Is this tuba part ok?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Andrew Liddell, Sep 12, 2017.

  1. phildriscoll

    phildriscoll Moderator Staff Member

    I fully agree with pbirch. The rhythms are far more challenging than the range. The low D speaks well on an EEb as it's only an extra semitone of pipe away from our pedal C in the brass band world, and you don't have any long and loud versions of it, so the player won't run out of air. The high D is likely to be in range for anyone capable of playing the rhythms. I'd probably struggle on a first run through pitching the very last high D after the G# in tuba 1 as it's an awkward interval for me to imagine in my head, the top D has a note a tone away either side on the same valve, and the tuba 2 part isn't offering especially helpful clues on the harmonic front.
  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    People might be surprised by the variations in the skillsets of other players. I've known plenty of players of lower technical playing skill level that would eat this rhythm for breakfast.
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  3. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Agreed. I'd say the tuba 1 part is playable by a good E flat player, but tuba 2 is problematical. Asking even a good amateur tuba player to leap three octaves in four bars (even at slow tempo) is asking a lot. On a C or B flat tuba the high Ds are impractical (theoretically possible but good luck finding a player who'll get them accurately or tunefully) and on an E flat tuba the 8vb parts will not speak as well. I would suggest that unless you're desperate for that high tuba timbre your last three bars are a job for euphonium (or bassoon, or bass clarinet, or something), not second tuba.
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  4. pbirch

    pbirch Active Member

    Actually I am not. Part of being a good musician is the ability to learn from other musicians regardless of their abilities.
  5. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I wonder what the OP makes of all these responses?

    It seems to me like he's managed to write something within but rather near the edge of what is deemed possible by those that know about these things. Some of you will have said already but, setting Clef, Concert pitch (pick your own) and other such obstacles aside, I wonder who has actually managed to play the parts? I've not attempted them but might, they're beyond my skill level though ....... better just have a go, forget it's hard and see what happens.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  6. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    To put it simply -

    Professionals will play this without blinking
    Top amateurs will play this without blinking
    Various decent amateurs will play this without blinking
    Some decent amateurs will struggle with the pitch demands
    Some decent amateurs will struggle with the rhythmic demands

    The lower the expected skill level of the players, the greater the probability that there will be some kind of performance issue. Just as with any passage of music. But writing material harder than the usual raises the skill level at which issues become probable. The OP's question is basically "Have I matched my writing to the players I'm writing for?". In my estimation, he is slightly chancing it, if it is for a generic university wind band. Of course, it might be for a music college ensemble, in which case he isn't chancing it at all.
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  7. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Thanks, a helpful summary.

    To me this thread has been educational and interesting in a way that's not often seen here. Thanks Andrew.

    I'd still be interested to hear what the OP thinks of the many responses posted - it's about a week since his last post and several good posts have appeared since then. I'd be interested to hear how it worked out in his playing group too. The thread has generated quite a lot of comment and interest so I guess that others would be interested to hear those things too.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
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  8. Andrew Liddell

    Andrew Liddell New Member

    Thanks to the people who have replied since my last post. Lots of helpful information. We've still to rehearse the piece so I can't tell you anything more yet, but the parts have been sent to the conductor so there's not much I can do just now.

    Thanks again!
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  9. David Broad

    David Broad Member

    After 50 years nearly in Brass Bands I have yet to come across a Bass (Tuba) player who could cope with those parts, let alone a student.
    To play it in a Brass Band you would scratch out the Bass Clef and write in a treble clef and scribble out 3 flats or write in extra sharps to adjust the key.
    That puts it very high for an Eb Bass. The only other Brass Band instrument which could play this without moving dots on lines is Bass Trombone.
    It ends up very high for a typical 4 valve Eb Bass which can go over an octave lower than your low B (Concert D) start and will start to struggle a 6th below your top note of Top B (Concert D) It will sound like a strangled stoat with anything short of a virtuoso player even if he hits the right notes which is pretty unlikely.
    Changing it to Bb for Euphonium and keeping the same key or writing it an Octave lower for BB or CC Tuba might work but it won't sound like the Sibelius original.
    After writing what must now be hundreds of arrangements I say the key thing is to get the Key right in the first place and I don't think you have achieved that. I too write for Sibelius but I know, like Handel and his contemporaries, that my music is unplayable by humans on brass, and can only be played by keyboard based media.
    Sorry to be critical but telling someone their music is great only for the students and conductor to find an eagerly awaited piece is unplayable is in my opinion totally callous.
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  10. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    It’s been interesting to see the division of opinion on playability. My guess is that that division reflects the broad diversity of ability within the brass band community and the limiting of overlap (between skill levels) created by the grading of bands. You and Moomin are not far apart geographically yet your opinions and experiences appear to be quite dissimilar - I’m not saying that either of you is right or wrong.

    It’s certainly the case that some physical items, designed on paper or a computer screen, prove impossible to make as the designer has insufficient experience of manufacturing processes, to a limited extent what is possible by some craftsmen in some factories is not possible elsewhere. It would not surprise me at all if the same was true for composers, you need to understand how an instrument is played and by who to understand what might be possible and what you can expect a player to deliver.

    IMHO that’s spot-on. The OP asked for comment and I believe that you and others have been supportive in your factual comments - constructive criticism is supportive.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2017
  11. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Dave, Welcome to the fold!

    Not all bass players restrict themselves to brass bands! As most of us have said, the range of the 2nd part is extreme, the rhythms are challenging, but it's not impossible. I know I could play it with a little practice.

    Nobody has told the OP that their music is great, as far as I can tell reading back - and you're right, that would be callous and cruel. But we weren't asked about the musical value (which is a subjective thing in any case). We were asked to comment on its playability - which all of us have. He has also already said that he is writing for orchestral players. Orchestral, or even wind band, players would have no issue reading bass clef. In fact, I understand that most of them are brought up on bass with some tenor and treble thrown in and they are taught the proper names of the notes - something I think brass band players could benefit from.

    As for Handel, I don't know of anything he wrote for brass that was impossible, given the right instrument. I'd be interested if you have an example.
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  12. pbirch

    pbirch Active Member

    I too, have been playing for about 50 years now, and have seen the technical demands of music increase over that time, as well as the ability of players to meet those challenges. There was a time when you played the tuba if you couldn't play euphonium, but that is not the case today, and many students will actually be able to play these parts. So most players now are comfortable exploring the range of the instrument, both high and low and playing in keys that are outside the limits of 3 sharps to four flats, and I would encourage all tuba players in brass bands to learn to read bass clef so that the "Scribble out the flats and add 3 sharps" approach becomes a thing of the past, and it will open up a vast literature of tuba music that is not written with transposed treble clef parts.
    The 2nd tuba part does not really need to be easier or more limited in its range than the 1st if the composer needs both parts to play that way, and in a wind band or orchestral setting both players will be of comparable ability
    Many of us at a slightly lower level of ability than virtuoso would aim to make a D sound lovely and nothing like a strangled stoat
    Our young composer is on a learning curve, he has written a couple of interesting and challenging tuba lines, from all sorts of perspectives, and I hope he continues to do so, maybe even for a brass band
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  13. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Bear in mind that Wilfred Heaton demanded the very same high 'B' (written) from Eb Basses in "Contest Music", some 44 years ago. By that time, Eric Ball had already written a minor 3rd higher than that for Eb basses in his "Song of Courage" (1962). So Mr. Liddell can at least claim to have historical precedent on his side ...
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  14. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    For context for the OP the piece “Contest Music” is, as far as I know, a Championship Section test piece (Contest Music - Test Piece - Brass Band Results). My understanding is that Brass Band test pieces are written to test both the band and many of its individual players; Championship Section players are expected to perform at the highest of amateur levels and often they earn their living in some music related field - my local CS band has several Music Teachers in it. Perhaps I’m mistaken but to me the shared pitch extreme between Heaton’s piece and the OP’s piece is indicative of a significantly difficult challenge in the OP’s piece.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2017
  15. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Not really. If "Contest Music" had been written last year, then your statement would have some validity. But "Contest Music" was written nearly 50 years ago, and my point, like pbirch's, is that very often what was considered an extreme demand back then is no longer considered so today. Even the 2nd section Eb bass players had to contend with written top 'D's in "Images Of The Millenium" back in the 2006 Areas ...
  16. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Fair enough, those goal posts keep moving and I am led to understand that standards have risen significantly over the years. However, surely the point is that those notes are a stretching challenge of players known to be rather able?

    I thought pbirch’s post above very good - typical of him in that over the years I’ve found his posts to be informative, engaging and well written - and an interesting illustration of the diversity within Banding. He wrote in answer to David Broad and whilst they have different opinions I think them both valid in that they reflect their experiences.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2017
  17. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    And, although Andrew is asking on a brass band forum, his context is the wider musical world, where even in Eric Ball's day these notes on tuba were long accepted as available.


    1913 - In his Rite of Spring Igor Stravinsky writes two tubas in unison a horrible series of jumps back and forth to a high concert Gb (brass band Eb bass high Eb)

    1929 - Maurice Ravel writes solo tuba to a high G# (brass band Eb bass high E#) in his famous scoring of Bydlo from Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition

    Now both of these were written in France in an era in which the tuba was an unusual instrument - in C a tone above the euphonium with 6 valves and a very conical bore to facilitate the pedals. I have played one of these instruments, and it works astonishingly well across that wide register. Today Bydlo is usually played on a euphonium (and only that movement - the rest of the part contains some writing well below the bass staff), but the Stravinsky excerpt above is always played on a full-size tuba - in fact I once shared tuba parts in performance of this with a chap playing on a big German CC tuba... I knocked over more of the Gbs than he did!

    Even further back, into the 19th century back to the very earliest years of the tuba, we see examples of very high tuba writing in the orchestra - for example in Berlioz's 1830 Symphonie Fantastique:
    This is a cheat - these parts were written for ophicleide, not tuba - but they were played on tuba where tuba was what was available from the earliest days, just as the Stravinsky and Ravel parts would have been played on larger tubas in other places at the time.

    Regarding this particular passage, I have heard modern tuba players continue the run 'up the octave' from the already lofty concert F (brass band Eb bass high D) to a concert Bb on four leger lines (brass band Eb bass super G). Both pros and amateurs have I heard do this sometimes.

    TL;DR: Outside the brass band the tuba has seen significantly higher writing than in this thread for the whole of its near 200 year existence.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2017
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  18. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    All this makes me wonder how they managed to do all this stuff and on old design instruments. I guess that the players were the best available but with such challenges wouldn’t they need to be?
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2017
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  19. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    If we as a brass band tradition expected our Eb bass players to all have a solid super G, they would. We'd teach them how to access the register by squeezing more without having to muscle it all the way up.

    But the brass band has its own specialities. Our tuba players are expected to be competent at making a broad but focussed and clearly articulated sound over the bass register. They are expected to work as a team of four to provide a sturdy sonic foundation for the overall band sound. There's no need for anyone to have a solid super G in this situation, and developing the technique to have one risks distorting nearby areas of technique if not done carefully.

    As with all the brass and woodwind parts in the orchestra, the player of an orchestral tuba part needs to develop as a core part of their musical identity an ability to perform within the ensemble as a natural soloist. For this they don't necessarily want the broadest, sturdiest sound - they need their tone to cut a bit, to be heard through the ensemble at need (which is much easier to do than it is in a brass band). Someone 'rifting' in the middle of a brass band bass section is destroying the section sound. Someone doing the same on a boisterous orchestral part is likely doing a fine job. Playing fancy high notes on tuba is a much more natural part of the skillset in the orchestra than in the brass band.

    Andrew's piece is for wind band tuba - where the focus of the expected skillset is approximately halfway between brass band and orchestra.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2017
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  20. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I would anticipate that your Band (First Section) would have the players capable of making that move with support - interesting ‘mindset’ that there would be such mutual support and teaching.

    It did occur to me that perhaps the question wasn’t asked in the best forum but is there a more appropriate place than here for Wind Band and Orchestral Brass?

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