It’s been a great year of blogging for me personally, and I’m really excited to have reached the phase of development for both Contrabass Conversations and doublebassblog.org that I’m at currently. We’ve got a large daily readership (we were pushing 2000 daily page views for these sites plus Arts Addict during the spring) and a dedicated and engaged community for the podcast.
I really enjoy writing, and having the opportunity to both compose longer-form posts (an index of these appears on our Articles page) and make the move into writing books (both with Road Warrior Without an Expense Account and the new book of crazy gig stories I’m currently working on) is extremely satisfying.
These are some of my favorite recent posts. I hope you find a few thing that you may have overlooked in previous months. You can always use the page navigation at the bottom of each blog page to sail forward or backward in time, use the calendar in the sidebar, or check out our sitemap. Enjoy!
By the way, all these posts come from April, May, and June of this year. Geez–I write a lot! I don’t really notice until I line them up back to back…and these are only a fraction of all the posts written during this time!
The Tale of the White Jacket – I think that all men in classical music look at the concert attire worn by our female colleagues with a little bit of envy from time to time. Not that we men all want to wear heels and make-up (though some of us probably do….not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but putting on a tuxedo shirt, tails, and a tight bow tie is not exactly the most comfortable way to play a musical instrument. Though we men get to dress in comfort in many pit situations, wearing black just like the women, most of the time we’re confined to some jacket and tie combination–even in the summer! (more)
The Art of Slowing Down – Summer is when I really developed my blog in the first place, and in subsequent summers I did most of the redesigning and behind-the-scenes work. It’s also a great time to do some writing and restore those creative energies, renewing my enthusiasm for another year of teaching, performing, and writing. While I have a good time simply blogging in my kitchen (like I’m doing now!), drinking coffee and hanging out with the cats, I’ve been able to play chamber music with a dynamite group of musicians up in Door County these past several years….(more)
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? got a call for at the…. well, I’l call it the Jimbobo School of Music for the purposes of this post. I’m sad to say that this “school of music” still exists here in metro Chicago, and it’s a truly rotten operation—the perfect representation of everything that’s wrong with the private lesson “music school” system. (more)
Blogging on the Beach – I am currently at the northern tip of the Door County peninsula on the Lake Michigan side, hanging out in the the wild and rarely visited Newport State Park. Though many of the other parks up here in Door County are packed with Illinois tourists escaping the smog and stress of Chicago, this park is pretty far off the beaten path, and I am one of only a few cars parked here. I’ve got a great view of the beach, joined at the moment only by the seagulls and the mosquitos (note to self–buy better bug spray). Man, if only I could live this kind of lifestyle year-round! (more)
Twelve Survival Tips for Freelance Musicians – Over time, professional freelancers develop a set of skills quite peculiar to the profession, alternately taking on the role of long-haul trucker, delivery man, cabbie, and crisis control expert. Though they share the same basic musical skills as their more stably employed colleagues, freelancers are constantly faced with foreign environments and unfamiliar faces, and are required to execute their musical craft amid a dizzying array of unusual and often bizarre circumstances. (more)
Instrumental Junkies Part 2: Musical Scavengers – I was recently playing in a massive venue in Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, with 5000 seats and a stage large enough to hold a 747 jet. I paid my parking fee, pulled in and unloaded, wheeling my bass and stool in my tuxedo through throngs of conventioneers in button-down shirts and sport jackets. As I passed through the crowds into the dilapidated and expansive convention center, people gazed at me as if I had a third eye on my forehead. “What’s that?” – “Where ya goin’ with that thing?” and the ubiquitous “betcha wish you played the piccolo!” line, one that I seem to hear every single time I take my bass out of the house. (more)
Here Comes the Bride – A colleague of mine got a call to play a wedding recently with a rather strange request. The bride wanted “Here Comes the Bride” played at the ceremony….but she specifically requested that the double bass play the melody! “Uh, okay…” my colleague replied. “So you must have… played the bass in high school, then?” “No,” said the bride. “Uh…. okay…..” It’s not that we bassists can’t play Here Comes the Bride, of course. But why the bass? It’s like having the tuba play revelry or taps at a military ceremony. Kind of cool but kind of… well…. unusual. (more)
Top Ten Ways That College Debt Screws Up Your Life…and How to Avoid It! – Achieving success in the classical music world (I’m defining success rather narrowly here) often requires a musician to audition for a select handful of schools that have a specific teacher on faculty with a reputation for turning out “successful” students. Unlike disciplines like engineering, business, or computer science, there are frequently only a few schools that have a consistent track record of placement for a specific instrument. Want a job? You’d better think seriously about fighting for a spot at one of those schools… even if that school costs $40,000 (or more) plus room and board each year. (more)
Instrumental Junkies: Overview – This is both a completely exhausting and strangely addictive lifestyle, and every time I try to divorce myself from it I keep getting pulled back into it. Sometimes I hate it, especially when I’m driving home from a $75 gig in a snowstorm, but when faced with a week off or a week of crappy gigging, I usually opt for the crappy gigging, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense. Simply put, playing the bass makes me feel…well, useful. While outsiders may seem a week off from playing as a cause for celebration (after all, how many people in regular joe jobs daydream of the flexible schedule of the musician?), when this week off is a result of there simply not being enough work rather than an intentional vacation I feel myself getting antsy and feeling more than a little bit like a bum. (more)
Mac versus PC part 3: podcasting – After a few weeks spent adjusting to this new operating system and the new applications available to me, I’v discovered that I can massively cut down on the number of small but annoying tasks that always plagued my Windows podcasting workflow. This experience is strikingly similar to what I outlined for my blog workflow transition in part 2 of this series. Even though I’m basically doing the same tasks for blogging and podcasting on my new Mac set-up as I was doing on my old Windows set-up, the more seamless integration of programs and user-friendliness of the major applications has sped up my process considerably, leaving me more time to actually create content rather than futz with settings and file transfers. (more)
The Babbling Conductor – Though I am thinking of one conductor in particular for this exmple, I’ve seen this kind of phenomenon happen in many orchestras, and I believe that the behavior of the musicians described in the following paragraphs (I’m making you curious, right?) is a natural orchestral musician response to long-winded conductors. Is this a fair response? Immature? Jocular good fun? That’s for you to decide–but it is a very common occurrence in the orchestra! I actually think that a verbose conductor can be a real asset to a performance, and that it often really enhances the audience experience in the abstract; in reality, however, I become one of the squirrelly musicians I’m describing. I just can’t help myself. want to play when I’m on a gig, and any extra talk keeps me from doing the job that I was hired to do….even though I realize that this is a valuable part of the performance and something that should happen. (more)
How Taking Less Work Has Led to More Work for Me – As I spend more of my time focusing on local activities (playing, teaching, etc.) and less on driving all over the country, I’ve gotten a chance to really take in this remarkable city that I live in. What a fascinating and multifaceted place metro Chicago is! I’m currently sitting on the Midway Pleasance, gazing up at the awe-inspiring neo-gothic architecture of the University of Chicago (though it was constructed around 1900, it looks like someone ripped out a medieval European city and plopped it smack-dab in the middle of Chicago. (more)
Mac versus PC part 2: blogging – One of the main tasks I use my laptop for is blogging, and the workflow on the Mac was of primary importance to me. Though I spent the first few years of my blog ging career on a PC, I knew that over 50% of all bloggers use a Mac, and therefore I figured that there had to be some benefit. I’ve found the transition from the PC to the Mac to be an overall positive experience, though there are a few things that I miss from the PC. I am not interested in running Windows on this Mac in any form (whether through Boot Camp or Parallels), so though I know that I could install Windows and get these programs, I’m trying to find a suitable Mac replacement for these components of my blogging experience. (more)
Standing versus Sitting for the Double Bassist – Ahh, those lovely and divisive double bass issues like standing–fodder for eternal and impassioned debate on both sides of the fence. Deciding whether or not to stand while playing the instrument (or to do both depending on the context) is a pivotal decision for every single bassist, and it is the source of much controversy and confusion. Honestly, I should have my head examined for even considering tackling this thorny topic. I’m sure that even pointing out these various differences will cause a good deal of heated debate and disagreement (notice that I avoid mentioning the stance I actually use). What on Earth am I thinking? Who knows…but here it goes! (more)
Mac versus PC part 1: overview – Only a few days after writing about how everyone mocks my Acer laptop, I moved over to a shiny new MacBook with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 gigs of RAM, with Leopard, iLife ‘08, and the regular accoutrement of Mac applications. As a former Mac user who switched over to the PC just as OSX was on the horizon, coming back to this platform is like coming back home, but to a sleek, 21st-century home outfitted with the latest gadgets. (more)
Disturbing Trends in Adjunct Faculty Employment – A recent article in the Chicago Reader (May 1, 2008 Vol. 37, No. 32) titled And All I Got Was This Lousy PhD jumped off the page as I was perusing the paper recently, and for good reason–this piece by Deanna Issacs confirms many of my frustrations and concerns regarding trends in hiring practices at many universities. I’ve written two articles on this very topic which may interest readers (the former was published in 2007 in Adjunct Nation Magazine, and the latter is part of my upcoming book Road Warrior Without an Expense Account)….(more)
In Search of the Perfect Bow – Most string players own several different bows during the course of their playing career, usually starting on a fiberglass or inexpensive wooden bow in early years of study and upgrading many times on the journey toward professional-level playing. Like strings, rosin, and other key pieces of gear, bows are a very personal and subjective item, and many string players spend their entire lives in search of the perfect bow. (more)
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! (more)
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. (more)
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.I have played performances with a variety of groups in Milwaukee’s Uihlein Hall over the years, but most of these performances have been with the Milwaukee Ballet. This hall has a hydraulic stage, which is raised for full symphonic performances and lowered in the front for ballet and opera performances. (more)
Influx of Music School Funding – With ever-diminishing opportunities for music performance careers, why have so many individuals, universities, and foundations contributed funding for these ambitious new developments? Don’t get me wrong–I think that these are wonderful developments. I’ve spent all of my college years at aging and ill-equipped facilities, with ratty practice rooms, scant ensemble rehearsal rooms, terrible soundproofing, and no elevators. (more)
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. I love this process–this, in fact, is one of the main reasons why I play music! To me, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as being part of a well-oiled double bass machine. (more)
The Real Cost of Driving to Gigs for the Freelance Musician – A recent feature in the Chicago Tribune (Sunday, April 13, 2008 by Jim Mateja) about the actual operating costs per mile for a variety of different vehicles caught my eye–not surprising considering how much I’ve written on commuting and its effect of the livelihood of a musician. The price of gas rose 31.5 percent in 2007, which means that the average consumer (driving 10,000 miles a year) will spend between $5,510 and $9,095 to operate a 2008 model car. This figure is based on gas, oil, tires, and maintenance–parking or tolls are not included in these calculations. (more)