Wednesday, November 11, 2009

braching out a bit

Just a couple days ago I received a call from someone who is involved in music in Trinidad and Tobago. I had gotten a call from the University of Trinidad and Tobago. They wanted a double bass player to play at a function at the National Academy for Performing Arts. I was truly honoured that I would have been the first person that would have come to mind to be a part of this auspicious occassion. The building for the performing arts centre was recently opened and attempts to rival many great opera halls. With this in mind, it is easy to understand why such an occasion would be so overwhelming for me. I am to be one of the first people in the country to play at the newest facility. Stay tuned for the pics.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I was on youtube the other day doing some research for a piece that I am practicing now. I came across a video where Gary Karr was being interviewed by Barry Lieberman I believe. Having played bass for as long as I have it would be unheard of to not take in some of the work by one of if not, the greatest bassist of the 20th century. They were listening to some old recording done by Karr during his younger years. The first piece I heard them play was the Eccles sonata in G minor. It was one of the most pure sounds I have ever heard from any instrument that ever played this piece. From the moment you heard the first note from othat first movement I felt as if I was being transported to another place. The intensity and purity of the intonation was definitely one of a kind. The tempo of first movement is generally slow but on hearing that recording one couldn't help but be in a meditative mood, as the piece encouraged you to take in each note and each beat bit by bit. Ever since then I have been really taken in by that piece. Thank goodness the Royal Schools of Music have it on their syllabus for Grade 8 (at least the 2nd and 3rd movements) but I intend on learning the entire sonata. Maybe even perform it next year in Queen's Hall, who knows?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

pieces in my head (part 2)

   During the month of August 2009, the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Philharmonic conducted its annual workshop. It was the fourth of its kind and, as with previous workshops, concluded with a performance of various orchestral pieces to be performed at the Queen's Hall in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. It is usually 3 weeks of intense training and hard work with tutors from Venezuela, who are also part of the el sistema programme in their own country. Even though I have gotten a bit older and more mature, working with these tutors always seems to reaffirms my respect for the drive and passion that these musicians have for their vocation. Their determination for perfection can become a bit intimidating and keeps reminding me of when I first joined the orchestra when it was just the strings playing alone.
   Such determination and commitment was again revealed when we had the task of performing the New World Symphony  by Antonin Dvorak. An exceedingly difficult piece to coordinate, this piece required much time, energy, patience and discpline. While orchestral music usually is not that difficult for bass players, I think it was safe to say that all bass players, as well as the orchestra in general, had our work cut out for us but we were all up to the challenge.
   After having received the music, I started to contemplate the significance of the title of this piece. I was not a history expert but I knew that the New World referred to the Americas (a la Christopher Columbus). However, I was never cognizant of why this symphony was given this title. I soon came to discover that this symphony was written by Dvorak in 1893 during his visit to the United States. His inspiration came from the Native-American music and African American spirituals. By creating this symphony, Dvorak attempted to represent the style and rhythm of the people of this "new" region. Dvorak even stated that "Negro melodies" ought to be considered as the foundation upon which American composers ought to be built, as they possess unique and varied themes.
                Considering how music has evolved and how things have occurred, one may say that Dvorak might have been clairvoyant. The emergence of jazz and its performers (such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington etc.) as well as the later rise of the hip hop as dominant forces in popular culture at varying points in time serve to illustrate Dvorak's statement to be quite accurate. Popular music has undeniably been influenced significantly by the building blocks created by much of the "Negro melodies". Use of syncopation, which is common in jazz, appears to be present in the symphony, thus reaffirming Dvorak's apparent commitment to presenting the New World based on what he considers "Negro melodies".
         However, while Dvorak attempts to represent the New World through his perspective, one cannot help but consider the extent he is truly able to represent the spirit of New World in its entirety. Granted that his influence is based primarily in the United States, there is still seems to be an element of  outsider that attempts to define space that is not his. Being part of the late romantic era, Dvorak was one of the many composers who composed pieces that were intentionally nationalistic and reflected the folk culture of their respective countries. In composing "New World Symphony", Dvorak seems to be attempting to evoke the mood of indigenous persons in the United States as well as African immigrants. However, there is a fusion of these elements as well as a bit of a biased personal perspective, which seems to also be a reiteration of his own culture and nationality. This is in no way an attempt to discredit Dvorak's genius and complex orchestration of symphony of music. It is more an attempt to reconcile my own state as being part of this New World with the creation of a symphony that is written in the spirit of the New World while only presenting a very limited part of it. Caribbean people listening to this piece would not be able to connect with it for a multitude of reasons. Granted classical/baroque/romantic music would never gain the type of popularity in this region as would our own indigineous forms of music (calypso, reggae, ska, etc.), for the very least a bit of a connection would be able to better justify the representation of people of this hemisphere. We have learned a piece that is quite complex and intricate and also poses a challenge of  some sort to almost every section of the orchestra. However, its substance appears not to be as complex, only showing a few aspects of an entire section of the world.
          In spite of this lack of connection, I must say that it is still an amazing piece to be a part of. It is one of the few orchestral pieces I have seen that attempts to challenge the skill of the bass player from a technical perspective. It is a challenge that I embraced very willingly and one that I have overcome with great proficiency. One tutor stated that its one of, if not the most difficult piece to coordinate and conduct. Considering our performance at the end of the 3 week workshop, I must say that we have very well succeeded in doing what may have been considered improbable. I anxiously await the next symphony piece that we have to play.
   This is just my perspective on pieces that I have interacted with. Others are welcome to give constructive feedback.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

pieces in my head (part 1)

Being one of the few classically trained bassists in Trinidad, it is difficult to find a common grond with people who are of my standard on the instrument. Very few people have been able to maintain a conversation about actually playing the instrument at a high level and the challenges that they face as such. As a result of this, there are not many people who could share the appreciation for some of the music that have been transcribed for bass. One such piece that I have been unable to get out of my head is "Apres un reve" by Gabriel Faure. This piece has the potential to sound quite passionate once intonation and technique are looked at with great detail. Being one of his famous "chansons", I have realised that it is very important to ensure that one plays this piece with the type of expression that would have been common for people who would have come out of the romantic aesthetic. Romantic music has tended to move towards the more expressive side and this piece should be dealt with as such. The background from which the song is written serves to illustrate this great deal of emotion that the composer appears to be feeling at that particular point in time and as such, is desirous of the listener to understand and interpret the song accordingly. Initially set for voice and piano accompaniment, the lyrics of this piece set a tone of yearning for times past when true love was present in the persona's immediate time. Natural imagery is used to convey a sense of beauty that is so near to perfection that it can only be compared to nature that has been created by some sort of divine imagination. Such beauty and love entrances the persona to such a large degree that he yearns to be one with his one true love even after the dream is over. His dreams are inspired by real life interactions with his muse and his dreams also serve to fuel his love by reminding him about the pure nature of his love's beauty. Returning to his slumber would aid in ensuring that the persona's understanding of his love remains as pure as he believes it to be.
  The double bass would be the perfect instrument to convey this sense of yearning and desire that is characteristic of this piece. The depth and low pitch of this instrument allows for greater range and greater opportunity to really aid in delivering the entire sense of wanting, isolation and desire. Having started to learn to play this piece on bass, I could really gain some true insight into how Faure may have been feeling at the time in which he would have written this piece. The first section of the piece sets a sombre mood which is heighted by its faint cresendos, decresendos and slow pace. The remainder of this piece would be played in a higher pitch. However, it seems to create a bit more complexity of feeling while at the same time maintaining the overall sense of isolation and despair. The dynamics of the piece, along with the low pitch of the bass, together contribute to ensuring that the general mood and possible initial intention of the composer is maintained, thus showing that this piece (in my humblest opinion) is probably best performed on bass.

This is simply my own opinion of a piece that I believe is so beautiful and refreshing. Others may have their own interpretation which they are free to express. However, Im sure other bass players exposed to this piece would have to agree or add to what was mentioned earlier

Sunday, October 11, 2009

career paths

Music was never a first option as a career path for me. It was more of a past time really. However, as time has progressed and I have gotten more older and a bit wiser (Im onlny 26) I consider it to be more of an option for myself. I majored in Literatures in English with communication studies and linguistics. I teach these things full time at high school and I am quite good at it and I do enjoy it. However, I am thinking about qualifying myself in music so that I could use that as another bit of qualifications under my belt. I really do not want to go through the stress of doing another first degree. In Trinidad it's not uncommon to do the graded exams with the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). I am considering after I do grade 8 next year to take some time and do a dipABRSM. I am just wondering if there is a possibility to go from dipABRSM to a masters somehow. I would really prefer to do that because I think that having established a foundation via studying by myself, I would be able to make a fair enough transition to graduate work. I anticipate that it would be alot of work but I would not mind it since my interest in studying bass as well as musicology has grown exponentially. Hopefully I could get some answers with respect to doing a masters in bass. I think my abilities could be harnessed and fully grown. If I could get some sort of info that would be great. Anyone out there willing to lend a hand?

getting my own bass

If you think getting the equipment for the bass is tough you could imagine how much stress getting the actual bass could be. People tend to say that the laminated basses are the cheapest and based on my research it is actually true. They could range from $1000-1500 U.S. Although they are the cheapest they are still quite pricey. Then you have the hybrid ones and then the fully carved ones. Not really looking to get anything but a laminate for now. It serves the purpose of what I want to do now. Later on when I get hired for gigs all over the world then I will consider getting the more expensive options (hint I managed to order one from a website for about $850. Sounds reasonable in the world of bass sales. However, shipping them via fedex from their headquarters to another place in the U.S set me back about $325 U.S. (N.B. I live in trinidad in the caribbean). So I now have to put aside some more money to get it from my extended family to my home in the caribbean. Not that I am complaining. I just think that I have to find ways to make things easier for us overseas persons. (There is a website I came across that ships all kinds of items to all parts of the world regardless of the website you order from but I opted to use the route of relatives abroad).I guess once you are in the arts you have to make a bit more sacrifices than many others and you have to put up with a bit more setbacks than others. However, I believe that it is all be worth it, as I intend on putting my best foot forward to becoming the best that I could be. Medocrity is not an option. The days of the struggling artist will be no more.

ordering stuff for bass

It's hard to get stuff for bass. Music stores in Trinidad don't sell classical or jazz bass books or equipment. Imagine every time I pop a string I have to order it online. And let's not talk about those shipping charges!!! Guess as I am among the few bassists in the country there would not be a large market for it. I have had to be really careful to ensure that I don't pop any strings when tuning or anything like that. However, it would eventually wear down. Pops rosin also has to be ordered. I only use Pops. Does the job well.
Some of the better online music stores I have come across are and They do provide better service. The books are shipped via fedex or dhl. Like I said the shipping charges make things a bit more expensive but I think it's worth it. I think I want to try to be a music book distributor for people in my position because it's really not fair to be denied the joy of the bass, especially as the books are essential in contributing to having this joy.