Recently, we asked our Principal Performing Artist, Will Druiett, about the BBb 6/4 Rotary Tuba ‘Kaiser’; what he likes about playing it, what’s special about it, and what tips & advice he would give to anyone interested in playing it.
Will, why do you like playing the Kaiser?
It’s personal preference, really.
For my personal taste, the ‘Kaiser’ is a more historically traditional symphonic Contrabass instrument from the European tradition and sound world.
What is special about its tone?
It’s like a big horn! It has a beautiful pure deep sound, with the capabilities to create many different colours with very rich overtones.
If you think of the repertoire that introduced this instrument into the orchestra, it’s closely associated with the Horn/Wagner Tuba section as well as the trombones.
Is it difficult to play?
However, when people see me with my ‘Kaiser’ I often hear them say:
“It’s huge! It must take so much air!”
It’s a different playing style - people will often play a C tuba and then pick up a ‘Kaiser’ Bb and be so confused! Even though it’s only just a tone between them, it’s a different world.
Less is more with the ‘Kaiser’ Bb.
The top of the bell is a lot further away from your ears than on an American style instrument. So what might not sound present to you while playing is most definitely audible at the back of the hall.
It’s a different technique but not more difficult!
Are there any special requirements or a specific technique to playing it?
Sure, the best advice I have been given is:
- Drop your jaw; especially with the low register
- Think about what your tongue is doing, especially at the back of your mouth - and don’t block your airstream with the tongue
- Slower air
- Be totally relaxed when playing. If you are carrying any tension in your body, it will show in the sound.
- Let the sound bloom!
How does it feel to hold and to play? Is it heavy?
No! It’s quite light considering how big it is. The brass is exactly the same thickness as on the old original ‘Bohland & Fuchs’ we had - very thin!
The ergonomics are great for me as I am quite tall. However, for some it may be too big - if that’s the case a tuba stand will probably do the trick.
Do you have a favourite piece to play on it?
The Prelude to Act 2 of Wagner’s Siegfried from Der Ring des Nibelungen.
It’s about a 2 page solo; on paper, it doesn’t appear to be incredibly challenging. But for the breath control, fluidity of sound and most of all atmosphere it’s a real challenge.
The ‘Kaiser’ is wonderful in the Contrabass Tuba repertoire of R. Strauss, Mahler, Bruckner, Prokofiev etc, etc.
I’m also exploring playing more solos on the ‘Kaiser’, including a very challenging brand new piece written for me by Alan Cassar.
Any final thoughts on the ‘Kaiser’?
What I would say is it’s such a personal thing!
If you’re really interested in the ‘Kaiser’, go to a Wessex showroom and spend a few hours discovering it with a totally open mind. Always enjoy the instrument and let it be your friend & guide in your artistic endeavours.
The ‘Kaiser’ is a fantastic instrument and an absolute joy to play. Very happy to have been so involved in its modern re-development.
Images by Ligia Dekiert