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Playing in the section

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by kpo, Aug 22, 2000.

  1. I would like to hear from professionals in bass sections in the United States on what they discovered about playing in their section when they first joined.

    I'm particularly interested in hearing about things like "everyone uses vibrato all the time," or "they all use vibrato sparingly" or comments like that. I'm especially curious to hear about specific sections in the US orchestras...

  2. Joe Taylor

    Joe Taylor

    Dec 20, 2001
    Tracy CA

    It was a long time ago I was 19 and did not know diddly - 1968 - It was in the Northern Arizona Symphony in Flagstaff Az. I was told to follow the section leader so I did just that. She said use vibrato on anything >= 1/4 . She would mark the sore up with fingerings and bowing and we would get reamed if we did not do it her way no problem as she was good and knew what she was talking about. I wish I could do it over again it was a hoot to play at that level and it was my first real bass playing job. I think we got about $10 / reshersal and $50 for the concert. I would have done it for free.
  3. Tele295


    Jan 8, 2002
    Ventura, CA
    We didn't have a full-time section leader in our orchestra until they gave me the job. However, I usually defer to the big city pros they hire to flesh out our meager section.

    I let the bassists choose when and where to use vibrato (except in baroque music, where bass vibrato is not kosher). It almost becomes an unconscious thing. I look around, and everybody's doing it.

    If I was in a smaller chamber group, I may pay more attention as to when and where to use vibrato. But nobody in the large orch is doing exaggerated Tchiakovsky vibrato, so I let it be.
  4. Bijoux


    Aug 13, 2001
    would be nice to hear more stories down here, I've always played Jazz and have never played in a bass section, so I know that for me and other folks even things that are completely normal for you guys could be very interesting for us, thanks for sharing.
  5. Well, now I'm in a section, so I can say that here in Louisville, the main uniformity we look for is in an off-the-string articulation (Starting "on", but more space between notes than other bass sections might use). Influential people in the section have training that hearkens to the traditions of Chicago Symphony and Houston Symphony styles - very clean, off-the-string playing, so that 's what we do.

    And the bass section sounds better when either everyone's using vibrato or everyone is NOT using vibrato... very little middle ground there.
  6. Here's a few insights from my years in a professional symphony section.
    1. Always follow the principal. That includes sound quality, articulation, note length, volume. You should always be able to hear the principal, or if you are too far away then the person on your left.
    2. Always vibrato unless instructed otherwise. Listen to the principal for the proper speed. You can also listen to the principal cello and concertmaster (Theoretically they should all be similar)
    The previous reply was correct. One of the main issues in bass orchestral playing today is 'off the string' articulation. Far too many sectoin players play too much 'on the string'. Either from habit, laziness or just because the feel they need for more volume. Of course this only makes things less articulate, so the section sound is unfocused and doesn't project as clearly.
    'On the string' playing also can become a problem. One should never play a note longer, or with a different articulation than the principal. This requires constant vigilance, but should be relatively consistent within a piece or movement.
    'Volume'. We all know how hard it is to be heard in a large orchestra. Probably the number one culprit in bad orchestra playing is in trying to play loud and 'pressing' the bow into the string. or playing too close to the bridge (it's fine for Gary Karr, but not here). Resist your urge to try and force more sound out of the bass and trust that a beautiful, focused sound will project.
    Try to never play louder than the principal, for artistic and professional reasons. Principals need to know that you are following them and not in your own world or playing your own way. Also keep the concerto practice and pyrotechnics in the practice room and not on the stage before a rehearsal or show. People might not say it, but they may be annoyed and think you're showing off. Let the entire section know you are a team player.
  7. I agree in principal with everything that has been said. But I have many times seen, in a section as high caliber as LA Phil, one or two guys not employing vibrato, while the other members are. But they tend to be "on the same page" when it comes to style, articulation, and length of their notes. And many of these things are dictated by the conductor, or the piece being performed (eg., Brahms generally requires an "on the string" spiccato).
  8. Dear all,

    Could someone please explain what is "off-the-string playing"?

    Maybe this is a language thing (English is not my first language), but it could also be pure ignorance (hope not). :)

    Thanks in advance,

  9. It's the technique and method involved with bow strokes that literally bounce on and off of the strings, such as spicatto.
  10. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Hey KPO

    You know my history a bit, my full time jobs have been outside the US. My US experience is in the freelance scene. I will take the liberty to give my opinion.

    I like what you said about your section being uniform in vibrato and articulation, and I agree with following the principal, even if one is not in complete agreement with him/her (very often, 8 players=8 different opinions).

    However....I am not sure that one always needs refrain from playing louder than the principal, especially when it is clear that volume is needed. I think for sure we need to be careful to be on the same page, but when the music demands thunder, I believe you have to give it. Do you guys agree?
  11. Yeah, sometimes. I have it tough in a way because I lead the section in the school group play with regularly, and sit third out of four in the semi-pro group so my role changes. Sometimes I have to restrain my self from overplaying when I'm not sitting first. My bass provides a strong funamental so I will play out more where the section sound benefits from my low notes. I tend to lay back more on the notes where my bass doesn't blend as well or doesn't speak fast enough. Even when I'm sitting last, I try to play "the section" rather than just my own instrument. Rank and file means team work. If anyone besides the leader sticks out too much it will sometime muddy the sound. Concerning vibrato, I use it when it improves the sound, but I don't vibrate automatically. The bass section pitch must be accuarate above all else. Wide vibrato on low notes diffuses the section sound which works sometimes and is inappropriate other times. At one time I would use vibrato did it just to show that I could, but now I'm more careful with how I use it.


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