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CBC 215: Robin Kesselman on audition strategies, injury recovery, and bow arm practicing

Houston Symphony principal bassist Robin Kesselman

Houston Symphony principal bassist Robin Kesselman

Today’s episode features Houston Symphony principal bassist Robin Kesselman.  Robin studied with David Allen Moore and Paul Ellison at the Coburn School of Music and the University of Southern California, and with Hal Robinson and Edgar Meyer at the Curtis Institute of Music.  He has also performed as Guest Principal Bass with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, travelled internationally with both the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and performed with the National, Atlanta, and Baltimore Symphonies.

During his time at USC, Robin sustained a playing injury that took him out of commission for a prolonged period.  We dig into how Robin ultimately recovered from this and how it changed his approach to practicing and performing on the bass, and how he practiced while he was out of commission.  This was a left arm injury, and Robin continued to practice open string and harmonics with the bow, going into his lessons and working on the Bottesini Concerto on open strings.  We also discuss how Robin approaches the audition process: his preparation strategies, his musical goals for an audition, and using visualization techniques.

We also feature excerpts from Krzysztof Penderecki’s Duo Concertante with Eunice Kim on violin.  Enjoy, and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get these episodes downloaded automatically to your mobile device!

Interview Highlights

Discoveries During Playing Injury:

  • sitting in practice room – “this hurts, but it also still sounds bad” – the mistake of pushing through pain
  • this time spent not using his left hand ultimately took his bow game to a new level – he spent large amounts of time just practicing with the right hand – playing solos and excerpts on open strings / harmonics in lessons!
  • “the building blocks with which I was making my shapes were not completely honest” – referring to the bow arm
  • mental practice / visualization – he got into this during this time period
  • learning the difference between an ache and something more serious

Thoughts on Auditioning:

  • there’s nothing that isn’t practicable
  • timing and pulse
  • mathematical pulse/note division vs. feeling right
  • the fallacy of perfect audition rounds
  • similarities between prepping for an audition and a recital
  • auditions have to be an artistic endeavor and about musical expression
  • if you walk out and your whole goal is to play notes that are even and in tune, the second that one note isn’t exactly the same as another note you officially have nothing left to offer, because your single goal has crumbled
  • if your goal is to make lines and to make shapes and be expressive, it’s ok if one note is a little shorter than the others
  • philosophy from David: as soon as you come in and things are in tune and in time, you are officially at zero

The Audition Process in Detail:

  • record constantly during this whole process -throughout the whole day
  • first 50% of the interval
    • really hibernate and work things super slow – considerably under 50% tempo
    • move something up 40 clicks over a period of weeks
    • A and B lists that kind of parallel each other (one Mozart Symphony on one and one on the other, for example)
    • doesn’t play for anyone during this time – nothing’s put together – it’s all really cut up at this point
  • next 25%
    • buff out the edges, smooth out the music, give it a shine
    • playing with recordings, getting the flow right
  • last 25%
    • take the show on the road, play for anybody and everybody, start setting up mock auditions and lessons with other (non-bass) instrumentalists
  • the last week
    • go back to “hibernating”
    • stop playing for people – running rounds – 4-5 excerpts in a row
  • hours wise it’s similar through he whole process, but the hours are being used differently
  • all the way until audition time, there was never a day/time when he could not continue to make things better
  • have a specific game plan for those 20 minutes of warm-up once you arrive at the hall
  • bass players don’t hire bassists – committees of other instrumentalists do

Jane Little dies after 71 years of Atlanta Symphony membership

Jane Little bass

Photo by Dustin Chambers

This story has been reported widely already, but 87-year-old Atlanta Symphony bassist Jane Little passed away this month after performing with the Atlanta Symphony for more than 71 years.  She collapsed during the encore of a concert.

The 4’ 11” bassist was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records earlier this year as longest serving member of an orchestra.  Jane joined the Atlanta Symphony in 1945 when she was just sixteen.

As soon as I heard about Jane’s Guinness record, I put Jane on my “to interview,” but sadly I never got a chance to chat with her for the podcast before she left us.

One of the things I love most about doing the podcast is how it creates an oral history of the music world in general and the bass in particular.  I’m trying to connect with as many of our older bassists as possible  in part for this reason. I only wish I’d gotten off my duff and scheduled something with Jane.  She seemed like a cool lady!

CBC 214: Terry Plumeri tribute

Today’s episode is a tribute to bassist, film composer, and conductor Terry Plumeri, who was found murdered in his home in Florida on April 1st of this year.  This episode features comments from former Terry Plumeri student Eric Swanson plus some recordings of Terry performing and conducting.  Learn more about Terry’s bass playing in this For Bass Players Only article.

Tracks featured:

bassist, composer, and conductor Terry Plumeri died on March 31, 2016

bassist, composer, and conductor Terry Plumeri died on March 31, 2016

My all-time most viewed videos

I was poking around in the backend for my YouTube channel recently and was surprised by the view count on some of the videos I’ve put out in the past.  I haven’t done much YouTube content recently (though that is probably going to change), so most of this material is from the mid-2000’s.

Several of my most-viewed videos are pretty unsurprising:

I was pretty surprised to find my “Amati” bass recital video up there in terms of views (45,159 views).  My camera at the time only had space for short clips, so these were all that we got on tape.  Not exactly high fidelity!  I did get the whole recital on audio, however, and I put it out on the podcast back in the fall.

Another couple of surprises:

One that I was expecting to have more views (only 1500 or so) was my ButtCradle review video… complete with theme song sung by me!

CBC 213: Leon Bosch – the Sherlock Holmes of the double bass 2

double bass virtuoso Leon Bosch

double bass virtuoso Leon Bosch

Leon Bosch is a remarkable figure in the world of the double bass.  From his early years growing up in South Africa to his long tenure with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and his proliferation of solo projects, Leon has approached each challenge with a focus and determination that are incredibly inspiring. This is a “must listen” episode for any musician eager to realize their greatest potential.

After retiring from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields to devote himself fully to solo, chamber, and conducting projects, Leon has been working to bring undiscovered treasures of the repertoire to light and to encourage new works for the double bass from composers. New composition are being written for Leon from South African composer Péter Louis van Dijk, British composer Paul Patterson, and American jazz icon Wynton Marsalis.

This episode is sponsored by Discover Double Bass, and they have a course on bowing technique with Lauren Pierce that I highly recommend checking out.  This course is divided into 37 HD lessons, and Lauren gives a short video overview of the three categories that these videos cover: the basics, bow control, and real world techniques.  There’s also a free preview lesson on phrasing with the bow—check it out!

We feature excerpts from Leon’s latest album throughout the episode.  Check out Leon’s excellent albums (available both as digital downloads and CDs):

 If you’re enjoying these episodes, I’d love it if you’d give us a quick review on iTunes!  These reviews help us with discoverability and they give me great feedback about how I can keep working on the podcast to make it as valuable as possible for you.  Leave a quick star rating and if you could even jot down a sentence or two that would be great.  You can also leave a review for our iOS, Android, and Kindle apps.