Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Reading Session 2016-01-15

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

It was a cold night, but we had a rewarding reading session on Friday, January 15.

People:

  • Marc Temkin
  • Bjorn Villesvik
  • Phillip Serna
  • Jacque Harper

This was great for me. Phillip and I have crossed paths a number of times over the years. At separate times, we were both students of Stephen Tramontozzi at the San Francisco Conservatory. But to my recollection, we had not played together. So it was good to do that. Marc is someone I met briefly many years ago at one of our early performances, but hadn’t seen since. He encouraged Bjorn to join us, and I’m glad he did. I’m always happy to expand my circle of colleagues.

Repertoire

  • Tomas Luis de Victoria, arr. Cameron – Three Spanish Motets
  • Tony Osborne – Sonnet for a Summer’s Day
  • Ernst Mahle – Quartet
  • Marc Temkin – work in progress
  • Serge Prokofiev, arr Serna – March from The Love of Three Oranges
  • Joseph Lauber – Quartet
  • Hindemith, arr Harper – Six Chansons
  • Wasserman – Pieces for Basses

The ensemble has read or performed all of these–except for Marc’s sketch, Tony Osborne’s ‘sonnet’ and the Wasserman piece–in the past, so I don’t have a lot of new comments on them. As always, it was energizing to be able to make music together.

I look forward to the opportunity to perform Sonnet for a Summer’s Day, in the hopes that I can encourage my wife to sing the soprano part. Rob Wasserman’s piece I’ve attempted to get through several times, but it seems to require more preparation than a pick-up reading session. I’m also not fond of the gimmick of the first movement being for a solo player, the second a duet, the third a trio etc. If I’ve gone to the trouble of finding five players, I want to make use of them. Marc’s work, completely and somewhat abashedly incomplete, shows promise. Always happy to read through something to give a composer a chance to hear ideas.

My only regret for the evening was that I failed to print out the parts for David Heyes’ work The Last Poppy. I really meant to. My apologies, David! Next time for sure.

Reading Session Wrap Up and The Amazing Mr. Bastow

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

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).

 

Struggling Artist or Rock Star: Why Only Two Choices?

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

A recent article about Cat Power has fueled my thinking about the pigeonholing of artists — both by themselves and others.

I often find I’ve put myself in the trap of thinking that there only two choices: “I’m a starving artist” or “I’m a Rock Star”? That somehow I have to either scrimp and pinch and struggle, or have wild, incredible fame and fortune, and that there’s no in-between. That’s pretty much what the author of the Atlantic Wire article about Cat Power has decided.

But these statements by David Wagner are clearly oversimplifications:

  • “It’s no shock to learn that musicians lead financially precarious lives”
  • “Everyone knows that artists go out on a financial limb by committing to creativity as a career.”

These two statements are FALSE. I know plenty of musicians who make their living playing or teaching music, and live in houses and have mortgages and cars and kids in school. That is, they lead fairly plain, solid “middle-class” lives. No drama. But that’s not an exciting or interesting story, so who’s going to write about it?

Cat Power’s story, essentially about a person making a living but encountering health problems for which they can’t find or possibly afford care, would not be the subject of a news article or even an opinion piece if she were simply a sales clerk at a convenience store, or a bank teller. Imagine the tweet “MAY HAVE TO MISS WORK THIS WEEK ON ACCOUNT OF MIGRAINES AND ASTHMA.” Inspiration for a magazine cover? I don’t think so.

Sidebar: Steve Lawson has also written a brief post in response to the David Wagner article: http://www.stevelawson.net/2012/10/indie-or-not-who-gets-the-money/ .

My perception is we’re in a culture that idolizes extremes and isn’t interested in middles. But let’s not digress to politics.

Back to the personal intent I had in writing this post. And that is to briefly explore my attitude towards the work of creating and leading this chamber music group, the Chicago Bass Ensemble. I think I’ve found myself ensnared by the myth that a struggling artist is a great artist. And as a result, I put roadblocks in my own way, so it will look to me like I am struggling and therefore deserve to be great. Examples:

  • Music reading sessions like the one I led last month. Yes, musician’s schedules don’t always line up easily. But tools like Doodle, Google Calendar and PHPList e-mail make it actually pretty simple to find a date. And speaking personally, even finding a space isn’t a HUGE deal. So why do I let months and months go by without setting up reading sessions? So I can have something to complain about! Look, ma! I’m struggling!
  • Finding new music. I agonize about finding music to play (Ma! This such a struggle!). But my friend Dave pointed out to me the other day that I should be able to find and listen to pieces via YouTube. Of course! Duh! Or as Lou Mallozzi at Experimental Sound Studio sometimes encourages me to do, sponsor a call for compositions. It’s just not that hard.
  • Practice. Here’s the deal here: I do NOT currently make a comfortable cozy living as a musician. I work a day job. And I have a family. So, yes, finding time for extended and detailed work in the practice room can be a scheduling problem. But I can, and do, fit in 10 or 15 minutes almost every day (and thanks to Lift, I track it–and my flossing–so I know that in the last 7 weeks, I’ve checked in on “Practice Musical Instrument” 39 times). No struggle, just do it!
  • Getting, and publicizing, performances. Well, I haven’t found the silver bullet on this one yet. I haven’t put in the work to get well-known to presenters and organizations. And I haven’t gone whole-hog on the self-presenting thing yet. Probably the struggle here is just to decide on a course of action: self-promote, or pursue presenters, or just record, or …? Not having a clear direction in mind makes it very hard to take action! So, I’m deluding myself if I say getting gigs is a struggle. Committing to a course of action is what’s needed.

So I started this post off talking about a misdirected view that we have of artists: that they either struggle or live in mansions. I don’t think that is true. I think there are artists who are able to create their art and enjoy their lives, neither crushed under the heel of callous misfortune nor cavorting with the lotus-eaters. Personally, I have fallen into the trap of equating struggle with artistic success. And I am writing this post to force myself, publicly, in front of both of you who read and comment on this blog, to admit that my life just isn’t that hard and I can be successful, even if it doesn’t require struggle to achieve my goals.

 

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!

UPDATED

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!