Friday, June 4, 2021



Dr. Jacobs preferred to be called Arnold. Most people called him Jake which is how I always knew

him. His wife Gizella and family members, always called him Arnold.


It is best to be somewhat unconscious of our physical maneuvers but highly conscious of our musical goals. 

I am telling a story to an audience when I play.

Dale Clevenger

Whether they realize it or not, most professional brass players have been profoundly influenced by the teaching of Arnold Jacobs.


I first encountered the greatness of Arnold Jacobs and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1963. I was a 14 year old high school tuba player who loved music but didn't play very well. I was fortunate to be invited to Orchestra Hall by a classmate, whose father was an esteemed horn player in the orchestra. Attending the magnificent concert was a life changing experience, but I didn't meet Jake until the beginning of my senior year in high school in September, 1966.

I was so impressed by the sound of the orchestra and Jake's incredible presence, that my life in music was completely transformed. I immediately dedicated myself to a disciplined practice schedule, but I was no longer just mindlessly fingering and blowing a tuba. I strove to sound like Jake but I also imitated the power and musical character of the entire orchestra. Every day I imitated the sound that had made such a powerful impression on my mind with my tuba. It was a vivid aural picture of what greatness in music should sound like. Gradually, the sound coming from my bell became more like what I heard sitting in the Gallery of Orchestra Hall. Others heard it as well.

I progressed from being a rudimentary high school tuba player to developing a reputation as a somewhat accomplished one. Wonderful opportunities began to come my way but the greatest of all was yet to come. Several people mentioned my name to Jake, but at first he put them off. Their persistence eventually provided me an opportunity to play for him at his home on the south side of Chicago. I grew up and lived only a few miles away.

My first meeting with Jake was not intended to be a lesson. It was an audition for the possibility of a future lesson. What an incredible experience! Jake instructed me to play anything I wanted.
Of course, I wanted him to hear the sound that I strove for day after day for over three years. The process was nothing more than imitating his sound and that of the entire orchestra. I played for about 30 minute without comment or instruction from Jake. Then he said these words that forever changed my life in music.

“You sound like you have already been studying with me for three years.”

At that moment, I didn't fully understand the significance of what he had said. Yes, I had been studying with him for three years! Hearing his powerful sound and that of the entire orchestra was all that I needed.

Our close relationship developed at an opportune time, because he required an assistant tuba player in the orchestra, I needed opportunity. For six years, I played when he was ill or took vacation time. I also played occasional second tuba parts.

In 1967, I was a music student at Roosevelt University, located only a couple of blocks from Orchestra Hall. I was always available to substitute at a moment notice. In the early 70s, Jake thought his asthma might require early retirement. Fortunately, new medications were developed that allowed him to continue his playing career for many more years.


One day, young Arnold returned home from a Boy Scout meeting with a bugle. He volunteered to be the bugler for his troupe but he new nothing about how to play it. Arnold only understood that he needed to produce sound with his lips in the mouthpiece. His mother was an accomplished pianist, but she new nothing about how to play a brass instrument. She was aware of the simple melody (Taps) that was traditionally played on the bugle for solemn military ceremonies.

Arnold's first experiences as a bugler later became the basis for his success as a professional musician and teacher. It was a very simplistic approach to motivating the very complex mechanical function required to play. His mother played the notes on the piano and Arnold imitated the sounds he heard with the bugle. Arnold's success eventually lead to an opportunity to play the trumpet.

I was a pretty good trumpet player until the first (analytical) teacher came along.

I never heard Jake discuss his displeasure with his trumpet teacher, other than that disparaging comment. I suspect that his disappointment motivated his interest in learning a different instrument. He noticed a used trombone for sale for $10 in the window of a pawn shop and asked his mother to purchase it for him. It was an great investment in his future, that of his family, and those who followed.

We must give dominance to the music not the instrument..

Arnold excelled playing the trombone the same as he did with the other instruments. His primary focus was always on producing musical sounds, never only playing the instrument. In 1930 at the age of 15, he won a full scholarship on trombone to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. His entire family drove across the country from California to Philadelphia with his trombone strapped to the outside of their car. After stopping for dinner one evening, they discovered that the trombone was missing.

I didn't find the tuba. The tuba found me.

Upon arriving at Curtis, Arnold explained to an administrator that his trombone was lost and he had no replacement. The school didn't have a trombone either, but they did have an old dusty tuba that nobody seemed interested in playing. He remarked that the tuba mouthpiece felt like a coffee cup on his lips. It didn't matter because he didn't play any instrument by feel awareness. He always played by sound awareness.


Jake soon developed into an accomplished tuba player. He was very fortunate to play under the direction of the great maestro, Fritz Reiner. Jake said he spent more time with Reiner than his father. After graduating from Curtis, he and Reiner were reunited in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Jake greatly credits Reiner for influencing his musical development, but pleasing the maestro was always a challenge.

I was tested every time I played in Reiner's orchestra.

After playing tuba for only three years, Jake won the job as principal tubist with the Boston Symphony. However, he declined the position because he was a member of the musicians union and Boston was a non-union orchestra. Jake was advised that he might be expelled from the union if he took the job.

While at Curtis and throughout his life, Jake supported his family financially. As a student in the early 1930s, he played tuba in ballroom orchestras around Philadelphia. One day the orchestra leader asked, Arnold, can you play string bass?The country was in the grip of The Great Depression so his is family depended on his income. Sure, I play string bass!

Jake had never played a note on the bass but he knew he had to acquire one and learn to play it. He found an instrument and put chalk marks on the fingerboard. He didn't require instruction about how to play because he knew what the instrument should sound like.

Jake remarked that he eventually could play the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven quite well. When he came to Chicago in the late 1940s, he worked around town on bass and tuba to supplement his income from the orchestra and teaching. Jake retired from the orchestra in 1988, but he never retired from teaching. When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Jake always responded...

I want to be remembered most for my teaching.

It didn't matter what instrument Jake had in his hands. His imaginative musical mind always transcended the mindless brass tube or wooden box he was holding to deliver beautiful sound to an audience.

There are two instruments. One in the hands and one in the head. The one in the hands is a mirror reflecting the one in the head.


For many years, Jake taught in a small room located in the front of the basement of his home. He created a very unique environment that had a powerful psychological influence on everyone who experienced it. The room was filled with various devices including meters, gauges, breathing apparatuses and anatomical charts. They seemed to engulf the only two chairs present in the small space. It was an impressive presentation that made everyone realize that they were in Jake's world and were completely under his influence. He seemed to enjoy every moment. Jake rarely used any of the devices with me, but their presence had a powerful influence on my mind because they were an extension of him.

During my lessons, esteemed musicians frequently called or arrived at his front door. Great conductors such as Szell, Dorati, or Solti routinely called for advice about a member of their orchestra or to inquire if he had anyone ready for an available position. Jake was so highly regarded that many of his students were placed in orchestra jobs without auditioning. I was always greatly honored and thankful to be in Jake's presence and to experience his gift of the joy of music in my life.


JAKE DID NOT HAVE JUST ONE LUNG! He had two lungs but they were not healthy, because he was a severe asthmatic for most of his life. Asthma reduced his vital lung capacity to that of a single healthy lung, about 2.5-3 liters for an average adult male. His lung capacity was further reduced to around two liters by the end of his playing career. The powerful amplification provided by his 6/4 York tuba helped compensate for his limited capacity.

Jake's physical limitations were a hindrance but never a handicap!

At times, Jake felt like there was an elephant was sitting on his chest. But that never distracted him from a powerful mental commitment to sound. Jake understood that his imaginative musical mind would always motivate his subconscious brain to create the complex motor function necessary to play, however, he envied tall brass players who had a large vital capacity.

Jake frequently exclaimed to me...

I wish I could transfer my brain to your body! SONG and WIND

I was one of the contributors to the book, authored by Brian Fredericksen, edited by John Taylor, and published by Windsong Press Limited, 1996. When SONG and WIND was ready for publication and printing, I mentioned to Brian that a powerful quotation summarized the book's most important content.

I sing the notes in my head as I play them. It doesn't matter how my lip feels or how I feel.



Many musicians and educators are mistakenly under the impression that his emphasis in teaching was mostly on anatomy and the physiology of breathing (WIND). NO, THE REVERSE IS TRUE!


Jake was master of Song (musical awareness) which motivates Wind and all the other complex motor skills required to play.

In performing or teaching, Jake was always a musical artist singing the notes in his mind as he played them. Frequently, he sang aloud vocally along with his students. Interestingly, he rarely played the tuba for me in lessons. My best playing always occurred at the end of a lesson when he assigned new music to prepare for my next appointment. He asked me to sightread the assignment but he always sang along vocally as I played. My playing was always accurate and effortless, but I never completely understood why. I was puzzled because I could never perform at the same level when I left his home. Later, I realized that he was providing the Song that I needed to provide for myself.


The key to playing an instrument can be found in speech. The lips can become vocal chords.

Jake was never interested in intellectual self awareness, self analysis, or even much awareness of an instrument.

I want you to have the mind of a child. Paralysis by Analysis

My best work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra always occurred when I sat next to Jake or bass trombonist, Edward Kleinhammer. They provided a powerful musical awareness (Song) for me.
I simply opened my ears and came along for a joyous and effortless ride

I am ordering products (musical sounds) not mechanical maneuvers.

Jake's message regarding Wind is very simple. Inhale large breaths and renew them often. Avoid playing past the last 33% of vital capacity because it becomes increasingly more difficult to expel air past 50% of capacity. The last 1/3 of capacity is mostly ineffective when playing a wind instrument. The uncomfortable stress of trying to expel air to empty distracts the mind from musical awareness and can lead to respiratory malfunction.

We must allow the demands of the music to be the primary influence of breathing, fingering, embouchure, or anything else!

We must not learn an instrument to play music. We must learn music to play an instrument.


Jake wanted to learn how to cope with the physical limitations resulting from asthma, so he extensively studied physiology and anatomy. His various devices, anatomical charts and vast library of medical texts and journals are now located in an archive at DePaul University in Chicago. Jake's studies eventually became of such great interest that he decided to incorporate his insights into his teaching.


Jake used visual devises to provide enhanced input to the brain. Their purpose was to help motivate the complex motor (muscular) function required to play. Some devices were mechanical like a common hospital inspirometer that encouraged deep inhalation. Others were electronic, such as an oscilloscope that provided a visual picture of precise articulation. Jake understood that 30% of the brain is dedicated to processing sight. But he utilized visual awareness only to enhance but not substitute for auditory awareness. Jake always emphasized that we must play by sound to motivate output from the brain. Sensors motivate input to the brain.


We cannot create accomplishment through sensory systems. It can only occur through motor systems.

The same area of the brain involved in sending messages is the same area that receives them. We can be very effective at sending or receiving messages but not both at the same time.

Adolph Herseth

It's amazing what the chops can do if the (analytical) mind is not allowed to interfere.

Sergio Carolino


Jake understood that if a musician is motivating sensory input by analyzing how they feel or what they were doing mechanically, the motor function necessary to create accomplishment is greatly inhibited. Levels of physical paralysis can occur, but also emotional maladies such as fear, anxiety, self doubt and even physical pain can result. If these maladies are conditioned to occur simultaneously, total paralysis can result.

If such a dysfunctional a state of mind persists for an extended time, the resulting symptoms can become powerfully conditioned to any physical object. The mental and physical dysfunction gradually becomes motivated by the presence of the object (instrument) in the hands.

The Conditioned Reflex experiment of Ivan Pavlov revealed that the sound of a bell could condition a dog to salivate in response to sound rather than seeing and smelling food.

The instrument can also be a stimulus motivating effective function. It depends on whether the long term conditioning is positive (functional) or negative (paralyzing).

Will Scarlet

Even the most positive analytical thought is still negative.

Roger Rocco

Feel and Fail are four letter words to a brass player.


I frequently work with students away from their instrument to disengage its paralyzing influence.

Although Jake used devices and exercises to encourage the large inhalation of quick large breaths,
he also used them to distract from paralyzing self awareness. At times. he instructed a student to walk or march around the room, stand on one leg or squat. The disconnect from the paralyzing influence of instrument was always immediate and powerful, but it was always short lived. However, Jake had another form of distraction that was more effective and long lasting.


PICTURES OF THE MIND (Creative Visualization)

It's not what you sound like that matters. What matters is knowing what you want to sound like. If you want to become an accomplished musician, you should imagine yourself becoming so.


Jake liked to demonstrate that a mindless tube is not the real instrument. He imagined that he was playing a trumpet when he had his enormous 6/4 York tuba in his hands. Jake could play his tuba in the middle and upper registers of the trumpet with the same ease and character of sound. Although the mindless brass tube was pitched two octaves lower and three times the length!

We were warming up in the basement locker room of Orchestra Hall for a Friday afternoon performance of The Rite of Spring with Solti and the CSO. Jake sat in front of his locker and I sat about ten feet away facing him. I was stunned when he effortlessly began to play his tuba as if it was a trumpet. It sounded like a trumpet! As I watched and listened, a powerful auditory and visual impression of the experience was deeply implanted in my mind. The powerful picture remained in my conscious thoughts the rest of the afternoon.

Later, I returned to Orchestra Hall for a rehearsal of The Civic Orchestra. I decided to sit in the exact location where I had observed Jake earlier. In my mind, I could see and hear him exactly as I did earlier. Suddenly, I knew that I could reproduce what he demonstrated. It was an exciting but somewhat frightening experience. I didn't understand how my playing could be transformed to such a new level so quickly and powerfully.

I was never able to recreate that moment again. I didn't understand that the VISION was more important than playing the tuba.


Don't overlook the first note of passage because the notes that follow will be played at the same level of awareness and commitment.



We don't need to study vocal chords or lips to produce a beautiful sound. We only need to study the sound.

Paralysis by Analysis

Adolph Herseth

Think sound not mechanics.

Roger Rocco

Sound motivates function.


Jake had a beautiful singing voice and was also a master of solfeggio, which he developed at Curtis. Frequently, he added unrelated words to musical phrases. Vocalists have an great advantage because awareness of words and pitch originate from the same area of the brain.


As an adolescent, Jake was hospitalized for extended periods to treat his asthma. He had no instrument but he always had a mouthpiece. He remarked that he always played better when he left the hospital than before he went in. He also noticed that playing the mouthpiece and tuba was an effective therapeutic treatment for his asthma. Jake always felt better after a concert than before.

Adolph Herseth, myself, and many others enthusiastically encourage mouthpiece playing to “sing from the lips”. Mouthpiece playing (buzzing) is also a powerful tool to disengage from the paralyzing influence of an instrument. For amplification, Jake sometimes played his mouthpiece inserted into a short plastic tube with a funnel. The British hornist, Dennis Brain, recorded and performed the Horn Concertos of Mozart with his mouthpiece placed in a garden hose with a funnel at the end.

Jake also practiced with a mouthpiece that had most of the bowl removed. There was just enough metal remaining to connect the rim to the stem which went into the leadpipe of his tuba. He also buzzed with just the mouthpiece rim that he conveniently kept in his shirt pocket. In clinics he enjoyed demonstrating the beautiful sound he could produce by just playing on the mouthpiece rim.

Mouthpiece buzzing is also a powerful tool that encourages a more resonant tone. The subconscious mind (reactive) will motivate the body to compensate for the reduced amplification of playing without the instrument, however, the producer must always be highly aware of the sound in his or her mind before it can be realized mechanically by the body for an audience to hear. The BERP and it's knockoffs (buzz aid, etc.) are useful devices that allow a brass player to play their mouthpiece and finger or move a slide simultaneously

Jake never prioritized physical execution over musical awareness and mental commitment. He always transcended playing the instrument itself which he considered to be of lessor importance than what it should sound like. Jake was always motivated to influence the instrument with sound rather than allow the instrument to distract him from the sound.

He always enjoyed playing fine instruments, such as his great York tuba, like everyone else. But Jake sounded the same playing any instrument. Jake was the real instrument, not the mindless brass tube in his hands.

I fill the instrument with sound because it has none of its own.

Jake and I were warming up in the basement locker room of Orchestra Hall prior to performing Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. Jake asked, “Do you want to play the York tuba?” Unfortunately, I was only allowed to play it for a few seconds. Too bad because it was a joy ride!

Give it back because I don't want you to get used to it!


I knew Jake for almost four decades. Only his personal lawyer studied with him for a longer time. As his assistant in the CSO and colleague teaching at Northwestern University, we worked together on the stage and in a studio. In later years, many of his former students and I noticed a gradual evolution in the emphasis of his teaching.


Jake's teaching was somewhat analytical at times as he evaluated what a student was doing correctly or incorrectly mechanically, however, he always stressed the importance of having a musical mind that is powerfully committed to sound and communicating it to an audience. He was never an analytical teacher when an instrument was in his hands. He also cautioned his students to avoid paralyzing self analysis and awareness while playing.

When you are on the stage, always be a musician. Never be a teacher listening in the audience.

You really don't need to know much about anatomy to play an instrument. But you do need to know a lot about the music you want your audience to hear. You can be as intellectual about your understanding of the music as you want, but you must not be intellectual about how to produce it.

I don't care if everything you are doing is wrong (mechanically) if it sounds good.

(It can't be wrong if it sounds good!)

Go for the product (musical sound).


Jake was a master illusionist who fooled audiences into thinking that it took great strength to play his enormous tuba. It took great strength to carry and hold but not to play. His great strength was in his mind. It was not necessary to have great physical strength in his body.

Strength is your enemy, weakness is your friend.

Jake's sound was so powerful that at times it seemed to lift the entire Chicago Symphony Orchestra off the stage. Because of his reduced lung capacity, he couldn't sustain a loud or low frequency sound very long. His inhalations were always perfectly disguised by masterful phrasing. He was aware that the strong brass players around him would help create an illusion of immense sustaining power. Jake knew precisely when to contribute his sound to achieve maximum impact.

It was brilliance not deception!

I have spent my entire career comprehending and developing the musical mind of Arnold Jacobs. Every day I encourage others to also achieve his extraordinary level of imaginative musical awareness, commitment, and execution.





Transcending the instrument.

I played the second tuba part when the CSO performed the Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique on an Eastern tour in 1971. At The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Jake was very ill with a severe cold and fever. He didn't have the strength to carry his tuba to the stage so I brought it to his chair. The low brass tacit the first three movements so we always enjoy listening. While the orchestra was performing the first three movements, I noticed Jake coughing, perspiring, wheezing, and inhaling his asthma medication deeply. As the time came to play the fourth movement, I I prepared to play the first part, which enters at the beginning of the movement.

I was ready to play but my assistance was not required!

Jake played so powerfully and accurately that he sounded like Arnold Jacobs when he was 25 years old! Neither his illness, weakened body or the mindless tube in his hands prevented him from communicating a powerful story to the audience. I was stunned but I was also amused. How could I doubt that he would be able to do it?

There was never any doubt in his mind!

Singing and playing.

There was another amazing experience playing the second tuba part to Deserts by Edgar Varese. This story became an urban legend after I first wrote about it in the book, SONG and WIND. I have heard many different versions buzzing around, but this is the authentic legendary tale.

The first tuba part has a treacherous single note that has caused great embarrassment and frustration for many fine tuba players and everyone else who has had the misfortune to hear it. The single note is a very exposed Gb above high C that must be played alone, very softly, and after a long pause..
I was glad it was in the first part rather than mine. When it doesn't go well for the first player (often!), conductors may ask the second tuba to play it. Unfortunately, that option is rarely successful unless they get lucky. The great fortune never extends to the concert!

Erich Leinsdorf was the guest conductor when an extraordinary event occurred during the first rehearsal. As the time approached to play the high Gb, I could hear Jake softly singing it vocally in falsetto into his mouthpiece. At the moment when it occurs in the score, he sang the note a little louder as he pressed the appropriate valve on his tuba. It sounded perfect! The orchestra thunderously pounded the floor with their feet and applauded. Leinsdorf immediately stopped the rehearsal and shouted, “Bravo Mr. Jacobs!”. Jake and I were the only two people on the stage who knew he sang the note with his vocal chords rather than playing it with his lips! With his familiar smile and a twinkle in his eye, he turned to me and said...

My personal integrity will not allow me to do that in performance.

We rehearsed several more times and there were six public performances. He played the note perfectly each time, but I always first heard him softly singing the note vocally just before playing it with his lips.


Thank you again Arnold from all of us whose lives have changed immeasurably because of your profound influence. And thank you to every musician and teacher who has shared your joy of music with others.

In August, 1998, my final words spoken to Jake were a promise.

“Your work will live on through your students.”


Roger Rocco April 30, 2021

1 comment:

  1. I always stop whatever I'm doing when I see that there is something fascinating writen about Arnold. He sent me to ur home off Ashland in the summer of 1971. U gave me lessons every few weeks. I will always remember ur awesome sound on the tuba and while buzzing. At the time I was wanting to become a pro tubist. Unfortunately I had neither the musical talent or the chops. At 71 years old I still play everyday with many music minus one cds. The cds and I are becoming worn out but my love of playing is not.