Hark the Angels?). Part of one the verses had the euph soloing the lead over just the tuba with 3 flutes supposed to play the SAT parts two octaves up. As always the flutes drifted a quarter step or so sharp when not being overshadowed by the trumpets. Afterwards the conductor asked me, why I had played flat. A question not contributing to any supposed honour of his.
Leading me to the presentation of my theory of how to keep tuning into control (let us use the string quartet as a sample to avoid intra-tuba-community ruptures):
General wisdom says, that the ensemble should adjust its pitch to the primo. My honest comment on this would have to be carried out in a verbal form not allowed on this board.
Of course the cello should lay out the ensemble intonation guiding the upper voices into their slots by its richness of overtones.
The primo has the "saying" on the musical surface in form of phrasing, dynamics, and so on. (The viola is determining the degree of warmth in the quartet sound just by is place in the overall balance. The louder, the warmer. Aside from its rhytmic functions the secundo has the not too banal function to constitute the ensemble as a quartet). What you just have read is a cliche with one prominent quality: being exactly "too banal".
Yet I think, that the best ensembles have founded their intonation on well managed bass lines. Managed by the bass line players that is.
My youthful fascination of playing bass bone in a brass band was generated very much by the plentitude of fifth and fourth intervals present in a number of styles. Full circles of 12 fifths/fourths are not too common. Played perfectly in tune, they would end up displaying the Pythagorean comma at its worst. Diatonic sequences of 7 or fever fifths/fourths would be more common. How to solve the comma problem arising even in this more limited context? Perfect fifths are relatively easy to control by ear, whereas it takes some more skills to be perfectly true about the tritone. So that is probably where I intuitively would make the compromise.
I have not directed much flute playing, but very much of recorder ensemble ditto. It actually is possible to make large ensembles (30 or so members) of "fifes" play in tune. Again the solution is to make the bass line play well in all respects.
Despite my outings about flutes, hardly any other on-boarder has written as many arrangements for flute choir as I have. My trick has been to incorporate a tuba/cello/bassoon as ensemble bass. Lately I have incorporated a euph as well. And I think Joe and I would agree on the rhythmic/harmonic ensemble enhancer, that I like to incorporate: the classical guitar.