This is a reposting from Jason Heath’s Bass Page. Visit that blog for more regularly updated music, bass, technology, and education postings.
I have a B.M. and M.M. in Double Bass Performance from Northwestern University. Although I had a good financial package for my undergraduate degree and had a full-tuition fellowship or my graduate degree, I still owe tens of thousands of dollars in student loans for these degrees. I am glad that I did both of these programs, but if I would have one single piece of advice for an aspiring music performance major it would be to realize this:
Music performance degrees are completely superfluous to your pursuit of a music performance career.
I love college and learning, and this essay is really not about me. I wouldn’t trade my education for anything, and I am actually starting a new degree program in the next few months. I did not follow the advice I am giving here. Am I still happy? Yes. Am I a successful music performer? Some would think so. Am I at the top of my profession? No.
This advice is based on what I have learned playing with and speaking with countless individuals from major symphony orchestras. It is not advice on how to be a well-educated, happy, balanced musician and person. In fact, the advice I have may make you a neurotic mess, but it is, I feel, the way that a majority of people that land major professional symphony positions achieve this goal. If you want to play in the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra or Boston Symphony then follow this advice.
Also, although this advice pertains to all instruments, it is mainly about the double bass. It is also based on my experience and knowledge of the American orchestral audition system (not for solo instruments or non-U.S. orchestra auditions). Auditions in other countries may work quite differently.
Finally, if you ever plan on doing anything at all outside of music performance (and very few people are interested in only music performance, even professional symphonic players) then a quality, well-rounded education is essential. I have used my Northwestern degrees to better my life and I feel that having these degrees has really helped me. Still, I know that all of my playing achievements had nothing to do with where I went to school. I could have never have gone to college and only taken private lessons and be doing the playing I am doing now. Most of my colleagues have no idea that I went to Northwestern (or that I went to college at all).
#1 – Your private teacher is everything–college is optional
Does this mean that I shouldn’t have gone to college? Certainly not. I do, after all, have two degrees from a prestigious university, and I like to think that the education I have gotten from these degrees has helped me in my life. I feel that it is very important for a student considering a pursuit of classical music performance to realize that there is one (and only one) thing to consider—your teacher.
The quality of the music school, the location, the cost, the academic rigor (or lack thereof), the actual degree you are receiving—none of these things matter to a real student of music performance. To land a full-time salaried position in the insanely competitive field of classical music performance one needs to study from the best in the business, and there are only a handful of people for each instrument that qualify.
How do you identify these “super teachers”? Karl Olsen of the Louisville Orchestra has since 1997 kept a list of all the winners of salaried orchestral double bass positions and where these individuals went to school. Study this list:
Winners of all major US auditions 1997-present
This list comes from Karl Olsen of the Louisville Orchestra. Check out his posts at TalkBass.com (his handle is KPO), and check out Karl’s biography and teaching information here. Karl teaches at the University of Kentucky and is a valuable contributor to the double bass community. He has contributed countless helpful posts on that website about practicing and orchestral auditioning, and he keeps updating this list.
December, 2005 Update:
Minnesota Orchestra: no winner
Cincinntai Symhpony: Boris Astafiev (Columbus Sym)
Oregon Symphony: Jason Schooler (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music)
Minnesota Orchestra: Matthew Frischman (Curtis Institute)
Utah Symphony, Asst. Principal: Student of principal won
Los Angeles Philharmonic: David Moore (Houston Sym)
Louisville Orchestra: Kingsley Wood (Peabody Conservatory)
Houston Symphony: Ali Yazdanfar (Peabody, Rice)
New York Philharmonic: David Grossman (Student of principal/Juiliard)
Colorado Symphony: Jonathan Burnstein (Rice U.)
Charleston Symphony, Principal: Charles Barr (Curtis)
National Symphony: Ali Yazdanfar (Houston sym.)
New Mexico Symphony: Kathy Olszowka (Indiana University)
San Antonio Symphony: Zlatan Redzic (I.U.)
Kansas City Symphony, 1-year spot: Ju-Fang Liu (I.U.)
President’s Own Marine Band: Eric Sabo (Arizona State U.)
Seattle Symphony: Jonathan Burnstein (Rice, Colorado Sym.)
Buffalo Philharmonic: Edmond Gnekow (I.U.)
Tulsa Phil, principal: Dan Johnson (Iowa?)
Dallas Symphony, principal: no winner?
Columbus Symphony: Jena Huebner (Peabody)
Houston Symphony: Burke Shaw
Cleveland Orchestra: Charles Carleton (Juilliard/Curtis)
San Francisco Sym., principal: Ali Yazdanfar (not retained?!)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra: Kingsley Wood (Peabody, Louisville Orchestra)
Alabama Symphony: Long Luo (Juilliard)
Oregon Symphony: no winner (for 2 spots!)
Florida Philharmonic, principal: Shigeru Ishikawa (member of section )
Louisville Orchestra: Karl Olsen (I.U., U-Wisconsin)
Cleveland Orchestra: Eric Harris (principal St Louis) won, then left for SanFran;
…the runnerup Charles Barr (Curtis), got the job.
Montreal Sym., principal: Ali Yazdanfar (now going back to National)
Charleston Symphony, principal: Scott Pingle (Manhattan)
National Symphony: cancelled; they welcome Ali Yazdanfar back
Baltimore Symphony: Mark Huang (Nashville Symphony)
Oregon Symphony: Paul DeNola (I.U., U.S.C.)
San Francisco Sym., principal: Eric Harris (not retained?!@#!?)
Indianapolis Sym., principal: Ju-Fang Liu (I.U.)
Boston Symphony: Ben Levy (Rice U., New England Conservatory)
Calgary Philharmonic: Jeff White (I.U.)
Grant Park Orchestra: Andy Anderson (I.U.)
Nashville Symphony, principal: Joel Reist (member of section)
resulting section spot was offered to runner-up, Ryan Kamm (I.U., Boston)
Louisianna Philharmonic: Colin Corner (I.U.)
Naples Philharmonic: Matt Medlock (Boston, Rice)
New York Philharmonic: Satoshi Okamoto (San Antonio, Juilliard; student of principal)
Louisville Orchestra, principal: postponed
San Francisco Sym., principal: Hired noone again!?
San Diego, Principal and Asst.Principal: Jeremy Kurtz, principal(Curtis, Rice), Susan Wulff, Asst. (member of section, USC)
San Fransisco, Principal, YET AGAIN!:Scott Pingel, on a Trial Year? Ira Gold, runner-up?
Chicago Lyric Opera: Andy Anderson (I.U., Grant Park)
Vancouver Symphony, associate: Colin Corner (IU, Louisiana Phil)
Detroit Symphony, Principal: No Hire….
San Antonio Symphony, Asst. Principal: Doug Balliet (Harvard)
Louisville Orchestra, Principal: Burt Witzel (Curtis Institute)
St Louis Symphony: (2 positions) audition delayed finished until May 2005
Winnipeg, Principal: Merideth “Bob” Johnson, I think, was the winner?
Ottawa: National Arts Center, Principal: Ben Jensen (I.U.) not retained after trial weeks?
Milwaukee Symphony: Principal AND Ass’t Principal: Zach (?) = assistant?
Detroit Symphony, Principal: again, not even any finalists?
St Louis, 2 positions: Sarah Hogan (IU, Rice, SLSO 1-yr sub!) and Dave DeRiso (Rice, New World, SLSO sub-runner-up!)
Grand Rapids, Principal: Joe Conyers (Curtis)
Alabama: no winner?
Metropolitan Opera Association: Dan Krekler (IU, Minn., MSM)
Seattle: Joe Kauffman (UNT)
National Symphony, 2 positions: Ira Gold! …other position remains open
Calgary Philharmonic: Tom McGary (IU)
Florida Orchestra: Aaron White (SMU, Duquesne)also 1 yr. Asst.Principal here in Louisville!
Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Principal: Tom McGary (IU)
Ottawa N.A.C… Joel Quarrington appointed principal? confirmed? not on website yet?
Detroit Principal 3x – still in trial weeks?
Minnesota Orchestra: Ass’t: Fora Baltacigil(Curtis), Section: Colin Corner (IU, New Orleans, Vancouver)
Kansas City Symphony: Jeff Kail (IU)
Do you see any trends? Notice how over half of the people on this attended Indiana University, Boston University, Rice University, or the Curtis Institute? Study at these schools—that’s the simplest way to be successful. Ed Barker, Hal Robinson, Bruce Bransby, and Tim Pitts have a proven track record of turning out job winners, and being in one of these four bass studios at some point in your study is a very good idea.
If you do not study at these schools, can you still get into the Chicago Symphony as a double bassist? Absolutely! Notice that even though a preponderance of successful candidates went to these four schools, there are many other schools represented. It is possible to succeed regardless of where you go to school and study with. These four schools are simply the four powerhouse bass schools at the moment.
Understand that intelligence and music performance ability do not have to go hand in hand, and neither do traditional education and music performance development. When an orchestra holds an audition the only thing that matters is your playing ability. Education, personality, communication skills, and virtually every other skill that traditionally factors into a job interview process don’t matter for an orchestra audition. This is something that is difficult for non-musicians (like parents, relatives, and friends) to grasp. No one cares where you went to school! Do you like to shoot rats at the dump and scream obscenities at people? It’s all good if you can play a great audition.
#2 – Study with a professional orchestra player if you want to play professionally
Examine the above list one more time. Do you see many teachers known as soloists on that list? I sure don’t. Bass players wishing a career in orchestral performance need to study with people who either are or have been in professional orchestras. If you want to be a bass soloist, great! Starbucks is always hiring (aspiring bass soloists can get a head start by downloading their application here), and I’m sure those expensive degrees and those Bottesini showpiece chops you developed will help you there.
#3 – Put your instrumental development before everything else
Classes don’t matter. Again, I personally do not agree with this at all. I am an educator, and I got a ton out of my various music and non-music classes that I put into use every day, but the unfortunate truth is that going to Music Theory class will not help you to land that salaried orchestral job. It just won’t. It will make you better educated, well-rounded, and better able to comprehend what you are playing. It also will likely make you a better colleague, a better educator, a more valuable member of the musical community. Many of my job-winning colleagues never went to class. I always went to class (seriously—I don’t think I ever missed a single class in my undergraduate or graduate study). I am jobless. Draw your own conclusions.
#4 – Do whatever it takes to study with and interact with the best in the business
If you aren’t studying with the best of the best, find a way to take some lessons with them anyway. Does it seem crazy to drive from Chicago to Houston for lessons every month or from Atlanta to Houston every week? Well, you had better get used to it, because that is what the audition circuit is like, and if you aren’t willing to do it there are 50 other people playing your instrument that are willing (and doing it right now). You never know when you will get that one golden nugget of information that will fix that shift, bow stroke, tonal snafu, clarify that phrase, or relax that one particular back muscle that is standing in your way. Take every opportunity you can to play for the best of the best.
Double bass teachers tend to be fairly approachable, and the best teachers teach at summer institutes and do master classes throughout the year. Go to Aspen! Go to Tanglewood! A huge percentage of successful audtionees have done these programs at some time.
#5 – Be prepared for a long, hard road
I know many colleagues who did all that I described above and are still jobless. Friends of mine have been auditioning for years without winning a job. Sometimes they make the finals and don’t advance out of the first round the next time. Be prepared to sacrifice family, friends, happiness, and financial security to take auditions. I auditioned for the Minnesota Orchestra last year, and there were 140 candidates. Guess where the two winners had gone to school? Indiana University and Curtis.
Auditions cost a lot of money, particularly for bass players. The expense of flying with a bass, renting a car, and getting a hotel room can easily surpass $1000 per audition. Some auditions make you wait four or five days between the preliminary and final rounds. None of these expenses (at least for the preliminary round) are covered by the orchestra. Expect to lose a lot of cash auditioning.
#6 – Resources
Luckily, you are not alone on the path to a music performance career. Although the road can be long and frustrating, at least there are a lot of resources devoted to this subject:
Many musicians have found success with Don Greene’s methods. Don has an innovative way of teaching coping skills under pressure, and many musicians have found success incorporating his methods. Check out his books here.
This is probably the oldest and best audition resource site out there. I have been reading Doug’s articles since 1997, and I find them extremely insightful and helpful.
His whole website is full of literally hundreds of articles and resources. Here are some of the most helpful:
Check out the TalkBass.com forums for great audition news and advice. Thinking about a particular school or teacher? Ask your question in the forums and you are bound to get some great advice.
4. Aspen Music Festival and Tanglewood Music Center
Audition and participate in these festivals if you can! I wish someone would survey the audition winners on Karl Olsen’s list and see how many of them participated in either Tanglewood or Aspen. I am sure it would be over 50% of them.
The term “social bookmarking” may not be familiar to everybody, but it has emerged as one of the most useful tools of the Web 2.0 movement. The service del.icio.us (now owned by Yahoo!) is the oldest and best example of the power of social bookmarking. Del.icio.us allows users to save their bookmarks online, allowing them to be accessible from any computer with an Internet connection. I have always been reluctant to spend a lot of time organizing my bookmarks in Firefox or Inernet Explorer because I only have access to this bookmark set on that particular computer. Del.icio.us keeps your bookmarks on its servers, eliminating this problem. The service also has a wide variety of organizational features such as tagging, bundling, and adding notes to bookmarks. Visit my del.icio.us page to see how I have used these tools to organize all of my information. When you go to a bookmark you can also see who else has tagged that bookmark and visit their profiles. If you find another person’s bookmarks consistently interesting you can add them to you network. Visit my network for an example of how this works. This is an incredibly useful feature that essentially creates a shared news page for you and your friends. Also, you can subscribe to specific tag and see a fire hose feed of all items being tagged with these words. Visit my tag subscription page for an example of this in practice.
Uses in Education
Once one starts experimenting with the social (sharing and collaborative) aspect of del.icio.us, one sees all sorts of amazing potential for this service in education. If you check out my DePaul and Oakton pages, you can see how I am organizing online information for specific institutions. This is a useful way to organize personal or group information. After some of the bookmarks on this page you will see “saved by 19 other people” or another such figure. You can click on this and see who else has tagged this. By visiting their user page you can discover their bookmarks. Del.icio.us is an information research portal and a way to collaboratively organize Internet resources, and it has helped me immensely. It is also great fun and a way to discover all sorts of new stuff online. Teachers can create a recommended readings page by tagging bookmarks with a specific tag (recommended_CA520, for example). Every bookmark has a specific URL associated with it (del.icio.us/username/recommended_CA520 for this example), and teachers can direct students to this specific URL. Since any new bookmarks tagged with this specific tage will appear on the page it is a constantly evolving page. See below for examples of how to do this collectively as a class.
The system:media:audio tag
Another really interesting aspect of del.icio.us’s organizational system is its ability to recognize certain tagged media types. When you tag http://anotherlameosong.mp3 in del.icio.us, it recognizes that this URL is an audio file and treats it differently than other URLs. It applies a small Flash player to any tagged audio so that you can listen to it directly in del.icio.us. Visit my podcast archive page for an example of this–it is quite useful.
You can also attach whatever tags you would regularly attach to content. Let’s say you are teaching a class. You find many different audio files on the subject you are teaching hosted at other universities, podcasts containing relevant information, or other such content you would like to share with the class. You simply tag these files with “forclass“. On the first day of class, you instruct all class members to bookmark this page: http://del.icio.us/jsh177/system:media:audio+forclass. They can name the bookmark “materials for class” or whatever. Then anything you tag with “forclass” automatically shows up in everyone’s browser.
Also, you can tell them to put http://del.icio.us/jsh177/rss/system:media:audio+forclass into their iTunes (or other such program), and these files will be automatically downloaded to their computer. You can do the same thing with PDF documents! Set up http://del.icio.us/system:media:document plus whatever tags you are looking for, and you will discover documents in much the same process. This is less useful than the system:media:audio search and tag feature, but it is still interesting.
Collaborative Educational Tagging with del.icio.us
Agree on a tag with your collaborators and you can create a set of shared resources. Visit this page: http://del.icio.us/tag/Pine Everything in del.icio.us that has been tagged with “pine” is available on this page, along with any notes people may have added to the link.
Now create a specific tag: NU_CA_100_FALL_2006 (would stand for Northwestern University College of Arts class 100 Fall Quarter 2006)
It looks complicated, but this tag will likely be unique. Tell all class members/collaborators/fellow teachers/TAs to tag all relevant materials with this tag along with any additional relevant notes. Then people only have to visit http://del.icio.us/tag/NU_CA_100_FALL_2006 (they can make a bookmark for it in their browser) and have all the shared resources of the class at their fingertips. Tagging some MP3 files in that batch? Play them from the del.cio.us page or put this URL into iTunes to have the files downloaded automatically to a student’s iPod: http://del.icio.us/jsh177/rss/system:media:audio+NU_CA_100_FALL_2006
This post contains thoughts and observations about playing Gary Karr’s former double bass. Read the first part of my “Amati” bass story here.
When I first picked up the Amati bass from Aaron Reilly at the Guarneri House, I couldn’t wait to get it home and start working on my recital program. I pulled it out of the case and got a chill up my spine when I saw the distinctive sunflower-embossed tailpiece. It had a new set of Pirastro Permanent solo strings on it (which happen to be my favorite brand of string), so I knew that I was ready to go.
This famous bass is extremely small. It actually doesn’t feel like a bass at all, but more like some strange bass/cello amalgamation. I play a large 7/8 Jakstadt as my main bass, so transitioning to this tiny solo bass was quite challenging. Usually I stand when I practice and play solos, and I am used to the feeling of a lot of mass resting against my side when I play. It felt very strange to have such a light instrument against my side—it actually was difficult for me to keep it balanced. Everything about this bass is small—the bridge, fingerboard, neck, scroll, and string length. The above photo is a side-by-side comparison of my Jakstadt bass and the “Amati” bass. Notice the vast difference in size.
My two weeks with the “Amati” were filled with orchestra rehearsals and performances in Chicago, and this was hard on both my nerves and my chops. Switching between big and small, heavy and light, orchestra tuning and solo tuning, and extension playing and upper register playing was very stressful. I am sure that many bassists are comfortable switching between vastly different set ups, but for me it takes a few days to really feel at home on a bass, and I unfortunately ever got to really get a practicing groove going just with the “Amati” bass.
The sound I pulled at first on this bass was very sweet but fairly small and unfocused. The tone of this bass got richer and fuller the higher I played, and it got smaller and less resonant the lower I played. This is not a knock against the bass. Quite simply, this is an incredibly special and specialized instrument, and I had not learned the skills to fully activate its potential. This instrument sounds (under my hands, at least) fantastic from the G octave to the edge of the fingerboard and beyond, decent on the D string and lower G string, and downright strange on the E and A strings.
This bass responds best when the bow is right up against the bridge and is pulled very slowly with a lot of weight. If I bowed the strings any farther away than that the instrument sounded kind of like a violone or other such early instrument. Only when the bow is near the bridge with a great deal of weight in the right arm did that famous “Gary Karr sound” emerge. While playing like this, one also has to remain very free and flexible in the right arm. Too much weight will crush the sound, however. Playing this bass with the correct right arm technique is like herding cats—very challenging and often frustrating, but strangely fun.
I have all the pieces I played on this recital in my podcast Jason Heath’s Double Bass Performances. Click here to subscribe to the podcast and check out all of the tracks. Also, you can click any of the individual links below to hear me on the Amati bass:
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra announced the launch today of MSO Classics, an e-label created specifically for digital distribution of its recordings at the iTunes Music Store and other digital music stores and services, including Yahoo! Music, Napster, RealNetworks Rhapsody, and MusicNet outlets including AOL, Virgin, and HMV, via a worldwide digital distribution deal with IODA, the Independent Online Distribution Alliance. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is the first American orchestra to distribute, through digital music stores, recordings previously unavailable for purchase. Performances on “MSO Classics,” an e-label owned by the Symphony, will be available for 90 days, beginning today, exclusively on the iTunes Music Store – the world’s most popular digital music store.
“The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has always been a pioneer – in the world of new music, through innovative programming and by being the first American orchestra to visit Cuba,” said Andreas Delfs, MSO Music Director. “Now a new age for classical music distribution has begun, and we are pioneers once again.”
I firmly believe that iTunes and other forms of online distribution will be a huge thing for symphonic music in America and the rest of the world. The “good old days” of frequent recordings beefing up the paychecks of symphony musicians are long gone. New methods of distribution need to be explored, and symphony orchestras are finally beginning to take some progressive steps.
I have written about classical music and iTunes several times in the past. You can read about other classical music/iTunes developments on these previous posts:
New iTunes innovations
Last holdout bands join iTunes
Big demand for classical downloads
It is great that the Milwaukee Symphony is also putting their music up on IODA Promonet. Many people may not be aware of Promonet–it is a service similar to the Podsafe Music Network, only for musicians on record labels. The PMN is generally for independent artists. Promonet allows podcasters to play certain tracks from artists on their podcast, and as podcasting continues to mushroom in popularity this will be an increasingly smart way to market classical music. Podcasting is great for narrowcasting to a specific audience. The audience for classical music is a small but loyal percentage of the population, and as podcasts continue to become more mainstreamed and more classical music fans start subscribing it will be perhaps the best way to market this music. Being ne of the first to market will be a very good thing for the Milwaukee Symphony.
The Milwaukee Symphony should start a podcast about their upcoming performances, play clips from their archives, and offer links to purchase the archived tracks from iTunes on their website.
I would love to see orchestras begin to organize their websites like a blog. Each week could be a new blog entry on the website. That entry would include a podcast for the week highlighting the music being played, links to download all of the tracks from the orchestra archives (for a fee), embedded video of an interview/performance clip with either the guest artist, conductor, orchestra musician, or music lecturer, a blog entry about what was happening behind the scenes for that week (see Brian Dickie‘s blog for a great example of this kind of blog), and Amazon/Borders/Barnes & Noble links to purchase albums containing these pieces. Orchestras could set up affiliate accounts with these three companies and thereby get a cut of each recording sale even if they had no involvement with the recording.
Matthew Wengerd bought this post to my attention recently. It is from oboeinsight, a great music blog. Oboeinsinght is definitely worth checking out, even if you don’t play a double reed instrument. The writing is insightful and educational and covers a wide variety of musical topics:
- Rehearsals and performances should be scent-free zones. This doesn’t mean we allow body odor though! So use that unscented deoderant, but refrain from colognes and perfumes.
- If you are sitting second, never play the principal’s solos while warming up! It’s just not done. Even at the rehearsals.
- Don’t play other instruments’ solos either. Rude (again).
- When the concertmaster tunes the orchestra, stop playing and be quiet. (Unless, of course, you’re playing first — then tune the orchestra!)
- Be quiet. (I can’t tell you how many times I hear orchestra members yakking … sometimes even during performances!)
- Don’t conduct. Really. You may think you know more than the conductor. You may think you can do a better job. And that could even be true. But it’s rude. Don’t do it.
- Don’t stare at one of your colleagues when you aren’t playing. Even if he or she has a solo. That way, if a mistake is made, you won’t be accused of staring “because I made a horrible mistake” … believe me I’ve heard folks accuse others of this.
- In the same vein … DON’T ever look over at someone after he or she has made a mistake! That is so incredibly rude it’s inexcusable. We feel bad enough when we make mistakes. We don’t need to know you know! Don’t grimace, laugh, shake your head, or anything else either. In other words: DON’T REACT!
Read the complete post here.
Musician’s etiquette consists of a great deal of minutiae not usually obvious to non-musicians. A non-musician might not even be aware that someone in the orchestra is being rude or obnoxious. Turning around and watching a colleague play a solo is considered very rude, for example.
Personal behaviors that are considered acceptable in daily life can be very distracting in the orchestra. Obvious frustration after making a mistake is not acceptable. Turning and looking at a person that has just made a mistake (even worse–laughing at them) is a bad idea.
Old disagreements and feuds boil and simmer over a period of years in an orchestra. The same may be true in an office setting, but musicians tend to be more highly-strung, sensitive, and insecure, so small slights take on a magnitude of their own.
Even though I like to think that I am a fairly tolerant person, I completely lose it when someone starts playing my solo to goof around before a concert. Even though I know the person is not being malicious or trying to show me up, some reptilian part of my brain kicks in and I have to resist the urge to slug them.
Perfume or cologne is a really bad idea for musicians. You may like how it makes you smell, but no one on stage does. If you want to annoy 25-50% of the orchestra (I can smell perfume on a musician from many rows away) then go for it, but it is probably not the wisest idea.
Merlin Mann wrote a recent post on Ultradian Rhythms–cyclic biological occurrences in the human body. Many systems in the human body apparently work in 90 minute cycles. This is an interesting concept to ponder. Apparently, for maximum performance one should take a physical and mental break every 90 minutes. Concentration begins to suffer after 90 minutes, and these breaks supposedly reduce stress.
Interestingly enough, this is the exact point at which a symphony orchestra takes a rehearsal break. I will pay attention to my concentration cycles during the day for the next while and see if I can detect 90 minutes cycles in my daily life.
The very first double bass soloist I ever heard live was the extraordinary double bassist Gary Karr. I was fifteen years old and had only been playing the bass for a year. Gary Karr was playing with my hometown symphony orchestra (the South Dakota Symphony), and my teacher Charles Kreitzer had gotten me a ticket for this performance. This concert was a revelation for me–I had no idea that a double bass could be played like Gary Karr played it. Low rumblings and flute-like harmonics mesmerized me, and I knew from that point on that I wanted to be a double bass player.
I know that I am not the only bassist who has had this experience. Gary Karr inspired countless double bass players to pursue the study of this great instrument. When I ask my colleagues to name their first double bass solo record they almost always name something by Gary Karr. His televised performance of The Swan from Carnival of the Animals under Leornard Bernstein at Carnegie Hall propelled the bass into the spotlight as a solo instrument. I have an old record of this concert (which has been released on CD), and that track is my favorite Gary Karr recording of all time.
I had the opportunity to go backstage before the concert in South Dakota, and I saw my teacher and Gary Karr rehearse a duet for the concert. I marveled at his playing, but also at his small bass with the beautiful, sunflower-embossed tailpiece. Gary Karr frequently spoke of the sound of a bass as being like sonic chocolate. I never understood what he meant until I heard that bass up close. It had a complexity and beauty that I had never heard before. It was owned by virtuoso bassist and Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky, and it was given to Gary Karr by Olga Koussevitzky, Serge’s widow, under unusual circumstances.
Fifteen years later I was asked out of the blue to play a recital on this magnificent bass. Gary Karr had recently retired from the concert stage, and he donated his bass to the Internatonal Society of Bassists. It was being loaned out at the moment to performers for use in recitals. I naturally agreed to it, although I was quite busy and hadn’t prepared any repertoire. This opportunity was not likely to come again for me. I would only have the bass for two weeks before the recital, and I began to get apprehensive about my ability to play well on a foreign bass in such a short time. Also, I had heard that the bass, while possessing a beautiful sound, was very difficult to play. I will describe in detail the experience of playing this bass in Part II of this post.
This bass has for years been attributed to the Amati brothers of Italy. Recently, however, the origins of this bass have been called into question. A scientific study using tree ring dating was recently conducted on this bass. You can read the conclusions of the study here. I wrote a short piece on this study for my recital:
Gary Karr had acquired the Amati bass (the bass that this recital is being played on) at a special party after his Carnegie Hall debut by Olga Koussevitzky, widow of bass virtuoso and famed conductor Serge Koussevitzky. She gave Karr her late husband’s bass in 1961 after telling Karr that she had seen the spirit of her late hus- band embrace Karr onstage as he performed. Before he became a conductor, Koussevitzky had been a virtuoso bass player.
Koussevitzky is said to have purchased the instrument from a French dealer in 1901 for $3,000. Nothing is known of its history before 1901, but it is reputed to have been made in 1611. Karr made all of his albums and played virtually all of his pub- lic performances on this magnificent instrument. He recently donated this famous instrument to the International Society of Bassists.
Most sources claim that the “Amati” bass was made in 1611 by the Amati brothers, Antonio and Girolamo, of Cremona, Italy. If this is true, it would only known dou- ble bass made by the Amati brothers. In 2004 this bass was carefully inspected and evaluated independently by four experts in bass design and style, and all agreed that inconsistencies in style suggest that the bass was constructed after 1611. The wood appears to date to 1761 at the earliest. Also, many attributes of this bass suggest a French origin. All of these facts suggest that this bass was not made by the Amati brothers. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic bass that has inspired countless bassists over the last few decades, and I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to play this recital on it.
It is now commonly referred to as the Karr-Koussevitzky bass, but it will always be the “Amati” to me no matter who actually made it.
You can learn more about this very interesting double bass at the following sites:
Tackling the “Amati” Part II – playing the bass
Ars Technica recently announced that Google is starting the Google News Archive Search, a service that will allow for searches from selected sources up to 200 years into the past. Ars Technica reports:
You can think of the new search in one of two ways: a more specialized version of a regular Google search, or a much broader version of a Google News search. Queries to the News Archive search magazines, newspapers, and some Web-only publications for content, and can return results in a standard format or a new “timeline” view that makes it easy to follow the progression of a story over time. Searches can be limited by date if you want only early 20th-century coverage of the Titanic sinking, for instance. Just as we’ve come to expect from Google, searches are fast, the interface is clean—and Google has no current plans to make any money from the project.
Read the complete post here.
Google has a concise description of the new service. It will allow for timeline searches for a specific topic though a period of time, identify key periods of news for a specific name/story/event, and the popularity of the text being identified. It will be interesting to see how this service develops–it could prove to be an incredibly useful educational and research tool.
See more about this new Google development in this post from Google Blogoscoped.
Catalin Rotaru at Arizona State University has some great online recordings (MP3) of himself playing some excellent double bass showpieces. Click on any of the links below–they will take you to Catalin’s recordings. Catalin previously taught at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. I teach at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, one of the other satellite University of Wisconsin campuses.
Catalin is a great guy and an awesome player. Check out his playing below–it is definitely worth it.
Catalin Rotaru: Double bass
I hope that any bass players reading my blog have already checked out The DoubleBassCast. If you haven’t listened to this podcast yet, stop reading this right now, open iTunes (or your podcatcher of choice), and subscribe to this outstanding podcast. You can also visit the website here. The DoubleBassCast (formerly called The BassCast) is really an excellent podcast. It is the only real double bass podcast out there, and, fortunately for us bass players, it is terrific. I have a couple of podcasts, but one consists of my live performances and one consists of MP3 practice tracks for double bass solos, scales, and orchestral excerpts. The DoubleBassCast is a REAL podcast, with interviews, commentary, in-depth discussion of excerpts, and the like. Episodes come out every 1-2 months (I’d love to hear more), but each episode is a polished gem of a podcast.
I listen to a lot of podcasts every day. I must spend a couple of hours each day listening to podcasts. Whenever a new episode of The DoubleBassCast I put all of my other podcasts on hold and listen to it–sometimes several times in a row. My favorite episode of The DoubleBassCast is Episode 105. In this podcast all the orchestral excerpts from a recent Tenerife Symphony audition are discussed. The commentary on each excerpt is intelligent and insightful, and it would be a smart thing to listen to for anyone preparing for a double bass audition.
The newest episode (Episode 107) features an interview with Dietmar Engels. Dietmar serves as Principal Bass for the Coburg Opera House in Germany. This episode is all about the Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra by Jean Francaix. Dietmar talks about the process of preparing an unfamiliar concerto, and it is a very interesting interview. Check out the shownotes for this episode here.
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