Nicholas Walker

The String Bass Studio of

Nicholas Walker

Associate Professor, Performance Studies
Faculty, School of Music

Information for Prospective IC Bass Students

Dear Prospective Ithaca College Bass Student,

Ithaca College offers a terrific program for bass in the context of a liberal arts college, and I hope this letter will answer many of your questions, and also give you an idea about what we do at IC.  (For questions about the audition requirements, deadlines, various majors, and programs of study please check out our web page: www.ithaca.edu/music, or speak to our admissions director, Thomas Kline, tkline@ithaca.edu, (607)274-3366). 

 

About Myself:

I began playing music in the Rochester public school system.  I grew up playing in ensembles at school, in the local youth orchestra (RPYO), at NYSSMA festivals, summer camps, in bands with my friends, and at home and in night clubs with my step father, Jim Gala, a jazz pianist.  I fell in love with many styles of music and continued to pursue them through college, a freelance life in New York City and Paris, through graduate school, and beyond.  My bass teaching at IC involves many of these styles, and I am happy to offer a curriculum that allows our students to pursue multiple interests. As far as I can tell, this is what is required of the 21st century musician -- an ability to "cross over".  (In my opinion the term itself has become obsolete).

Unlike some college bass teachers who are on the road a lot, I am in residence at IC full time.  I live with my wife, Katherine, our daughter, Clara, and our Labrador, Sam, and we love the town of Ithaca.  Small as it is, there are so many concerts each semester that it is impossible to catch all of the amazing acts that come through town.  With IC, Cornell University, and downtown Ithaca all bringing great artists here, I can honestly say that I catch more big name acts in Ithaca than I did living in NYC or Paris!  Check out these links to get a better sense of what's in town:

https://www.ithaca.edu/music/events/index.php

http://www.cornellconcertseries.com/

http://www.stateofithaca.com/

I am passionate about teaching.  I have had the benefit of working with some outstanding mentors, (Paul Ellison, Francois Rabbath, Arthur Haas, Illinois Jacquet, and Sarah Fuller, to name a few), who instilled in me a great love of learning and a genuine interest in teaching.  At IC I teach all of the bass players, and I also coach chamber music and jazz, teach courses in Early Music Performance Practice, String Pedagogy, and I lead our Period Instrument Performance Ensemble. 

I do keep a very active performing life, playing over fifty concerts a year.  (If you’d like to have a look at what I have been up to, who I have been playing with, and what projects I am involved in, check out my lists of performances).  In short, I've found this to be a very exciting community to work in; I play concertos, solo recitals, orchestra and chamber music concerts, jazz and afro-Cuban gigs, early music, folk music, South American music, and contemporary music.  Some of the concerts are out of town, but many of them are right at Ithaca College, and I work hard to make certain these engagements do not interfere with our weekly studio routine.

 

The Bass Studio:

IC has about 12 bass students in the school, and we plan to keep the class to about this size.  Most of these are undergraduates, and a few are Masters students.  My curriculum incorporates a lot of contact time with each student.  You may have noticed that athletes rarely work without a coach.  High school athletes and professionals alike have offense coaches, defense coaches, line coaches, special teams coaches, strength training coaches, physical therapists, etc.  Yet musicians are expected to clock countless hours a week with only one hour of contact time with their “coaches.”  (Some bass professors offer lessons only once every two weeks!)  I have constructed a curriculum at IC that gives me as many as eight hours of coaching time with each student each week.  This schedule allows students to incorporate new techniques, habits, and skills quickly and deeply.  Each week my students come to a private lesson, a master class (we call it Repertoire Class), an orchestral sectional, two one-hour performance issues/body awareness classes (fall semesters only), and three one-hour scale cycle technique workout sessions with the cello studio.  Additionally some bassists also see me in chamber music, bass ensemble coachings, or the Early Music Course/Ensemble.

My undergraduate curriculum is focused on the study of pure technique as well as solo and orchestral repertoire. As you know, the string bass requires a major commitment to the training of our neuromuscular playing mechanism.  A piano is a more fully constructed instrument, with the hammers and strings already in place, tuned, maintained and adjusted by the piano technician, rather than by the player.  As string players we must build all of these fine mechanisms with our bodies, training our muscles and fine motor skills to contact the strings within a fraction of a millimeter of accuracy.  This takes many hours -- many years of consistent, disciplined work, and requires the cultivation of profound physical and auditory awareness.  Through the study of pure technique involving three octave scale cycles, position surveys, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, diatonic arpeggios, and a progressive series of open string and harmonic-pattern bowing variations (which I transcribed for bass from the famous Ševčík violin and violoncello publications) we tackle this challenge thoroughly and methodically. 

One aspect of this pure technique study is our Scale Class sessions, a kind of musical running group.  The cello professor, myself, and all of the bass and cello students meet together in a big rehearsal room three times a week for an hour to play three octave scales.  Scale Class involves a 12-week program that moves through all twelve keys, playing scales in cycles of increasing speed.  Each week we focus on a different key, covering the major keys in the fall semester, and melodic minor scales in the spring semester.  Each rhythmic value is repeated five times, with a different focus for each of the five scales.  (1. Left Hand, 2. Right Arm, 3. Body Awareness, 4. Relaxation & Release of Tension, 5. Expression & Musicianship).  We play for fifty-one minutes without stopping, increasing our endurance, concentration, and working to integrate new technical skills and musical awareness along the way.  Each scale class amounts to 99 trips up and down the fingerboard, which is roughly 300 scales a week, 3600 scales a semester, 7200 scales a year, or 28,800 scales in the course of an undergraduate degree!  A tremendous amount of growth is possible with this regular, focused, supervised training.  The results are tremendous.  To learn more about our Scale Cycles, click here.

Another aspect of my lesson curriculum involves solo playing and orchestral excerpts.  The bass is enjoying a tremendous Renaissance right now.  Standards are higher than ever, and great performers enjoy more prestige and opportunities than perhaps ever before. Not long ago a standard undergraduate double bass curriculum involved studying Simandl, learning a few dozen orchestral excerpts, and a handful of concertos and sonatas.  Today our curriculum is even more demanding, with many styles and genres on the table: orchestral music, chamber music, period music, new music, jazz music, and an ever expanding list of solo works and fabulous new transcriptions for the bass.  In any given afternoon, a well prepared professional freelance bassist might be expected to know how to play stylistically informed slurs in solo Bach, an orchestral brush stroke in Mozart, a ffff hammer stroke in Strauss, a Händel eighth note pickup, a Berio psudo-ponticello, and a walking bass line in 5/4 over the changes to Coltrane’s Satellite.  So where do we start?

I believe that we are musicians first, that we hone our instincts and expression most acutely through the study of solo literature, but that the soul of the bass is the art of accompaniment.  Although it is exciting to study both of these roles at once, it is also a tremendous responsibility, with a huge amount of genres and styles to explore. 

IC bass students are encouraged to play Solo Repertoire by Vanhal, Sperger, Dittersdorf, Capuzzi, Dragonetti, Bottesini, and Koussevitzky, as well as new transcriptions of Bach’s cello suites, and viola da gamba sonatas, Gabrielli’s ricercari, and transcriptions of other baroque sonatas by Telemann, Vivaldi, Corelli, and Handel.  I also encourage the study of more contemporary works, like those by Hindemith, Proto, Anderson, Schuller, Glière, Rabbath and Hauta-Aho for example.

The study of Orchestral Excerpts is absolutely fundamental to the development of a college bassist, and essential for understanding the nature of the instrument.  Our director of Orchestras at IC, Jeffrey Meyer, is committed to programming mainstream symphonic repertoire as well as works required on the traditional audition circuit.  (Visit this site to have a look at the full Symphonic Orchestra repertoire, and this site to look at the full Chamber Orchestra repertoire of the last three or four seasons).  In addition to sectional coachings and private lessons on this repertoire, I assign specific excerpts for study each semester.  These include Mozart 35, 39, & 40, Beethoven 5, 7, 9; Brahms 1, & 2, Strauss Ein Heldenleben, and Don Juan, and others, depending on level and interest.  In addition to our school orchestras, many students also have the opportunity to play in reginal orchestras such as the Binghamton Philharmonic, The Orchestra of the Southern Fingerlakes, and The Cayuga Chamber Orchestra.

Another primary aspect of my teaching involves a self-management book that I've put together based on a manual I used as an undergraduate when I was a student of Paul Ellison's at Rice University.  In short this is a workbook that helps student learn to organize their time and energies to reach their own goals.  I find that some students just can not seem to get done what they want to get done, or stay focused on what they want to stay focused on in order to reach their goals.  Through a lesson planner, a time management planer, and a system of self-evaluation, I.C. students are able to get clearer about what their goals really are, and they are able to set up a sustainable daily lifestyle to help them reach their goals in a realistic time frame.  The important thing is that it is all about the student's goals – it is not only about me imposing my goals on the student.  

Our undergraduate curriculum is geared towards exposure and the development of healthy, self-sustaining work habits and skills, and in the final semesters of a performance degree, I encourage students to begin to hone in on a particular direction that especially interests them.

I do feel it is always better for a student and a teacher to meet together before shaking hands on a four-year commitment together.  If you would ever like to come for a visit, it would be a pleasure to meet you, and it would give you a chance to get a sense of me, Ithaca, and of Ithaca College.  We have basses on campus that are at your disposal, and you would be more than welcome to have a lesson, sit in on another lesson, hear the orchestra rehearse, and join in our Repertoire Class, and Scale Class.

Our admissions director, Thomas Kline, (tkline@ithaca.edu 607 274 3366), would be happy to answer any additional curriculum or audition questions you may have, should you become serious about applying to our program.  

I hope this information is helpful to you.  If you have any other questions about the bass studio, or about me, or if you'd just like to say hello, please feel free to call or write.  I look forward to the opportunity meet you and hear you play sometime soon,

 

Nicholas Walker

School of Music  ·  3322 Whalen Center  ·  Ithaca College  ·  Ithaca, NY 14850  ·  (607) 274-3171  ·  Full Directory Listing