Music Notes: whole lotta tubas | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Music Notes: whole lotta tubas 

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Rex Martin doesn't like to toot his own horn, but he believes he's got a whopper of a composition for his fellow tubists to huff and puff this Saturday. "I asked my friend Amnon Wolman to write something for tubas," explains Martin, who, like Wolman, is a professor at Northwestern University. Wolman wrote Right Lane Must Turn Right, which is believed to be the first piece ever composed for several hundred tubas. It will be performed at the upcoming International Tuba/Euphonium Conference. More than 1,000 professional tubists from all over the world are expected to show up--750 of them will play Wolman's composition while walking around Evanston. The stunt is sure to draw resounding attention to the bulkiest and what might be the loudest of all musical instruments.

By 1835 the technique of adding valves to brass instruments to control volume and pitch had been invented, and the tuba was born. "It's the length of the tube that allows us to produce those low frequencies that earn the tuba comparison to a bass singer," Martin says. "Of course, it helps to have huge lungs to blow enough air. I suspect that's why few women have taken up the instrument. But lung capacity is not necessarily a must. My colleague Arnold Jacobs, who's over 80 and whose lungs are not the size they were, still plays like an angel."

Tubas come in various shapes and sizes, and all will be showcased in the premiere of Right Lane Must Turn Right. "I modeled it partly after John Cage's A Dip in the Lake, Wolman says of a piece performed in different locations during the 1982 New Music Festival in Chicago. "Mine, which lasts about an hour, is more structured. It's an elaborate canon with 25 parts."

Copies of the parts, along with maps of downtown Evanston, will be placed in the registration packets of all tubists. The tubists will then pair off and follow their mapped-out routes.

Wolman, who finds that tubists are "heartier, friendlier, and joke more" than most people, says, "Each group is responsible for its own action, yet together, unrehearsed, they can still make an emphatically irreverent statement."

Right Lane Must Turn Right will be unveiled in the streets of Evanston Saturday beginning at 12:15 PM. The first stop on the intinerary is Northwestern's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 1977 South Campus Drive; the final destination will be the parking lot of the music administration building at Clark and Sherman. Admission is free. For more info, call 708-491-5441.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Armando Villa.

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