Professor Meyer’s Advice #1

Professor Meyer’s advice to young students, or older ones, you are never too late to learn.  #1

Some time ago I mentioned in a blog the importance of having your bass set up correctly by a good luthier, with a properly rounded fingerboard.  It will cost you, but will give you countless advantages over some of the also rans:- here is a good illustration.

Look up Gounod’s opera “Faust”.  In the “Kermess” scene there are a few bars introduction before the famous waltz.  The only way to even attempt to play this is all in the thumb position, which is easy if you have your bass set up properly.  You put your thumb on the D octave and then sail away merrily all in one position whilst your colleagues are slithering up and down the fingerboard with no hope at all of getting all the notes.

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Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 2:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Professor Robert Meyer’s Guide to Auditions. Some Unusual Difficult Pieces #5

No doubt you have been practicing some of the many difficult bass parts that Prokofieff wrote- his symphonies, Lt Kijé etc, but there are a couple of his ballets that you might not find in an excerpt book which you should look at if you happen to have to audition for a ballet job.

The first I can think of is his ballet “Cinderella”, round about Fig.34. It is one of the main themes; first written in the minor later changing to the major a couple of bars later. Although it l looks quite simple I have known some bassists who have fallen down on it.

The second is his ballet “Le Fils Prodigue” (The Prodigal Son), which I have known to be given at some ballet auditions. Starting at Fig.1 it carries on for 20 bars, then at Fig. 5 there is a very exposed 7 bar soli passage.

Another ballet of his, “Romeo and Juliet” is not too difficult but it’s well worth casting an eye on it beforehand if you know it’s coming up in your repertoire.

Professor Robert Meyer’s Guide to Auditions. Some Unusual Difficult Excerpts. #4

You can find many difficult bass parts in Darius Milhaud’s works, some of which come up occasionally at auditions. He was born in 1892 and died in 1974.  He was a rather whimsical sort of man and devoted much of his life to composing what some might call odd pieces.  He was a member of “Les Six”.  Around the ’70’s he was commissioned to write a piece by one of the leading Universities but when he delivered it they found it to be ridiculously short and wouldn’t accept it.

If you know there is one of his  pieces coming up on the programme it would be as well to take a good look at it, for he wrote some very difficult bass passages.

I have chosen two examples of his writing:  The first is”Le Boeuf sur le toit”  ( The bull on the roof) a humorous ballet for Jean Cocteau which was given in England as the “Nothing- doing bar”.  The second is his Suite Provençale starting at the animé after 20.  It has many accidentals, doesn’t go very high, but it’s one of those little tongue twisters that if you’ve never seen it before can give you a lot of trouble. Put it in your scrap book!

Professor Meyer’s Guide to Auditions. Some Difficult Solos #3

Opera, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges by Ravel

You can always count on Ravel to put a few harmonics in the bass part; one piece I can think of is his “Mother Goose” Suite. At one time there were heated debates over suggested changes to some of the harmonics but now there is a general concensus of opinion that the printed part is correct.

I was fortunate enough to play a concert performance of “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” in the late 1940’s with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Victor de Sabata the brilliant principal conductor and Director of la Scala Milan who had conducted the first performance. He got a wonderful performance and at rehearsal even corrected the pronunciation of a French choir that was brought over specially.
There is a big bass solo consisting of all harmonics combined with two flutes that starts near the beginning of the opera at Fig. 1 which goes on for 21 bars or so. It is very exposed. There are other difficult bits around Fig. 95 Adagio and 96. Victor Watson played the solo bass part which he found very difficult both technically and rhythmically.
Some years later I played the solo part. I got through it O.K. but I was glad when it was over!

Professor Meyer’s Guide to Auditions. Some Difficult Solos #2

Theme and variations for Orchestra by Schönberg, Variation IV.  Tempo di Valse  Beginning Bar108

After a few bars there is a bracket. and from hereon there is a solo part for two basses in octaves.  The first bass part employs bass, treble and tenor clefs and is very transparent with lots of accidentals.

If you can obtain a part it’s well worth putting in your scrap book, and if you don’t have a scrap book it’s time you started one!

Published in: on June 8, 2008 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Professor Meyer’s Guide to Auditions. Unusual Difficult Solos

Josef Holbrooke, born in England in 1878 was a prolific composer.  He was fond of  Edgar Allan Poe’s writings and one of his pieces “The Raven” contains a lengthy solo for the double bass.  The bass comes in, dead cold, and the solo goes on and on and on.  It is slow, marked Largo molto sostenuto and then has an Agitato section which leads in to an Allegro Sostenuto.

Technically it is not very difficult, but it needs to be played in a very prima donna fashion, maybe taking a little license in parts of it.

Holbrooke’s music isn’t performed very much nowadays, but if ever it comes up on one of your programmes be prepared!

Published in: on June 8, 2008 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Professor Meyer’s Guide to Double Bass Auditions. Unusual Difficult Solos.

Further to my other articles on auditions I thought I would mention some unusual pieces that I have been asked to play at auditions during the course of my career.

The English composer Sir Granville Bantock’s compositions are not played very much nowadays.  He was a prolific composer, having written operas, ballets, choral works, orchestral works, chamber music, music for harp, cello, violin and viola and many songs.

He lived from 1868 until 1946 and was Principal of the Birmingham and Midland Institute School of Music where I first studied the double bass with Arthur Cockerill, the principal bass of the City of Birmingham Orchestra as it was then known, and the BBC Midland Orchestra.

His pieces were often performed by the BBC orchestras.  Sir Adrian Boult was a champion of his compositions.

You can always count on a little bit of solo bass in his works.  There is his Comedy Overture  “The Pierrot of the Minute” which contains a difficult, exposed solo that I was once asked to play at a BBC audition.  Another one to look out for is his Tone Poem #3, “Fifine at the Fair”.

If you care to spend time browsing through his works you will find many other bass solos.

There are many  books of extracts of  difficult bits for the bass but in future I shall try to give some relatively unknown ones which to the best of my knowledge aren’t in any collections.

Professor Meyer’s Advice to Aspiring Young Bassists: Finding an Instrument

I possessed some fine basses. There was a  Gaspar de Lorenzini and another old Italian bass, both made in the mid Seventeen Hundreds, then a Betts, English early Eighteen hundreds, a Vuillaume School 5-stringer and a solo bass made for me by Ernest Lant, an English maker.

There came a time when I thought I had been there, done it, played all the solos and, tragically,  my wife fell ill, so I decided to sell the lot, and I never had any qualms in doing so.

However, when I was living in my retirement dream home I had several offers of concerts etc. and my wife being recovered urged me to start playing again.  I borrowed a bass for a while but I soon decided that I wanted a bass of my own and I started to look around.  I soon realized that I had practically given them away compared to today’s prices and I searched high and low but no luck.  It was my son who eventually gave me a lead to a string shop that sold basses and after looking at two dreadful highly priced basses the salesman eventually brought out a new bass saying “Probably this won’t be up to the standard you want”, but I played on it and both my son and I were surprised with the sound.

The fingerboard needed to be more rounded and also the strings put closer together.  Setting up a bass properly is most essential as it can vastly improve your technique.  For a good luthier to shoot the fingerboard and change the nut and the bridge may be expensive but in the long run it is well worth it.

Then there are strings.  Those that come with the bass aren’t necessarily the best, and it can be expensive to experiment , but there again it is well worth it in the long run.

The beauty of owning a new bass is that they are not prone to cracking open in cold or dry weather- I found it to be a headache on tour with my old Italian basses particularly in the Northern parts of Canada.

A couple of years ago I visited Markneukirchen in Eastern Germany.  Meinel had gone out of business but there was an excellent bass maker named Alfred Meyer (no relation) whose workshop I visited and I played on a selection of fine basses.  In those days the Euro was not too high against the dollar and you could buy a fine instrument at a very reasonable price, but now with the high Euro they are no longer a bargain, and of course you have to pay the cost of shipping.

Bulgaria and Roumania turn out some good basses.  The very cheap ones are awful, but if you give a bit extra you can buy a good instrument, I have tried some and was pleasantly surprised, but bear in mind, with basses as in anything else you get what you pay for.

With the rise of the Euro, America and Canada now look good areas to search for a bass, and unlike buying an instrument abroad you may be allowed to take it home for a day or two to try it out.

Professor Meyer’s advice to those about to take up the double bass #4

Several years have elapsed during which time you have been studying and practicing assiduously, and one day your teacher tells that you are now ready for an audition.  Are you really?  Maybe you have a fine technique but have you spent much time learning the orchestral repertoire?  You can buy many books of orchestral excerpts and you should work your way right through them particularly Richard Strauss, Wagner , Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms etc. Also it is a good thing to have a scrap book to jot down any difficult passages you come across, because you will certainly be given some sight reading.

Perhaps one day you will notice an ad for a bass player in a magazine or hear it by word of mouth.  If you decide to try for it arrive early so that you can have a warm up. Enter the room with a confident, pleasant air, try to be clear and articulate in answering any questions

At some auditions you may feel that they are trying to intimidate you, but as a rule most people are pleasant and understanding.

Sometimes there are so many applicants, all of a high standard, that I wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad idea to choose them as some people choose  horses in a race, by sticking a pin randomly in the list.

Whatever you do, don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get the job, don’t forget that it has been good experience and you may be luckier next time. But, keep trying and if you really have worked hard, and also have the talent then eventually you will succeed.  Good luck!

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Professor Meyer’s advice to those about to take up the double bass: Choosing a Teacher #3

Many factors will influence your decision in finding a teacher.  If you are flush with money, then you might consider enrolling at a famous university or Conservatory anywhere in the world.  Of course, you will have to go through a competitive entrance exam and only a fraction of applicants will be chosen.  If money is a big factor, and you haven’t the necessary qualifications to enter a university or conservatory then your only route is to obtain private tuition.   If you are living in a large city probably you will have a choice of teachers.  If he or she is a principal of a big orchestra, that is a big plus, but I do urge you to go to a concert to see them in action and whether you like their style of playing.  Believe me, style is a big thing, a good style of playing increases your earning power.

If there is a youth orchestra in your neighbourhood join it.  They usually have professional coaches who give invaluable advice, and you will also get to know some of the orchestral repertoire.   There are  good amateur societies in most big cities.where you can gain experience.

If you are diligent with your studies and practice hard this probably will be noted by your teacher and you may be offered the odd date or two.

But how do you keep the wolf from the door when you are studying?  I know of some students who obtained either a plumber’s ticket or an electrical ticket, becoming members of the new artisan aristocracy and being able to pick and choose from any free lance dates that came their way, and of course, there are the usual “Joe” jobs out there.

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 9:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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