A Day in the Life of A Double Bassist

Friday, Mar 15, 2019
Blake Hilley
Juilliard Journal
Admissions Blog
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Blake Hilley

Since starting at Juilliard in the fall, freshman Blake Hilley has come to love Fridays because in addition to academic classes, they include his bass rep class, his lesson, and his bass studio. “I love Friday, not because it’s the end of the week, but because it’s Bass Day.” Here’s how he and Victoria—the name he’s given his bass—spent his last Bass Day in January.

9am Music Theory class with Loretta Terrigno. Studying music is very different from playing it. In Theory, we talk about why music is music. What makes a piece conclude? What makes it continue? Today, we worked in groups and composed new pieces based on the Baroque style of composition. Every class increases the depth of my knowledge in music.

10:30am In Renée Baron’s Society, Politics, and Culture class, we ask questions about human nature. Why do people act? Why do they not? Today we learned about Aristotle’s view on justice and asked whether there’s a way to express justice through music. Is it my responsibility as an artist to advocate for justice, or should my role in society be to offer those with heavy heads an escape? I believe an artist should do both because an artist has the capability to inspire change while simultaneously soften blows.

12:30pm I always warm up before Bass Repertoire class. The bass lockers are located on the third floor, but they’re more than lockers, they’re cocoons, monitored for temperature and humidity. I open my locker, equip my bass with a wheel for easy travel, grab my bow, and roll (literally) to practice. The fourth floor can be a jungle—everyone scrambling for a practice room. Today, fortune smiles and my time in front of the [practice-room-availability] kiosk does not cost me an adequate warm-up before bass rep. For me, an adequate warm-up consists of tuning, followed by exercises of the bow arm, chromatic slurs, and scales with various articulations of the bow. I love the versatility that a bass possesses. From the grumbling of the lowest note to the wailing of the highest pitch, the bass captures them all with a full, resonant tone. Lastly, I work on this week’s exercise for my bass rep class. Each week our teacher, Albert Laszlo (’81, double bass), assigns an excerpt that we have to prepare and perform individually, so he can work on it with us in class. The assignment can affect my whole day. For example, Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben calls for a warrior, and when it’s assigned, Victoria, my bass, is an Amazon answering Strauss’ desire for war. But today’s assignment, Orchestral Suite No. 2, doesn’t call for war. Bach isn’t aggressive; the purpose of his suite is to entertain. I’m playing music for music’s sake!

When my turn approaches, my heart beats faster but I don’t hesitate—this is why I came to Juilliard!

3pm Time to meet up with my bass classmates in the visually and acoustically exquisite Room 543 for bass rep. I’m always one of the first students to get to class, and as more students file in, the room begins to fill with sound that completely ceases with Mr. Laszlo’s arrival; the silence is a sign of respect. He reaches his stand, plays a droning A, and all of us begin to tune before he says, “Let’s start from the Double and go straight into the Badinerie, no repeats. Here is the tempo,” and he snaps his fingers. The Double is mournful; the air breathes the anguish Bach has written until, with the decay of the half-note B, the room suddenly jumps with energy. The Badinerie begins, and the gloomy aura transforms into a bursting ball of light. The air quivers with the deep, punchy tones of the basses, until the music dwindles peacefully with a gradual ritardando. Now, the real test begins, Mr. Laszlo looks around the room searching for the first performer to play alone in front of the class. When my turn approaches, my heart beats faster but I don’t hesitate—this is why I came to Juilliard!

6:45pm I arrive at Room 520, 15 minutes before my private lesson. Once the previous student leaves, I unpack my bass and immediately get to work. In the lesson, I am asked to play, sing, and even walk to the music. As Mr. Laszlo says, music is tangible, and we must be able to feel it. If we can’t get the audience to tap their feet or dance to the music, we have failed as musicians. After every lesson, I’m always inspired. Although my lesson is in the evening, for me it feels like high noon—the apex of my day. I love to work to achieve something beautiful, and at Juilliard, I’m able to do that.

8pm Straight from my lesson, I go to Bass Studio Class in 543 with all the bassists in Mr. Laszlo’s studio (in bass rep class, the participants come from all four bass studios). In this class, we have the opportunity to play a piece in front of our peers and our teacher and receive valuable feedback. It is an environment to hone the art of performance practice. I didn’t play tonight, but I enjoyed an incredible concert from my fellow bassists. I really enjoy working with all my classmates. Everyone is so incredibly talented, and I love how we are all a team of artists striving to make something beautiful every day, and while the days fade, we create a memory that lasts.

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