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Playing in an orchestra vs small ensemble

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Oct 5, 2016.

  1. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Hi everyone

    I have been weighing up the pros and cons of this, in relation to a DB player's own musical development. One major difference is that with the orchestra, the conductor is there to guide, whereas in an ensemble this is less likely to be the case (explicitly, anyway), so one must be able to listen to others players extra carefully. Then there is the advantage that the DB is more likely to be heard (depending on the particular piece, of course) than be drowned by the other members in an orchestra..But then again, egos can get in the way, too..

    How do you guys view this, obviously you can learn from playing in both, but do you lean toward one, as a preference and recommendation to your students as well, where choice is available?

    Regards to all.
  2. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    In today's musical environment, play it all. Don't worry about anyone's ego but yours. Not saying you have one, just understand that yours is the only one you have control over. Just like you have no control over who's offering the gig when the phone rings, but you have control over whether or not you are prepared to say "yes."
    Leo Smith and Hberm_cajunbass like this.
  3. bengreen


    Jan 26, 2016
    San Diego
    Any ensemble you have to listen.
  4. Dbass926


    Jun 20, 2005
    Philadelphia, PA
    Playing at the highest level, regardless of the context, requires that you know, listen to, and respond to the other musicians you are working with. This is just as true in a great orchestra as it is in a string quintet. The difference is, while you're learning to do it all, you can often hide a lot more in an orchestral setting. Some folks never stop hiding, in fact!

    You're doing yourself a favor by playing in smaller groups, being held accountable for knowing your part, and learning to listen when there are relatively fewer lines. You can apply all those skills to orchestra as you develop them, and you'll be bringing a high level of integrity to every group once you've mastered them.
    Leo Smith, Remyd and Jon Stefaniak like this.
  5. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Well put, thanks Db!
  6. bassmastan

    bassmastan Guest

    Jun 25, 2011
    Having experience in orchestral music and chamber music I think I can give a little insight here. While yes you don't have someone waiving their arms and making sure everyone is together, chamber musicians sort of self conduct. A good conductor/musical director will cast egos aside and tell the cellos or trombones to be quiet for balance sake... If you watch really incredible chamber groups you can see how much motion, breathing together, and eye contact the chamber group has to make. In the chamber setting I've played The Trout Quintet, Vaughan-Williams Quintet, and Dvorak Quintet and the way the bass has to interact with a more traditional group is something really outside of our norm. We have to think more along the lines of the viola, while we have our moments of melody and beauty, we have to focus on making beautiful harmonies that will help the melody or be a rhythmic drive (listen to the first movements of all 3 and you'll hear that). In terms of orchestra, the best orchestral musicians don't need a conductor to play in time. The reason why is this: All orchestral music is large scale chamber music. While having a ton of people on stage it should be just as sensitive as chamber music, as expressive, and most importantly as musical. Check out the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, they don't actually have a conductor, it's a giant chamber group! I remember when I interned for them in 2015 they did Beethoven 7 and it blew my mind! If you do a google search for many of your top tier orchestral bassists in youtube, sometimes the only thing you will find is chamber playing.

    I don't think it is fair to say lean towards a chamber musician or orchestral musician, as double bassists it is almost necessary to be both.

    If you are looking for easier chamber pieces for bassists new to it, the Adolph Blanc quintets are very easy in all the parts. Chamber music also counts doing bass ensemble work, great team building for the studio and they get not only chamber but section/blend experience too.
    Leo Smith and Adam Booker like this.
  7. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Great post, thanks. I'll look up your suggestions.

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