Vibrato

LVB: What about vibrato? How does this fit in with intensity? Did he teach vibrato or –

LT: I don’t think he taught vibrato. It seems to me I heard him once say or somebody quoted him as saying that vibrato is some sort of God-given thing. And he almost never used the word vibrato. He certainly didn’t say “Vibrate” or anything like that. Vibrato just seemed to be taken for granted or something like that. I think it was to be a part of the expression and a part of the phrasing. It would enter in somehow or another into the ups and downs and so on. I can’t explain just how. I became much, much more conscious of vibrato years later. I never really thought that much about vibrato when I was with him.

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LVB: Did he explain his concepts clearly?

WR: As far as drawing you a perfect picture of what he was after, No, he did not. I mean for instance as scientific as I can ever remember his getting concerning vibrato was that it comes with the wind. And you figure out where the wind comes from!
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LVB: Did he talk about vibrato at all?

RA: Never, no, he did not. I am glad you asked me, now you see that’s something that I almost forgot about, because I have this problem with a lot of the students that come to me, and you know they say, “Oh, my school conductor wants me to get a vibrato.” I said, “No, let’s not talk about it.” I said, “I just want you to play, just the notes, just as full as you can, even; play your scales evenly and [with] a nice sound, but just think of singing with intensity,” and this is what he did with me. I remember in my sixth lesson, I think it was around the sixth, sixth or seventh lesson, while I was playing a scale, he never mentioned the word vibrato, he just said, “Sing with intensity; more support; push, push, place on the forward motion.” All of a sudden in the middle of the scale he says, “That’s it!” I was singing according to what, according to him; well, I did notice that was something happening all of a sudden. And he said, “That’s it,” and he never used that word.

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JD: Well, vibrato was something, which was a very personal thing, which he never taught. He, at least in my case, the couple of times that I got up enough nerve to ask him something (because most of us were always afraid to even ask questions) he just said, “Well, don’t worry about it, it will take care of itself.” In my case, I feel fortunate in that it did take care of itself. He said, ”Just keep on playing long tones, and it will happen,” and sure enough it did happen. But, I have found in my thirty years of teaching that it doesn’t always work out that way with some students, and I would say that there are some of his students that could be pointed out as examples of where it didn’t work also. He never made, very rarely ever made a reference to it, except that he didn’t like a lot of it. Anybody who would try to use a great deal of it, he would say, “Forget it.”

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LVB: In your own mind, how did vibrato fit in –

JMk: Vibrato was an undiscussed topic. It was made a joke of sometimes. I remember as a youngster asking him something about it and immediately getting some cock-and-bull story about “You relax the lips and the reed vibrates and makes vibrato” [imitating Tabuteau’s accent]. He would say anything whatsoever, and it was one of those things; that was a subject that was up to you to come up with your own solution. It’s one of those mystical things with the oboe since it’s an internal thing, not external like a string player. String Players just go ahead and study and learn to do that. It’s no more given any thought of; no one is going to sit around on the violin and wait for something to happen as if by magic, by nature. Although this is greatly espoused on the oboe that that’s what one should do, I take a rather jaundice view of the whole business. I’d rather not go into it too much, but as far as Tabuteau’s concerned to say that he didn’t. I remember when he had seized upon a high note and the room was throbbing at full intensity, and he fixed on me with rolling eyes that reminded me of frightened young calf or something, being sure that he had my attention, he pulled the oboe out of his mouth and in mock something or other said, “Well, Mack, there is your vibrato!” [Imitating Tabuteau’s accent.] Something like that, sort of trying to make a joke out of it. Was he concerned about it himself? Of course, he certainly was like every other artist, deeply and completely concerned, but he felt, and I agree with him, that there is something rather private about it. I think that in a way vibrato is almost a reflection of a person’s psyche or the condition there-of. I think most people would be forced to admit that. He tried to avoid physical things.

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DB: Tabuteau uses hand vibrato in the extreme high register of the oboe and also when playing softly.