I inhabit a somewhat weird space in the double bass world. Starting this blog many years ago has now made me an “expert” of sorts, though in reality I probably don’t know much more about strings, bass repertoire, audition tips, or playing techniques than the next guy (well, maybe a little more after all these years, but still…).
Its always a hoot for me to show colleagues the sort of email I get on a daily basis. I mean, we’re talking specific stuff here, from my thoughts on the reaction of Carlsson bass rosin on black hair in an arid climate in combination with Bel Canto strings, and how that might differ from Pop’s rosin and Helicore strings in 50% humidity, only this time with salt and pepper hair and a German bow…
I kid you not–this is no exaggeration.
And I don’t mind at all. In fact, it’s kind of fun to have become the “Ann Landers” of all things bass. Not that I ever in million years planned on this as a role for me!
Every year, as May approaches and final dates for deciding on colleges loom near, I get emails from bassists (often dozens of emails) asking my advice on which school they should pick. It never seems like there’s a clear best choice in these emails (which is probably why they’re sending them!), so I find myself pondering which is a better choice: a large university with good academics and decent music that gave a small scholarship, a top conservatory that gave no scholarship, or the small liberal arts college that gave a big scholarship but is relatively unknown as a music school.
These are tough decisions, and though I realize that I am but one of many people offering advice to these students, I try to be very reasoned, serious, and practical about offering such advice.
I remember when one of my first high school students asked me, during a lessons, what the best schools are for bass. I causally rattled off eight or nine schools to him. He then proceeded to apply to these exact schools! I don’t know if I was expecting anything different, really, but it made me quite aware of the power and responsibility inherent in dispensing such advice.
So, every March and April I find myself looking at these lists of schools and scholarship awards, trying to figure out the best option without really knowing the individuals sending me these lists. I’m sure that my advice would change if I met them, heard them play, and knew how they operated and what sort of teachings styles and environments would best fit their personalities and musical temperaments.
The biggest question always seems to be well-regarded program that is really expensive versus a cheaper but less well-regarded (or less well-known, at least) program. If only there were an easy answer! I look at the options, sometimes knowing the programs well and sometimes not at all, doing a bit of light Google research to learn more about the programs with which I’m less familiar, and then just going with my gut. Sometimes I recommend the expensive but famous program. Sometimes I tell them to go for the cheaper option. I’m sure that my advice would change if I met them, so I always try to make it clear that my advice is really generic and should be only one factor (and a small one, please!) in their decision. With my own students, I take a much more active role in the decision-making process (though the decision is, of course, always theirs to make), but I try simply offer what I can to these students that I do not personally know and hope that it helps to inform them a little better about the pluses and minuses of their potential schools.
Though I’ve written on a ton of bass topics, I always encourage people to explore as many options as possible and not take anything I say or write as unshakable truth. After all, what makes me an expert? I have experience (so do a lot of other people) and I have a rather interesting and unique perspective as a result of being in contact with SOS many bassists as a result of this blog, but ultimately I’m just some guy drinking a cup of coffee in Chicago and pounding on a laptop (or an iPad!). Just because I say something or write something does not make it so!
It has never been my intent to dishearten with my writings on the subject of music school and music performance as a profession–only to promote awareness of the realities of this business. Though I’ve written many articles on the dangers of pursuing this profession (heck, I even wrote a book about the topic a few years ago!), I spend a substantial portion of my time guiding young people toward this very career in my teaching. I resolve this seemingly contradictory stance in the following way (in my mind, at least–perhaps I’m just deluding myself):
If you accept that the odds are what they are and you’re not fooling yourself into thinking that this path will be easy, and if you accept that opportunities may come sporadically and in fits and starts, and if you really understand the sacrifices that frequently go hand-in-hand with a career in music performance, then I will do my utmost to help you get from where you are to where you’re going. I just want to make you aware, not to discourage.