“We’ll be performing as a tuba ensemble which is tubas and euphoniums along with a tuba quartet,” Brian Dobbins said.
The University of Oklahoma professor was describing what’s in store for listeners next Tuesday at a free noon concert in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. He’s the one-on-one instructor for all tuba and euphonium majors. Dobbins is also responsible for a studio master class that meets weekly for group discussion and review.
“We’ll be performing a wide variety of transcription, along with a couple of original works,” he said. “We don’t have the entire repertoire nailed down but it will include the contrapuntal in nine by Bach and ‘Entry of the Gladiators.'”
The former selection is a well-known 1897 military march by Czech Julius Fucik, that’s widely associated with circus clowns.
Dobbins will be joined by his students for the performance. It’s an opportunity for them to play before a live audience and overcome any anxiety they may have in that environment.
“It’s a chance to work on the nerves and the way one’s body responds in that situation,” he said.
Dobbins’ students are fortunate. Their professor has a wealth of experience in this regard. As we spoke he was motoring across the high plains to a regular gig as the principal tuba with the Santa Fe Symphony. Summers find him heading west as well to perform at the renowned Santa Fe Opera.
“There’s no substitute to playing live for students,” Dobbins said. “There’s only one way to practice it and that’s by doing it.”
Following remarks about performing for an audience were unexpected.
“Perfection is never the key,” Dobbins said. “To me the most important thing is the transfer of emotion and storytelling. As long as that’s done a slight error in performance is not as critical as making the emotional connection.”
Even the finest musicians in the world misstep and typical audience members are largely unaware. What will be remembered is how listeners were made to feel.
Tubas are commonly misunderstood by the general public. They’re big. Unlike other horns, relatively few people have ever touched one let alone played it. An extra charge of enthusiasm could be detected in Dobbins’ voice when asked to dispel any misconceptions about the lowest pitched of brass instruments.
“The standard ‘oom-pah, oom pah’ thought about tuba players is something I try to overcome constantly in the studio and community,” he said. “There’s really no difference between a tuba and a trumpet as far as what they can do musically.”
Dobbins indicted how tuba instruction is structured at the high school level. Tuba players are not challenged to play outside the parts they’re given for collaboration with an ensemble.
“It makes for a limited musician,” he said.
Euphonium instruction is often stuck somewhere between the tuba professor and trombone professor because of the technical similarities between the three instruments.
“Euphonium is actually a tenor tuba,” he said.
Dobbins’ personal artistic inspiration comes from being an orchestral musician. Playing with an orchestra recharges his batteries for the other demands of a busy professional career.
“It’s really easy for a professor to get stuck in the teacher mode,” he said. “Hopefully we’re all performers first, teaching others the art of being a performer. If we get stuck in a rut it makes us more rigid in how we teach.”
Playing with the Santa Fe Symphony is refreshing for him both mentally and physically. It’s a relaxing exercise that reinforces what the instruction on campus is all about. Dobbins made his Land of Enchantment job connections while working on a master's degree at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Playing for the Santa Fe Opera at its breathtaking outdoor theater nestled in the foothills came after being with the Symphony.
“The Opera has a pick-up orchestra with some of the greatest musicians from around the nation,” he said. “It’s sort of like a vacation performance destination.”
Dobbins also finds motivation and growth opportunities from his OU students. Learning how to communicate best with different personalities is a stimulating challenge. His own introduction to the instrument that allowed for a highly successful and entertaining career could be viewed as being in the right place at the right time.
“I was a trombone player in seventh and eight grade in Prince George, Va.,” Dobbins said. “I’m 6’7” and in ninth grade when our tuba player graduated the band director looked around and said ‘You’re big enough to carry that thing in the parade, learn how to play tuba.’”
If You Go
What: Brian Dobbins Tuba and Euphonium Studio
Where: University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 Elm Ave.
When: 12 p.m. Nov. 19
OU tuba professor Brian Dobbins is both a teacher and professional performing musician.