This page is a repository of stories, articles, and “best of” blog posts from 2005-present. This information is organized by author.
Stories, articles, and other long-form posts from Jason are subcategorized into various topics below:
Road Warrior Without an Expense Account – This series chronicles my experiences as a freelance musician and offers thoughts and observations on the classical music orchestral business in general. Although focused on classical musicians and freelance musicians in general, much of the discussion has relevance to musicians from all disciplines. Part of this series was featured in Adjunct Advocate magazine:
This Crazy Business – My multi-part series on the music business discusses various peculiarities associated with the profession of music performance and attempts to offer an explanation as to why musician subject themselves to these conditions.
Basses, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – This is a series about the trials and tribulations of hauling an awkward and delicate piece of carpentry around the world. We bass players often have to get creative when transporting ourselves to gigs and locales, and this series documents experiences on all sorts of forms transportation.
A Week in the Life – You’ve just gotta love this profession. No matter how many roadblocks get tossed in their path, musicians always seem to find a way around them, taking things in stride and laughing about it later with each other over either coffee or beer (depending on the hour!). Whether it’s butchering the Messiah by whacking the transposition button on the organ, dropping bows and breaking into hysterics mid-concert, or finding oneself face-to-face with a leering colleague just as they are about to play a big solo, musicians are often only a hair’s breadth away from making fools of themselves in very public settings.
Success in the Private Lesson Studio – This multi-part series details my thoughts, perspectives, and observations on what makes a good private lesson experience and how to best use this interaction as a springboard for future career success.
Articles About Double Bass
Master Class Summaries
2009 International Society of Bassists Convention Summary – This post is a breakdown of what I checked out at the 2009 ISB Convention at Penn State. It may give you an idea of what there is to see during a week of ISB conventioneering if you haven’t had the experience yet. I actually spent a substantial amount of time simply gabbing in the halls with people, and I could have easily packed in twice the number of events had I been really focused.
Tackling the ‘Amati’ – I had the opportunity in 2006 to perform a recital on Gary Karr’s former double bass, previously owned my Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor and bass virtuoso Serge Koussevitzky and attributed to the Amati brothers (although this origin is unlikely). This article relates my experiences playing this instrument and the difficulties and challenges that I discovered while playing his unusual bass.
Buying a Bass – This series covers several important considerations that double bass students should keep in mind when shopping around for an instrument. Where to look and what to look for are covered, as are some common pitfalls often encountered during the process.
Reaching the Low Notes – Bass players have to consider many options when deciding how to extend their range down below the E string. Fingered extension, machine extension, five-string bass….which one should a player choose? This article offers some illumination and advice on this topic.
Sorting Out Double Bass Gig Bags – Ever wonder what kind of soft case to buy for your instrument? This article covers some of the benefits and drawbacks of various popular models of double bass gig bags.
Rabbath versus Simandl – This article take a look at two of the most popular double bass methods available and compares the positives and negatives of both approaches. It also documents my initial hostility and eventual embracing of the perspectives of Rabbath (also a Contrabass Conversations guest).
Thoughts on Double Bass Strings – Ever wonder what string works best for certain styles of music and certain types of basses? This article delves into the differences in string companies and brands.
How Solo Part Assignments Change Your Playing – As a performer of an instrument traditionally used in multi-member orchestral sections, much of my energy and focus in rehearsals and performances is spent achieving unanimity of blend, pitch, timing, and tone with my double bass colleagues. My goal is to first amalgamate with my section mates, then to weave this cohesive sonic product with the rest of the ensemble.
On Bass Endpins – Finding an endpin height that works for you can be quite a challenge. Many factors come into play when experimenting with endpin heights, including whether the player stands or sits, the shape of the bass, how sloped the shoulders are, player height, whether the player uses a French or German bow, the length of their arms, curviture of the bridge, and how straight they keep their bow arm.
Crazy Gig Stories
My Car Caught Fire and Exploded! – In what may quite possibly be the worst gig story ever, I attempt to recall a very surreal night several years ago in words and hand-drawn pictures. Sometimes you drive home from a gig listening to the radio and smiling. Sometimes your car starts on fire and exploded on the south side of Chicago as you run screaming down the Interstate. This story is about the latter.
The Babbling Conductor – I’m skating on thin ice with this post! The classical music world is surprisingly small, after all, and anydisparaging talk about conductors, even in the most anonymous terms, is likely to trickle back to the source.
Ripping Off Your Teachers – When I was getting started as a freelance musician at the tail end of my masters degree, I was quaking in my boots about my future prospects. After all, I was regularly buying CDs at Borders and Barnes and Noble from former Northwestern doctoral music students. If the best they could do was retail bookstore work after getting a doctoral degree, what were my prospects going to look like?
Bye Bye Basses – Hydraulic stages are both a blessing and a curse! I’ve played on them in a variety of venues, and while they’re usually a blessing for stage and pit logistics in multi-use halls, they can yield some amusing (and potentially disastrous) unintended results.
They’re throwing knives at us in the pit! – No matter how you cut it, pit musicians are an easy target for falling debris (whether confetti, props from the stage, or even singers sometimes!). After all, we are crammed shoulder to shoulder in a small dark space, with a stage full of (gasp!) singers emoting onstage without necessarily watching out for that pit.
I Have No Pants – Sending a bass section into a hysterical fit of the giggles during a performance is not exactly the hardest thing to do, but I remember a moment a few years ago that will definitely stay with me for years to come.
Falling Off The Stage – The orchestra was silent, everyone looking in surprise and horror at what had just happened. The conductor had, mid-sentence, fallen clear off the stage!
Panic on the Podium – When you think about it, isn’t it amazing that a group of musicians can ever play together in a symphonic setting? Honestly, having all those different instruments, from tuba to tympani, with all those methods of sound production, from blowing to plucking, situated across either a vast resonant expanse of stage or a subterranean pit does not exactly make for a cohesive product out of the gate. Couple this disparity in instrument size, style, and location with having to watch a guy on a box with a little white stick, and it’s a wonder that we ever play one thing together. (read more)
Grant Park Symphony Audition Story – I heard this great audition story a few years ago firsthand from the people who were involved. This was one of the rare times where I actually knew both the committee members and the audition candidate in this story.
Messing with the Trumpets is Fun – I was thinking recently about a funny and masterful prank pulled by the principal bass of a very high-quality orchestra while performing Mahler’s First Symphony several years ago….(more)
They Locked Me Inside and Made Me Conduct Violas! – You never know what’s going to happen to you when you go into a school setting. Be prepared for anything, and realize that students can be like sharks circling in the water when put in a room with a substitute teacher.
Auditioning is a Rotten Pastime – This is a story about my experience auditioning for the San Jose Symphony. This audition was a total disaster in every respect, and it is a great example of just how badly this process can be run. This story was featured in the Winter 2007 edition of Double Bassist magazine.
Massive Musical Disaster in the Nutcracker Pit – Musical performances are always at risk of having a train wreck–that’s part of the excitement of live performance. But rarely do performances derail this badly, and in as humorous a way as what is recollected in this story. Have you ever heard an audience of 1500 laugh at a musician’s mistake? We had this happen in the Nutcracker Pit for the Milwaukee Ballet.
My Big Stupid Mouth – I rarely speak up or complain on gigs. This story is about a time when I decided to speak up, gripe, and complain, and the awkward situation that resulted. The moral? Never speak up until you get home from the gig–you never know if you may be complaining to the wrong person!
Flowers for Linda Eder – My focus shattered, I looked up from my music and all around me. Where was that yelling coming from? We were just starting the second half of an orchestral pops concert in a vast arena-like theater out by the airport in metro Chicago, playing to a near-capacity crowd of fans.
You’ll Never Play in This Orchestra Again! – A colleague of mine passed along this entertaining (and true!) tale from a concert in a local per-service gig orchestra. I know a lot of musicians who perform in this orchestra (which I’ll refrain from naming here), which makes it even funnier to me.
Losing my Anonymity – I think that down deep I always knew that telling ‘tales out of school’ like I do each week on the blog would eventually come back to bite me where the sun don’t shine. Like the code of silence found among musicians (at least until the Penn & Teller era!), most musicians realize that they shouldn’t tell every salacious detail about what happens behind the scenes of a performance, and eventually the karmic balance would come back to haunt me. An unspoken covenant therefore exists among ensemble members about not revealing too much about how things actually went.
Symphony on the Swamp – Some places just aren’t built for classical music concerts. This story is about a curious tradition of the Spoleto USA Festival–an evening concert on the edge of a massive swamp. Darkness…bright lights…giant swamp…read the story to find out what kind of a horror show these factors produce when combined.
They All Started Laughing at Me – Be careful what kind of trivial activities you put on your resume. These innocuous details can come back and bite you when you least expect it. This story is about an incident that caused the entire arts and communication faculty to laugh at me when I was hired for my first university job. And no, they weren’t laughing WITH me…they were laughing AT me!
Bugs Bunny is My Mortal Enemy – Knocked down, dragged out, sick as a dog–this was me the day of a Looney Tunes pops concert. Hear about the agony and misery of food poisoning and Warner Brothers cartoons in this painful tale of life as a gigging musician.
Angering Conductors 101 – Louisville Orchestra Story – One of my second-hand stories (but from a credible source). This documents a very funny series of events surrounding a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Louisville Orchestra. Contains some…ahem…adult humor.
Look Out! Here Come the Violas… – Anyone who’s spent some time in Chicago on a Wednesday morning knows that this is when the city tests its emergency alert system. These loud sirens can be heard all over downtown Chicago for a few minutes each week, letting folks know that the city is ready for emergency situations.
All Night Drives – Kind of precursor to Road Warrior Without an Expense Account; this story documents some of the complete insanity that I went through as a freelance musician.
My Big Moment – Getting your moment in the spotlight is a rare thing for a bass player. It doesn’t take much to screw it up….
Careful What You Bring Into an Audition – Some devices are better left outside the audition room. This poor bassist learned this lesson the hard way.
I Fly Plane! – Sometimes Russian musicians take over commercial airliners and fly them. I’m not kidding.
Jacketgate – Another second-hand story. This tells a strange and somewhat sad tale about a violist, a bad saxophonist, and a coat with a special insignia, plus all of the mess that ensued due to these events.
Mr. Lame – Some people give comments without pulling any punches. This story is about just such a guy.
You Play Solo…I Dance! – This story documents one of the more bizarre experiences that I have had on a gig. Ever have your stand partner stand up and dance spontaneously in the middle of an orchestra concert? I have.
Georg Solti and the Kitchen – Solti sure had a way with words…
Funky Formalwear – Most guys I know have formal wear that resembles a petri dish. I don’t know if women’s formal wear gets this nasty (something tells me it doesn’t). Men seem to be able to tolerate a high degree of funkitude before deciding to finally take their formal clothes into the cleaners.
Concert Programming, Idiot-Style – The problem with putting together recitals is that they take work, and while organizing this kind of event may not be a big deal for someone who teaches full-time, those of us who balance 10,000 disparate part-time jobs and tenuous faculty affiliations at various music centers, high schools, colleges and universities often have a tough time sitting down and figuring out where, when, and how to put on such an event.
The Babbling Conductor – I’m skating on thin ice with this post! The classical music world is surprisingly small, after all, and anydisparaging talk about conductors, even in the most anonymous terms, is likely to trickle back to the source.
Articles About Education
How Long Should a Private Lesson Last? – I’ve always been fascinated by the wide variance in lesson durations among various teachers. Many of my piano teacher colleagues hold lessons for preschoolers that last only 15 minutes, while some legendary pedagogues teach lessons that last six, seven, or even eight hours. I’ve even met some teachers who teach a student until the late hours, then give them a place to sleep, feed them breakfast, and resume the lesson for another multi-hour stretch!
Top Ten Ways That College Debt Screws Up Your Life – After spending $200,000 (or $300,000, or more!) on that undergraduate education, you may very well find yourself in the orchestral trenches battling for that job with a meager $20,000 to $30,000 salary, spending another $1000-2000 a pop on dozens of auditions (several of my older colleagues have taken 80, 90, or even 100 auditions before landing a position, and some still never landed a job).
Top 7 Considerations for Music School Applicants – Applying to music school? Think about the following points during the application process–they’re in order of most important to least important (in my opinion, at least).
Advice for Aspiring Music Performance Majors – Musicians are often lured into university performance programs without a full understanding of what their odds of success are in the music business or what kind of a track record the institution they are investigating has. This article serves as a reality check for prospective music performance students and offer statistical evidence on what schools actually place classical music performers in full-time jobs.
Influx in Music School Funding – A recent article in the Chicago Tribune (Sunday, April 20, 2008 by Howard Reich) on the dramatic increase in music school funding caught my eye over the weekend. Several prominent music schools have new facilities either recently completed or in the planning stages, and the figures are pretty significant.
Reflections on Teaching Double Bass – Though I taught sporadically throughout college, it wasn’t until I had completed my masters degree that I began teaching in earnest. During my last few months of school, I remember meeting with one of the music education professors at Northwestern University. I was sweating bullets thinking about my impending graduation… (read more)
Disturbing Trends in Adjunct-Faculty Employment – The class glances uneasily at the clock as it slowly ticks… Suddenly, the professor bursts in, shirt rumpled and tie caught within the jumbled stack of file folders, books, and binders he clasps in his arms…
Tainting the Academic Waters with Pay-Per-Student Teaching – The overabundance of adjunct teachers in our university ranks is detrimental to higher education as a whole. This article discusses how adjunct faculty members are routinely marginalized my administrators, and how the compensation scheme used by most universities forces adjunct faculty members to make questionable ethical choices in their teaching standards.
Why Teach Music? – Why, indeed? Answering this seemingly innocuous three-word question is an ongoing process constantly revisited by music educators throughout their careers, the answer constantly shifting and evolving as teachers gain new insight and experience….(read more)
Why I Teach – As my career has progressed, I have done progressively more teaching and less playing. This has been by choice for me, as opportunities to perform with major ensembles (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony) continue to be offered to me on a regular basis. This article chronicles my experiences as a teacher, from initial trepidation to deep satisfaction.
You Can’t Teach Professionally and Perform Professionally – Misperceptions on Both Sides of the Divide – Encouraging undergraduates to develop their instrumental craft to the highest degree possible is a value not shared by all educators. This article discusses common attitudes found among music educators and music performers and dissects problems resulting from these contrary viewpoints.
Nine Dynamite Practice Room Accessories – When it’s time to hit the woodshed and do some serious practicing, there are a handful of no-brainer items that everyone needs–instrument, music, and music stand. Adding a few extra tools into the mix can make for much more productive and enjoyable practice sessions, however.
Fifteen Practicing Mistakes that Students Make – These are a handful of common pitfalls that I have seen my students make over the years, and getting going with my bass studio has turned my focus to the practice room and how students can achieve the best results as efficietly as possible and with the least amount of frustration possible.
Take A Friend to Orchestra – Drew McManus asked me to contribute a post in 2007 for his annual Take A Friend to Orchestra initiative on his orchestra management blog Adaptistration. This is a reprint of my contribution, and it covers long-winded conductors, innovative ways to engage audiences, and the excellent trio Time for Three.
Articles About Technology, Blogging, and Podcasting
Everybody Mocks My Windows Computer! – As a blogger, podcaster, and all-around new media guy, I have found that most people assume that I am on a Mac. I frequently have people ask me if I’ve installed Leopard yet, how to perform a specific task in iMovie, or tips on assembling podcasts in GarageBand. This is a pretty reasonable assumption–a majority of mew media types seem to be on a Mac these days, and for good reason! Integrating audio, video, pictures, and blogging into one’s workflow is just…well, easier on a Mac.
A Quick Introduction to Blogging Basics – My sites get a lot of traffic from folks who don’t spend every waking moment of their life perusing the Internet, and every once in a wile I like to do a little summary of how this blog works and some similarities and differences between it and a newspaper, magazine, radio show, or any other form of media with which you might be more familiar.
Dynamic Growth Possibilities of Blogging, Podcasting, Social Media, and User Generated Content – There is a whole new world opening up to musicians as technological tools become easier to use and more readily available. The breakneck speed of technological innovation is a real contrast to the glacial pace of classical music and educational innovation, but by harnessing tools such as blogs, podcasts, and other social media devices, musicians can find new ways to communicate, promote their art, and create new avenues of employment. Some of my thoughts on podcasting and social media were featured in the Spring 2007 edition of Double Bassist magazine in an article titled ‘Poducation’.
I’m Losing My Blogging Edge… – …in the morning, at least! I spent all of 2007 waking up between four and five a.m., putting the coffee on the stove, cracking my knuckles, and churning out 3-5 blog posts per day. This schedule, quite frankly, was necessitated by both all of my other activities that year (this was the only free time I had during the day), and Blogger’s kludgey publishing interface.
Is Blogging Easier Than Podcasting? – I’m sure that many don’t feel this way, but for me, everything associated with the podcast takes literally 10 times longer to accomplish than for the blog. Blogging for me is fun, fast, and….easy, I suppose. Writing is quite enjoyable for me, and I just sit down and bang away at my keyboard for a few hours and *POOF* a whole new set of blog posts is wrapped up and ready to go.
Top 7 Ways that Blogs are Different from Regular Websites – This post highlights the differences between a traditional website and a blog in plan English, providing the non-techie an understanding about why blogs are so useful and how more and more sites are moving to this kind of content management system.
Freelancing + Snow = Pain – Freelancing is hard enough by itself, but add snow and long commutes and you’re headed for a real disaster. This story is about an extremely nasty and miserable winter in 2000.
The Power of del.icio.us – The social bookmarking service del.icio.us has some real power under the hood. This article describe how to get the most out of your bookmarks, both for your own personal use and for educational settings.
FriendFeed and How I Peruse the Internet – I’m definitely addicted to Twitter (you can find me at twitter.com/jasonheath). I use it all the time and have been doing so daily for the past year. There’s something about the simplicity of it (140 characters, that’s all you get) that appeals to me, forcing be to be pithy and focused, which is a good thing for me!
Trembling in the Shadow of Audio Greatness – I’m an indie content producer all the way. Though I do this stuff every day (and have been doing so for years), I have no formal training in writing, audio engineering, web design, or network technology. I’m a dude with a couple of music degrees, extra time on my hands after quitting a bunch of long-haul commitments, and the desire to make a contribution that doesn’t involve me taking endless and fruitless auditions into my thirties and forties.
The Benefits of Keeping Your Independent Voice – I’ve been blogging for several years now, and doing this kind of writing on a daily basis (there are over 2100 posts on doublebassblog.org right now….and counting!) has naturally made me take some time to think about the benefits and drawbacks of independent publishing.
Blogging for the Long Haul – While blogging is a fun and satisfying activity for me, and creating something that is widely read by an international audience has been a welcome surprise, it is also a massive time sink that can easily take 40 or 50 hours a week.
Auditioning at 54 – Learn about what it is like to audition for a position in an orchestra after having been a member of that ensemble for over 20 years. Benjy offers a great perspective on the audition experience in France and his own preparation for this experience.
How to Polish Ebony Fingerboards – Benjy describes a method for correctly polishing ebony fingerboards. This important part of instrument maintenance is often overlooked.
Remembering Jean Cros – Benjy offers a retrospective of Jean Cros, who recently passed away at the age of 104. Jean was Edouard Nanny’s oldest living student and was an active bassist in France for most of the 20th century.
Strollin’ Down the River – A lighthearted story and great Photoshop job by Benjy.
How Posture Affects Sound – Of the four previously mentioned issues, I believe that posture has the most effect on sound. The taller that we make ourselves, the bigger our sound can become. In one of my posts on sounds, I talked about creating a bigger lever with our bodies by drawing our sound from the floor. Opening up our abdominals adds at least 3 inches to our sitting height and those three inches can have an enormous impact on our sound. The taller we sit (or stand) the bigger, bassier, and more vibrant our sound can be…. (read more)
The Funk – The “funk” is something that all music students and, I assume, professional musicians deal with on a regularly recurring basis. For these past four months or so I suffered the “funk.” Anyone who plays music for a living experiences this and to me the “funk” deals with not being motivated and questioning my career choices. For me, it started when I was stressed out and overworked…. (read more)The Psychology of Being Musical – Being in college when you are under 18 definitely has its disadvantages. For example, the University of Cincinnati is a very research oriented school and most classes have the students participate in mandatory research studies. However, students under age 18 are not legally allowed to participate and instead write a research paper. Normally I would complain about this…. (read more)
Getting Out of the Practice Room – I have talked in previous posts about the importance of getting out of your practice room, and going to concerts or doing some unrelated activities. So I thought I would write about what I do away from my practice room. First, take some classes that don’t pertain to music. If you go to school at a university you will more than likely have to take one academic class a year, but I highly recommend taking two. By doing this you get to meet non-musicians and become a well rounded person. Most music students are turned off to academics from high school because… (read more)
Mental Aspects of Double Bass Playing – For me, the most difficult part of playing the bass has always been the mental part of it. Studying to be a musician is working on achieving perfection. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely to play perfectly, and if we do it is very unlikely to replicate it. So when I’m playing I always beat myself up about mistakes and this leads to more and more mistakes. The key to playing the best we can play, is taking a deep breath, going into our own world, and saying to ourselves, I am going to play the best that I can play. That is…. (read more)
Sound and Motion in Double Bass Playing – Sound is such an important aspect to us playing. We can have the great vibrato or intonation, but nobody will ever hear it if our bow is producing a good sound. Another important aspect on sound is realizing that the way the instrument sounds under your ear is nothing like the way it sounds 25 feet away. This is very important when taking auditions. The committee is usually sitting far off in the auditorium and they want to hear a sound that can rumble the walls but also that can be so quiet that…. (read more)
Academic Loads – Balancing Solid Musicianship and Solid Bass Playing – I’ve realized after this quarter that taking all these classes leaves open a bunch of possibilities for grad school. I can go and get a master’s degree in an academic field, I can get my masters in Music History or Theory (which you can do after any BM), but it opens up more possibilities like becoming a teacher. Being required to take conducting is great because if I don’t end up playing professionally but instead become a teacher, it is a skill that has to be mastered and that I need to be comfortable with. I enjoyed conducting probably more than any other class this quarter and…. (read more)
Mock Auditions – This past week was our first mock audition this year at CCM. I decided to not play but instead sit on the panel and listen. It was very informative to be on the panel, and it was really enlightening about the audition process. It was behind a screen, but it was filmed to watch it in our lessons and it took place in one of the practice halls. We have these great rooms at CCM that are very large, that we use for rehearsals, and we have the privilege of using them for our studio class and rep class, and it really makes a difference. A big part of playing is realizing that… (read more)
Contemporary Conservatory Life – There are many questions that went through my head before deciding to attend a conservatory this year, far too many at that. Am I good enough? What do I do if I don’t get into my first choice school? How do I pay for these schools? Am I talented enough? These are probably some of the toughest questions you’ll ever have to answer at this point in your life if you’re trying to become a professional bassist. These are questions that I am still thinking of and will hopefully be answered as I mature throughout my college years, and will try to answer here… (read more)
Performance Anxiety – Causes and Solutions – Performance anxiety is something that everybody sometime will experience. It is not a question of how it will happen but when, and knowing how to deal with it. Performance anxiety can occur at different times for many people. Some performers only get nervous after performances, some during, and some before. Some even get nervous the next day. To start, there are three types of performance anxiety… (read more)
This New Bass (A Painful Journey) – I began my bass search the summer of 2004 which took me to shops in New York, Boston, Cincinnati, Iowa City, Grand Rapids, the ISB convention in Kalamazoo, and locally in the Chicago area. I played countless instruments priced into the $25,000 range. Although I hoped to keep the budget somewhat lower than that, I wanted to get a feel for the market and what to expect up to that level, at least from the professional shops. I had been making frequent stops at one of the string shops in Chicago…. (read more)