Originally published to davidbrubeck.com
Aaron Tindall is a rare tandem of a sensational tuba virtuoso and accomplished euphonium player; he is both an expressive chamber musician and a solid orchestral performer. He possesses the heart of a student and the reflection of a teacher. The Fourth Valve is doubly pleased to welcome Aaron Tindall to respond as for both-tuba and euphonium!
How do you conceive and describe the ideal tuba sound?
Aaron Tindall: The ideal tuba sound/tone to me has an evenness of core and resonance/space in the sound. Having a symmetric space in the sound from the core/center of the tone is paramount to me. This is the place where other instruments within the orchestra are able to join “into” our sound, and find a resting point in the middle of the tone where our core should lie. The ways to achieve this delicate balance of “sound” are by learning to control various elements of our playing such as: volume of air/velocity of air and the appropriate mixture between the two based on register, aperture size, contact point/where a person’s lips meet, tongue position (front and back), soft palette height, oral cavity size/shape, teeth position, and the list goes on etc…
I never seem to be bothered if a student has a bright or dark sound. What is important to me is that he/she has a tone that is symmetrically even in all registers, and that along the way we are continuing to develop a broad spectrum of sound that can change at the drop of a hat when called upon to do so. Learning how to do this is where the rubber meets the road!
Euphonium – The ideal euphonium sound to me is as described above, but I would have to say that I tend to “prefer” more brilliance in a euphonium sound.
Doug Elliot is generally an advocate of keeping the same rim and changing cups when switching amongst different sized trombones. Bones Malone has advocated the concept of concentric circles, with the rim size changing around a fairly constant center. Which resonates more with you?
AT: I prefer to keep the same rim size, while altering the other aspects of the mouthpiece such as the cup, throat, venturi, and backbore. I am all about muscle memory as the way we do anything-it is ultimately how we do everything. With this in mind, I like to keep the rim size exactly the same whether I play CC or F tuba. I have a new line of tuba mouthpieces, the Aaron Tindall Ultra Series. I designed each of the eight models in consultation with Warren Deck in order to meet the challenging variety of situations facing tubists today.
We feel that upon trying these new models, the performer will immediately notice an increased sense of improved articulation, intonation, greater endurance, and significantly enhanced power in both the high and low registers. Along with these comes an ease of playing accompanied by a richer, broader, truer sound that we believe is currently unmatched by many of the other competitors in today’s market.
What has Aspen meant to you? How is it different as faculty vs. fellow?
AT: Being at Aspen for three summers changed my life! Having the opportunity to study closely with Warren Deck for nearly four years was a game changer for me. The way that I now approach music, and specifically brass playing, I certainly owe to him. Before my time at Aspen I had no “orchestral” experience, and had never touched the CC tuba. I had been labeled as a “solo player”, and mostly played the F tuba and euphonium. I had won a scholarship for that first summer via the Minnesota Orchestra’s annual WAMSO solo competition. After the competition, I remember Osmo Vanska distinctly telling me that going to Aspen would enhance my playing- he was right.
It was a unique experience for me during that first summer to show up to a lesson and learn “how” to create sound on a new (to me) mouthpiece and instrument. It was actually quite refreshing to take a step back in my playing, and learn how to be 100% fundamentally accurate on something that I believed had little resemblance to my euphonium or F tuba. In essence, it felt like I was learning how to play all over again. I can’t tell you how rewarding it felt at the end of that summer; I felt as though I had control physically, and mentally over my instrument, and now was free to musically express myself.
I became hooked on playing in a low brass section, and auditioned and won the orchestral tuba fellow position. This meant I was to spend the following two summers playing in the faculty-led Aspen Festival Orchestra. What a treat it was to learn the major orchestral rep/symphonies (which were new to me), as a larger version of “chamber music” while being surrounded by players from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Chicago, LA, Montreal, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras. Week in and week out, my mind was being transformed by the players and conductors with whom I had the distinct pleasure to work.
How has playing euphonium helped or informed your tuba playing? Vice versa?
AT: I would have to say that my euphonium chops have enhanced my ability to play in the upper register for an extended period of time on the tuba. The muscles that you create, and the ability to move a faster velocity of air on the euphonium certainly comes in handy when learning the more difficult solo tuba repertoire-without a doubt. When I first began to learn the tuba, I remember that the primary thing that changed about my euphonium playing was the width of my sound. I began to move a wider (though still fast), and concise package of air into the instrument.
What does your preparation for a solo concerto involve? How far before the date does it extend? What are your goals one day before the performance? On the day of the performance?
AT: This depends on the piece and the difficulty. I am a huge advocate of breaking things down at first. This includes finding similar rhythms, phrases, intervals, etc… and finding out exactly what the composer wants from the performer.
I usually start to learn new concerto anywhere from 1-3 months before a performance.
One day before the performance, I usually will stick to a solid fundamental routine, and then spot check a few “licks” in a piece. At this point I have done several run-throughs of the piece in it’s entirety and feel comfortable enough with it both mentally, and physically.
The day of usually involves drinking lots of water to stay hydrated, and a good warm-up routine in the morning!
What switches click in your mind and approach when playing orchestral music as opposed to solo repertoire?
AT: I am all about consistency in everything that I do. When things are consistent, things are authoritative. When things are authoritative, people will LISTEN! The way you do anything, is the way you do everything. My goal is to be able to control the horn technically at an incredibly high level, so that when I see a phrase and sing it in my head, I can instantly and effortlessly relay that musical message to the listener. Knowing exactly how to control the instrument allows me to be free musically, and creates the ability to change my opinion about a phrase on a moment’s notice with the confidence that it will happen. It doesn’t really matter to me if a phrase is from an orchestral passage, or a ridiculous lick from a tuba concerto. I try to not think of orchestral playing and solo repertoire as being different from one another. What changes for me are the stylistic demands that a composer may ask a performer to make. At some points within music we are asked to be the leader, other times a follower, and at yet other times a collaborator, etc. This is true for both solo playing and orchestral playing. My job as a musician is to be able to effortlessly execute the phrasing and musical expressions that I want the listener to experience.
What is the best tuba playing you have ever heard?
AT: This is a tough question! There are SO many great tuba players nowadays, and the level is incredibly high. I have heard some really fine performances at recent tuba conferences. I would have to say that one of my favorite solo recordings would be Roger Bobo’s Gravity is Light Today. Roger’s renditions of “The Morning Song” by Roger Kellaway, and “Yellow Bird” by Fred Tackett are still the standard. Roger grabs the listeners attention from the very first note he plays. My favorite orchestral recording is Aaron Copland’s Symphony no.3 with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein-Warren Deck, and Don Harwood sound incredible!
What is the best playing you have done?
AT: My most recent solo tour of Japan, and particularly the concert in Tokyo wwere very memorable. Another one, a performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No.2” with Jaap van Zweden will be stuck in my mind for quite a while as well.
How do you approach teaching differently than the way you were taught?
AT: I feel as though I have had the opportunity to study with the best of the best in the tuba/euphonium business, and I am incredibly thankful for and indebted to each of my former teachers. They all imparted something distinctly valuable to me. I have tried to meld what I learned from each of these masters into my teaching, and am constantly trying to get better at imparting what I hear/know to be true in order to fix a student’s issues within their playing.
My job as a teacher is to ultimately teach the student how to teach themselves. Like Warren Deck used to tell me, “the hardest part about teaching is getting a student to perceive that which they didn’t before.”
In order to get a perception of what is really coming out of the bell, I encourage my student’s to do A LOT of recording in their practice sessions. I encourage them to aim for consistency, and prefer to give them a checklist to measure all things against, because again, “when things are consistent, things are…”
I call my checklist “Tindall’s 10 Rules of Play”
1. Beginnings of Notes
2. Ends of Notes
3. Note Lengths
4. Note Shapes
5. Evenness of Sound (depth, character, symmetrical space in all registers)
9. Is it Musically Cohesive? (does everything make sense in the “context” of music? If it doesn’t, there is usually something lurking in the previous 8 things that has not stayed on course)
10. Does it have sonic SWEEP and drive through each phrase to take the listener to each and every arrival point within the music?
For me, the tuba and euphonium are sonically distinct as compared to any other instruments. As a result, we must pay attention to these details in order to express and impart what we strive to express to the educated listener. When the student can attain all ten things throughout each phrase, I have found that it is a sure bet that the listener will walk away satisfied with their listening experience.