Posts Tagged ‘rehearsal’

Rehearsing for a Premiere

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

This is just a super-quick reflection on what it’s like to rehearse a brand-new piece.

(I’m referring to our upcoming premiere of Igor Iachimciuc‘s Rural Sketches for Marimba and Six Double Basses.)

It’s challenging. For over a week, I’ve been fretting about my part, and about the piece in general. Is it too hard? Do we have enough rehearsal time? Will the players I’m working with be up to it, and will they take it seriously? Did I make a huge mistake in commissioning a new work by a composer I don’t know well?

I won’t say I’ve been losing sleep over it, because I haven’t, but it’s been a source of worry for me. I want the performance to go well. I want Matt Coley to be pleased he chose to collaborate with me/us. I want people who attend the performance to be impressed by the idea of six bass players as an ensemble (I’m not imagining that this performance will be an springboard to the big time, but it is likely to be the best-attended performance we have given).

All that worry!

And then in rehearsal, I’m with my colleagues, and we’re kidding around, and commiserating about how hard this bit is or what did the composer think he was doing when he wrote that, and we’re playing the piece, and getting through some spots and falling over on others, and finding the moments we love to play, and I’m having a good time because I’m really in that moment and I stop worrying and just get it done.

It is now the next morning. I still feel pretty good. If I can just get enough practice time, and everyone else does too, this will go okay. I’m still worried, but less so. And I think that’s just about right.

Old Friends

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

On Sunday, John, Anton, Hans and I began rehearsals for our performance on October 13.

When I get a new performance opportunity, my gut instinct is to find a whole new program – music we’ve not performed before. I don’t know exactly where this impulse comes from. Perhaps it’s from my earliest training, in elementary and high school, where the three or four times per year concerts were always done with new repertoire.

Of course, that made complete sense in context. Our dedicated audience consisted primarily if not exclusively of our parents. And the ostensible reason for the music program in the first place would have been to expose us to different composers, styles, et cetera.

But does that approach make sense in the context of an ensemble like this one? Unlike in school, we don’t (yet) have a dedicated/exclusive audience. Each new series that books us brings in their own audience, and we bring along what audience we can (are you on our mailing list?). This means that, probably, the majority of the audience at any one concert has not heard us or our music before.

And so, relieved of the burden of complete originality, I have set a program for October 13 that is 80% the same as our performance on March 10. This means that these pieces, rather than being oh-my-god-what-is-happening-here exercises in learning notes, are old friends to us.

Playing through the list (see the post promoting October 13 performance), I enjoyed the feeling of recognizing what I was doing, of hearing the harmonies clearly, instead of the muddled-up confusion that often accompanies our first readings of things.

Yes, I do feel a twinge of guilt at this. There’s still something in me that wants to demonstrate my readiness for a challenge, the challenge of mastering something new. And it is also the case that when Michael Hovnanian left the group, he expressed frustration at always working on the same material. (And no offense to Michael, we were a bit stuck in a rut at that point. It’s one of the reasons I invested a good chunk of cash in repertoire the following year.)

But there exists also the fact that “mastery” is not necessarily achieved at a first performance. Assuaging my guilty feelings, I set a new challenge, that we will play these old friends better than before.

I would love to hear from those of you who perform regularly in your own groups: what’s your philosophy for adding or changing repertoire? How important, how often, HOW? Please leave a comment!

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: .

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.


Weekly Recap–30 October

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Let’s have a look at what came off the to-do list from last week.

  • I’ve now got a set of rehearsals scheduled. Not enough rehearsals, of course, since it’s really hard to coordinate the schedules of four freelance musicians. But something to start from.
  • Um, okay, well that’s it for major accomplishments. But it’s a big and important one!
For the coming week:
  • Get at least a rough set list in place for both January 15 and February 5 performances.
  • Work on scheduling another performance sometime between January 31 and February 7 — Mike Wittgraf will be in town, and it would be fulfilling to play his piece, “Autogeneous Mining,” a second time while he’s here.
  • Get out an announcement to the mailing list, to build enthusiasm. This has to happen!!

I’ve been reading a book called “Uncertainty – Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance” by Jonathan Fields. There are a couple of points that have stuck with me so far.

One way to mitigate the stress of taking on projects with uncertain outcomes is to have regular, stabilizing routines. These routines help to calm the mind and maintain order of some sort when the things around you seem highly disordered. I expect that most musicians will recognize their practice routine as something which brings order to their days. I know that I feel better when I have had regular time to practice. Fields calls these “uncertainty anchors.”

In addition to having mentors, whose role is probably pretty well-known to musicians and businesspeople alike, Fields asks you to find heroes and champions as well. Where a mentor is someone who is available to you to provide guidance, advice and encouragement on a personal level, a hero is someone who has all the successes and qualities that you would pick in a mentor, but who is not available to you personally. In spite of not being able to engage directly and immediately with your hero, you can draw a lot of strength and wisdom from observing and following them and their path.

A champion is someone who believes in you and is there to help you, even provide for you, no matter what happens. Fields cites his own wife as his champion (and himself as hers, neatly reciprocal). He describes his own decision to leave a job that he disliked in order to follow a career that called to him, even in the days immediately following the September 11 World Trade Center bombings, which threw so much into chaos and uncertainty. His wife championed his cause, offering him unconditional support, because she believed in what he was doing. Such is the power of a champion.

There are hints of some other important support structures for uncertain ventures. I won’t summarize them right now, because they’re not yet firmly in my head, and I’m not going to just re-key them here. I’ll write about them next week, perhaps. I will say that among them is something like tribal leadership, a subject of some interest to me. What better form of leadership for an entity like a chamber music group? Related: for those in the area, check out Si Alhir’s seminar on Agility and Tribal Leadership this week. Having worked closely with Si during his engagement at, I believe this will be a valuable seminar.

Perhaps in future posts on this blog, I will be able to tell you something about the mentors, heroes and champions I choose to follow.

Rehearsal Wrap-Up

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Just got done rehearsing for two hours with Anton and Julian, literally.

Really, it was more of a reading session, since I hadn’t distributed parts beforehand. And I wanted to get a rough idea of whether some pieces would work or not for the performances in January and February. Here’s what we went through:

  • Why? by Teppo Hauta-aho. This piece is dark and distraught. It will be good to work on it.
  •  The Secret of Tao – written for us back in 2007 and premiered at MusiCircus. Thinking about reviving this rather demanding and quite contemporary piece. Written by Ilya Levinson.
  • Three Spanish Motets by Tomas Luis de Victoria, arranged by Michael Cameron. Very pleasant texture and sonority, these great motets–including O magnum mysterium–could be a very nice contrast to some of the more rough and tumble stuff. Is it some sort of musical blasphemy to describe masterworks of the renaissance era “pleasant?”
  • A Night in Compostela by Simón García – a nice piece, this will be a real crowd-pleaser. Maybe even best as an encore. However, I also think there might be a mystic element to bring out once we’re more familiar with it. This is only the first time I’ve played through it, after four-tracking just a few sections on my own.
  • Ultra-Rondo by Armand Russell – Honestly I bought this piece on the strength of my enjoyment of Russell’s Chaconne for double bass and piano. I’m not disappointed; however, this piece has more dark and challenging stuff than I expected. That’s a good thing.
  • Jan Alm‘s Kvartett för 4 kontrabasar – I love this quartet, it’s light and fun. I think it will be well-enjoyed.
I like to think that I have some interesting ideas to design the flow of a concert. I’ll continue to write about them, because I really want to be invited to speak at the cusp conference “The Design of Everything,” although I’m far from the most qualified person to speak on this subject 🙂