Is it the tuba or the player?

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Posted by Jay Bertolet on January 28, 2001 at 11:42:32:

In the recent past, there has been quite a bit of discussion on this BBS about the relative merits of one horn design or another. Some posters have asserted that, for example, the York copy design would not be as popular as it is today if Arnold Jacobs hadn't used one for the bulk of his career. I'm curious what other posters think of this assertion.

My own opinion is that this assertion couldn't be farther from the truth. For example, in my own opinion Arnold Jacobs was one of the greatest orchestral tubists ever. But I prefer somewhat the orchestral playing style of Bill Bell. What recordings I have of Bell are what I often times emulate in my own playing. But it isn't even that cut and dried. There are other players who do incredible things on certain works that really affect my thinking as well. Some of the things that Roger Bobo, Warren Deck, Abe Torchinsky, and others (just to name a few) have done stick in my mind. My point is, why aren't we clamoring over the horns that these great players used? Both Bell and Torchinsky used King rotary CC tubas that, to my knowledge, have gone unnoticed when considering designs to copy. We all know the history of the York copies and the only other horn I can think of that has gotten anything approaching similar attention would be the Alexander design. It seems to be the only other tuba design that gets mentioned by other manufacturers in the advertisements for their own wares. So why is it that we don't see folks clamoring to get a copy of Roger Bobo's Miraphone or Bill Bell's King, etc.?

I propose the question because I think it is important, especially for the younger and more impressionable readers here, to understand that the player is the primary element in the process. No horn you purchase is going to make you sound like any great tuba player. In a culture that thinks "be like Mike", this is an important thing to understand. All the great tuba players sound that way because they worked at it, not because they bought some magic talisman (York or otherwise) that gave them their "powers". How do I explain the popularity of the York design? Simple. It is a good design that works well for a number of players. Does it work for everybody? To answer that question, you need only inquire as to who commissioned those original two York tubas to be produced. Apparently, they didn't work all that well for Phillip Donatelli, who was a pretty good player in his own right. There are many players who made really great music that never touched a York or one of its copies. This fact underscores something that I've felt for a long time. It isn't so much getting a really great tuba as it is getting a really great match between tuba and player. Perhaps one of the reasons the York worked so well for Jacobs was because of how he played, as in the techniques he employed. And perhaps his prolific teaching helps explain why the design remains so popular, in that there are many of his students around who are presumably playing in a similar fashion and employing similar techniques. That is speculation on my part but I do wonder if that is part of it.

What do you think?

My opinion for what it's worth...

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