Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian plays bass in an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Clearing the Inbox

Since I have some time off, I thought it might be a good time to delve into the large backlog of questions readers have submitted.


I recently discovered your blog and enjoy learning from you about the life of an orchestral musician. I have a couple of questions that you might consider for your blog.

1. The ability of musicians like you to pick up and learn so much music so fast astounds me. How do you do it? Or is this ability a gift that you either have or don't have?

2. Surely you can't like all of the works that you play. I suspect that you probably even have come to hate a few works in the standard repertory. Or find yourself loathing new works that you're playing for the first time. How do you make learning and performing these pieces palatable? Or at least bearable? (Of course, besides being paid to do so.)

Tom Lowderbaugh

1) Any player can learn to pick up new material more quickly. Some are better at it naturally than others. That said, we don’t play something new every week. A very cursory scan of the season schedule for this year shows the CSO playing about 100 different pieces, not including pops or film night concerts. Of those I could only find about 20 I have not yet played.

2) Your parenthetic qualifier removes the easy answer to this question from consideration.

While many colleagues might express loathing or hatred of new works (and by this I mean anything previously unknown to them), my own view is, like with fine cuisine, feelings need to simmer for quite some time in order to obtain the necessary depth and complexity, so I reserve loathing and hatred for things I know very well. Certainly a previously unknown piece of music may immediately produce feelings of displeasure, discomfort, or in extreme cases, disgust, but the refined musician learns to mute the visceral reactions in favor of a more measured response. To find something despicable for intellectual reasons is, in the long run, much more satisfying.

Some have concluded because performers onstage might harbor secret feelings of negativity towards what they are playing this makes musicians comparable to practitioners of the ‘world’s oldest profession’. But in my experience I find myself surrounded by individuals who have an incredible amount of pride in what they do and a high degree of professional integrity. I take it as a personal challenge to make certain that I try to play pieces I do not like as well as I possibly can. In the case of certain modern works, there is almost a perverse pleasure in it, i.e. “If this is really what you want me to play, here it is!”

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