Tabuteau on Tone

by Derek Reaban

Trumpet Herald Forum

Several years ago I had an extended business trip with lots of down time in the evenings. There was plenty of time for practice and reading. I managed to read “Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind” by Brian Fredericksen cover to cover. I was absolutely captivated about his time at The Curtis Institute and especially his description of studying with Marcel Tabuteau. The paragraph that especially intrigued me was where Jacobs said, “Tabuteau formalized the concept of controlling phrasing and dynamics by a numbering system. Each dynamic would have its own level, depending on the instrument. During the class, Tabuteau would have us play at various dynamics by asking for ‘oboe, number five’ or ‘tuba, number three.’ It was magnificent training”.

Finding literature authored by Tabuteau has been on a back burner for me for the last several years. Based on many conversations that I have had with Wilmer Wise online (initiated after I read the Jacobs book) he encouraged me to seek out specific books about the wind players of the Philadelphia Orchestra (Kincaid, Tabuteau, and Moyse). Wilmer said that during his time at the Marlboro Festival he would hang out with woodwind players, and he gleaned a tremendous amount of knowledge from them!

Since Jacobs was a student at The Curtis Institute in the 1930s and Tabuteau died in 1966 (the year that I was born), I never imagined that I would be able to “experience” a lesson with Marcel Tabuteau. Well, to my great delight, I was wrong to make that assumption!

I stumbled across this CD on the Internet, put it on my wish list, and received it as a gift for Christmas: Marcel Tabuteau’s Lessons.

I am simply amazed at how easily he is able to communicate his ideas, both through his perfect choice of words and more importantly how wonderfully he demonstrates these ideas on his oboe. With my interest in describing the concept of resonant sound and finding ways to refine this quality in my own playing, I was literally amazed at how Tabuteau’s words and examples spoke to me.

He starts off talking about his playing projection and his unique numbering system (and to hear his heavily accented speaking voice just adds to the weight of his message).

First, remember the progression of numbers is not exactly a crescendo or a diminuendo. It is rather a scaling of color…With the oboe, the speed of the wind, also the position of the reed on the lips, are [used] for producing tone color.When I say speed of the wind, do not confuse it with volume, thickness or loudness. The louder you play, the less it carries!

In my opinion, the quality that carries is the amplification of the dolce tone. The dolce tone is the nearest to zero. Therefore, I am in favor of a mobile, flexible embouchure which will give you the possibility to scale tone color…

Be sure to understand me. By ‘tone color,’ I mean the physical life of the notes.

I believe those are some of the most powerful words that I have ever heard spoken related to resonant sound! Consider the words of David Krauss here:

“Obviously we have to play loud and soft, but consider playing less loud and more resonant because what you are hearing from the sound that I’m producing is the sympathetic vibration, what I’m resonating. That’s what you’re hearing. It’s not a tangible thing, volume.”

The phrase “amplification of the dolce tone” is this exact concept, but from the opposite perspective and allows me to focus on this same idea from a slightly different stance. There is truly something magical in those words for me!

When he say’s “By ‘tone color,’ I mean the physical life of the notes” he is echoing the idea that I read from Emory Remington. Remington says, “[the exercises] should be played comfortably, not forced or underplayed, but with a feeling of the resonance in the sound from the beginning – so that the sound ‘lives’.”

And then hearing Tabuteau demonstrate this tone color variation “from 1 to 9 … 9 to 1” while he plays “one note on the tip of the reed and moves gradually toward the bottom of the reed, that note will determine different colors”. It is truly amazing to hear his sound! Even on the amateur equipment that this was recorded on in 1965 you can literally hear the overtones in his sound. Many times I’m hearing the second overtone (the octave) with more strength than the fundamental note! Amazing!

There are so many other ideas contained in this CD that I don’t even know where to begin in describing them here. I find many of the ideas that Michael Sachs has in his book are all here in explicit detail. His Dancing Numbers, Singing Intervals, and Inflection Distribution jump off the CD and provide a tool that I will certainly be able to apply to my playing.

If you want to add some color and vibrancy to your “Scheherazade”, this disk is worth the price just to hear his approach to the music.

Hope this will excite some of you to explore the ideas of Marcel Tabuteau!
Derek Reaban
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe Symphonic Wind Ensemble / Symphony of the Southwest

Last edited by Derek Reaban on Mon Aug 08, 2011 1:10 pm