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Bassist explores music's depths


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POSTED: Friday, September 18, 2009

Edgar Meyer's traveling companion generally takes up two coach seats or one business-class seat.

“;A lot of planes ... I cannot fly (on them),”; he said. “;I often have to connect or drive when others do not have to.”;

Meyer, who will perform with banjoist Bela Fleck and tabla player Zakir Hussain and the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra this weekend, is a bass player.

Not a nifty little electric Fender Precision bass. No, Meyer plays an acoustic double bass, or contrabass, the stand-up Godzilla of stringed instruments, the largest and lowest-pitched wooden instrument ever concocted, a musical tool that produces sounds more seismic than aural.

               

     

 

IN CONCERT

        Honolulu Symphony Orchestra with special guests Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain
       

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall, 777 Ward Ave.

       

» When: 8 p.m. tomorrow and 4 p.m. Sunday

       

» Cost: $19-$70 (discounts available)

       

» Info: 792-2000 or www.honolulusymphony.com

       

» Note: This weekend's program includes “;Alborada del Gracioso,”; by Ravel; “;Triple Concerto for Banjo, Double Bass and Tabla,”; by Meyer; and “;Pictures at an Exhibition,”; by Mussorgsky.

       

 

       

“;I hope it is as fun and interesting to listen to this trio as it is to participate in it,”; enthused Meyer.

Meyer's main ax is an instrument made in 1769 by Gabrielli in Florence, Italy. It gets two seats on an airplane while Meyer squeezes into one.

“;My father played the bass, and I wanted to be like him,”; Meyer explained. “;He tried to get me to play violin when I was 4 and let me go ahead with the bass when I was 5.”;

Meyer played several other instruments casually while growing up in Tennessee, where his father directed string instruments for area schools.

“;I played bass guitar—not particularly well—when I was in junior high and high school,”; he said. “;At some point in college I decided that I wanted to specialize in acoustic music and that the piano was where I wanted to invest outside of the double bass.

“;It is a terrific complement to the bass, and I still go through periods when I practice the piano a couple of hours a day.”;

What is it about the deep, orotund tones of the double bass that applies itself to music for Meyer? Many people cannot even hear the full range of tones from the double bass.

“;The voice of the bass is different from the cello by a matter of degree,”; said Meyer, who both plucks and bows the strings, depending on the music. “;Although there is a component of the sound of the middle to lower registers that is more felt than heard, the majority of the instrument is potentially quite lyrical. The bass is often used for specific functions where the low end is the main interest, but I prefer to explore a fuller range of possibilities for the instrument.”;

No kidding. In addition to being a sought-after sessionist in Nashville, Tenn., Meyer sits in equally with chamber, bluegrass and jazz groups, and has jammed with musicians as wide-ranging as Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor, Mike Marshall, Mark O'Connor and country chanteuses Alison Krauss and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

“;The bass has a significant indigenous involvement in jazz and to a lesser degree in bluegrass,”; Meyer said. “;Interestingly, its involvement in classical music outside the orchestra is peripheral, with only a handful of chamber-music pieces and no solo pieces by the greatest composers.

“;My own choices concerning what to play on the instrument are partly based on practical considerations—historical precedence, my particular background, sonic and timbre-related issues—and also on the affection that I may—or may not!—have for certain music.”;

All those competing bright violins and horns in an orchestra's upper range—are there any problems miking a contrabass for public performance?

“;A double bass is soft and dark,”; admitted Meyer. “;It is challenging to amplify the sound in a realistic and attractive manner in larger venues.”;