We had a reading session Tuesday night — an opportunity to play through some of the music I’ve collected and get a sense of how it sounds and where it might be useful. Joining us for this session was Jarrett Bastow.
So first, the reading session. Josh Harrison, Hans Peterman, Jarrett Bastow and I got together Tuesday evening. For reasons of little interest to anyone but myself, my preparation for this session was lacking. It’s nice to get music out to people a little bit in advance, so we aren’t truly sight-reading, but that didn’t happen this time. As a result, well, I’ll be honest, much of the evening didn’t sound very good.
And I’ll emphasize sound very good, because I mean no slight to the players involved. It’s just that sight-reading in a group reinforces everyone’s little intonation or rhythm problems: if I can’t quite tune that shift properly, then you can’t rely on my pitch after the shift to tune your note and so perhaps you either hurry past it or figure that you’ve gotten ahead–because boy, does that sound odd–and maybe you slow up to try and figure it out. But you play strongly, because that is one of the best ways to overcome that creeping lack of confidence. But add to that the fact that we were in a very, very resonant room. The sound we were making was just not conducive to brilliant sight-reading: very boomy and muddled.
So, my impressions of the pieces I’m going to list are indeed colored by all of that. Composers and arrangers who stumble across these notes, take heart. I’ll give your pieces another chance in the future! I publish these notes 1) for my own benefit in keeping track and 2) in the interest of hearing other people’s comments or experiences.
- Diego Ortiz Madrigal, Cancíon e Recercada, transcribed for Double Bass Quartet by Klaus Stoll. Music from the sixteenth century requires a fair amount of study and familiarity before you can really make it ring out beautifully. We’ve worked on pieces like this before, and it’s not until you’ve played it through several times that you start to understand where the music lies. No exception for these pieces. The lack of tempo indications–since they would not have been given in the original–combined with a lack of research on my part gave us an opportunity to experiment a bit, and yes, these will sound better at a brighter tempo than the lugubrious pace we set. We noted a missed accidental in the third bar of Bass III – that should almost certainly be an f-sharp.
- J. S. Bach Contrapunctus No. 1 from “The Art Of the Fugue” transcribed and arranged by Joel Di Bartolo. The fact that this is a fugue highlighted the sound problems described above: we couldn’t make it clear to each other where the fugue subject was. In performance that would be a fatal flaw; in sight-reading, it’s sad-and-promise-to-do-better-next-time. As with some other Di Bartolo transcriptions, it seems like this one is set too low in the bass register, introducing the low interval limits problems that your arranging textbook warned you against. Possibly the arranger was thinking of basses in solo tuning, and that would help. Here too, a brighter tempo helped out when we read through a second time.
- For some time I’ve been wanting to have a go at Ron Wasserman’s Pieces for Basses for Five Double Basses. With four players present, we decided to tackle the fourth movement (written for four players) and the third movement (for three players). The writing in the suite is fairly virtuosic: a half-written/half-improvised solo in the high voice in the fourth movement, and solos for both voices 1 and 2 in the third movement. The impression I have is that this will be a good piece to work on and to present to audiences: a more modern flavor, challenging and interesting. The difficulty I have always had when considering this piece is the instrumentation. Each of the five pieces in the suite calls for a different number of players. I always wonder…what should I do with the other players while they wait, what will the audience think. It’s a very minor quibble, though.
- Classical/Romantic Collection for Double Bass Quartet arranged and edited by Carolyn White. Five selections, some sight-readable, some not (at least not by us last Tuesday). I’ll admit to a little struggle with such short arrangements of such popular pieces; they do little more than flash a grin into the ear’s mind “oh, look basses can play that.” While clearly offering opportunity for improving technical skills, as performance pieces, I’m saving them for encores. Boy I hope we get to play some encores!
- Finally, we summoned up our courage and our sense of “oh, what the heck” to attempt a sight-reading of Frank Proto’s 1964 Quartet for Basses. Like the Gunther Schuller quartet, this is a serious work, a true addition to the canon of music for the double bass. As a sight-reading, we of course slaughtered it, but all of us who were present agreed that it will be an interesting and rewarding challenge to work on it. But it’s not sight-reading material, not by a long shot.
All in all, it was a fun evening, if not a huge musical success. One of the reasons I hold these sessions is to meet players who I don’t know, and at this one I had the pleasure of meeting Jarrett Bastow. Unfortunately for me, Jarrett has recently become the King of Bass Freelancers South of the Mason-Dixon Line, and as a result will probably not be making an appearance with the Chicago Bass Ensemble any time soon.
In the last month or so, Jarrett has been named principal bass of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, third chair in the Tulsa Symphony and section bass in the Fort Smith Symphony. And he’s gotten himself on the sub lists for the Amarillo symphony, Topeka symphony, Wichita symphony, Enid symphony, Arkansas Philharmonic, signature symphony, and Shreveport symphony. (If I’m scoring correctly, that’ll be Texas, Kansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, don’t-know-where, and Louisiana.) I was very happy to see that Jarrett owns a recent-model-year VW Golf. He’ll be putting some miles on, for sure. Good luck Jarrett – don’t be a stranger!
When I lived in California, the freelancers who drove from orchestra to orchestra saw all the same faces at each rehearsal, no matter which symphony ‘name’ was on the program, and called themselves the Driving for Dollars orchestra (after a long-ago afternoon movie gimmick on KTVU called “Dialing for Dollars” where the host would randomly call people out of the phone book and if they were watching the movie, they would win a small cash prize–the small cash prize was a parallel to a freelancer’s net paycheck as well).