Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Humboldt Chamber Music Workshop--Day One

The chamber music workshop week always begins with a group meeting in the  main theater to learn the details of the week's activities and anything else you  might want to know to get around. This being my second time up here, I had a good idea of what to expect. Alan Geier, the workshop director, explained it all in his friendly, humorous way, welcoming us back--and helping to relax the newcomers. We learned where to get the music (the music library), details of the schedule, Do's and Don't's, things to watch out for, and the rest.

Then, we were released to go crowd around the posted lists of who's playing what with whom where. I got assigned to some Rossini quartets that include bass, in the Art Building. Luckily, it's just across from the main theater, but I still had to climb up the Music Building stairs (no elevator during construction) and grab my bass before I went there. But I arrived and found my musical companions.

One of the many beauties of the workshop is that you play a different piece, with different people, each day. Also, the professional coaches rotate, too, so you get the guidance of different experts. Since I'm the only bassist signed up (as usual) there is never a "bass coach," but our cellist coach was great at guiding the group to play well together.

First, we looked at the three Rossini quartets on our music stands and then decided on one to run through. We then isolated the particular section we would be devoting the day's efforts to "perfecting" and went with that. You have to do this to get good enough at it to do well in the afternoon recital.

Gioachino Rossini is best known for his opera, The Barber of Seville, and the piece we worked on had an operatic quality, with expressive voices from the different instruments. The violin even gets to "laugh." I had two sections of solo work that I was able to pull off during the afternoon performance. Whew.

Things started coming together and improved over the day. We had our first session, then took a break in the courtyard with coffee and snacks. I've always liked this part, both for the social pleasures but also to get a break for my hands--and my eyes. Unfortunately, I am the ONLY person who stands all day, and this is more standing. I really should find someplace to sit down.

I lollygagged a little longer, and found my cohorts already there when I returned. We worked on our quartet--two violins, a cello and me on bass--through until lunch, with direction from Carol, our coach. It's hard sometimes to sync your playing with the other musicians--but therein lies beauty and satisfaction. We gradually tune in to the others. Intonation improves, the speed increases, we get more even, and play sections in which we share the melody or pattern in the same way so it sounds euphonious.

In the afternoon, we played late in the first of the two hourly sessions. Just after we played, we went off to dinner. It seems like there's lots of eating at these events. The food is OK--but it is "dorm fare" and I heard some grumblings about the consistency and flavor of the chicken. We went back for another hour of fine performances--every group seemed to be aware of the five-minute rule so it rolled through. Then--off to freelancing.

Freelancing gives you a choice to play what you want when you've completed your daily assignment. I played the Schubert's Trout Quintet--a favorite of chamber music players because of its beauty and also it seems to be the first piece anyone thinks of that includes a bass. We bassists are not in the center of chamber music but on the periphery. So--I'm glad to play it, and usually, at least one of the five of us is doing it for the first time--exciting and challenging. We played it fairly slowly, but the group focused and really heated up the room. At last, it came to its satifying conclusion and we packed up and headed back to the dorms for a little alcohol, snacks and conversation.

And so ended the first day. Today, we do it all over again.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

This sounds like fun. Too bad I don't play a chamber instrument.