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Reading Session – October 2012

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Getting ready for a reading session this late afternoon – John Floeter, Josh Harrison, Hans Peterman, and I, possibly joined by Anton Hatwich, are getting together to read through some of the music that I’ve been acquiring.

I’m particularly interested to have a go at a couple of pieces that I had a hand in commissioning: Tony Osborne’s Rocket Man and Harrison’s Clocks were both completed earlier this year. (I had hoped to premiere Harrison’s Clocks at the Make Music Chicago event, but that was not to be.)

Other stuff I’ve got in my hands for tonight:

  • Two Bach fugues arranged by Joel DiBartolo
  • Four Elizabethan trios also arranged by Joel DiBartolo
  • Paganini’s Moses Fantasy and François Rabbath’s Kobolds arranged by Klaus Trumpf
  • Madrigal, Cancíon e Recercada by Diego Ortiz, arranged by Klaus Stoll
  • Mozart’s Adagio K. 411 arranged by Carolyn White
  • Ron Wasserman’s Pieces for Basses
  • Paul Ramsier’s Lullaby

I’ll write up some comments below after we’re done!


Alright, we had a good reading session. Well done all around – thanks Josh, John and Hans for coming out!

We started off with Lullaby by Paul Ramsier. Paul had sent me a copy of this piece a while back, saying that it’s been recorded for solo bass on small orchestra, but that the original conception of it was for bass quartet. It’s a very lovely short piece. We read it well enough that I switched on my Zoom H4 recorder, so that we could send the composer a recording. Doubtful the performance was so good that we’d publish it, though. It won’t take too much work, however, to make this piece ready for a performance.

Next we took on Harrison’s Clocks. I enjoyed this piece very much. It feels like good writing for basses, and I think it will be quite approachable for audiences. (At this point in our reading session, the rest of the guys were starting to think I was cheating: I had told them that we were literally reading cold — no preparation, but in fact I had been working a little bit on both these pieces earlier in the year. And even though we drew straws (figuratively) for part assignment, I had the bass 1 part for both, and since I wasn’t really sight reading, I sounded better than I should have.)

Then we had a go at Rocket Man. Since these two pieces were composed at about the same time, earlier this year, it should be no surprise that they had a certain feel in common. In particular, the opening chords felt very much the same. That felt a bit funny (didn’t we just play this?) but as we went along, the challenges presented by Rocket Man were clearly different. I won’t program them back to back, and maybe not even on the same performance. But I look forward to performing both.

Just to wind down, we pulled up one of the two Bach fugues (Number 5 from the Well-Tempered Clavier). Ah, Bach. So deceptively simple looking, so rich and hard to play in a truly musical way. We barreled through our first time, but it became clear at the end that we were. not. together. We looked it over a bit, realizing that the entrances of the fugue subject were not always in the same place in the bar, and that the stretto was particularly “uneven,” and had another go. This time we were able to end on together (hooray). But at the same time, it was clear that we had not realized anywhere near the music that is in that piece. I’ve been there before.

We wrapped up after that. About two hours of good work, reading through music, and enjoying the opportunity to play together. We’ll plan to do it again soon. There’s plenty of music left!

Swimming in the Musical Stream

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

From time to time, I try to describe the feeling of overwhelm I have about the “information age.”

At one time, finding information was a little like digging for fossils: If you knew where to start, and you were persistent, you would uncover something valuable, differentiated from the rock and clay around it. You had to work at finding the pieces of information that were meaningful to you. And what you found was treasured, even if it was only partial or missing some bits.

But information doesn’t require finding today. It requires filtering. Being connected to an RSS reader is like standing in rushing water (they do call them “RSS streams,” after all) grabbing at fish as they dart past you, trying to determine if the one in your hand is worth keeping, or if it’s more or less valuable than the ones that continue to flit by you. Should I drop this one to catch that one?  This one here looks a little smaller than one over there, maybe I should drop this and try to catch that!

And I don’t treasure very much the bits that I have caught, because I’m always wondering if I’ve got the one that is most useful for me, or if that very useful one is still out there somewhere. I’m devoting more energy to catching and rapidly evaluating than I am to using any of the information I’ve gathered. The gathered bits sit there in, or in Personal Brain or a text file, waiting for “free time” to process it all.

A few days ago, I was thinking the thoughts above for the umpteenth time, and I had a sort of inspiration that a live musical performance is a little like that stream of information: it flows past at great speed. You grasp from it what you can and what seems to hold your interest at the moment. But there’s a difference — one doesn’t presume to filter the musical information you are receiving in the same way as one does with an RSS stream. You’ve committed to hearing that musical performance, and you enjoy it for what you are able to receive, rather than wondering if you’ve chosen to grab the right pieces. Or at least I hope you do.

As incomplete a thought as that is . . . today I stumbled upon (that is to say, I read my Google plus stream and found) this post from looping solo bassist Steve Lawson (a friend of a friend). I really enjoy Steve’s reflections on the “business” of music–and life in general–and this post reminded me of and cast a new light on the thoughts I’ve noted above.

Steve writes: “One of the joys of digital releases is that there’s nothing stopping the art from growing with the artist – our fixed idea of recordings being set in stone is just because of the ‘tyranny of recording’ that has dominated music for the last 60 or 70 years. Before that, the salable element in music was sheet music and every single experience of that music was unique.”

There’s the thing, right: “every single experience of that music was unique.” There’s a real value, a special set of information in that live performance. To me, this is really worth considering in an age when I’m trying to find a way to “market” a “product” … or really, I’m trying to find a way to make a living doing something I love, which is performing for people.

I welcome your thoughts. Yes, both of you who read this regularly, you’re welcome to contribute 🙂

– Jacque

Car Shopping, part 2

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

On part 2 of our voyage to dealerships to find a car that could fit three humans and a double bass (without completely emptying my bank account), we tried the Toyota Matrix and the Mazda Mazda2.

Toyota Matrix

Having earlier struck out on finding a new Matrix at a dealership, we tried a used model. I think it was a 2010. I don’t know if there are significant changes for the current or upcoming model year. (If you just have to know, check

The bass fit on the “60” side of the folding rear seats, not only standing up, but even on it’s back. That is somewhat unusual, in my experience. There’s a reasonable bit of space left for some other equipment, as well. Of course the bass also fit on its side. But, too bad, it could not fit in the “40” side of the split, even when on its side–that would have been quite handy.

The seatbacks folded down to make quite a flat surface, probably very handy when packing for other purposes.

Projection of the scroll into the driver’s space was minimal, although it’s possible that it could be irritating on a longer drive.

We took the Matrix out for a spin. In the end, it was not a car that we were fully comfortable with. The slope of the front hood was hard for us to get used to… it just fell away such that one couldn’t really tell where the front of the car was when parallel parking.

Mazda Mazda2

After trying the Matrix, we were standing in the dealership’s main floor near a Mazda2. It wasn’t a car that we had thought of putting in our consideration set. But I was there with my bass, and one of the salesman walked by and practically dared us to try it. He thought he was joking with us, but I took the challenge.

Lo and behold, it fit. It fit just about the same way the bass used to fit in my Volkswagen Golf. Of course, it fit easily with both sides of the rear seat folded down. It also fit on its side with just the “60” side folded down. And in that position, the bridge faced away from the rear-seat passenger and any other equipment that might be stowed. In my opinion, that’s a good thing, as other gear shifting in the back would not hit the bridge.

Projection into the driver’s area is considerable, there’s no doubt about that. The Mazda2 is a smaller car than any of the others we tried. But as I said, I used to put this bass in a VW Golf, and this is exactly how it fit. From the picture, you might think that the scroll is very much in the driver’s way, but in practice, it is not. The peg box is actually so far forward that it does not impinge on the driver’s freedom of movement.

Granted, there is not a lot of room for additional gear, if one assumes three humans. But that is pretty rare for us, so it’s not a worry. That day when I’m playing a jazz gig (requiring an amplifier) and bringing my wife and daughter along, well, maybe I’ll just buy a smaller amp.

The Winner … for us … Mazda2

As illustrated by this and the previous car shopping posts (I’ve linked to it three times! go there!!) the fit of my bass was our primary concern. Others played a role: my wife refuses to drive a black, gray, white or silver car (“too boring!”) and I support her. We also had been looking to save some money by buying used and financing through a credit union of which I am a member.

I didn't park it next to the fire hydrant! And there's the old Subaru in the background

But in the end, when we discovered that Mazda was offering 0% 60-month financing on new Mazda2s, and that our local dealer had several in Aquatic Blue Mica and Spirited Green Metallic, we decided to go for a brand new Mazda Mazda2. After a longer-then-we-would-have-liked* negotiation and paperwork session, we drove home in our new car.

* Longer than we would have chosen, but far from being a horror story. I do recommend Autobarn Evanston for an overall good shopping experience. But don’t do your final shopping–at any car dealer–on a Saturday morning, if you can avoid it!

Car Shopping

Friday, April 13th, 2012

It hasn’t been a quiet week (or more) since I last wrote.

Mainly I’ve been

  • getting the hang of a new day gig
  • trying to arrange a music reading session
  • attempting to woodshed material for the New York Philharmonic audition
  • and shopping for a car.

It’s that last that is the subject of today’s post. How does a bass player find a car that fits him? You take your bass to the dealership, of course.

Thursday night, my wife and I did a whirlwind tour of four dealerships (well, three dealers, four brands actually) with bass in hand to see which of these–in hatchback body style–might be suitable for us:

  • Nissan Versa
  • Toyota Matrix
  • Mazda Mazda3
  • Honda Fit

Unfortunately, Chicago Northside Toyota/Scion did not have a Matrix on the showroom floor, so that one will have to wait.

The goal for my wife and I is to be able to fit the bass and three people (driver and two passengers) and still have some room left over for other things (small amplifier, collapsible music stand, luggage?). Although we didn’t specifically check it, keeping a relatively unrestricted view from the driver’s seat to the back window is also important.

For all these cars, we just went to whatever vehicle was on the showroom floor. I didn’t make note of whatever option packages and such were on the vehicles.

Mazda Mazda3

On its back, my bass fits in the "60" side of the split rear seats.

Enough headroom for the bass to be on its side, as well. But still on the "60" side of the split.

My bass fit neatly into the “60” side of the split folding rear seats in the 2012 Mazda Mazda3 hatchback. The scroll and tuning keys rested on the center armrest between the front seats, so a little something placed under the heel of the neck will be a necessity in order to prevent damage to the tuning gears.

The bass fit both lying down on its back as well as on its side, but always on the “60” side. The “40” side of the split seats was not wide enough to accommodate the bass in either orientation.

The fold-down seats made a very nice flat surface. The lip of the trunk is not too deep; I had no trouble maneuvering the bass in and out by myself, using my usual grip-points on the case.

Since the bass fit on the “60” side of the rear seats, there’s room for a passenger in the “40” side, and next to the bass there remains room for some stuff. Not a LOT of stuff, but some.

Honda Fit

The bass fit in the Fit, no problem ... but on its back, the bass required that both parts of the rear seat be folded down.

The rear area of the Honda Fit, once the seats are folded down, is … huge! for the size car it is. The floor of the cargo area is very low compared to the Mazda3 and the Versa, and the seats fold quite flat. In spite of the deep lip, I still didn’t have a problem getting the bass in and out. But on its back, my bass required that the entire rear seat be folded down. This is of course a problem for the goal of fitting a third person into the car.

It was a tight squeeze for the scroll between the two front seats.

Up front, the scroll was very tightly pinched between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. A block of some sort below the heel would elevate the scroll by angling the bass upward. This might cause it to feel a bit close to the shoulders of the occupants, but would probably be workable.

On its side, the bass' scroll will tickle the passenger all the way to the gig.

Putting the bass on its side would allow the “40” side of the rear seat to remain a seat, solving the problem of the third human occupant. But this position caused the scroll to angle into the front passenger seat in a way that would be quite uncomfortable for an extended trip.

There were other ways of getting the bass in. For instance, the front passenger seat reclines all the way back, to nearly flat. The bass can then ride cleanly on the passenger side, with only the “40” side of the rear seat folded down, leaving the “60” side for passengers. Technically that meets our 3-person goal, but for a long drive? Not really.

Also, the seat of the rear seats actually folds UP, allowing plenty of room for something fairly tall from the footwell-level to the ceiling. The salesman suggested for instance if you bought a tall plant a a garden center, it could ride home without bending over. I could also see my SWR Baby Blue amplifier fitting neatly there.

Julian Romane has a 2008 Fit and describes getting his bass, his wife’s cello and their daughter in their car “comfortably.” It didn’t look like that was going to be the case for me; it may be that the upper bouts on my bass are just enough bigger than his bass to change the dynamic. It could also be that the 2012 model has enough interior differences to account for the change. I’ll have to borrow his car someday to test out the theory.

Nissan Versa

An optional accessory container in the cargo area brought the effective floor level up to the seat backs.

The Nissan Versa’s cargo compartment was a little surprising to us. The area behind the rear seats goes down pretty far, but unlike in the Fit the seat backs of the rear seat do not match the level of the cargo floor. This means that the lower bout of the bass would be quite deep and the bass would angle up steeply. However, in the model we looked at, an accessory container filled the space to near-level with the folded down seats. For my bass, it was necessary to fold down both parts of the rear seat back in order lie the bass on its back. The projection of the scroll between the front seats wasn’t too bad, although I think we lost the use of a cupholder there.

The face of a guy who has to think about financing a car.

The rear area was tall enough to allow the bass to be on its side, and that meant that the “40” side of the rear seat was usable. But in this position, the height and angle of the scroll projecting into the front seats might have been uncomfortable on a long trip.

It didn’t seem to us like the Versa was going to work for us. In addition, the cargo cover seemed insubstantial and cheaply attached. Our impression was similar in the rest of the car, sort of lightweight and plastic. Of course, it’s not an expensive car.


A quick shout-out of thanks to these dealerships for humoring us on this expedition:

Other Resources

I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t point out that is a terrific place to do your searching for a car online. Now c’mon guys, implement that “shopper’s helper” page that I sketched out! I need it now!

Now added: Part 2 of our car shopping journey.

Update for the End of February, 2012

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

This is a quick update, (mostly so I don’t get out of the habit of writing updates).

I’ve received files from our performance at the Experimental Sound Studio, and will be posting them to SoundCloud sometime in the next seven days or so. I haven’t really listened to everything yet; it seems like life is just a whirlwind of all kinds of activity. If you haven’t listened to it already, the recording of Autogenous Mining from the Chicago Bass Festival is pretty good! When I post the files from February 3, we’ll be able to compare two performances, each with its own character.

I’ve received responses from a handful of local bassists and will soon be setting up a music reading session–probably right at the end of March. I still have a reasonable backlog of music I acquired at last summer’s ISB Convention which I haven’t heard yet.

Finally, I sent off programs from our January and February performances to the composers who were represented but were not present. I know if I were the composer, I’d be glad to learn something about the life of my music after it leaves my hands.

Update for the first week of 2012

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Things that got done:

  • Got the handout printed
  • Some good slow practicing (half tempo) this week
  • finalized the program order for January 15
  • finalized the program order for February 3
Some that still need to get done:
  • Will we be able to get a photo?
  • write up a description for ESS to send ’round, with bios and such
  • schedule our rehearsals for Autogenous Mining
  • write notes for my introductions to the pieces at First Presbyterian
We had our last rehearsal Monday morning.

Handout created by Anthony Ponchelle

Eighth Blackbird and Music in the Making

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Wow, just attended Eighth Blackbird’s performanceMusic in the Making.” This was a joint effort with the American Composer’s Forum in which a three composers were selected (from an initial respondent group of 504) to write a piece for Eighth Blackbird, then workshop it with them. At tonight’s concert, all three pieces were performed. After that, the group scurried offstage to make a selection, returning about 10 minutes later to announce an additional cash prize and promise of a concert performance to Andy Akiho.

Along the way in tonight’s event, each of the composers spoke some about their work and approach, and a Q&A session with Eighth Blackbird and the composers invited questions from the audience.

It was a really terrific glimpse into the process of creating new music. The composers talked some about the pressure of writing under deadline (it helps–otherwise pieces never get finished), about writing for specific performers (it’s better–you have a stronger sense of what’s possible) and the ensemble talked about the idea of “owning” a performance and of the drama and interest of live performance.

My own review – I very much liked Akiho’s piece, titled thE stReAm of conScious machinEry. In fact I realize now that I’m very much looking forward to hearing it again, since I just realized that some of the structural elements Akiho discussed went right past me during the performance. I am very interested to see if I can hear the erasure of the melody that takes place as the piece progresses.

Kurt Rohde‘s this bag is not a toy: a very short concerto for mixed ensemble without orchestra was my second favorite piece of the evening. He described the ending of the piece (before the performance) as having the quality of the sound you play in your mind after leaving a concert, and I agree that he pulled this off effectively.

I hate to say “least favorite” in describing Eric Lindsay‘s Town’s Gonna Talk because the word least has a connotation that the piece doesn’t deserve. It was a good piece; there’s no question it was written by someone who was a finalist in the competition. Separate from the music, I found Lindsay to be the least appealing of the composers while he was speaking. He had a smugness to his character that I found off-putting. Maybe it has something to do with being in the process of finishing one’s dissertation.

In contrast, Rohde was very entertainingly self-effacing. I thought he really hit on something when he said that being the composer was the most terrifying position to be in. As he put it, there’s nothing he can do once the notes are on the page, and if it doesn’t work everyone will blame him.

For the evening, nods go to Make Music (publishers of Finale) as well, for sponsoring.

Eighth Blackbird was given a champions of new music award by the American Composers Forum, and their picture on a box of Wheaties (courtesy of a General Mills executive who is on the ACF board). Oh, and they’ve also got three Grammy nominations. I should be so lucky to have the Chicago Bass Ensemble in such an admirable position . . . but it’s a great goal to have!

LPO Angry Birds: A Rant

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

News reached me yesterday that the London Philharmonic is releasing or has released an album of themes from video games.

My first reaction (I heard this piece on NPR) was mild shockmusement. To coin a word. Because I’m not really against the idea of “classical” orchestras playing popular music. And the London Philharmonic has a history or tradition of doing commercial work, having recorded a number of soundtracks for movies, backing rock bands and such, so an album of video game music is not so far afield for them.

I’ve also played any number of pops concerts myself, with regional orchestras here in Illinois, including a concert made up entirely of music from the Final Fantasy video game series. And I’m warm to the idea of contemporary music bringing in audiences who wouldn’t otherwise visit the “concert hall.” I remember the standing ovation given to the Final Fantasy composer (who was present in Rosemont, IL that evening) . . . when he arrived to take his seat BEFORE the performance.

But I have to say that hearing the Angry Birds theme being played by a full orchestra . . . well, when I heard some clips online, I just thought “that is really stupid.” Don’t get me wrong. I waste many a pleasurable hour at Angry Birds–I’m trying to get three stars on EVERY level. And the music is catchy and cute (although I stopped listening to the sounds and music on the game months and months ago). It’s even worth a tongue-in-cheek cover But the theme doesn’t scale well to orchestral proportions.

What I’ve heard of it, admittedly precious little, just the first few results you’ll get if you google for it, sounds terrible. The worst of orchestra meets pop music. It’s a tune (not so much a composition) for an oompah band. It doesn’t work for strings.

*sigh* Am I over-reacting?

I came across a quote in an acceptance speech made by David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet. He said this in accepting the Polar prize in September 2011: “…our goals have been simple: find the most wonderful music and play it as well as possible.”

That to me is one of the best ways to sum up what I want to do with the Chicago Bass Ensemble. All due respect to Ari Pulkkinen, but we will not be performing his piece, nor any of the cute, but trivializing pieces that the double bass gets saddled with. I want to perform music that helps people transcend the ordinary in their lives and inspire them. For me, the theme from Angry Birds doesn’t fit that definition.


Jeremy Denk is Brilliant

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I hope that in my life I can have even just half of the experiences he has had musically. His post Love is Complicated does a great job capturing some of the feelings I myself have at post-concert receptions. In particular, read the last paragraph.

Microphone Giveaway

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Not that I want you to enter and reduce my chances at winning, but continues their monthly microphone giveaway with a Shure KSM42 up for grabs this month.