The Legacy of Arnold Jacobs
An interview with Michael Grose
Arnold Jacobs (1915 – 1998) had the reputation as both the
master performer and master teacher. He taught tuba at
Northwestern University in Chicago and all wind instruments in his
private studio. He was one of the most sought-after teachers in
the world, specializing in respiratory and motivational
applications for brass and woodwind instruments and voice. His
students include many in orchestras and university faculties
around the world. Jacobs never published any books about his
teaching, but some of his students have written books.
Dee Stewart compiled Arnold Jacobs the Legacy of a Master
in 1987 with tributes from students. In 1996, a book written by
Jacobs' assistant, Brian Frederiksen, entitled Arnold Jacobs:
Song and Wind arrived on the market. Later three other
students of Jacobs have published books: Luis Loubriel (Brass
singers: the teaching of Arnold Jacobs and Lasting
Change for Trumpeters: The Pedagogical Approach of Arnold Jacobs),
Bruce Nelson (Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs) and Kristian
Steenstrup (Teaching Brass)
Michael Grose has also contributed to the legacy of Arnold Jacobs.
He has produced more than 50 interviews with colleagues or former
students of Jacobs. These interviews will you find in a channel on
YouTube called TubaPeopleTV.
Welcome to The Brass Herald, Michael
Thanks so much for having me. It is a great honor and
Before we start talking about Arnold Jacobs, could you tell us
about your own background?
I began studying with Mr. Jacobs in 1981 quite by accident. At
the urging of a friend, I decided to apply to Northwestern
University for college, in Chicago. It was not until I was already
accepted and getting ready to move to Chicago that another friend
told me about Arnold Jacobs. Up to that point, I didn’t know
anything about him. I only knew that Northwestern had an excellent
school for music and I wanted to get out of my hometown -
Portland, Oregon (a city on the USA’s west coast). My first
“lesson” with Jacobs was at my initial tuba audition for the
Chicago Civic Orchestra. Due to my lesser skills, the audition
portion lasted about one minute and was followed by a ten-minute
mini-lesson. I was able to continue my studies with him throughout
my university career at Northwestern which spanned both
undergraduate and graduate studies, eventually becoming his
teaching assistant (a title of teaching, but mostly a logistical
functioning position) during my Master’s program.
After I graduated, I auditioned for and secured the tuba position
with the Savannah Symphony in Georgia (a southeastern USA coastal
city). Although no longer living in Chicago, I continued my
studies with Jacobs by driving regularly back to Chicago. This
lasted until August of 1998, about eight weeks prior to his death.
In 2001, I was appointed to the tuba professorship at University
of Oregon (back to the USA’s west coast), and I have been here
Why did you start the YouTube channel, TubaPeopleTV?
I initiated TubaPeopleTV solely in order to post the
interviews that I had conducted with the many former Jacobs
students I have seen.
Maybe I can ask the same question that you do in TubaPeopleTV.
“Can you remember your first lesson with Mr. Jacobs?”
Well, I alluded to my initial mini-lesson, which was in and of
itself very helpful, but my first full-length lesson, a few weeks
later, was an amazing experience. Jacobs did the usual data
collection for his research project by measuring my vital
capacity. He told me that the first lesson was as much for him as
it was for me. He asked me NOT to tape record the lesson. He
talked with me so he could assess my communication style. He
listened to me play for a bit gathering information about how I
played, and also learning what motivated me as a musician. At one
point in the lesson, he told me that I did not have to work so
hard, and that I could use much simpler thoughts/commands to
accomplish my musical goals. He told me in such a way that the
figurative light bulb illuminated above my head. I thought,
“This is amazing. It really doesn’t have to be so complex; it
truly can be simple.” It was one of those moments when he was
continuing to talk to me but I was becoming lost in my own
thoughts about how simple it truly could be. All of a sudden, a
big grin came over my face. I was smiling from ear to ear. He
noticed it and thought I was laughing at him. He became quite
stern with me saying something to the effect that “you think I am
joking with you but I am not.” I assured him that I was not
laughing at all. In that moment, my life was changed forever. I
absolutely had to acquire as much of that information as I
possibly could, and I have been at it ever since.
Michael Grose and Arnold Jacobs
How was your studies with Jacobs?
My studies with Jacobs were amazing. They were substantively
unlike any other teacher I had. In each and every lesson, he was
able to effect positive change in my playing. Each lesson I left
sounding significantly improved, but over the course of the week
that improvement faded somewhat. Then the same thing would happen
during the next lesson. It was a process of two steps forward in
the lesson and one step backward during the interval before the
next lesson. Over the course of time, the trajectory was upward.
He was a most remarkable man, musician, and teacher. He was able
to stimulate astonishingly positive change in the level of playing
from most of those who sought him out.
My lessons were non-systematic in nature. In other words, there
was not a clearly defined curriculum from one week to the next. It
was more his reacting to what I was doing with my playing at the
moment. Over the course of time, though, he covered most of what
needed to be covered, but it was done in a manner that was more
natural. He was meeting me where I was at the time and leading me
to the next stage, as opposed to putting an artificial curricular
template on me and forcing me through it.
There was plenty of encouragement to sing, buzz, breathe more
efficiently, and to be a storyteller in sound. With me, early on,
he would often talk about how I needed to be a motor nerve
musician as opposed to a sensory nerve musician. This is where his
use of the term “paralysis by analysis” came in to play. He
equated motor nerves with exclamations points, while sensory
nerves were to him like question marks. He was very much in favor
of focusing the thoughts on the end product. Conceptualizing
sound, phrase, etc., was a huge part of his teaching. The reason
for that is he knew that when a concept is developed in the mind
it is much easier to be successful on the instrument by imitating
the concept. He often said, “You should have two tubas: one in
your thoughts and one in your hands. The tuba in your hands should
be a mirror of the tuba in your thoughts. The tuba in your
thoughts, that’s the important one.” He told me that he did not
care if I made a mistake while playing the tuba, but that he very
much cared about what I was thinking when such a mistake happened.
“Finding out what you are thinking when you a make a mistake is
important.” Anyhow, it is the motor nerves that affect our
environment. When I am talking I am using motor nerve activity,
but when I am reading I am using sensor nerves in order to gather
information. He said the nerves are (in general) one-way streets.
One cannot gather AND dispense information simultaneously in any
meaningfully successful manner, which is why people easily become
paralyzed while they are analyzing.
In TubaPeopleTV, you say, “We talk about all things Arnold
Jacobs, all of the time” – but sometimes you talk about his
brass colleagues, like Bud Herseth, Vincent Cichowicz and Edward
It is clear to me that Mr. Jacobs had an intense and active
admiration for Bud Herseth. He often spoke about Herseth or used
him as a model during lessons and master classes. Likewise,
Cichowicz was not only a former student of Jacobs, a Chicago
Symphony colleague, but also a highly regarded brass pedagogue
whom Jacobs sometimes mentioned when teaching. The two of them did
talk about pedagogy during intermissions at work or on orchestra
tours. If the person I am interviewing has some particular
information or interesting perspective about another of the CSO
“brass stars”, I think it is important to document their
observations. Not only because of the integration with the Jacobs
topic, but also for future generations to know something about a
number of the other great contributors of the famed Chicago
Symphony Brass Sound.
A colleague of Jacobs, principal horn with CSO, Philip Farkas,
wrote four books about brass playing. Why did Jacobs not write
anything about his teaching method?
This is an interesting question; I think there are two reasons
why he did not write a book. First, my sense is that he was too
busy. He was teaching 10-30 hours per week, playing in the CSO
(until 1988), and constantly reading medical books and journals
(he was driven to stay as current with the medical literature as
time would allow). There was simply no time remaining to dedicate
to a book. Second and perhaps the deeper reason, he was acutely
aware that what he told one student was not necessarily needed or
applicable to another student. Jacobs’ teaching curriculum was
customized to the student who was in the studio with him at that
moment. He knew all too well that if he were to write a book about
the “Jacobs Method” it would likely often be misapplied. The fact
is, in strict terms, there is no actual “Jacobs Method”. In other
words, what Jacobs may have told one student did not necessarily
need to be mentioned to another. He would tell one student one
thing and tell another student something different because the two
students had different issues. During lessons, it was his practice
to assess the student. He gauged the student’s ability to
communicate, if the student was analytical or not, what were the
interests of the student, what were the physical attributes of the
student (i.e. tongue size, lung capacity, body somatotype, etc.).
Then he would evaluate the playing of that student considering the
areas that needed his attention, etc. Then he would combine all of
the information available to him and proceed to work with that
individual. This personalized focus is one of the reasons for the
TPTV project. Puddles and I have interviewed several dozen former
students of his, and while it is true there are consistent themes
(such as having a song in the head and wind at the lips) from one
student to the next, I have noticed that each person has a
different story to tell about Jacobs. Each student represents one
slice of the Jacobs pedagogical pie. Because of this, I believe it
is valuable to gather as many of those slices as possible in order
to get a more complete picture of Jacobs’ teaching. Jacobs knew
that he was giving each student just a slice of his teaching, and
that no one was receiving the whole picture. For the student,
Jacobs’ was a “need to know” approach to teaching. He told the
student only what he thought the student needed to know at that
moment. Some students needed lots of information while others
needed only a little. A book, in my opinion, just did not fit the
picture in his mind of his highly individualized and
concept-oriented teaching. On the other hand, Mr. Farkas is well
known for his highly physically oriented approach, which is very
methodical. It is no surprise to me that it was Farkas who wrote
multiple books while Jacobs did not. (Having said all that, it is
worth mentioning that in the 1960s Jacobs did write a brief series
of exercises with commentary for tuba players published by the Hal
Leonard Corporation. I believe it is still in print. There is also
an International Tuba and Euphonium Association (ITEA) Journal
article that has his name in the “by” line. I do not know, though,
if he actually wrote it. Brian Frederiksen would likely know.)
Have you found out from all the interviews specific things about
In each interview, there is usually at least one nugget of
individualized information which Jacobs gave that person, and
often more. If I can help to uncover at least one personalized
nugget, then I consider the interview to be a success.
Did he for instance change his approach over the years?
My personal opinion is yes; his pedagogical approach did
change over the years. I think this can be seen in the swapping of
his famous slogan from “wind and song”, to “song and wind”. It was
during the late 1980s that he made the change. He became simpler
in his approach to communication later in his career, contrasted
by the lacing in lessons of medical terminology in prior years and
decades. This question regarding the evolving of his pedagogy is
why I have worked hard to interview as many students from as many
different decades as I can. Trombonist, Robert Rada, from the
1940s, is the earliest student I have interviewed, and his
observations are very different from those of later generations.
Of course, there is the question, did Jacobs’ pedagogy change or
did the student change? I do not discount the validity of the
latter, but based upon the data I have gathered, I tend to think
it is the former. I think his teaching changed.
On a podcast you made about buzzing the mouthpiece, I heard you
demonstrate a very good buzz. It reminded me of some videos I
have seen where Jacobs buzz. You had a very similar sound. Tell
us about how you use mouthpiece buzzing!
Playing the mouthpiece is something that Jacobs brought to the
brass pedagogy mainstream. He happened upon it during an extended
hospitalization as a youth. He was convalescing for several weeks
and was bored so he requested to have access to his trumpet
mouthpiece as a form of entertainment. He discovered that after
his hospital release, his trumpet playing had improved even though
he had only been playing the mouthpiece while in the hospital.
From that point on, Jacobs was a proponent of buzzing.
During my initial studies with Jacobs, I resisted his exhortations
to play the mouthpiece. It was difficult for me to do and I did
not sound very good while doing it, so I shied away from it. I can
say, though, once I did embrace buzzing my own tuba playing
I use mouthpiece buzzing for several reasons. First, I use it to
help develop my tone on the tuba, which is merely an acoustical
amplifier of the sound that my lips make when they vibrate into
the mouthpiece. I have noticed that as my tone quality improves on
the mouthpiece so does my tone on the tuba. As a result, I have
tried to become a connoisseur of mouthpiece buzzing tone.
Second, I use it to help my ear training (pitch accuracy). If I
cannot play a passage on the tuba then I will try to buzz it.
Usually after buzzing the passage, it sounds better on the tuba.
It is important to send into the instrument accurate pitches.
Buzzing helps with this greatly.
Finally, I play the mouthpiece with an artistic goal in mind. I do
not buzz the mouthpiece just to loosen or warm up my embouchure,
but instead I go for a message. I am trying to communicate
something musically. In so doing, I am working on my artistic side
as well as tone and pitch. Playing the mouthpiece is a terrific
thing to do every day. I am aware that it is still controversial
in some circles, but I do not see why. It has proven to be so
helpful with so many brass players it seems like a non-issue. The
main thing is to approach it as a musician. Be musically engaged.
Do you use so called wind products in your own teaching?
I do use a variety of wind incentive “gadgets.” I do so in
order to effect change in the student who may otherwise be locked
up with their respiration. Jacobs often said, “Strangeness is your
friend; sameness is your enemy.” When introducing something
strange like an incentive spirometer in the lesson it often
disarms the student’s thoughts and thereby allows the student to
effect positive change. It has been my experience that Jacobs
rarely went at solving a student’s performance issue head on.
Usually he would find ways in to the back door of the student’s
mind. Often times these breathing gadgets can help develop
improvement in the student simply because of the “strangeness”
factor. The main focus in my teaching is for the student to be an
effective artist. I use the wind products as an adjunct to that
end goal. I do not think they should be the main focus. An
audience does not much care about spirometers, but they do enjoy
listening to a great phrase, though.
Any upcoming projects for next year, 2015, the centennial for
I think my friend Brian Frederiksen, has some big plans for
the centennial year. Whatever I can do to help him I am happy to
do so. Past 2015, I am looking at whether or not compiling a
companion book to accompany the TPTV interviews would
bring clarity to the information found in the interviews
themselves. A colleague of mine in the University of Oregon
College of Education recently pointed out to me that not everyone
reads books, not everyone watches videos, and that I should
seriously consider writing some sort of attendant book that would
help to illuminate the data found in the videos. I am also
continuing to conduct additional interviews. I am trying to
assemble as many pieces of that Jacobs pedagogical pie as
o.j. 2015 - This
interview was first published in The
Brass Herald, October 2014, Issue 55.