James Brody is an Associate Professor of Oboe at the College of Music, University of Colorado Boulder. His oboe playing has been praised by the New York Times for its “wonderfully euphonious spirit.” While a member of the Camerata Woodwind Quintet, he performed concerts in Carnegie Recital Hall and in the Far East. Brody’s major teachers include John Mack, Jerry Sirucek, and William Baker. He also studied the Baroque oboe with Grant Moore and James Caldwell and chamber music with Marcel Moyse. Brody has studied the Alexander Technique with Marjorie Barstow and Barbara Conable (among others), was teacher certified at The Alexander Foundation, and has created the Wellness Program for Musicians at CU, a comprehensive approach to the well being of music students. He has taught the Technique throughout the U.S. and Europe and hosts an annual Summer Course on the Boulder campus. His degrees are from Indiana University and The Ohio State University.
JB (James Brody): “Spilling the Beans” refers to a phrase Mack used when speaking about his ongoing relationship with Tabuteau and his teaching, even after Tabuteau’s passing. Mack felt that Tabuteau was sometimes reluctant to share hard-won knowledge too freely. By “spilling the beans” Mack was determined to generously share as much knowledge and information as he could. As you will read towards the end of this first segment of the interview, Mack reported he has not been “chastised from the beyond.”
JB: As we had an overall plan, there may be a bit of a “scripted” sense to some of what you will read. For example, you will see statements in quotes, such as: “Marcel Tabuteau pressed you down like a spring.” These sorts of references reﬂect statements he made prior to our recorded sessions. Even so, IM (a fond nickname) could not resist changing the topic or line of thought to speak about something he found intriguing in the moment. Because of this, some editing of the conversations has been done for the purpose of clariﬁcation, such as removal of repeated concepts, bringing together discussions of similar ideas from different points in our conversations, and the like. Any small repetitions or digressions that remain reﬂect Mack’s active train of thought. Much of the typical IM conversational tone is lost in being transferred from the spoken word to a written transcript, but I have attempted to retain a few of his idiosyncrasies. Some of his favored mannerisms that will be familiar to those who knew him were ﬁnishing words (“and so forth and so on,” “blah—blah, blah—blah—blah”), interjections (“OK—ﬁne,” “woo—woo”), “signature sounds (Mmmmmm), the tendency to use full names (e.g. “Marcel Tabuteau”), and some highly evocative imitations of Marcel Tabuteau and George Szell. Much has changed since these words were ﬁrst delivered. Laila Storch published her excellent book on Marcel Tabuteau in 2008. Pierre Boulez died in January 2016.
I have done my best to be as accurate as possible in the transcription of Mr. Mack’s words, the people to whom he referred, the dates he mentioned, and the musical materials discussed within the contemporary time frame. If any errors are to be found, they are the responsibility of this author.
JM (John Mack): So, the next year, in eleventh grade, I commuted to New York ﬁve days a week. I took all my classes in a row, ate a quick lunch at school. took another class, rushed home, gathered up my homework and my oboe and my reeds and this and that, went past the library to drop off the murder mystery that I had read the day before and pick up a new one—they would always have a few for me to take—rush off to the train station in Somerville and start on my homework. Then the local [train] would show up and I would go one stop and get off at Bound Brook, waiting for the express. The Baltimore and Ohio. to come through from Philadelphia. This, of course, happens to be the train that I took to Philadelphia in twelfth grade when I first started studying with Marcel Tabuteau. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were rehearsals. Wednesday night I would take the subway all the way out to the end of the line to Coney Island. take the trolley seventeen blocks, walk two blocks. and go upstairs for my lesson with Ben Storch, who I was studying with that year. Ben played first oboe in the WOR Orchestra under Wallenstein. These were the days when every big radio station in New York had its own orchestra. Ben was very helpful, and he could play. He had a substantial overbite, so he played very light reeds. He was the one who was later responsible for making the Benwal oboe: that’s Ben Storch and Wally Bhosys. Later. he crafted the Gordet oboe; Ben always wanted to ﬁnd an oboe that would make him sound bigger than he could on his own—-transmogrify himself.
I had auditioned for Curtis when I was in the tenth grade while I was studying with Bruno Labate. Labate wrote [Tabuteau] a note and said, “He’s been studying with me for five years,” and it was five months (chuckles). And I couldn’t play yet. I ran out of breath in the middle of a long phrase and Tabuteau rocked back on his heels and roared with laughter. I thought: well, I guess that takes care of that. I was hopeful that something that happened to him when he was a kid would happen to me. Tabuteau was from Compiègne. His father was an horloger—a watchmaker, clock technician—but also, I think, conducted the local little orchestra. Gillet and his class came through the town, Tabuteau played for him, and the students laughed at him. Gillet said, “Don’t laugh.” Gillet saw that there was something there, and took him as a student at the Conservatoire. I was hopeful that Tabuteau would see something in me. Well, at that point in time, he didn’t.
My father approached Marcel Tabuteau and tried to persuade him to teach me while I was in twelfth grade. Tabuteau said to my father [in Tabuteau voice], “Tell the boy not to play the oboe.” My father, who was no dummy whatsoever, said, “I’m sorry, maestro, you’ll have to tell him that yourself because he wouldn’t take that from me.” It piqued his curiosity. So, therefore, I found myself in twelfth grade going to Philadelphia every other week for a 1:00 PM lesson with Marcel Tabuteau, which was like a trip into outer space. It was absolutely overwhelming the way the man sounded when he played, the stuff he had to say. Incredibly imaginative, terribly demanding, and very demeaning from time to time. If you did some dumb thing he would call you “stu-peed” and give you holy hell. But, when I think back, he did the right thing. He also knew that my train didn’t go back until 6:30 that night. So, he often took pity on me. In the wintertime in Philadelphia the streets are awash with slush and snow. Sometimes I would go watch a movie twice or more to kill the time in between. As the year wore on, Tabuteau started to let me stay in his studio with him for the bulk of the afternoon. He taught all sorts of people, some guys showing up in uniform. I know for a fact that Earnie Harrison was one of them. Some of them—not Earnie—were really upset that there was this kid sitting there.
I have to tell the story about what happened one Saturday afternoon. We had these two circular, spiral, wooden piano stools to sit on. That was our seating “accouterments.” Bust your butt, you know! As I’m sitting there, he’s playing away, he’s got a hot reed, he’s having a wonderful time, enjoying himself. He looked over at me and saw that I had Xs for eyes like in the old cartoons—I was stunned. He whipped the oboe out of his mouth and said [in Tabuteau voice], “There, you see, young man. I am human. You are human. If I can do it, you can do it, too!” And I thought, Oh, God! Then he goes [in Tabuteau voice, laughing] “Achwhah-hah-hah-hah!” Well, in retrospect, I can tell you, James, without any doubt whatsoever that it took me fifteen years to recover from that. For the thought to ever go through my mind that maybe he was human, and maybe I could do it, too. I just took it for granted that either he wasn’t human or if he was I was just a little jerk from New Jersey and how could I ever think that I could ever aspire to anything like that? Well, he had a way of putting a burr under your saddle. He certainly did it for me and he did it for life. It’s still there.
It was becoming quite apparent to me that Tabuteau was in some absolutely totally different world. Marcel Tabuteau would play a long tone from one to nine and back to one and leave you quaking in your boots because you felt like you had been taken on a boomerang ride: up, out, around, viewing this and that, and then come back and land like a feather in your hand. It was so exciting you can’t believe. I’ve never heard anybody play a long tone like that, ever. When most people play a long tone they turn up the rheostat and then go back. With Tabuteau, a thousand different things were happening. It would absolutely make your head spin.
Tabuteau did mention Labate on a couple of occasions. His famous saying on the topic was that if Bruno Labate had studied with Georges Gillet at the Conservatoire in Paris, he would have been so great that there wouldn’t be any oboe player in the world fit to lick his shoe-tops. But then Tabuteau also made sure that you understood that he did not do that.
The time with Tabuteau was very exciting. I remember my dear friend Marc Lifschey said, “Oh, John, you’re going to be in such awe of this man. When you hear him play, you’re not going to be able to see straight. Just try to remember everything he says.” When the year was over, I thought: I don’t remember anything! (Laughs) But, of course, I do. I look back and I could write chapters, if not volumes, on the stuff that he said to me. We went through the early 30 Articulation [Studies] in the Barret, the ones that precede the Big 12. We did melodies, we did this, and we did that, covering a lot of material. Lots of people I know never studied with a Frenchman and they have no idea about how to play French grace notes or anything like that. I got all that from Tabuteau. But this was prior to my long association with him that started a few years later.
JB: You left off study with Storch and took up with Tabuteau in the twelfth grade. Were you still keeping up that incredible travel schedule?
JM: No, as I didn’t go to New York that year. I had seriously thought of going to the High School of Music and Art in New York; I almost did. And then something said to me: finish school with the people you have known since you were in kindergarten. Do that, and also do all this other stuff. I guess I didn’t play with the National Orchestral Association that year, but the year after that, when I went to Juilliard, I did.
I was studying with Marcel Tabuteau every other Saturday. But, as I said, he frequently allowed me to stay in the studio with him for a whole afternoon of either just practicing—and he played all the time—or working on gouging machines or whatever. And I had a bent for mechanical things like that. My father was very much a do-it-yourselfer, who would say, “Well, if it doesn’t work, take it apart, figure out how it works, fix it, put it back together again.” I was sort of beginning to get handy with my mitts.
I remember once I showed up for a lesson with Tabuteau and I had a hot reed. Only, I didn’t know it was hot, because I didn’t play well enough, and my embouchure wasn’t developed enough. And he was very impressed by that. I think that’s the reason why, some time later, after I graduated from Juilliard and went to Curtis, he invited me to work in the studio with him. Some people called it the “studio slave,” and some of it was rather slavish and hard to take. But, I was able to be there with him while he did all this remarkable stuff.
Tabuteau told John Minsker, who was the wonderful English horn player of the Philadelphia Orchestra, to teach me my first year in Juilliard. Minsker was a fabulous player. Very, very subtle. John Minsker’s playing was so subtle that some people thought it was bland. It was not bland out front. I heard the man play for many years. I’ll never forget when I played Honegger’s King David with Tabuteau playing first and John Minsker playing English horn in 1952 right after I got back from the Sadler’s Wells—I was asked to play second for a couple of weeks. There’s a solo passage for English horn in the King David, which I had played before in Juilliard. My mother said afterwards, “Oh, Jack. John Minsker must have the most beautiful vibrato I’ve ever heard on a woodwind instrument.” I said, “Sitting next to him, you hear almost nothing.” Whatever he did, it bloomed in the hall, and it certainly did for all the years I heard him play. It never sounded straight at all. But John Minsker was an unusual person. [He] had lots of problems with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He would stand out on the corner before concerts passing out socialist literature. The management wasn’t too happy about that.
I would have my lesson with Minsker, then every third or fourth lesson, I would have one with Marcel Tabuteau, and if I did some stupid thing, he [Tabuteau] would scold Minsker. Who could blame Minsker for feeling bad about that? He was very resentful of the fact that Tabuteau made him teach me for that year. And yet, I always sent him a Christmas card every year. Many, many years later, I finally got a card from him. He said, “Dear John. I hear broadcasts all the time. The orchestra sounds magnificent and you sound outstandingly stellar in your orchestra. I am very thrilled to have played a part in your development as the artist you are now.” I was thrilled out of my mind! Back then, he would never give me the time of day. He felt that Tabuteau was making him teach me, and I wasn’t learning enough. If we go have a lesson together with Tabuteau and I crap up, then Tabuteau is going to come down on Minsker instead of me! What could make him less happy than to have anything like that happen? And it did, many times. But, he was a wonderful, attentive, very fine teacher.
JB: You’re playing for Tabuteau several times a year and studying at Juilliard.
JM: My last [third] year in Juilliard, Harold Gomberg joined the faculty. We had 31 oboe players in school and he would take four students. Twelve people played for him; I was one of the four he accepted. Besides me, he took Steve Hewitt, Dave Abosch, and the fellow who ended up playing second oboe to him in the Philharmonic for years, Jerry Roth. I had the last lesson and I always got an extra half hour. It was quite an experience to be in the same room with Harold Gomberg, because his playing was overridingly commanding at that point in time. We were doing Grand Etudes in the Barret book. He would pick up the oboe—he played a lot—if he ever missed something, he would go back and he never missed a second time. I thought this was incredibly impressive.
At this point, I think I should stop and insert something. Harold Gomberg would pick up your oboe and reed and play on it and sound so much better than you that it would make your heart drop into your stomach and make you feel really bad. And he wouldn’t say anything—he would just do that. But there are big lessons there, which I learned, and I will explain them to you. On the other hand, Marcel Tabuteau would take your oboe and reed and play on it and make it sound so bad that your heart would drop into your stomach and you would feel really bad. He wouldn’t say anything, either, but I can explain exactly what they should have done and didn’t do. Harold Gomberg should have said, “Look: the reason I can make it sound much better than you do is because of my experience, my more developed embouchure, my blowing, my tonal concepts,” so forth and so on. That [playing without explanation] would make you feel so bad. Because you kept thinking: well, if only my oboe was better, if only my reeds were better, I would sound better. Somebody comes along and it’s the same oboe, the same reed, and he makes it sound so much better. If he had only said to us, “It’s not me; it’s not that I’m me, it’s just what I know, what I can do, and if I can do it, you can do it, too.” Then, we would all rush home and work really hard. Tabuteau should have said, and didn’t, “It sounds bad, but the reason it sounds bad is because I’m not doing [anything] other than playing on it the same way I would if I were playing on my own oboe and a good reed.” Of course the thing to be extracted from that is, and what I would tell my students—don’t try to make it sound better than it deserves to sound. Try to make the reeds better, make the embouchure better and so forth and so on, and don’t put the onus of responsibility on yourself to make it sound better than it deserves. There are enough players who went down the tubes after a number of years because they could not continue to play on their own reeds because they weren’t good enough. I am totally convinced about that.
Then we get to the crux of what happened near the end of that year when my mother looked in the Herald Tribune, yet again, and saw two things. One was that the Philadelphia Orchestra was about to go on transcontinental tour; two, that they’d had auditions at Curtis and they had accepted this person, that person, and Lou Rosenblatt, oboe, one of my dearest friends on the face of the earth. Tabuteau would not fly. He and Madame Tabuteau—who taught French at Curtis, so all oboe players had to take French—took the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth. Tabuteau couldn’t stand the rich sauces on the other boats.
Just a bit about Tabuteau and food. Tabuteau liked wonderful food, but it had to be simple and fine, perhaps with a little bit of this and that but not gloppy. He didn’t like gloppy presentation or fancy cooking. His cooking was magnificent, but not fancy. His favorite dish was top of the round, browned twice, and shaped something like a flying saucer; plus potatoes, frequently boiled. He was very, very fond of pureed potatoes, which would be mashed potatoes with some milk and some butter and an egg yolk in them, which is absolutely wonderful, especially if you were having leg of lamb or something like that, with the gravy on [makes yummy sound]. But he didn’t like fancy food. As a matter of fact, I remember he told me one time that he got the call while he was in France, “Come back immediately!” They needed him right away. He said, “We had to come back on the Ile de France.” All the rich foods and the sauces, and so on. He said that he was so choked by that, when they got off the boat he went right to Childs [a restaurant chain known for simple, healthy food] and ordered milk toast. I thought: maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t, but I got the message—simple but fine, no fancy stuff.
So, I thought: if I’m going to play for him before he goes on tour, I have to do it now. So, I called him, and he said, “OK, fine, come over this evening.” I sat around in the lobby of the Drake Hotel keeping my reeds wet and wondering what the dingdong is going to happen. When I get home, it’s going to be 12:30, 1:00 in the morning, who knows? Finally, the message comes from the desk that I can go up to the room. Tabuteau greets me, Madame Tabuteau greets me. He said, “Play for me the Brahms Violin Concerto solo.” No music, just play. I played it for him. “Play it for me on my oboe.” That makes two times. “Go into the bedroom and play it for me on your oboe then my oboe.” That makes four. “Come back into the living room and play it for me again on your oboe.” That makes five. I mean, rip your face off! So then he said to me, “Well, what are your plans?” I said, “Well, Mr. Gomberg wants me to go out [audition for an orchestral position].” (I did audition for the New Orleans Symphony for Massimo Freccia. Eventually, I was offered the job.) I said, “I don’t think I’m ready,” and he [Tabuteau] said something to the effect of “you’re telling me!” I said, “Well, Maestro, you know I’ve always wanted to go to Curtis but I understand you’ve already accepted someone.” He said, “You silly boy. You still want to go The Curtis after all these years?” I thought: well, who wouldn’t? “All right. I will tell Madame Tabuteau to go to the school tomorrow and tell them I have accepted you. They will send you an application; you will have to fill it out. And you will have to tell Mr. Gomberg. If he is unhappy with me about this, I will have nothing to do with you.”
Well, I did tell Harold Gomberg and he was furious with me. He was certain that this was an underhanded thing I was doing, which was absolutely not true. And he threw me, one of his favorite students, out of all my lessons and classes for the last six weeks of the year, and asked at least one judge to flunk me on my final exam as a personal favor to him. [This person] refused and said, “I’m sorry, Harold, but the boy plays too well; I can’t do that.” We didn’t speak for 31 years after this happened, until the Tabuteau concerts at Curtis in 1979. In retrospect, after many years went by, it occurred to me that maybe Harold Gomberg did me a big favor. By throwing me out, he made it possible, one, for me to go to Curtis and study with the person who had taught him; and, two, to be able to stay on good terms with Marcel Tabuteau. I have no idea if this is true, but it occurred to me this is a possibility. He was not a stupid man.
So, then I went to Curtis. Tabuteau said, “Well, you’ll be here one or two years.” I ended up being there for three years. One of the reasons was because I got very, very handy at reed making, to such an extent that not only was I making reeds for him for Casals Festivals, I was making reeds for him in the orchestra. My last year in Curtis, which was 1950-51, I made every reed he played on for the first eleven weeks of the season.
I don’t want to take too much credit for this. This was his brains and my brawn. He’d come up with a hot gouge. It was so fine, anybody who couldn’t make a hot reed on this gouge deserved to be shot. Then, in the eleventh week, some of the reeds were loose on the sides. Tabuteau immediately accused me, as would be his wont, of having tampered with the gouge. So, I said, “Maestro, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything like that. In the third week of the season, when things were really going great, I took it upon myself to very carefully select 18 pieces of cane and gouge them, and they are in a cigarette box. (He used to buy Richmond Straight Cut cigarettes, and they came in a little cardboard box, just the right size to put oboe cane in.) There’s a label on it, it’s dated, and it’s in the left rear corner of the top drawer of your desk.” By which time he had his coat on, and we were on the way to the studio, immediately! We got there, he pulled the drawer open, and there, in the left rear corner of the top drawer was this little cardboard box, with a label put on by me, with the date on it, this wonderful gouge from machine number two. He said, “Good for you! Tie me six reeds.” I tied six reeds for him. Five of them were loose on the sides. There’s such a message to oboe players there you cannot believe. Because when I gouged them, the sides were tight. And for the fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth and ninth and tenth weeks afterwards, the sides were tight. It was only in the eleventh week that some reeds showed up with loose sides. And we went back to the third week, when it was fine, and we got reeds with loose sides. Which means that it was sunspots, or it’s this or it’s that—who knows?! But Tabuteau was thrilled. Back to work! And I thought: Madame Tabuteau has probably been going crazy all these eleven weeks. He’s been at home all the time!
I never forget saying to him once in a lesson when he was playing on this big sumptuous reed, “Are you going to play the concert on that tonight?” He laughed at me. I said, “Why not?” He marched up to me, stuck his face in my face, and spoke to me “man to man,” saying, “Mack. If I play out, he asks for more. If I don’t play out, he shushes the strings. What would you do if you were in my shoes?” What a thought. However, the man played full size.
JB: Earlier, you said that Lifschey supported your studying with Tabuteau.
JM: Oh, he was thrilled. I called him when I was ostracized by Gomberg and I had been accepted to Curtis. He said, “Oh, Johnny, how wonderful, you’re going to get to go to Curtis!” I said, “I haven’t been able to eat for two days, I can’t see straight. Harold Gomberg has just dismissed me out of hand.” He said, “Well, Johnny, I’m sorry that you have to go through that, but you’re absolutely doing the right thing. If anybody has the chance to study with Marcel Tabuteau at The Curtis Institute, you’d be crazy to turn a thing like that down, no matter what.” I was so fortunate that when I went to Curtis, Tabuteau immediately invited me to work in the studio for him, which was not a bed of roses. I mean, he would scream and holler at you for anything, as he did to all his students.
JB: Is there something more you want to talk about regarding Gillet or Tabuteau before he came to this country—his teachers, his background?
JM: I have a lot to say about that. Tabuteau came to this country at the age of 18, in 1905. Damrosch would go to Europe and tell these young, hotsy-totsy players that the streets were paved with gold or whatever and they would come over here and play for 35 bucks a week or whatever, which was probably not too bad at that time.
JB: My grandparents came through Ellis Island. The renovated facility is quite spectacular. There are wonderful displays about immigrants, one of which reminds me of your “streets paved with gold” statement. There’s a quote from an Italian immigrant: “In Italy, they said the streets in America are paved with gold. When I came to America, I found that not only are the streets not paved with gold, they’re not even paved; and they expected me to pave them!”
JM: Right! (Laughs)
JB: In a sense, is that like Tabuteau? Did he “pave the streets with gold”?
JM: Well, he ended up doing it, that’s for sure. He played English horn for three years and then he got the first oboe job in the Metropolitan Opera. Played there for seven years, under Mahler, and then Toscanini. Toscanini used to really get on Tabuteau some bit. Tabuteau, in a moment of frustration, finally said, “Maestro, with all these [blankety-blanks] around you, why are you always after me?” And Toscanini said, “Because, Tabuteau, from you I can get what I want!” It’s a great story; I hope it’s true.
Now, I have to go back in time, to something that happened in Juilliard when I was in my first year there. There was a Professor Jacobi who was doing a class for accompanying or conducting and so he needed some musicians. I offered my services. We played the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola with this little bare bones orchestra. At some point or other during the rehearsal, Professor Jacobi says to me, “Young man, I’d like to speak to you after we’re done.” When class was over, people were leaving, packing up and so forth; I went over to speak with him. He said, “I want to ask you something. Did you ever study with Marcel Tabuteau?” I said, “Yes, sir, I did.” He said, “Aha, I thought so. I want to tell you something about your teacher. I was at the Met when he first came there, and he sounded pretty much like every other French oboe player at that time. But not for long.” And I thought: well, of course, how could he? Somebody with the raging imagination of Marcel Tabuteau, in a melting pot like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, where you had musicians from every land, mostly European…
JB: You mentioned a German English horn player.
JM: There was a German English horn player with a very beautiful, dark tone that Tabuteau admired greatly. How could you sit there and play French or German opera, Wagner, Italian or Russian opera and the like with conductors from different lands and be mindless of the fact that this music was all different, and needed to be treated in a fashion that was suitable for the music itself? It is only my conjecture that Tabuteau could not sit still with that. A burr had been put under his saddle, and so he ended up making the oboe in this country more international, a more all-encompassing instrument than it had been before. Many people would play the way they had been taught in their native land and be mindless of all these other things.
For example, Marcel Moyse was inflamed by what singers could do that the flute couldn’t, and that drove him to try to expand the expressive capabilities of the flute. Therefore, as he told us in Marlboro, when he was playing in the Paris Opera wayway-way-way way back, after rehearsal was over and people left, he would go up on the stage and play arias on the flute and try to be as expressive as the singers he had just heard. As he would readily admit, he never could be, but he tried. He was very inflamed by that.
Tabuteau was inflamed by wanting to expand the capabilities of the oboe. He was so attracted by what string instruments could do with bow speed, pressure, and this and that. I think that all of us who ever studied with him or people who heard him were all beneficiaries of his crusade to try to make the oboe a less chauvinistic instrument, a less Johnny-one-note type thing. I would certainly want myself to be able to be a fine Mozart player, a fine Bruckner player, a fine Mahler player, a fine Beethoven player, a fine Brahms player, a fine Rimsky-Korsakov player, and play them all in the way that is fitting for their music. And I certainly try to instill that in my students. I think that Tabuteau and Moyse had those qualities in common: driven by outside forces, they were desperately striving to increase the expressive or tonal capabilities of their instruments.During my last year in Curtis, Tabuteau said to me in the studio, “Mack! I am bored with teaching!” I said, “Maestro, I can’t believe you.” “Well, believe me or not, I tell you I am bored with teaching!” And I thought: well, I hope that never happens to me. Nor has it, nor would it ever. But, I can understand. In his last days in the orchestra, Tabuteau’s playing became rather dispirited compared to what it had always been before. I think the fact that he had had so much to offer—it was so high-octane, he did that for so long—I think it sort of wore him out in a way. The only thing that really revived his spirits completely after that, besides playing with Casals, happened in the last year of his life, in 1965. He passed away early January, 1966. Wayne Rapier was studying with him in Nice. Tabuteau had always been complaining about how he hated records because they never sounded like him. His nuance was not there. And it’s absolutely true. Wayne Rapier bought him a Sony stereo tape recorder, and Tabuteau was rejuvenated like you couldn’t believe. When I saw him, he was like a kid with a new toy. I was on tour with Marlboro, on my way to The Cleveland Orchestra; I had already been hired. We did two concerts in Menton, which is the last, most easterly French town on the Riviera just before Italy, even east of Monaco. Tabuteau was living in Nice, which is west of Monaco, so I went to visit him. Tabuteau was so excited about my playing—which I couldn’t really understand at the time, because I didn’t feel I was really playing that well—but he hadn’t heard me play for twelve years, and lots and lots of stuff had happened during those years. My left arm was black and blue. “Say, Mack! What do you think about that?!” [JM pantomimes Tabuteau hitting him on the arm.] An old man, going on 79, talking about all this stuff that he was doing for this recording. It is great that it is widely available now. I found it so amusing to hear him say [in Tabuteau voice], “My dear young friends, today I’m going to dis-couse articulation.” I thought: we never heard this man sound so ameliorative, so friendly. Instead of “My dear young friends,” we got: “Stu-peed, for Lord’s sake, what’s the matter with you?” Screaming and hollering at us. None of which I resent. I know lots of people who do resent it, who would say that they would never forgive him for that. But I think: no. I forgave him for everything many years ago. He did so much to and for me.
JB: Please say more about Tabuteau “live” and hearing his playing on recordings.
JM: Live? Unbelievable. The man could twist your guts like you can’t believe. I’ll give you an example. I had season tickets to the ten Tuesday night concerts at Carnegie Hall, since I was in tenth grade. I kept them for years. When I couldn’t go anymore, my father did, for the rest of his days. I’ll never forget the time I was sitting in the front row of the balcony; had a choice seat there. They were doing some Bach transcription by (ahem) Ormandy. [He obliquely suggested that Ormandy did not actually do all the work.] At any rate, the oboe came in and played five notes. And I heard this rustle in the hall. I looked around and everybody had sat up in their chairs. He could do that. He could command your attention with a few notes, absolutely like being slapped across the face. He was quite something, a genius in his own way. I don’t agree with everything he did by any matter of means. But I will just tell you that he could arrest you; he could arrest your attention in such a fashion that would just stop you in your tracks.
His true sound does not come across on recordings. They were just pieces of him. The recordings captured, I would say, perhaps 60% of what he had when you heard him in person. The rest was gone; it just wasn’t there. He hated to make records, and that was the reason. He heard the playback and thought: that’s not what I’m doing. There’s a moment now and then. I would say that of the available recordings the one that probably sounds more like Tabuteau and gives you more of an idea of his playing than any other is the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, with Mason Jones playing horn, Sol Schoenbach playing bassoon—with a fast vibrato because he was trying to sound like Walter Guetter who he had replaced; he changed all that later —and Bernard Portnoy playing clarinet. That sounds more like “him” than any other recording I’ve heard.
But when he got the tape recorder, he was rejuvenated. Several years after he died, my wife and I went to visit Madame Tabuteau after she moved back to Toulon, where they used to live before they moved to Nice. She played the whole recording for me. Madame Tabuteau was really upset when Tabuteau said [in Tabuteau voice]: “I’m going to show you how I prepare for my audition for Saint Peter!” She said, “I don’t like that, I don’t want that to be in there.” I said, “Madame Tabuteau, I’ve heard your husband say that so many times, I don’t think you have the right to delete that from this recording. This is your husband speaking.” So, she finally decided not to. I was very pleased that she decided to allow that to remain in there.
But, he was always upset about the recordings, and I don’t blame him. Recording techniques have advanced incredibly. All I can say is that if they had had the recording capabilities in those days that we have now, people would never say, “What’s the big deal about Marcel Tabuteau? You sound a lot better than him.” And I say, uh-unh! You weren’t there; I was there. You can’t tell me; I can tell you. If you had heard him in person, you would know what we’re talking about. He could make a note do the loop-the-loop, play in such a fashion… Believe me, I’ve never heard an oboe player in my life that could play with such an incredible range of color on the oboe with the same reed as Marcel Tabuteau, by far. As Sol Schoenbach said: when Tabuteau played something, he could make it sound so right that you couldn’t accept it any other way than that. Which, of course, is exactly what I try to do myself. Now, the purpose here is not to talk about me, but one of the happiest things I ever hear from my colleagues in The Cleveland Orchestra is, “When you play it, it sounds right.” And I think: that’s what I want, desperately. I want it to sound absolutely right. I don’t want it to sound like anybody’s playing games, or doing anything wacko. It has to sound right on the money.
I know my teacher did not like to play recitals, didn’t like to play chamber music, didn’t like to play concerti. He only really felt comfortable and happy when he was sitting in his chair in the orchestra. I remember I was there when he played the Hanson Pastorale in the world premiere. He was not happy at all. He didn’t like being up there. He was like a fish out of water. Once when I was in Curtis, he performed the Mozart Oboe Quartet for the Women’s Committee at a luncheon and never told us about it.
Later, I thought to myself: wait a minute. This is not so hot! If you’re a teacher, your students are going to be enlivened by what their teacher does, as much if not more so than by what he says. OK, fine. In that case, I’ll play a recital every year, I’ll do this, I’ll do that, blah-blah-blah, I’ll take my chances. I’ve done it for many, many years. So far, I’m not doing too badly. Students may disagree with me from what they’ve been told, but I’m relatively persuasive.
JB: Is there a corollary here to when people listen to recordings of great opera performers from the past, such as Caruso? That the recordings don’t do them justice?
JM: You weren’t there. Since you mentioned Caruso, and considering some of the great singers of yesteryear—people who heard them live were driven crazy by their singing. We must not dishonor them by saying, “Oh, well, that’s not the way it sounds to me when I hear this record.” You weren’t there. Almost everyone who was there is probably gone, but they were there, and they heard it. They heard all these great singers like Galla Curci that took them to tears. And we have to honor that.
JB: You mentioned that Tabuteau “played all the time. He demonstrated for his students when the words ran out.”
JM: Right, sure. He played a lot. His command of the English language was just fine, although some words came out [incorrectly]. Amplifier was “am-PLEE-fer,” splendidly was “SPLAN-dig-lee.” And if he couldn’t persuade you with his words, he would grab the oboe so fast you can’t believe and play it for you. I am one of those, as a teacher, who plays all the time. I know people who don’t play for their students, and I ask them, “Why don’t you play for them?” And they say, “Well, my teacher didn’t play for me.” And I say, “So what?” Play for your students.
JB: “Marcel Tabuteau pressed you down like a spring to see how you would respond.”
JM: That’s right. He would compress you and compress you and compress you. It was almost like [he was trying] to find out what kind of metal you’re constructed of. If I press you down flat, do you have the resilience to spring back up? He was like that. He would pursue you. I’ll never forget what Earnie Harrison said about the ten lessons he had with Tabuteau when he was in the service, after he had been at the Eastman School. Tabuteau beat the bejeebers out of him. At some point or another when he was looking, I’m sure, very woebegone, Tabuteau comes over to him and throws his arm around his shoulders and says to him, “Young man! If you can’t take it from me, how do you expect to be able to take it from a con-dooc-TOR?” And, of course, you have to understand that in those earlier days, conductors could be podium tyrants beyond description, with the right to hire and fire at will, and many of them did that, even if only to jolly themselves or to prove to themselves that they had this power. I think Tabuteau was absolutely right about that. He got to me, really bad, on several occasions. All I can tell you is that I am eternally grateful to him for having beat up on me the way he did because no conductor has ever been able to get to me.
The janitor at Curtis was named Bob, and his office was in the basement. He was a lovely African-American man, with one brown eye and one blue eye. He would console us before and after our lessons. He was our touchstone. Often, we were in the throes of misery. Oh, my God: the hangman’s waiting! Time to go upstairs for your lesson. I remember one time Larry Thorstenburg came down after his lesson and he was hopping up and down. “He told me my reeds were too short, my reeds were too short!” He actually told him something!
I guess one of my finest moments was after I played the D minor fast Ferling. Lou Rosenblatt had the lesson after me, and I’m sitting down at Bob’s decompressing (groans) and then Luige [“Loo-Eege,” JM’s nickname for Rosenblatt] comes bouncing down and says, “Oh, Jack! You must have really done great.” And I said, “What?” “Tabuteau was talking about how you played the D minor fast Ferling.” “He was?” “Yes! He was all excited.” I thought: Hah! How about that?
In my first year in Curtis, Tabuteau was working on a piece for wind class, the name of which I can’t recall. At some point in the rehearsal, he took the score of this piece and threw it over his shoulder. “I can’t stand this piece, I don’t want to do it. Does anybody have any suggestions?” So, my hand went up right away. He wouldn’t even look at me. He went through everybody until there was only one hand in the air—it was mine. “All right, Mack. What?” And I said, “The Concertante.” He said, “Ehhh?” And I said, “The Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for winds.” And he said, “All right. We’ll read that next week. And, Mack, because you suggested it, I will let you play the first rehearsal.” I thought: the first rehearsal? Over my dead body! Nobody else but me played it for the rest of the term until it got performed. John de Lancie was at the performance, and he came up to me after and asked, “Where are you going next year?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, you’re going out; you play like that, you’re going out.” And I said, “Unh-unh [no]. I’m not ready to go out.” But, “playing like that”—it was very exciting.
I had a terrible scene with Tabuteau with that piece. In the cadenza at the end of the first movement (sings first statement): “bee duh duh DUH duh dum, bee duh duh DUH duh dum.” He got on my case every time I played that. “Mais non! Stu-peed!” Kept screaming—even to the dress rehearsal, he was screaming at me. And I thought to myself: this is ridiculous. I’m looking at the ceiling, and it’s going back and forth like this (waves arms back and forth)! “Play it again!” The bassoon player, Kasow, was playing [the answering phrase] bee uh-bah-BUM! Rushing. He was doing some “arty” thing, you know. But I was the one who was getting hell from Tabuteau. And then, all of a sudden Tabuteau realized it. “You know, Monsieur Kasow, I like what you are doing, but maybe if you just played it in time it would be OK.” So that was the end of that. Then everything was smooth, no more problem. It had not been me, it had been the bassoon player, but that’s not the way it appeared to Tabuteau. And if Tabuteau was after you, he would not stop. That was one time I got it really bad from him. I thought the world was coming to an end, or something like that. All of a sudden, the clouds parted, the skies were blue, we played the piece, and everything was wonderful. Tabuteau never much gave me the time of day as him having any high regard for me as an oboe player until the last time he heard me. Then, everything changed completely.
In any case, at the year’s end recitals—the famous recitals at the Curtis Institute of the combined string and wind classes—for some reason or other, I always got the big pieces to play. I got to play the Concertante, the Bach Double Concerto my second year to help him prepare himself for playing it in Europe, the Mozart Quintet for Piano and Winds, and lots of other things. One of the happiest things I ever heard was that Alvin Swiney, going through Hans Moennig’s papers, came across a note from Moennig saying: “John Mack, Marcel Tabuteau’s most talented student.”
JB: Working with Tabuteau in the studio: how did this come about?
JM: I was handy with my mitts! He knew that I was sort of capable with stuff like that, so he wanted me to do it. I can tell you stories just so you might have an idea of some of the difficulties of working with that man. He used to bring six oboes back [to Philadelphia] with him every year [from France]. I remember going to Moennig’s the day before [Tabuteau] got back, and Moennig saying, “That son-of-a-bitch is going to show up with six oboes, and he’s going to think that I’m going to fix them up for him. Well, he’s wrong this time!” So, I go back the next day, and there’s Tabuteau, saying [in voice], “My dear Moennig, what would I do without you?” And Moennig saying, “Yes, Maestro. Yes, Marcel.” (Laughs)
Something happened during the war. Tabuteau was having a great deal of problems with his oboe; it was changeable from day to day. He and Moennig, between them, decided to take a terrible risk. Moennig drilled out the top maybe two or three inches of the bore, replaced it with hard rubber, and re-bored it so that it would not change. And Tabuteau got through until after the war on this oboe that Moennig altered. The bore in the top joint is incredibly important, especially as it’s that small. Most people don’t have a clear idea how weensy the bore of the oboe is at the top. It is less than an eighth of an inch in size. It’s a conical bore and there are little things that can happen that can drive you crazy. I remember getting an oboe from Lorée in 1993. I called Alain, and said, “The high register is flat. I’ve made measurements of this, and I think it’s too small.” He said, “Well, send it to me.” I sent it to him, got it back six days later, and the high register was fine. Tabuteau didn’t know that much about how all those things worked, but he knew if something wasn’t the way it should be.
From my personal standpoint, I realize how important it is for the high register to be in place on the oboe. In order for the high register to be in place, it has to be in place on the instrument. High A, B-flat, and B more or less should be virtually the same as the harmonic fingerings for those notes. And then, the high register has to be in place with the reed, which means gouge, shape, and scraping. Anybody who doesn’t keep their high register in place is going to be doomed to early “whatever,” for sure. I’m not going to bother anybody by mentioning any names of people whose careers started to collapse when they lost their high register. This is absolutely so, as far as I’m concerned. What Moennig did for Tabuteau in this instance was to stabilize the top of the bore of the oboe so that Tabuteau was able to play without having this changeable business from day to day, which can happen on the oboe.
Tabuteau’s studio was on the fourth floor, the top floor, of the Ludlow Building on 16th Street, not too far below Market. A lovely building, and so romantic to those of us who were there. I remember once going there in the dead of winter when it was really cold. The person we referred to as “Old John”—who was about 93 and operated the elevator—took me up to the fourth floor. I could hear the oboe grinding away, and it’s about a quarter of a tone flat. Tabuteau had this door with a frosted pane of glass in it. He had a key, I had a key, Old John had a key, nobody else. I go up and rap on the window. “Who is it?” “Mack.” “Come in!” I came in, and there’s Tabuteau sitting on this circular wooden stool, playing away like mad. He’s got his vicuna coat on, his scarf wrapped around his neck, he’s got his hat on, he’s playing away, he’s got snot coming out of one nostril all the way to the floor, and he says to me [in voice], “Tell that SOB to give us some heat, for Lord’s sake!” (Laughs) I mean: the man was driven by demons. It was cold, he was freezing to death, but he’s playing away like mad.
I guess I got pretty good at doing things. He did things to challenge me, one of which I’ll never forget. Tabuteau was terribly interested in the bells. One time he sent me out in the hall beyond the frosted pane of glass with the door closed to listen to him play on the same oboe with three different bells and come back in and describe them to him afterwards. He could get testy very easily, so easily bored, you can’t believe. If you used the same terminology too much, he just—mmm-hmmm. Then, he sent me back out while he changed the order of the bells. I’m thinking: “I’m gonna lose. There’s nothing I can do. I’m gonna get killed dead.” Which I did.
If I think about my distress and about Tabuteau’s incessant search for something, I know he wasn’t trying to play games with me. He wanted to get feedback from somebody whose ears he thought had something to offer. He was going to do this: he’s going to drive me crazy, maybe I’ll drive him crazy, he’s going to do it anyway (laughs), and I’m the one who is gonna get dumped on, so OK-fine. (Laughs) The man had such drive. Even in his 60s, he would work untiringly, especially on the gouge, because to him the gouge was the Holy Grail. In a way, I have to say, he was right. I remember saying to him one time, “Maestro, if someone gave you twelve pieces of the best cane in the world, what would you do?” He said, “I wouldn’t touch it.” “Why not?” “I don’t have that. I have this. (A big container of cane in the middle of the studio floor.) I will work on the gouge until I get something that makes that cane go.” That’s what he believed, and he strove for that. I can’t tell you the countless hours we spent together, working on gouging machines. Me, down on my knees turning the wheel for the grindstone, while he would re-grind something and finish it by hand. Then he would gouge cane, chop the ends off, look at it, and then say [in voice], “Mack! Look at this beautiful gouge!” “Oh, Maestro, it looks really good.” He would make a reed out of it, and ten minutes later [in voice], “Son of a bitch!” and go like this (blade smashed against the wall) and then I’m back down on the floor, grinding away again! (Laughs)
He would go and go. I have to tell you this story because it’s so sweet, and happened so many times. “Mack! Tell me when it’s six o’clock. Madame Tabuteau is waiting for me!” Later: “Maestro, it’s six o’clock.” “Yes, I’m coming.” And, of course, he wouldn’t stop. “Maestro, it’s 6:30.” “Yes, yes; I’m coming.” “Maestro, it’s 7:00.” “Yes. Madame Tabuteau is going to give me hell, and she’s right.” And he wouldn’t stop. Finally, at 7:45, we would leave. And we would head back to the Drake Hotel, and he would say, “Mack! I want you to come up to have a drink with me!” (Laughs)
JM: Right, right! We would get up there, and he would take the key, pound on the door, put the key in and say in a loud voice, “C’est moi. Mack is with me!” (Laughs) Which meant she couldn’t give him holy hell while I’m there.
JB: Postponing the inevitable?
JM: He would wait until she would quiet down. She realized how much this meant to him. I remember one time we got back and I made his scotch and soda and mine, but we didn’t touch it, because he decided he wanted to play some more. Out comes the oboe, and he’s playing away like a mad man. Madame Tabuteau, whom I adored, popped her head out of the kitchenette. As Tabuteau said, “I taught her to boil water!” (Laughs) She says, with this sparkly look, “How he does love that licorice stick.” Even though she wanted to scold him, he knew perfectly well that if he could keep me around long enough, that she would calm down. And as soon as she calmed down, I was out of there! (Laughs) Bye bye!
The man was absolutely obsessed. What drive. My father also had remarkable drive. I remember one time in a lesson at the Cleveland Institute many years ago, in a moment of high frustration I said, “I wish I had my father’s drive.” And my student laughed hysterically. “Are you kidding? Come on!” Tabuteau was driven by demons on his holy search for the hot gouge. I can’t find fault with him about that, because when he got a hot one, it was so hot you couldn’t believe. He would find a way; keep working until he got a gouge that would make “that drum of cane” work.
JB: Your student laughed. If Marcel Tabuteau was obsessed, what about you?
JM: I’m obsessed in many ways, but not in the same ways as my teacher for any number of reasons. I’m very different from my teacher in many ways—very much so in teaching, articulation, and attitudes towards my students. Tabuteau did not help his students with reeds. Tabuteau was against giving up hard-won information easily, because he felt that if he did that, its true value would never be truly appreciated, and he was absolutely right. But, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t accept that. I tell them everything I can all the time. Tabuteau’s attitude towards his students who might teach [is reflected in something] he said to me once: “The purpose of a teacher should be to teach a student to become their own teacher.” I thought: well, OK. I found that so scary, I couldn’t see straight. But, then, I’ve been my own teacher for several decades already. When I studied, performed, and recorded the Britten Metamorphoses, I studied them with me! I didn’t study them with anybody else. I think he felt that of all the students that Georges Gillet had, he was the one that ended up being a great teacher. So, he would just teach, and figure if one of his students ends up being a great teacher, fine. He didn’t care. I want them all to be great teachers. I want them all to grasp everything that they know so seriously and severely that they could be effective teachers and teach their students to teach beyond them as well. And Tabuteau didn’t particularly seem to care about that. I find that a great fault of his. I admire him, I adored him in many ways, but as great a teacher as he was, I think he could have done a much better job if he had not been so concerned with preserving himself. Why not share everything you know with your students? I’m not worried that some student of mine is going to challenge me. I don’t care. He said to me once that perhaps a student should have a good and a bad teacher just for perspective.
One of Laila’s [Storch] favorite Tabuteau stories was when we were in the studio with Tabuteau, and I made so bold as to proffer a musical opinion. At which point Tabuteau, in mock fury, said, “I want it clearly understood that in this studio, it is strictly one way traf-feec!” His way, you know. That didn’t bother me. And why shouldn’t he feel that way? And yet, at the same time, I think that in this day and age, one should give everything they can to their students, no matter what.
JB: Laila is writing a book about Marcel Tabuteau. [Note: this interview took place well before Storch’s book was published.]
JM: Laila is a great researcher. She speaks French well enough to be described by French people as speaking like a French person. As I’ve said, Madame Tabuteau taught French at Curtis and so all oboe students were expected to study French with her. This had some dangers to it, because if she would say to her husband, “I don’t think so-and-so has a very good ear for the language,” then you were in trouble with him. Laila is such a wonderful person and she is so devoted. Not that she always got the best treatment from Marcel Tabuteau; she got beat up on a fair amount, too. She was very close to the Tabuteaus—he would send her shopping and so forth and so on—but any time you did anything for Marcel Tabuteau you could be in a certain degree of peril. While he was very devoted to her, he didn’t always treat her in a kindly fashion; this happened to be his way.
JB: You have often told a charming story about Tabuteau in the restaurant, applesauce, and coffee.
JM: Right down the street from Tabuteau’s studio in the Ludlow building on the corner of 16th and Chestnut, there was a Horn and Hardart [restaurant] where we would go for lunch. They had the best coffee in town, these magnificent grilled cheese sandwiches, and this wonderful applesauce that was cooked enough so that it was getting dark, maybe a little reddish. Tabuteau would always order the same thing [in Tabuteau voice, dramatic]: “Grilled cheese sandwich, applesauce, and coffee!” On occasion, it would get interesting when there would be a new waitress who didn’t know what he was saying. I remember one time there was a young lady, probably on her first day at work, and he said: [same food order in very heavy accent]. She said to me, “What would you like?” I said, “I’d like a grilled cheese sandwich, applesauce, and coffee.” She walked away and leaned against the wall, looking very distressed. I thought: I have to take care of this. I went over to her and said, “Young lady. This gentleman I’m with. No matter what it sounds like, all you have to do is bring him a grilled cheese sandwich, applesauce, and coffee and he will be happy.”
I remember another time when a waitress knew who he was. “Hello, Mr. Ta-BOO-toe! I suppose you want the usual.” He didn’t care for that too much. “Yes, yes…” [very disgruntled]. One time we went in there and I guess he’d had some problems with a couple of new waitresses who didn’t understand his patois. This waitress said, “What would you like, sir?” And he says, magnanimously gesturing to me, “Mack!” So I said, “Well, I think I’d like to have a grilled cheese sandwich, applesauce, and coffee.” (To Tabuteau) “And you, sir?” And he said, with a big smile on his face, “Same!” (Chuckles) It was a great combination! People put cheese on apple pie, and this and that and so forth. A grilled cheese sandwich, especially like they made it at Horn and Hardart’s, their wonderful applesauce, and their wonderful coffee—it was a perfect combination. That’s what he had all the time. When he found something that was good, why stray? I could have wreaked havoc that day. “Mack! What do you want?” “Well, how about a tuna fish sandwich…” (Laughs)
JB: Anything more about Laila’s book?
JM: Laila kept everything in what she calls her “archives.” While she was in Curtis she used to write to her mother endlessly about everything. She probably wrote every other day or something like that, and her mom kept it all. When she thinks back to something that happened or perhaps doubts her memory of it, she can go back in time and find out if her memory served her right or not. I think the perfect example of that is something she wrote for the IDRS, “Our Dinner with Toscanini.” She went back to see what she’d written to her mother immediately following the incident and found out that some things were rather different than she had remembered them. But that happens to us all. She’s a great writer. She’s very passionate about all these things, such as the articles she’s written about Gillet and Lorée, and the article that she wrote with a lot of help from DeLancie about Marcel Tabuteau’s penchant for gambling. I can hardly wait for the book to come out. I hope that she has a chance to make it as complete as she would like to make it.
Here’s another little insight into Laila Storch. When we were playing the Casals Festival in Prades, she learned Catalan in order to be able to speak to the natives, which is not something that most people would bother to do.
I got holy hell from Madame Tabuteau because I was spending my evenings in the café in Prades with John Wummer and Fernando Valenti, talking with the natives who spoke French in a very “coarse” fashion, in a way Madame Tabuteau could not stand. She was from Blois and when she said “Blois” it sounded like a bubble bursting. She came from “Le jardin de France” [the garden of France] where the most pure French was spoken. She was afraid I would come back speaking like the natives, and she would have been [sotto voce] very unhappy with me. But she was wonderful. I learned an awful lot from her. Her teaching French really was an opportunity for her to share some of her philosophies about things with us, her students.
Tabuteau could be a very thorny and difficult person, but had so much to offer that could thrill you. He was a great teacher in many ways, no question about it, and not a great teacher in some other ways. I think a teacher should help their students in any way they can. It may be possible that there are some teachers who can do a terrific job for their students without telling them everything. But, the oboe is a very difficult instrument and so much is involved—not just the instrument and the reeds and all that, but the embouchure and so forth and so on—it’s a very, very difficult subject. I think that one should give everything that they possibly can to their Marcel Tabuteau, Laila Storch, and John Mack at the 1951 Casals Festival students, because some of them aren’t going to make it anyway, and you don’t know who is going to make it. So: give them everything.
JB: You’ve told me a several times that you’ve had dreams about Tabuteau.
JM: Oh, sure! One of the forerunners of that is because of all the time I worked for Tabuteau in his studio—at his invitation—and finally rising into the position of making the reeds he played on for three Casals Festivals and eleven weeks of the last season I was in Curtis. So, he had to tell me lots of stuff. As I said before, Marcel Tabuteau—and I find this a great fault with him—did not help his students with reeds. I thought, that’s not fair. They’re your children! “If your child asks you for bread wilt thou give him a stone?” That’s what it says in the Good Book, and it’s perfectly right. So, I’ve been “spilling the beans.” He threatened to come back from the grave like an Egyptian curse to haunt me if I so much as showed a piece of gouged cane, or, even worse, a reed to anybody. Well, he died in early January, 1966. He has visited me in dreams at least a half a dozen times since. I am pleased to report that I’ve always received approbation from him. He’s never scolded me whatsoever. I remember one special dream from maybe twenty years ago where I was in front of this orchestra. I suppose we could call it the “St. Peter’s Orchestra.” I look back there in the oboe section, and there’s Marcel Tabuteau and my father! I thought: I like this! Over all these years, when Tabuteau would say, “Keep this for yourself, never share with anybody. If you do that, maybe some day you might get to play second oboe in the Philadelphia Orchestra.”
Nevertheless, at some point in time I decided it’s better to spill all the beans, hope that some falls on fertile territory. Don’t play the game of keeping information from anyone so that I’ll be better than you, which is what it appeared to me to be.
JB: Wasn’t that the way of the world in the days of apprenticeships, when information was very carefully protected?
JM: Maybe so. Laila Storch spoke with some of the tiple [oboe-like instruments] players when we were at the Casals Festival. She went up to one of the players and said, “I’ll show you my reeds if you’ll show me your reeds.” He said, “I don’t show my reeds to anybody!” (Laughter!) Ah-HAH!