Music major, Class of '08,
URECA Summer Research Program '07
Professors Joseph Carver &
Arthur Haas, Music
I think that's essentially why I was attracted to the viola da gamba. It's a very freeing instrument. And music written for it is beautiful. And I want to create something beautiful, I want to create something that people want to listen to. And I don't want to struggle doing it. I still want to do that. And now I'm really interested in exploring the modern techniques and modern repertoire of the double bass. I find it very exciting and would like to be a part of that.
Interview: read more >>
Researcher of the Month
Mastering the double bass is a tall order for anyone. But when Lisa Dowling was selected to play this instrument for her high school's string orchestra based on her height (and the school's need for a double bass player!), it was a very fortuitous match: since then, this talented 5'11" instrumentalist has performed with the Melbourne symphony in her native Australia while studying at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia (2002); travelled to the US to study at Penn State (2003) and the Mannes College of Music (2004); and now, happily, is one of the very talented undergraduate music majors to be found on campus, here at Stony Brook University.
Studying with Prof. Joseph Carver, Lisa has excelled in performance, not only with the double bass, but also with the viola da gamba, the Viennese-violone, and the G-violone. She debuted her French bow stance and bowhold in April 2006, playing Serge Koussevitsky's Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra at a concert jointly sponsored by URECA and the Department of Music, organized by Prof. Perry Goldstein. "It's one of the most well known concertos; it's a simple piece of music but especially the second movement I find is very beautiful. It's a really good piece of music to expose the lyrical quality of the double bass." Lisa has also been part of a number of outstanding recitals and performances— primarily through graduate student chamber groups such as the Baroque Ensemble (winners of the Early Music Collegium Grant) directed by Prof. Arthur Haas; and the Contemporary Chamber Players. Lisa Dowling also recently gave a solo recital this past May. She recently performed at the Boston Early Music Festival playing with the Stony Brook Baroque Ensemble on June 13th (11:30 am), at the Boston Center for Adult Education.
This spring , Lisa Dowling was selected for a 2007 URECA summer program award to fund her early music project, a research and performance experience which involves collaboration with her primary mentor, Dr. Joseph Carver, as well as Dr. John Mark Rozendaal, a well known viola da gamba scholar and musician based in New York City with whom she has studied viola da gamba for the past 3 years. Exploring double bass history and the history of bowed bass instruments in general, Lisa hopes to gain enough insight to present a lecture recital this fall on the evolution of bowed bass instruments. Of her commitment to the double bass, Lisa states "It takes great dedication and patience to become an accomplished musician and even more to become an inteligent one. . . It is not enough to grind away in your practice room for 6 hours a day. The ability to successfully communicate the power of music not only comes from technical mastery, but to also have an understanding of the history behind the intention."
Regarding double bass performance, Lisa adds "I think I really like the idea — not so much controlling the orchestra or controlling a section— but being the foundation, being the rock for everyone around me. I think that's a huge responsibility and I like having that much responsibility." Below are some excerpts shared from her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director .
Karen: Tell me a little about your research project.
Lisa:This summer I am working primarily with my viola da gamba teacher, John Mark Rozendaal [while also communicating with Joe Carver, my primary mentor, in France by email]. John Mark has a special interest in string pedagogy. He teaches kids of all ages and capabilities on cello, viola da gamba. So I'm very interested in working with him because I am also interested in teaching. I've had such a hard time in my own process as a musician in understanding a musical culture of my instrument, because in the past 6-7 years since I've been studying double bass, and moved around to different countires, worked with different teachers and lived in different cities, I've noticed that there has been much controversy, misunderstanding and disagreement regarding double bass technique. I am trying to get a cohesive idea of how the conflicting sounds cultures and techniques developed. And I really want to do something and create something that is worthwhile and give back to the community. I think the only way I can do this as a musician is by helping people understand that learning the double bass needn't be difficult. The process can be enjoyed by people of all abilities and backgrounds. I am also interested in the therapeutic qualities of music and its ability to cross social boundaries.
I've had an interest in early music, Renaissance period, and Baroque music for several years. I think it's really interesting, looking at the development of my instrument from that period up until now. It's had significant changes, and I think it's important to what I'm doing— and eventually to teach what I'm doing— to go back and study with someone who understands this, understands the development of the instrument.
How did you first get started playing double bass?
I started to study double bass when I was in high school. Mostly because I'm tall and they needed a bass player. Actually I was going to play French horn but the school didn't have one, so they decided I should play double bass. They needed one in the string orchestra. (The string orchestra when I was in high school was very good.) I liked the repertoire, I liked the music. And I enjoyed it straightaway! A couple of years later I ended going to music school. It happens all the time with a lot of double bass players I talk to. . .
Is this considered a late start, starting double bass studies as a high school student? How did you find your way to Stony Brook?
Americans generally start much younger, but it's not that uncommon in Australia where I grew up. After high school, I moved from Brisbane to Melbourne and studied a year in Melbourne. I was part of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra run by the VCA Victoria College of Arts, the conservatory I was attending. I spent one year there and then applied to participate in the Melbourne University Exchange Program. I then spent 5 months at Pennsylvania University studying with Robert Nairn, and then moved to Brooklyn for 7 months, spending my time preparing for auditions at Julliard, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes College of Music, NEC and Boston Conservatory. I decided to go to Mannes because they offered me an opportunity to study historical performance practice and the viola da gamba. I was always interested in it and adored the music of that time period. I was attracted to the instrument due to its lyrical qualities and took to the instrument really well. Whenever I listened to a recording, it always seemed that there was an overwhelming ease of beauty, that the bow was gliding across the string effortlessly. I wanted to emulate this ease of sound in my double bass playing. After a year at Mannes, I was playing lot more early music than modern double bass. My viola da gamba teacher suggested that I look into Stony Brook because of the opportunities available with the Baroque Ensemble and the double bass professor, Joseph Carver. She was really impressed with his musicianship and his approach to music in general. And she thought that he would be a good person for me to study double bass with. I've been here 4 semesters now.
How have you found it here at Stony Brook?
I really like it. I think it's great. What I like about the undergraduate program in the music department is the close affiliation with the graduate program. The undergraduate program is not especially tailored to performance majors. But because I'm studying with a faculty member, I'm able to play a lot of chamber music with graduate students. And the graduate program here is fantastic. Graduates from Julliard, from Manhattan, from all over the country come here to study with faculty so the level is exceptionally high. I feel privileged as an undergrad to be exposed to such a high level of music making. And I really enjoy being associated with the graduate students so much. They've helped me a lot!
Tell me a little more more about the instruments you play.
Well there's a couple of bass instruments that I play. One is the G violone. One is the Viennese bass. Let me start with double bass. A modern double bass has essentially evolved from the gamba family. They're have 4 strings, tuned backwards from a violin. Top string is G, D, A, E. Violin would be E, A, D, G. We play two different types of bow holds. And I've been fortunate enough to learn both of them. I think it's important, especially as a teacher, to be able to teach your students both ways of playing. One is French bow, an overhand bow grip that cellists use. The other is German bow, an underhand or gamba style bow grip.
The Viennese bass was used in the classical period of Mozart, Haydn and Brahms. It has 5 gut strings. And it's fretted. The tuning is different from a modern instrument. Tuning is from top to bottom, A, F#, D, A, F. Sometimes the bottom string is D. This tuning allows for much resonance and an openness of sound that the modern tuning cannot create. The viola da gamba precedes all modern string instruments. It was used in the Renaissance and Baroque periods and very popular in England in Elizabethan times. There's a wealth of music written for the instrument, some of which has been transcribed for modern double bass. The viola da gamba has 6 strings, sometimes 7. It's tuned in fourths with a major third in the middle. The bow is held underhand, similar to a German double bass bowhold and the instrument is supported with your legs (there's no endpin). Viola da gamba literally means viol of the leg.
Did you travel from Australia with your instrument? Do you have access to any instruments here?
I brought my double bassfrom Australia. It can be difficult to travel with due to its size. Recently there are detachable neck basses available, so you can take off the neck and put it in a suitcase in normal baggage area. The school owns a Viennese bass, a viola da gamba and a G-violone .. . it's fantastic! I feel lucky to have access to these instruments.
Do you get opportunities to perform?
All the time! This past Spring Semester I was involved with so many different performances. I have performed with the Contemporary Chamber Players. They're predominantly a graduate group that explores contemporary music of upcoming new composers. I was involved in a concert on March 28th. Emmy Holmes-Hickes, a graduate violinst and I performed Isang Yun's 'Together for Violin and Double bass'. The baroque ensemble was involved with the Orfeo production in April and we recently had a concert here at the Staller Center, and a church in Islip. Arthur Haas is the Director.. He really loves teaching and performing and adores this music. He's had so many students who'd never played baroque music before who've come to his class and ended up being baroque musicians. That's a testament to what kind of work he does, and how enthusiastic he is about it. The double bass studio presented 'Double Bass Odyssey, 2007' on April 24th at the Staller Centre Recital Hall - a presentation of new works written in collaboration with Stony Brook Composers. Johnathan Shapiro, a graduate percussionist and I performed a piece by Max Dykers called 'The Clemency of Milk' for double bass and percussion. And of course there are the Symphony Orchestra concerts, the Undergraduate Orchestra concerts, all the recitals that people need a double bassist for. . . chamber music events. It never ends.
You've had many teachers. Is it possible to say who has has the most influence on you?
All my teachers have influenced me in some way. My current teacher Joe Carver, though, has probably influenced me the most. I think the most important thing I've learned is the value of trusting yourself, trusting your decisions. And letting go of everything, all your inhibitions, and all your insecurities so that the most important thing comes down to just sharing music with people. When I first started studying with Joe, he approached me with a revolutionary new technique invented by Francois Rabbath. I was somewhat cautious or even narrow minded, at first--not yet ready to be taken out of my comfort zone. But the semester afterwards, I was constantly recording myself, playing different bow holds, so I could understand really what was better for me, what was more true to my own expressive voice. That was essentially what he wanted me to ask myself: what did I want? what ultimately did I want to experience and share with people? It's a huge step to take for an undergrad.
Have any performances made a particular impact on you ?
I played a solo recital on May 12th. For that recital, I used my teacher's solo instrument (rather than my own bass). It was. . . an experience! I can't still put it into words because it was so overwhelming. My bass at the moment is an orchestral instrument so I've had a hard time playing some of the music that I've liked. I played music for my recital that I probably couldn't have done if I was using my own instrument. And I think that's essentially why I was attracted to the viola da gamba. It's a very freeing instrument. And music written for it is beautiful. And I want to create something beautiful, I want to create something that people want to listen to. And I don't want to struggle doing it. I still want to do that. But now, I'm in the process of buying a solo instrument . . And now I'm really interested in exploring the modern techniques and modern repertoire of the double bass. . . Composers are starting to explore the instrument in new ways too, using the string length in a positive way by exposing the distance between the diatonic scale, explosing the extent of the harmonic series, exposing the large number of sound colors and sonorities possible on an instrument of this size. I find it very exciting and would like to be a part of that.
That recital, was that a requirement of your major?
No but I think it's important. Especially if you want to be a performer and especially as an undergrad, it's helpful to expose yourself to as many performance possibilities, so that you meet your anxiety face to face. By doing so, you beign to understand how to communicate with people. Just the act of performing is very powerful. The ability to execute the music into a performance is sometimes more important than being technically perfect.
Do you ever get nervous?
I do. Actually when you saw me play at the URECA concert last year, I was nervous because everything was still new to me. I had just started to stand (rather than use a stool) and to use the French bow grip. Because everything was so new, I felt exposed and there was actually a moment in that performance where I had to mentally calm myself down. . . but I go through stages and it seems to fluctuate. I don't know always what will affect me. Sometimes I'm very nervous. Sometimes I'm not. Especially in the last year, I've been pushed out of my comfort zone. It's been a little difficult for me to relax and grasp what I actually do have and share that with people. I was a little nervously excited for my recent recital. But when I started playing it was fine. I had a really good time and I really enjoyed myself. And that's what it's all about.
What's been your favorite experience so far, related to performance?
The first baroque ensemble performance I was involved in last year was amazing! We played a Vivaldi Concerto. At the end of the concert, we got a standing ovation. It was great ! It's the reason why I want to do music. . .Sharing a deep emotion with people that doesn't require words and that also transcends time and space is a very special thing. Also my recent recital was definitely something that I was very proud of. The work that I've done last year with my teacher really came together and I was really happy he could be there. Performing at the Concertgebow, one of the great performance spaces in the world, in Amsterdam last summer was definitely a highlight, as was playing 'Alcione', an orchestra suite by Marin Marais with David Sinclair, a great bass player and pedagogue, and all the TafelMusik (a baroque orchestra based in Toronto) members. Performing under conductors Philippe Herreweghe and Francois Xavier Roth with the Juene Orchestre Atlantique last year in Saintes, France….this list is too long.
What's going to be the output of your project this summer? A research paper, a performance?
I am going to write a paper. And I plan to do a lecture performance. I'm thinking too about possibly submitting an article to the International Society of Basses magazine. . . . I'm going to record a few pieces. I would like to record the same piece a couple of times using a couple different techniques—sitting down playing my German bow, standing up playing French bow, exploring different techniques and instruments and exploring the modern repertoire. Because I have come across such discrepancies amongst the methods that teahers use, it's important to me to explore many facets of the double bass, the way it's taught and played. Perhaps because I've moved so many times and been exposed to different teaching methods, that's why it's been such an important topic on my mind.
Have you had much experience teaching?
I did teaching back home, privately and as a chamber music coach at a few festivals. I don't have students here yet, but hope to get some more teaching experience next fall . . . You learn so much about yourself when you're teaching. You really do. You learn all your flaws, what strengths you have, what you need to work on. It's a very important process in becoming a musician.
I don't especially enjoy or advocate teaching styles of being aggressive —getting a positive response from saying something negative. Part of Francois Rabbath's philosophy is the idea of teaching with love. If you make a mistake, it's okay, it means you're human. I recently bought his DVD called Art of the Bow. I watch it everyday. It's become something really special to me. He sees life still like a child in that each day is about discovering and the joy of learning. His love of performing and sharing muisc is incredible; it's amazing. Sometime in November, Joe hopes to take the bass studio over to Paris and have a week-long master class with him. I think that would be great!
Do you have any advice to future undergrads?
I think it's important to constantly ask questions, to do research on your own and not to take everything at face value. I think you need to be exposed to different kinds of music and genres. While I still think practicing 5-6 hours a day is important, you need to listen to as much music as you can, go to the library and borrow CDs and study scores and more importantly, go see live performances.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I have a few options. I am thinking about staying at Stony Brook. The graduate program here would allow me to develop further my interests in Early and Contemporary music. I might go to Basle or Frankfurt to study Viennese Bass. I am auditioning for 'Ensemble Modern' next summer. Ensemble Modern is a contemporary Orchestra based in Frankfurt. They offer a one-year masters program. Or I could go to Ithaca College and study with Nick Walker. He is a graduate of Stony Brook. Teaching and performing in New York is also a possibility. . . I think it is possible to make a career performing both early and contemporary music. Today's musician has to strive to be qualified to teach and perform in any genre successfully. That's good news to me in a way because I can't cut myself off to anything. I'm so excited and interested in all these things, and I didn't want to have to choose. And I don't think I have to.
It's been a pleasure interviewing you! I'd just like to finish up by wishing you well on your upcoming URECA summer research project.
I'm really excited, really grateful for the opportunity to do this in the summer! When I reflect back, I see how I'm a product of change, of moving cities, changing schools, changing teachers--even changing my mind about what I want. If I hadn't gone through this process earlier on, I don't think that I would be as interested in what I'm doing now. A couple of years ago, I felt like the transitions I was going through were a negative thing. I didn't appreciate how my life was developing. But now, I'm in a good place to be able to take in those experiences, to take what I want and then leave other things behind. I'm able to take in what I think is important to my own processes and my own beliefs and my own values.