Saturday, July 21, 2012

Humboldt Workshop Day Five--Beethoven and Bolling

"A Bunch of  Bassoons"
My fifth and final day of the Humboldt Chamber Music Workshop was a rousing success. I was assigned a favorite--The Beethoven Septet--and in the evening, had a chance to play the Claude Bolling Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano. The day ended with a big party at the dorm--with lots of conversation and tasty shrimp, chocolate cake, and beer (and more). It was a fine way to end another inspiring and remarkable week.

I was thrilled to get to play one of my favorites on Friday. The Septet includes bass along with three strings: violin, viola, cello; and three winds: clarinet, bassoon and horn. At the workshop, every daily group includes a different set of folks, but this one was packed with special friends. We had a fine musical and social day rehearsing the fifth movement, Presto, under the wise and wisecracking guidance of coach Ed Harris. As usual, we started out with enthusiasm but in need of a lot of improvement as an ensemble and ended up with a polished performance when we played at the end of the afternoon session. It was probably my best day of the week.

After the evening program, I spend an hour and a half on the Bolling. I had tried playing this before, and worked a little on it independently, but this time, with Nikki's strong piano and Loren's buoyant flute playing, I felt like a real Jazz bassist--and could see clearly the amount of progress I've made in just a few short years. I made plenty of mistakes and needed several restarts, but overall, it sounded pretty darned good. We were tired but satisfied at 10:05 p.m. when we played the final note. I have the feeling I'm going to be working on this piece for a long time, each session with more understanding and competence.

This being the last day, we were treated to a very humorous set of three bonus tracks, including the Rhythm Rockettes' Rock Trap--a clapping, dancing number, and two wind performances. The first of these was Doug McCracken's Quintette for Bassoons and Contra-bassoon, which presented seven of these senior woodwinds together. Besides the hilarious honking of the contra-bassoon, all seven participants appeared barefoot--emulating the composer. Doug only wore shoes--sandals at that--when he was forced to follow cafeteria regulations. The third piece was P.D.Q. Bach's Fugue of the Volga Boatmen, with a stage full of winds. It made me think about perhaps next  year coming up with a duet (or duel?) with my bass and the contra-bassoon.

Another special treat was a much-too-short performance of the Finale part I of the Magic Flute. The singing of Connie, Ellie, Diane and Miriam was nothing short of breathtaking, in its German (with English translation supplied on the double-sided program). The audience, with jaws dropped, gave them the standing ovation they deserved. We need to have this again--perhaps at greater length--in the main program next time.

Music is the center of this workshop, but what remains as the biggest memory is the people. I had some connections from my 2010 stay, but I made many additional friends this time. When I sat and read through the programs for the performances in the afternoon and evening, I saw name after name of someone I'd played with in a group, sat with at a meal or met somewhere on the Humboldt campus. We are all drawn together because of our love of chamber music, and the camaraderie and spirit is like nothing I've experienced elsewhere.

There's also something about the inspired leadership of Workshop Director Alan Geier, whose warmth, humor and brilliant management make this one of the best run events I've ever attended. Everything just works, and once you arrive at the Humboldt State University campus, you know things will be fine and fun. He also made it possible for me to attend on a Heagy Fund scholarship this year when financial issues made it look like I'd have to miss it. For this I am very grateful, and I want to thank him personally--and everyone who labors tirelessly to make our experience so special, including Workshop Coordinator Tom Phillips. The Heagy Fund accepts your tax-deductible donations year round. Contact the workshop for details.

I am indebted to my classical music mentor, Josh Cohen, as well. He has guided me as a fledgling upright bassist from my first tentative notes at orchestra rehearsal on the second day of January, 2007. He urged me to sign up for my first weekend chamber music workshop at CMNC in 2008, and my first Humboldt adventure two years later. He has supported my growth and brought me into this new world of people devoted to playing this timeless music together.

I will miss my fellow musicians, but I can always plan for next year, and I go home inspired to do more sight reading, work on my intonation, and find more opportunities to fill my calendar with music dates until I can travel to the workshop again.

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