Say this word to just about any orchestral musician (and many fans of orchestral music) and they’ll know what you’re talking about. As a tubist, say it to any brass section member and they’ll know exactly what you are talking about: *the* tuba solo from Pictures at an Exhibition, as arranged by Ravel. I’m not counting Baba-Yaga here, though it’s also a great solo too.
Just about all of this solo is within an intermediate-advanced tubist’s range and ability. The high G# is the clincher. But with some work, it is playable with an Eb or F tuba. Often though, even in professional orchestras, the solo is played by one of the trombonists on a euphonium. I thought this was the general practice anyhow, until I saw this performed by the San Francisco Symphony and the tubist played it. I’m sure he played an F tuba – which is customary in most [North] American orchestras.
Back in the day though, the solo (the whole tuba part, really) was written for a six-valve French C tuba (the second-to-last instrument pictured on the page) – a C euphonium – so the high G# was well within reach (as well as the low range needed for the rest of the part). Playing this on a Bb euphonium today is perfectly acceptable and probably closer to the original intention.
Ok – enough with the history: how to play it successfully on my Eb tuba? Well, I’ve got to be able to play the C#-G#. Clean, beautiful, stable and sometimes, quietly. Here’s what I’ve been doing:
- Buzzing warm up – in high range, make sure the attack is clean and there’s still lots of air flow. It can’t feel pinched and restricted.
- Harmonic series – way up there. It’s my foundation. Both long tones and ‘moderato’ quarter notes, slurred and articulated.
- The slow 1-7-1-3-5-7-8 series in three octaves, on Db (C#, eh), D and Eb. (What’s the name for this exercise?)
- Db (C#) scale from high Db to high Ab, up and down, slow and fast, legato and staccato.
- Db scale intervals – Db-Eb, Db-F, Db-Gb, Db-Ab. Slow and fast, legato and staccato.
- Finally, practicing the Pictures part. I need to pace myself though – hammering away at Bydlo will just tire me out and make my lips into mush. Besides, the Bydlo part comes after a movement where the tuba is tacet (not included).
It’s definitely better in just a month – I’m not out of the woods yet though. As of today, I’ve got 7 days ’till the concert to make it clean and stable. I’m practicing every day. Before this, high Ab was barely a squeak and Bydlo was just a dream.
So, back to practicing…