Don’t be a Domino King/Queen Part 2

Professor Robert Meyer’s Advice to Young Bassists, Don’t be a Domino King/Queen Part 2

I have found that this advice is very helpful to beginning students whether they aim to become professionals, talented amateurs or members of a youth orchestra.  I have also found that their overall playing ability is improved too.

First, arrive at the venue in good time, set up your bass and quietly tune. If you have borrowed the music don’t forget to bring it.   When the rehearsal begins, say, with a chord, have your bow ready to attack the string as the conductor gives the downbeat.  No ragged entries!

Second, be sure you bring a pencil, eraser, paper clips and a piece of manuscript paper. Erase all your marks in hired parts before they are returned to lender. This saves your hard-up organization a lot of money.

Don’t be afraid to mark the parts!

In the opera and the ballet sometimes big cuts are made. In a very large cut you can either slip a large paper clip or use some tape over the pages to keep them together so you can make an easy turn. At the end of the cut, mark “HERE” with a large arrow above it at the place where you have to enter. You can’t search for it at the performance and marking it can avoid you much embarrassment.
The sudden stop, or cesura.  (Verdi’s parts are full of them)  Mark it like this::-  //
A  rallentando, or a slowing down   Mark with a wavy line over the bar (s)  like this  ~~~~~~~~~ or an arrow pointing to the left
Speeding up; an arrow pointing to the right.

A section in the music where you have to watch the conductor very carefully, mark with a pair of spectacles       O-O— over the top

Draw an arrow pointing downward over the top of a note that either leads or has to be particularly emphasized.

Turning the page quickly.  Mark V.S. (volte subito) at the bottom of the page, or just before, as necessary.
Sometimes there is a difficult turn.  This is where your m.s. paper comes in handy.  So that you don’t lose continuity write the section of music down and use one of the paper clips or some tape to fasten it in place. On a particularly difficult turn sometimes the players turn alternately.

Change of key, modulation. It always helps for example when a key changes from two sharps to five sharps, to draw a circle around the new key signature and pencil in a sharp on the first few notes that now have sharps, as a reminder.

In a difficult rhythm it is a good idea to put a mark over each beat, which helps you play a syncopated rhythm, also when there is a 5/8 or 7/8 bar often the accents are in different parts of the bar.  You can find examples for instance in Stravinsky’s “Rite” and also his “Soldiers Tale”:

In passages such as those in the beginning of the” Rite”, where all the strings are playing in unison and the accents occur on different parts of each bar it is not a bad idea to emphasize the printed accents by going over them with a pencil to make them stand out.

Sometimes there are pieces with many bars rest such as the Wagner operas (don’t I know!)  It certainly isn’t amateurish to put in cues.  Perhaps there is a very long rest.  If an oboe solo commences at bar 20, pencil in 20 and write “oboe’ above it. Continue to write in other cues, but above all COUNT!

I don’t apologize for all the preceding hints, ridiculously simple though some of them may be.   I never expect a student to have any pre-supposed knowledge, and, as I wrote at the beginning this is really intended for absolute beginners. It might have helped Fred too!   See my previous blog.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 9:53 am  Comments (1)  
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Don’t be Another Domino King! Part One

Professor Robert Meyer’s Advice to Young Bassists: Don’t be Another Domino King! Part One.

A Domino King, in British slang is someone who persists in making false entries; this blog is an attempt to help all tyro bassists and maybe others to avoid coming in at the wrong place.

Maybe, after annoying your wife, family, girl/boy friend and your neighbours by your constant practicing you have landed, after audition, a place in a great orchestra. Now that you can play all the Bottesini pieces in fingered octaves you may think that you have at last arrived. Not so. You have your first foot on the ladder but you now have to learn the craft of playing in an orchestra.

I got my first job over sixty tears ago in the London Philharmonic Orchestra after giving an audition. Sir Thomas Beecham was the conductor at that time. Even though the audition was successful I still had to play next to Victor Watson, the principal bass at a rehearsal, to see what I was like in the orchestra. That was not all, I was hired on probation for three months and only after that was I given a contract.

I don’t know what the hiring procedures are for the entire world’s orchestras but most are stringent, therefore I thought I would write an article giving you tips you can follow in order that you not be dubbed a “Domino Queen/King” and thereby lose the job you have worked so hard to get.

Social mores may have changed since those days but human nature hasn’t, so believe me, as the new kid on the block you will be under silent scrutiny in your every move, and things have a habit of going back.

I had the misfortune of having to sit next to an old timer, Fred, who surely didn’t like the idea of “all these young chaps coming into the orchestra. Where was their experience?” He would never mark the part and castigated me if I did, looking down his nose and saying “After all my years in the business I don’t need to mark the parts, neither do you. You can only learn by experience”.

Fred was hoisted by his own petard when, in rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathètique” Symphony, last movement, where there is a loud chord preceded by a strong upbeat he came in too soon. Even Koussevitsky who was conducting roared with laughter.

In the next installment of this blog I’ll give you a few tips so you can avoid being like Fred.

Getting Around with a Double bass #1

As I mentioned in my book, “The Bottom Line”, when you take up the bass, that’s what you have to do, literally, take it up..

When I was the tender age of 16 I hadn’t a car, so I had to hump it on my back and carry it everywhere.  As Eugene Cruft once said, playing the bass is good for the cardiovascular system, but, believe me, it can become very  tiring so that when one arrives at a concert or rehearsal one is too tired to give of one’s best.

Without a car in those days people were simpatico towards you.  You could take a bass on the Underground in London for free, or on a train (steam in those days) or in some cities in Northern England such as Manchester they would allow you to put your bass next to the tram (street car) driver for the cost of a penny!  Occasionally, if there was room in a long distance bus, providing you gave the driver a little consideration, you would be allowed to travel on it with bass.

To avoid too much carting around,  most of the main railway stations had a left luggage room where you could pay to deposit the bass overnight, but also had to be sure to cross the attendants’ palm with silver so that it was safe.

Taxis welcomed bass players, because they were always sure of receiving a good tip, but they were expensive and so if you only received a minimum fee and no porterage the date became almost not worth playing.

Nowadays I would hate to take a bass on the London Underground, and it is made more expensive by the car entry charges to Central London.  Another saw-off of your fee.

In the dirty Thirties there were no full time orchestras, except for the BBC, who had their own porters, but there were private entrepreneurs in London who saw a niche for themselves and would pick up your bass and take it to your destination by horse and cart.  The charges were cheap and the orchestras or bands paid you porterage, although some were not  willing to do so.

Published in: on September 29, 2008 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Unusual Concert Venues 2

I prefer playing in a concert hall to a church, where it is usually difficult to place the orchestra properly.  There are more accidents happening to basses when playing away from a concert hall, I know, I’ve seen them happen.  I made it a policy to always look around for a safe place to put the bass when I wasn’t actually playing it.  Leaving it on the platform is not safe.  The altar, lectern and choir stalls are often in the way so so if it is an important concert the organizers may want to spend  money on platforms etc.  Of course this may be expensive, and if the church is a small one it will almost surely put the concert  finances in the red.  A large cathedral is best suited for a temporary stage to be built because there is space for a big audience to justify costs.

Outdoor concerts, for me,were a bane. I remember on Hampstead Heath in London there was a permanent stage with an overhead canopy situated in front of  a lake. It was OK as regards adequate seating for the orchestra but the mosquitoes were terrible.  One had to take an ample supply of bug screen, but somehow or other one of the little pests would always bite.  Then there was the wind.  I always took some clothes pins along so the music would not disappear in  a sudden gust. You had to be careful of the bass as condensation appeared on it by the end of the concert, so I always gave my bass a good rub down and put it back in its case as soon as possible.

Just before the concert, the impresario would always say to us “Don’t hope for rain boys, it never rains for me”. He had been putting on these concerts for years and Fate was kind to him, it never did rain.

When I was playing with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra there were always concerts given on the top of Grouse Mountain which were well attended, but the orchestra still had to cope with bugs and gusts of wind. Too, there was the cold to consider and I always put my bass in its case as soon as possible even in the interval because it may be expensive if some repair patches become unglued and you have to take your bass in for repair, possibly having to have the belly removed.
Faced with costs like these it may be better for you to turn the date down and only accept dates in regular concert halls or own a second, cheap instrument and use that.

Published in: on May 15, 2008 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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