Perched high on my stool, overlooking a vast sea of stringed instruments, I always wonder to myself if I might have the best seat in the house.
As an orchestral double bassist, I have the honor and privilege of navigating this large and somewhat unruly instrument. Thought to be the foundation of the orchestra, with its 5/1 chords and seemingly endless pedal tones, the double bass produces lush lower octave tones that resonate underneath most other orchestral instruments (with the exception of the organ, and maybe the tuba).
During a concert cycle weekend, which includes three- to four rehearsals in addition to a concert, the Traverse Symphony Orchestra musicians experience a truly enchanting and rewarding journey under the baton of Maestro Kevin Rhodes. Some ask, "What makes working with Maestro Rhodes different than other conductors? Is there even a difference between them?" The answer is: “most definitely!”
Each rehearsal begins with the sounding of the oboe "A" at 440 vibrations per second. The orchestra tunes to this pitch then dives into 2.5-3 hours of intense rehearsal. We usually begin the rehearsal process with the largest work on a concert weekend — the symphony. Maestro Rhodes will start by reviewing the "road map" for the first movement, pointing out any potential hazards such as repeats, tempo changes, fermatas and meter changes. This process can take anywhere from one- to three minutes and once all pencils (we always have pencils) have been placed back on the stands, the music making begins.
Typically, the Maestro will conduct an entire movement without stopping, regardless of any questionable passages or creative interpretations (wrong notes) that might occur during that first run. This allows the orchestra to get a sense of the movement in its entirety. Musicians are able to take stock of their own individual part while also acknowledging how they fit with those surrounding them. This rehearsal technique offers musicians an opportunity to quickly correct any mistakes. (This is where pencils come in handy.)
The real work begins once this first run is done. The Maestro will point out any potential pitfalls that may occur and will rehearse challenging passages a few times, offering suggestions as how to make it more musical and expressive. Once challenges are sufficiently rehearsed, the Maestro expands focus to surrounding passages, adding more and more, until the entire movement is rehearsed. At this point, we are able to take it to the ensemble.
An ensemble can be defined as a group of musicians coordinating their actions, not just as individuals, but as one unified and whole entity. As musicians open their ears to those around them in this way, they can truly perform as one. When done well, it's an engaging experience that audibly pleases the musicians and audience alike. It is simply magical.
Though the 2017-18 Symphony season has come to a close and summer is in full swing, I'm reminded that September and the start of the 2018-2019 season of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra is really not that far away. It will be the 66th year of the Symphony, bringing fine orchestral music to the Grand Traverse region. We have an exciting season in store and hope that you will be able to join us!
Gary Gatzke is the principal double bassist and Interim Executive Director of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. To learn more about the symphony, visit traversesymphony.org.