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Advice for aspiring music performance majors

This is a reposting from Jason Heath’s Bass Page. Visit that blog for more regularly updated music, bass, technology, and education postings.

Original Post:

Advice for aspiring music performance majors

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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.

WINNERS LIST

 


 

December, 2005 Update:

-1997:
Minnesota Orchestra: no winner

-1998:
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

-1999
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.)

-2000
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?!)

-2001
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)

-2002
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?!@#!?)

-2003
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)

-2004:
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?

-2005
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?

2006
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:

 

1. Don Greene – Performance Success

 

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.

 

2. Douglas Yeo Trombone Website

 

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:

 

Taking auditions (tips)

Performance anxiety

My journey

What makes good teachers and students

 

 

3. TalkBass.com

 

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.

 

Tanglewood Music Center Website

Aspen Music Festival Website

November 22, 2006 Posted by | Education, Music | 2 Comments

200 years of content accessible through Google News


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.

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September 7, 2006 Posted by | Education, organizing, Tech | 1 Comment

Catalin Rotaru on the double bass

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.

  1. Giovanni Bottesini – Variations on “Carnival of Venice” (excerpt)

  2. Pablo de Sarasate – Zigeunerweisen (excerpt, originally for violin)

  3. Johannes Brahms – Sonata no. 1 in E minor for cello and piano (excerpt from the 1st movement)

    Catalin Rotaru: Double bass

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September 7, 2006 Posted by | double bass, Education, Music | 4 Comments

Podcast for Teachers – Techpod


Podcast for Teachers recently celebrated their 50th episode. This podcast is produced out of Fordham University’s Regional Educational Technology Center in New York City and co-hosted by Mark Gura and Kathy King. It offers a witty and edgy look at news, trends, and innovations in the world of educational technology. I only recently stumbled across this great podcast after hearing an interview with Mark and Kathy on Podcast411. I learn several new things every episode, and I am slowly working my way back through their earlier episodes.

This podcast is a must for any teacher who uses technology in the classroom (which is basically every teacher these days). This show has become incredibly popular. In addition to thousands of downloads (I recently heard on the podcast that there are 400,000 subscribers worldwide), the show is broadcast on two internet radio stations. Every teacher should give this show a listen!

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September 6, 2006 Posted by | Education, Music, podcast | Leave a comment

Educational uses of Google Maps


The Google Maps Mania blog recently did a post on the educational uses of Google Maps and Google Earth. For those who have not experimented with these services, Google Maps is Google’s web-based mapping program (similar to MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps), and Google Earth is a desktop-based program (that still uses the internet) that combines various satellite maps to create a highly detailed rendering of the entire planet.

Both of these programs have numerous applications in the world of education. Here is a link to an MP3 from EdTechTalk.com discussing uses of Google Maps in the classroom. It is amazing to think about how this technology can potentially change the classroom. Even the early Yahoo! Maps or MapQuest versions made a huge difference in the accessibility and usefulness of mapping technologies. I remember plotting out my path from airport to hotel to audition site and back with MapQuest and printing it into a packet. This seemed amazing at the time, and programs like the current Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, and Google Earth take it even further.

Here is a recent post from TechLearning.com on using Google Maps mashups in the classroom. This is a really interesting listing of some current mashups. All of these mashups are interesting, but be sure to check out the New York City Interactive Transit Map and the Gmaps pedometer.

The Google Earth Blog also has some great information on educational uses for the program:

It is close to the end of summer in the northern hemisphere. Many kids are heading back to school after a summer break. For those of you who are educators and have thought, or heard, that Google Earth would make a good tool for geography lessons – let me suggest you look closer. Google Earth (GE) is not only a great tool for geography – it is a tool for tying all kinds of information to location. When you first load GE you have a wealth of information available at your fingertips. Thousands of aerial and satellite photos, dozens of layers of information: city names, country borders, airport locations, road maps, National Geographic content, volcanoes, and more. Since Google Earth is an intuitive and fun tool, I believe you could use it as a visualization and educational tool for almost any subject. Once students prepare their own content, GE can be used to present their work – or even share their work with the world.

Check out the complete post here.

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September 5, 2006 Posted by | Education, Tech, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

Get your books from Google for free

Google recently announced that they are making out-of-copyright books available as free PDF downloads via Google Book Search. See this Technorati post for more information. Here are some of the books curently available:

Ferriar’s The Bibliomania
A futurist from 1881’s 1931: A Glance at the Twentieth Century
Aesop’s Fables
Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Abbott’s Flatland
Hugo’s Marion De Lorme
Dunant’s Eine Erinnerung an Solferino
Bolívar’s Proclamas
Dante’s Inferno

(information quoted from this Official Google Blog post)

For the complete works of Shakespeare, visit this page from Google.

Several major titles (lke Frankenstein) are not available yet, but the list will be growing all the time. I think back to literature classes I took in college and think of the $200 I spent on Dante, Homer, and other classic authors each quarter. What a great thing this would have been for me, and what a useful thing this will be for students now and in the future (all of these books on your laptop).

September 4, 2006 Posted by | Education, General, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments

Great new bass book by Peter Tambroni

I have mentioned this before on my blog, but double bassist Peter Tambroni’s excellent new work An Introduction to Double Bass playing is now available. I highly recommend this book. It is a well-crafted and intelligently conceived resource for beginners, experienced players, teachers, and parents.

Peter has been a clinician for many years at the Whitewater Winter Bassfest, which I coordinate. He is a truly outstanding teacher (see his recent teaching award here). I have some older posts about Peter. You can check them out here, here, or here.

This new book is available from Lulu.com, which is a really cool publishing site. The books from this company always look really good, and Peter’s new book is no exception. You can get it with color photos, black and white photos, or as a PDF e-version. All teachers who have any interaction with bass players at all should get this book–it will prove to be very useful.

Check out Peter’s excellent bass website Mostlybass.com for more information on this and his many other projects.

August 30, 2006 Posted by | double bass, Education | 2 Comments

Catalysts & Connections

I just added a really excellent music education blog to my Blogroll.  It is called Catalysts & Connections, and it covers all sorts of topics in the field of music education.  Check out a recent post hereEvan Tobias is the author of the blog, and he also maintains an excellent Blogroll.  Check out his blog!

August 26, 2006 Posted by | Blogging, Education, Music, Uncategorized | Leave a comment