Archive for the ‘Personal Preparation’ Category

The Chromatic Endpin – Day Three

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Finally got back to some experimenting.

Day Three

6″ lower rod; angle about 30°; rotation towards back and E string

So I wanted to see what it would feel like to have the rotation be towards the E string, as Lynn Seaton does. But I had already found that the very “horizontal” approach that seems to be Seaton’s approach wasn’t working for me, so I set this up to be more vertical. The bass definitely felt different here. As might have been predicted—see the diagram about center of gravity on Knickstachel für Kontrabass – eine Übersicht—I initially felt as if the bass were falling away from me.

I ran through my chosen repertoire for this trial, and made some adjustments to where my feet were. I couldn’t quite make this comfortable, but I felt like I was making progress. I decided to move to the short lower rod.

4″ lower rod; angle a little more than 30°; rotation towards back and E string

With the shorter rod, I also chose to make the angle slightly greater, as well as to extend the upper rod a bit more from the body of the bass, compensating for the shorter rod but overall making it just a little bit higher.

This felt pretty comfortable. I think it will be the setting I go with for a little while before making more experiments.

That is not to say that I think I found the perfect setting in just three short days of experimenting. (Far from it!) It is more an acknowledgement that my technical skills are really sub-par these days, and I need to get serious about getting back to form before I can make any final conclusions about how to adjust this endpin.

In other news

My last attempt to get folks together for some music reading did not receive much response. Maybe a combination of the short notice and the fact that it’s the end of summer. If you’re a bassist and want to get together to read through music or to play your audition rep in front of a friendly audience, get in touch with me, we’ll set something up.

The Chromatic Endpin – Days One and Two

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

A New Endpin

I have begun my adventure with The Chromatic Endpin. If you have ever been interested in that crazy kinky stick endpin you might have seen on a colleague’s bass—you know, bent at a 45 degree angle to the line of the strings, and rotated toward the G string, or a new hole drilled in the end block with a pin in there—but didn’t want to go drilling new holes in your bass, this device is for you.

It’s a machined endpin device, with multiple axes of adjustment: angle, rotation, height, length. It replaces a traditional end pin of 10mm diameter with no changes to your bass. By installing it, you can experiment wildly with all the variations. And if you find something you like, either continue using the Chromatic Endpin with those settings, or work closely with a luthier to drill that new hole in your instrument in just the right way.

Wild and Kinky

I am currently on the second day of my experiment. And it feels like a wild ride, anxiety-inducing in all possible ways. Day zero (actually a few days) I spent just putting the pin together, trying a few combinations and marveling at the different stances adopted by example players Rufus Reid, Lynn Seaton and François Rabbath. (The Chromatic Endpin site links to videos from each.) My wife was watching with me and marveled at how upright and relaxed each looked, comparing to my Hunchback of Notre Contrebasse posture when playing in the upper registers. (She worries about me. She would like me to join her at Pilates classes.) I was trying to adjust to the idea of the heel of the neck of my bass resting on my solar plexus and the extreme angle of my elbow when trying to tickle my ear with my finger while playing low F (see the Lynn Seaton video). And freaking out at the idea that the upper bouts of my beloved Buchanan bass are too wide to allow a german bow player to play on the E string in that position . . . aaaaaaagh!

Getting a grip on myself, yesterday I settled down to try to make some progress on an actual combination of settings. Instead of just playing randomly and getting worried, I tried more or less to have a set several pieces I was going to play as I adjusted various angle and things. So that I would have a reference, instead of just vague chaotic and fearful impressions.

(Have I mentioned how badly the idea of switching endpins, stance, everything messes with the idea of taking a professional audition in 10 weeks? Yeah, let’s not think about that just now, okay?)

Loosely, here are the things I am trying to play with each different endpin configuration:

  • Beethoven Fifth Symphony, Third movement, Scherzo
  • Bach First Cello Suite, first movement
  • Strauss Ein Heldenleben, any of those damn two+ octave runs in three beats, like rehearsal 9 to rehearsal 11
  • E arpeggio exercise, three octaves
  • E major scale a la Galamian mm=60

Real Day One

4″ lower rod; angle about 45°; rotation towards G string and back of bass.

This setting is somewhat like the Rufus Reid video. But I found that if I tried to emulate Reid’s posture, I could not reasonably play in the low register, nor on the E string with the bow. Partly the shape of my bass and my use of the German bow. However, when I decided to go back to a more ‘upright’ stance, this was a reasonable configuration for the endpin.

The aforementioned kinky stick blog post gives the reason: moving the contact point back means that more of the bass’ weight is forward of that point, and so my left hand was less obligated to support the weight, making it more free to shift. This realization felt pretty good. I did not realize the benefit of standing straight up and reaching forward to play in the higher positions—it’s still incumbent on me to visualize the string-through-the-crown-of-my-head pulling me upright that your Yoga teacher told you about—but I think I can live with that.

Real Day Two

6″ lower rod; angle about 60°; rotation towards G string and back of bass.

I watched the recording of John Clayton, Martin Wind, Lynn Seaton and Rufus Reid (the Talking Hands bass quartet) playing Wind’s Iceland Romance and observed Clayton’s setup. The angle of his end pin is less than those of Reid or Seaton. It looked like something worth trying. With the Chromatic Endpin setup, to achieve the same net position of the ground contact actually means a very extreme angle and the long lower rod.

At first I couldn’t get the bass low enough to be comfortable for the left hand in the low registers (note the upper rod is into the bass as far as it will go), but by putting the long low rod into the extreme angle, the bass was playable and reasonably comfortable.

Of all the experimenting I’ve done so far, both unstructured and structured, this set up is working best. Same caveats apply around standing erect when playing in high registers, but the balance of the bass seems good (re the kinky stick post).

I can’t play for long with these experimental setups: my natural frustration at sounding like a beginner (and today, too much coffee) get the best of me and I have to put the bass down. Today that meant switching to writing this blog post, which isn’t a bad thing.

Keep Breathing

Hey, I have to say that I should not have gone into this thinking “a new end pin setup will be a miraculous enhancement of my technique,” but I admit now that I held a not consciously acknowledged belief that I would suddenly master Ein Heldenleben by futzing with my endpin. That hasn’t happened. Yet. Ahem. But I do feel like there is some good opportunity ahead. I just need to calm down and take the needed time to sort this out.

Please share your experience with the angled endpin concept. I could really use your perspective.

Am I Crazy?

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

You knew this was going to happen.

Just a few days ago, I was looking through the latest International Musician (the publication of the musician’s union) and saw that the Detroit Symphony has an opening for Section Bass. Auditions October 16-18.

So here’s the question. Given that I have sort of taken on a project to rebuild my technique, starting over with Gary Karr’s elementary bass books (I’m up to “shifting!”) and mixing in a self-taught take on Rabbath’s method (I bought all of his books two years ago), can I get from page 63 of the book for beginners to the Detroit Symphony in 95 days?

Am I an optimist or a lunatic?

Am I being fatalistic and self-defeating if I said “honestly there’s no way I could win such an audition–there are so many great players out there, one of them would easily surpass me in a final round?” Is it setting too low a bar to say “I’d just like to play well in the first round.” (Although that of course is true.)

I got a big boost out of preparing for the last set of auditions I took. Although ultimately I was disappointed by my performance in the actual auditions. Am I thinking about doing this for the right reasons? Would it be possible to wipe from my mouth the bad taste of my last auditions by doing this? If I don’t actually commit myself to appearing in Detroit ninety-five days from now … look at it this way: with a concrete and tangible goal (“get through the audition”) and deadline (October 16, 2017) I will really work hard. Without those things, it will be easy easy easy to let practicing slide a couple times each week, and I won’t make the same progress.

But what is progress? If we accept as a given–and I think in will insist that it is a given, many of you will agree–that there are better players out there, who will ultimately defeat me in a final round, is winning an audition of this level a quixotic goal? Is it quixotic even to make the attempt? In business, we talk about S.M.A.R.T. goals, where the A stands for achievable. Again with the given I have just stated, this is NOT a SMART goal. Is making “progress” towards the impossible really progress, or is it effort that would be better directed at some other goal?

I might be talking myself out of this.

At the same time, for a few years now I have been carting around with me a yellow sticky-note with the phrase “look beyond what is reasonable” written on it. At the moment I can’t remember where I first encountered the phrase. It inspires me. It doesn’t say “be insane crazy and live outside the norms of society and abuse those around you” it just says don’t accept that things have to be just the way everyone else sees them. The audition doesn’t have to be won by the young conservatory grad with the gold medal at an international competition–the reasonable assumption. It could go to the guy twenty+ years out of school who just has a lot of heart and is going to make himself put in the work.

Do I really want to do this?

What if we took a poll? Put your vote in the comments. And please leave a comment with some of the reasoning behind your vote. If you’re reading my blog for the first time, it’d be lovely if you took in the backstory for this question by skimming the “audition” tag and the “Practice and Skills” and “Personal Preparation” categories.

Meanwhile, a few observations on the first steps in Gary Karr’s method.

  • Initially, getting a good sound on the “Koussevitzky” harmonic at the marked tempo and bow length on the E string was crazy hard. But it got better over several days of practice.
  • Really, what a brilliant approach to focus so much on bow speed as the primary concept to master when first picking up the instrument. (For me, I think poor control/consciousness of bow speed is a major underlying factor in many of the other awkwardnesses of my playing.)
  • My science brain wants to geek out on exactly what the speed ratios need to be when going from this note to that or one string to another. Practical musician brain has to intervene and remind us to get a good sound and go with it.
  • The shifting exercises, like focussing on bow speed as a fundamental skill, are quite smart. The bass is a huge instrument. Instead of initially working on shifts of a minor third or so, the initial shifting exercises very quickly cover shifting from very low to very high positions: Take on the biggest challenge with “beginner’s mind” rather than waiting until the third book of your method (meaning like second year of student study) to introduce the ‘scary’ concept of playing in the ‘hard’ positions. Master that sh*t early on, the rest will be easy!

More and more I’m thinking that I want to take these books to students of my own. I have resisted teaching for a long time. But I feel like the students I know of would really benefit from approaching the instrument this way. And that I would benefit from teaching them.

Audition Daily Blog, The Return – That’s It

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

first draft: 10 September 2016. Rewritten on

23 September 2016

First off, congratulations to Johann Schuster and Jason Niehoff, who won the fourth and fifth chair spots in the audition.

As you know, the audition which was at the center of this round of “Audition Daily Blogging” took place Tuesday, 6 September. I had been feeling pretty positive, fairly excited, rather optimistic about my preparation and my possible success.

I failed.

That is a pretty blunt way of putting it. We can discuss nuances about what went right and wrong, about the inner successes within the greater failure, but it would be hard to completely ignore the fact that the outcome of one’s effort at an audition is evaluated as one state of a binary solution: you succeed and are offered the job or you are not offered the job.

By now I have had plenty of time(1) to reflect on what I’m feeling. I wrote a long post on the tenth, and have pared it down for publication. Nonetheless, if you don’t like this sort of thing, you’ve got the jist of it and you can stop reading now. Although I do invite you to read another perspective on auditioning.

Frustration, tinted with Anger

I made simple and dumb mistakes. I thought I had done enough preparation, including a couple of mock auditions, to eliminate those from my playing. Like Pascal writing his letter, I think I had not taken enough time to make my practice efficient, so I worked hard but not well. I didn’t make full use of the good information in the BulletProof Musician course, which I had spent money on. And finally I’m frustrated and kind of angry that auditions are conducted as they are — the assigned numbers, the sneaking into the audition space so the committee won’t know who you are, the waiting around to hear results — I’m never this nervous when performing, why am I being tested about my ability to play when nervous?

Resignation

I also feel a kind of gave-it-my-all exhaustion. Like: “why bother to do this again?” Like: “I’ve answered the question ‘can I do it,’ the answer is ‘no.'”

And at times I wish it were that simple. Done, move along, nothing to see here. But I’m not content with that … so see “frustration” again.

Self-Doubt with a side of Worry

I should come as no surprise that self-doubt is a big part of the mood. I’ve pursued music for a long time and, especially when I’m down, feel that I have little to show for it. Am I good enough to ever have something more to demonstrate? Do I work hard enough–not just at the skills, but at the understanding and drive? Have I been on the wrong road, did I leave my path when I stopped playing jazz–and casuals gigs–twenty years ago?

Next?

I bragged in a previous post that “I won’t lose the skills I’ve (re-)gained in preparing for this audition … I’ll audition for Cirque du Soleil.” But where’s that going to go really? (See the self-doubt and resignation creeping into that question?) Maybe I really do need to switch directions. Or drop the goal-oriented behavior for a little while and just let curiosity lead? Take off blinders, drop pretensions and airs, just find out where I can go with what I have?

I really wanted to believe that I would stay positive and groovy no matter the outcome of Tuesday’s audition. And I’m pretty confident that I will return to form. But it’s not happening quickly. And I can’t decide if I have too much going on in life right now (new job, family events to participate in, checkbook to balance, etc.) to have space to allow this to settle, or not enough going on to whisk my energy up.

Thanks

Honestly, I did take the time to make this a shorter letter. Nonetheless it’s pretty long and personal. Thanks for making it to the end. Ugh. I actually don’t intend for this to be The End, I just don’t know exactly what’s next.

 

 

 

(1) For those who don’t know, I was “on the beach” after my contract as a user experience architect at a well-known business school ended on August 31, until earlier this week (September 20) when I started a new job.

Audition Daily Blog, The Return – The End (Short Version)

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

11 September 2016

I started writing a long blog post, attempting to process through the emotions and thoughts I’ve had since the audition last Tuesday. Here’s the short version, because I don’t know if I can get the long version out: it’s starting to feel too personal and involved. So, the short version:

I messed stuff up in the solo piece and the excerpts. I did not advance.

And I’m not at all happy about that result.

The long version of this post might yet appear in a few days.

Audition Daily Blog, The Return – part 9

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

6 September 2016 – Audition Day

It’s 5:30 am, I’ve gotten up early to get ready. My audition time is in the 10:00 am group; I’ll have to leave at around 7:15 am in order to get there by 9:00 to have time to decompress from driving and warm up.

In the past I’ve found that I am playing my best–most connected, loosest, good sound etc.–when I’ve been playing for a while, like several hours, as weird as that seems. I haven’t focused on finding a way to shorten that time. I won’t figure that out today, but maybe that’s a good subject for future study.

Yesterday afternoon and evening I was definitely feeling the symptoms of nervousness. Nothing major, but I could tell that I was less interested in conversations, kind of wanting to just be away from everyone. Sunday evening I had done something to my back and since it didn’t go away overnight, much of yesterday was painful. I saw a massage therapist, and that helped a lot, although not immediately. I slept well last night, and although I haven’t yet tried to play this morning (others are still sleeping, right?) I’m optimistic that the back will not be a major factor today.

So now I’m just getting ready to go. And while I’m still feeling optimistic, in general, my mood is tempered by something that’s a hybrid of realism and fatalism. I don’t play any of the excerpts perfectly. Perfectly is the thing that would guarantee a win. I’ll just have to play less imperfectly that other auditionees. The idealist would like to play perfectly. The realist recognizes it’s just as much about who else shows up as it is about one’s own preparation. The fatalist mopes, knowing it’s not in his own control.

I’m honestly not sure what’s the healthiest attitude … although as I write those words, I know “more positive” is a better kind of attitude than “more negative.” But I don’t want to walk out of my house this morning whistling a cheery tune and dancing a jig in a kind of hyper-cheerful way. That would be setting myself up for disappointment. At the same time, a dour, gloomy grimace is not the right face to take to the audition.

I’m sure that from the outside of this process there is some mood or attitude that is obviously the right one to take. But I’m inside the process right now, so I’m just chugging along doing me. Even a moments’ reflection reminds me that I’ve staked a lot of “who I am” on being successful in music. And to be frank, I personally have had only glimpses of the kind of success that I want in my life. The decision something like 18 months ago to jump back on the audition train was a decision to put myself back out there, to risk my ego yet again in the hope of resuming that voyage to musical-career-achievement that I have chased with more or less–and more often, less–vigor for most of my adult life.

We’ll see a little later today what has come of this latest chapter in that life. That’s heavy, heavy sentiment to bring with me today–so I hope that by writing it here, I am leaving some of it behind, that I won’t have to carry it into the audition with me. It is, after all, pretty maudlin and dramatic, all that stuff in the previous paragraph. So I’ll say it again, as I have several times before in this blog: I’ve gained (and re-gained) a lot during the preparation for this audition, and the others I have recently taken. Even if I crash and burn during my performance today, nothing will take away the skills I’ve developed (and re-developed). And I’ll use those skills in whatever is coming next.

Alright, enough. There’s preparations to be done, and printing the map, and packing the music and gathering up headphones and lunch and all the various bits . . .

Audition Daily Blog, The Return – part 8

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

(10 minutes, starting . . . now!)

4 September 2016

Okay, that thing I said in my last post about writing every day? Didn’t do it.

Also didn’t write a second entry that day … got carried away with other things. I wish I could say that I got carried away practicing, but it was other stuff.

Practicing has been going well. Some of the nasty hard shifts in Strauss (Ein Heldenleben), Beethoven (Symphony 5, third movement) are going maybe better than they ever have. The twisty tricky and fast fingerings in Mozart (Symphony 40, fourth movement) are still hit and miss, but the hit:miss ratio his higher than it’s ever been. I’d like to say my confidence is 100%, but it’s not, due to those misses in Mozart and also to the required Bach ‘cello suite movement. While I can play the Bach reasonably well sometimes (and performed it during the summer, but to a crowd of tipsy classmates at my college reunion), sometimes there are parts that completely crash and burn. I’m working to make those fewer and far between, but if I miss one of them during the audition my confidence will be shaken, for sure.

But my sound is strong, and in places where the fingerings aren’t the stuff of contortionists nightmares, articulation is good and clean. I hope I can continue this work … one thing I’ve been meaning to do for some time is work up the audition materials for Cirque du Soleil … once I’m done with this audition, it will be time for that. Would I really run away to join the circus? No. (Unless it pays a whole lot better than I think it does.) But it sure is fun to imagine it.

Lately I’ve taken to writing the name/location of each excerpt on a slip of paper, then tossing the slips of paper on the couch and picking them up randomly, then running through the excerpts in that order. It’s a great exercise to try to be ready for anything: fast gentle passages immediately after raucous loud ones, etc. Keeps me on my toes. I recommend it.

I’m also finding that pausing between repetitions is helping me work things out faster. Sample: play the excerpt not quite up to tempo (don’t make mistakes!). Close your eyes and wait five seconds before doing anything else. This lets the neural pathways in the brain assimilate what you’ve just done. Repeat. It seems to be helping.

There, that’s my ten minutes. Audition is day after tomorrow.

Audition Daily Blog, The Return – part 7a

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

1 September 2016

Okay, it’s been a good couple of days. I actually feel like things are hitting a groove. I really don’t know if the way I’m playing right now is audition-winning, but it is the best I’ve been playing all year … really for eighteen months or more, since I started working towards last year’s Lyric Opera orchestra audition. I actually feel pretty good.

Thinking about that link to the first “Audition Daily Blog,” I haven’t been blogging as much as I did during those last few weeks. But I remember that that daily ritual, limited to about 10 minutes, also felt pretty good. It was a chance to sum up the day, the current mood, whatever.

So, since there are now only five days remaining until the audition in Elgin on 6 September, I will resume the truly daily blog, 10 minutes. This is basically the sprint, folks. Will this be my Gwen Jorgensen moment? (I happened to watch the last parts of the women’s triathlon–I was transfixed, and so happy for her when she won.)

I had some other thoughts, about

  • having time to practice now that I’m unemployed (hopefully just temporarily)
  • working on meditation techniques to improve my concentration (for instance, Shinzen Young’s Five Classic Meditations)
  • how to prepare for a morning audition when you have to drive an hour to get there (ugh!)

but for now, back to the practicing. Adding “a” to the numbering of today’s entry, because I already feel like I want to make another entry later today.

Audition Daily Blog, The Return – part 6

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

A very short post.

Things are feeling good.

I hope I didn’t jinx it. Audition is next Tuesday.

Audition Daily Blog, The Return – part 5

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

I am having a serious case of why-am-I-doing-this.