for Solo Double Bass

By Frank Proto

Lessons was composed in the spring of 2002 for inclusion in A Family Album, Book 3 - The Walter Family. The folio album was a surprise for David Walter by a group of 11 of his former students on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Each composer wrote a dedication to Mr. Walter and program notes on his piece. Following are the dedication and notes for my contribution to the album.

For David, who in opening my ears, eyes and heart, also gave me my life. These words are not used lightly, for indeed, David made sure that my ears were open to every aural possibility in music, and for that matter far beyond what many of his contemporaries regarded as music. He made sure that my eyes, along with my ears, were opened to what was behind those ideas being promulgated - by those who determine what public taste and policy should be - as well as what was presented to us up front. And fnally he made sure that my heart remained open to those whose ideas were not particularly popular in their present time but perhaps had future possibilities.

Lessons is a reminiscence of sorts. A lesson with David was never a straightforward exercise in getting through the hour (read: killing time). Even with a brilliantly prepared lesson there was always something more to search for and/or talk about in the music. If one played poorly - or didn't practice enough that week - there still would be much to discuss. And discussion didn't necessarily have to be about the music at hand. There were other topics ripe for picking - other musical subjects, current events, and even automobiles (how many bass players drove Volkswagens in the 60s? Yes! And I'm sure that half of them must have studied with David, who if he wasn't the first to drive one certainly had to be among the first three!). The stories of Toscanini's Beethoven rehearsals or Casals' reverence of Bach sometimes sent my mind searching the what ifs during our lessons. What if Bach met Monk? What if Dizzy met Strauss? Discovering Beethoven for the 1st or 100th time with David is an unforgettable experience. What if the Doctor showed up in the Tardis, picked up David & on the way made a stop for Toscanini before going on for a visit with Beethoven? Going off on long tangents was frequently the cause of a lesson stretching on an extra hour or so - while the next student patiently waited for his turn. So the reminiscence here is about where my lessons sometimes went. As with most of the music that I've written, a more than casual familiarity with musical styles in addition to those of the 19th century would be of great help - which would make this little ditty a piece of cake if you were lucky enough to be a David Walter student.

To A Family Album, Book 3
To Chamber Works 4 CD

Little Suite for The Big Bassoon

By Frank Proto

One evening in 2004 I found myself participating in an unusual chamber music concert, which featured the music of Erwin Schuloff, a superbly talented Czech composer and pianist, whose career and life fell victim to the Nazis in 1942. One of the works performed on the concert was his Bass Nightingale. When I saw it listed on the program I thought "wow, what a great title!" and began thinking of Susan Nigro, whom I had met a few years earlier and who greatly impressed me with both her brilliant playing and her passionate devotion to the contrabassoon not only as a performer, but as a tireless advocate of new solo repertoire for the instrument. At that meeting Sue asked me about writing something for her and of course I said, "I'd love to!" Life was busy though and I never did get around to working on anything that I might give to her. But that evening, after I'd heard the excellent performance of Bass Nightingale by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra contrabassoonist, Jennifer Monroe, I decided then and there that I would get working on something immediately.

The very next morning, with Schuloff's work still in playing back in my mind, I wrote the first movement, a cadenza-like miniature to show off the expressive possibilities of this Herculean instrument. Over the next few days the rest of The Little Suite was born. The second movement is a fairly traditional Allegro, which alternates between a rhythmic drive and a contrasting legato, all the while challenging the performer to give us a "hey, this is a piece of cake" impression - which it certainly is not! Movement Three is simply two choruses of Blues with an introduction meant to perhaps add the question: "humm, where's this about to go?" It's sort of a duet for one where the soloist plays both the melody and that famous bass line that's been around for ages. The final movement is a foot-tapping Mambo with maybe some apologies due to Bedrich Smetna. All of us bassists - wind and string - who have done orchestral work will remember the first time "that nasty lick" from The Bartered Bride made itself known to us. I'm not sure if Tito Puente or Machito ever came across it, but if they did, I know they'd take to it as if it magically appeared out of Calle Obispo or 52nd Street.