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Advice For Young Bassist

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Hqubed, Oct 16, 2013.

  1. Hqubed

    Hqubed Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2009
    Columbus, Ohio
    Some Background:
    My son, a high school sophomore, has been playing for +/- 5 years and participated in his Jr. & HS orchestra in 6th grade through his freshman year. As well he has participated in the HS Symphonic Band at state competitions (the group taking top honors) and some performances at the request of the band director. He is currently asst. principal with the local youth symphony and seated with an area semi-pro community symphony which performed Beethoven 9 this past weekend. Private lessons consist of weekly UB, weekly jazz piano, and bi-weekly electric bass all with top instructors in our area. He has been previously seated with the local youth jazz orchestra, and plans to audition again this weekend.

    This year (his HS sophomore) he decided, with my blessing, to take Jazz Band which did not allow him enough class periods to also participate in the orchestra class. When he had to make his class elections last school year he discussed this with the orchestra director whom was very upset and disappointed. My son offered to attended every after school orchestra rehearsal and performance, however the orchestra director has not allowed this saying it would then have to be offered to everyone and then no one would take the class.

    The Situation:
    His plans are to pursue Music Education & Music Performance (one or both, still deciding and subject to change) in college. He has attended a few fairs over the last 18 months, educating himself on the opportunities and alternatives, and providing his resume to the institution representative trying to develop their interest in him.

    The HS orchestra teacher has been pressuring him to come back for his JR & SR years saying that the top colleges & universities will look differently at him, possibly negatively, if he does not participate in the high school orchestra during his Jr & Sr years. He really enjoys the jazz band and it also provides another side to his musical development.

    The Question:
    We realize there is a vast wealth of knowledge here so thought we would ask for advice and opinions on the orchestra teacher’s comments regarding how colleges and universities may look at him if he continues with the jazz band vs. orchestra for the remainder of his HS career. I do expect he will pursue Upright Bass & music in some college major, and of course scholarship potential would not upset me.

    Thanks so much in advance for your insight.

  2. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I saw my daughter go through an unbelievable schedule throughout HS because it was required that she play in the orchestra in order to play in the jazz band. I seem to remember she also played in concert band, too. She managed to make it with flying colors and a lot of hard work.

    If he is at all serious about orchestra playing, he should continue with that, especially if he isn't going to be a jazz major in college. It's very good training if he decides to teach more than jazz bass and other jazz courses. I would do both (and I did both in HS) as he'll become a well rounded player and that will serve him well in college and beyond.
  3. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I don't have experience as a professional bassist, nor did I study it in school. But to my eye the situation looks like the reverse of what the school orchestra director says.

    You have laid out numerous organizations where your son is playing classical orchestral bass; and I would bet that these organizations are playing at a higher level than the high school orchestra, because they are getting their players by selection from the entire area. I did not see any reference to any groups playing popular music, and just the one reference to a local jazz band.

    I think a bass player who wants to get somewhere needs a lot of exposure to jazz and popular music to make a career out of playing bass. It seems to me that the diversity of playing in a big band would add a lot more to your son's experience in the next 3 years than adding yet another orchestra (the high school orchestra) to his existing classical groups.

    Look at how much work is available for orchestra bassists who don't have up-to-date pop/jazz chops versus how much work is available for bassists who can play comfortably in jazz and popular music, but aren't up to speed in classical. I would say as well that exposure to rock and country should be part of his learning experience. He's fifteen or sixteen, that's when everyone starts their garage band anyway, and you say he's already learning electric bass, so that should be in the mix too.

    If I were the parent of this young fellow I would be less concerned with "how colleges and universities may look at him if he continues with the jazz band vs. orchestra for the remainder of his HS career" and more concerned with guiding him into a successful post-collegiate experience. If he loves music and wants to play it all his life, a music degree from Anonymous State and 4 gigs a week the rest of his life will work out better than a classical degree from Prestigious Private U. and trying to compete for the (what? two per year?) orchestra jobs that come up. (never mind the student loans!)

    Finally, maybe your son (not you) can negotiate something among the jazz band director, the orchestra director, and the scheduling director. They probably do not see very many students who are motivated as your son is, and they might make an exception if he presents it the right way. And whether they do or don't, it would make a good lesson in politics and negotiating (does the orchestra director hate the jazz band director because he ran off with his wife? why was the rule put in place? are there some students who try to fill up their schedule with "gut" electives to avoid real classes, I am not one of those, look at my grades and workload? etc., etc.)
  4. ^^^ this ^^^

  5. BIG97BEN


    Sep 12, 2011
    Richmond VA
    It sounds like with his motivation and work ethic he is probably already above the level of the high school symphony. He would probably learn more from the adults in the symphonies he is participating in outside of school, than with the level at the school. On the other hand, if he is just entering the jazz area, the school band is a great staring place. I would guess from your description of his attitude toward music, he will surpass that also before graduation. It has been a few years since I applied to college, but they were looking for well rounded kids with extra curricular activities. I think you son participating in all the community symphonies along with the jazz band, and probably community jazz bands soon, would be more impressive on a college application than a one trick pony (so to speak).
  6. Nathan Levine

    Nathan Levine Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2008
    Anchorage, AK
    As a middle school Orchestra director it would pain me to see one of my brightest bass players decide to not continue in the HS orchestra due to scheduling difficulties. But knowing that he is participating in higher quality groups where he can continue honing his classical chops and that it is mostly due to a scheduling snafu with another performing ensemble then I would be understanding.

    My younger brother is a fairly talented classical bassist. He has a number of performance degrees and just wrapped up a few years at NewWorld. Some of the best advice he was given
  7. Nathan Levine

    Nathan Levine Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2008
    Anchorage, AK
    ... was from a college aged teacher he had when he was in high school and participating in the Sacramento Youth Symphony. The exchange went something like this.

    "You really like playing bass, don't you?"
    "Could you see yourself doing this in college and as a potential career?"
    "Ok then. Don't worry about getting ALL your other homework done. Greater things are on the horizon and you need to be prepared."

    If your son could participate in the HS Orchestra that would be doing his orchestra director a huge favor. I imagine he was the section leader as a freshman and the director relies on his sound to fill out the bottom of the group. But I would guess that the quality of the group and the dedication level of many of the members leaves much to be desired in your sons mind.

    And I bet Jazz band is just plain fun for him.
  8. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    My guess would be that Columbus has pretty good music programs in the high schools.
  9. Nathan Levine

    Nathan Levine Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2008
    Anchorage, AK

    Probably true. Bet they still play L1 and L2 out of tune as an ensemble though. And position work is most likely somewhat iffy at times. Simple fact is that every group is as weak as their weakest players and the high school group has a much likelier potential for including players who aren't quite making it into the Youth Symphony. Not saying their bad, just potentially leaving a bit to be desired from a player of this kids caliber.
  10. Zojo


    May 19, 2013
    I know that at some schools kids will get a few academic courses done during the summer, so they can participate in more music programs during the year. He could possibly do them online.
  11. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    It sounds like there are two different teachers involved. One for orchestra, and one for jazz band. I would request a meeting with both teachers, and your son's guidance counselor, to have a frank and pragmatic discussion about the best course of action to propel your son through college with the requisite high school education and letters of recommendation. Ask everyone to put their cards on the table, face-up, so all of the options, advantages, and disadvantages can be discussed and discussed as objectively as possible.

    I would also recommend talking to the admissions officer and professors of music at the college(s) you son wants to attend. If their opinions and recommendations differ from those proffered by those working at your son's high school, I'd want to know in advance.
  12. Plato


    Jun 11, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    Orchestra teachers in general (I am one...) are not the best communicators in the world. They move in close circles where the things you are being told are accepted without question, so they are not always very good at explaining them.

    One of may favorite things to do is play bass in a small group or a big band. I love jazz. Period.

    Two examples: Lynn Seaton is a supremely skilled jazz bass player. He is professor of jazz bass at the University of North Texas. It does not mention it, but he played in his high school orchestra. A friend of mine played right next to him. His legit technique is stellar. His arco solos are amazing. If you check his web site you will see that he has played with everyone.

    I got to meet Rufus Reid many years ago at a jazz camp. He was also classically schooled and some of his albums show a classical influence. He told me at the beginning of his career he was still taking classical gigs from time to time. It was awhile before he could only play jazz, and it was a while longer before he could quit playing electric bass and only play double bass. And a while longer before he could only take the jazz gigs he wanted.

    In our locality, the best jazz bass player also plays with the local symphony and teaches legit bass at the college.

    If you can only take one class, it should be the orchestra class. Some of the best jazz players on the planet never played in a decent jazz band until college. And private lessons on legit technique are essential as well.

    I am sure the high school jazz band likes having a good acoustic bass player in the band. You may feel like the orchestra teacher is just worried about losing a good bass, but you must also realize that the motivation of the band director may also not be in your son's best interest. As a person not involved in your school that has no vested interest either way, I am saying that the legit group is where all of the fundamental skills are learned that can be used to perform any kind of music. As far as learning pure jazz skills goes, a combo is a far better place to play than a big band. So perhaps an after school or even non-curricular local program would be better.

    I referenced this at the beginning of this post, but the string community is networked very tightly. This has only increased with the advent of social media. The string players all not only call and email about school things, they also play gigs together. And this includes college and university players and teachers as well. Your son would do well to have a positive recommendation from his orchestra teacher. Most teachers will decline to give a recommendation rather than a negative one, but even the absence of a recommendation speaks volumes. Some colleges will call and ask for an informal recommendation or just mention that a student from "your school" applied. I have no reason to know what will happen in your case, but you should realize what a valuable resource the local orchestra teacher can be.
  13. Zojo


    May 19, 2013
    If this is an important issue for your son, he should be posting his own questions. Success as a music student requires doing what someone tells you to do. Success as a musician requires hustle and personal initiative. He should start acting like a musician.

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