Friday, October 29, 2010

Ira Gold interview, Part I

I’ve been meaning to blog for awhile about our newest Peabody faculty member, Ira Gold. Ira has been teaching some of our orchestral repertoire classes for the past year at Peabody, but this Fall he has also started his own private teaching studio. We’re excited to have a player of Ira’s talent, background, and skills joining our team, and I think that Ira’s background and approach will be of particular benefit to Peabody bassists. I have pretty good perspective on Ira’s playing and musicianship, having worked with him on my orchestra (the National Symphony Orchestra) for several years now. He’s also a friend of mine, and we’ve been able to talk at length over the years about many topics related to music, teaching, and playing the bass.

Ira’s educational background has exposed him to many of the most renowned and important teachers of bass working today; in particular, his work with Ed Barker in Boston and with Paul Ellison at Rice University have informed many aspects of his playing and teaching philosophies. He is of course an incredible bassist and musician himself, as the evidence of his playing career attests. However, the thing that truly separates Ira from a lot of other young, talented bassists is the degree to which he has thought about how to teach and effectively communicate these skills to others. It’s a truism of music that to be a good player is not always to be a good teacher - the profession is full of folks who have skills to play very well, but for whatever reasons struggle to explain to others how to follow on the path that led them to those abilities. Ira has done the hard work of thinking through and organizing his approach, and he can provide valuable and easily understandable resources for his students to grow and improve.

Ira recently agreed to answer a few interview questions for me, and I certainly found out a few new things about him. Here is a portion of the interview; I’ll post more of it in the near future.

Tell me one story about an experience that you had with one of your own bass teachers that inspired you or changed you as a musician.

When I was a student at the Tanglewood Music Center in 2003, we had a side by side July 4 concert with the fellows sitting next to Boston Symphony players. I had the honor of sharing a stand with my teacher, Edwin Barker. We performed Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and to say it was thrilling, incredible, goosebump-esque, out of this world, would be an understatement. I witnessed, professionalism, care, the highest level of bass playing, and musical sophistication in seeing how Ed played, gestured, and connected with me, the section, and the orchestra at large. He is by far one of the most thoughtful and engaging musicians I have ever met, and his teaching incorporates the same level of awareness and mindfulness when making executive technical and musical decisions. Since this concert came at the end of four years of study, it was a culmination of all the ideas we had worked through, to finally experience first hand the fantastic being that Ed Barker exudes. When the concert finished, I thanked him for the privilege and experience of sitting together, and he said very simply, "I could hear you, Ira, you sounded great!" Thank you Ed, I will never forget the experience.

When did you decide to become a musician? Did you have other career interests or goals that competed with music for you?

I have been playing music since I was three. I played violin, studied the Suzuki method, and quit around the age of 10. After a short battle with drums for a year, I picked up the bass at 12 and have never looked back. It wasn't until the age of 15 that I seriously considered applying to college as a music major, with the dream of going in to the profession. The goal was to attend a fine music school and study with a teacher that had orchestral experience. I thought that if I did that my study of the orchestral repertoire would give me the best opportunity to land a job in a great orchestra. Little did I know that I played my cards right and everything unfolded the way I had anticipated. The specifics of school, teacher, summer festival, etc worked itself out, but the content of that was a visualization turned realization. Like other young men, I played sports, and had interest in them beyond high school. When it came down to deciding about a career, music resonated more strongly with me as something I could do for many decades, as opposed to a short athletic career.

How long have you owned your current bass/basses? What do you like about them? What do you wish were different about them?

My first Italian bass, circa 1850, has been in my life since 2002. I acquired it shortly before my last semester of study at Boston University. I played my senior recital and the Boston Symphony Section Bass audition with this new instrument, and it was a huge leap from the modern Romanian bass I was playing at the time. The Italian, formerly known as Tyrone, now known as Tyra, since having the Laborie endpin hole installed, is a beautiful chocolate brown color, and the sound is similar in description. The shoulders are extremely easy to get around, despite the bottom bout being much wider.

I have had numerous successful auditions, recitals, and competitions on this bass, and it has been a friend to me. The ironic part of all this is that it was previously owned by H. Stevens Brewster, the former Principal Bass of the National Symphony before Hal Robinson took the post in 1985. Mr. Brewster sold the bass to a student, who, went to grad school at Rice University, studying with Paul Ellison, and then became an established jazz musician in Houston. Then the bass goes back to Rice University, but now in my hands, as I study with Mr. Ellison, and then back to the NSO in 2005.

I recently purchased another fine Italian bass, also from the mid 19th century. This one is even smaller than Tyra, and also a wonderful sound throughout. It was owned by the late Kenneth Harper, former Assistant Principal Bassist with the Colorado Symphony. Ken was my teacher for two summers at the International Festival Institute at Round Top, and we stayed friends for years. Ken was one of those guys that just stayed engaged in lessons, conversation, concerts, without any notion of not being present. He was the most giving teacher I've ever had, and he taught me so much about music, life, and the orchestral world. Ken's bass brings me joy, not only because it is one of the finest basses I've ever played, but because Ken's spirit is very much a part of the sound, vibration, and character of the instrument.