Bringing the bass into the spotlight

Murphy's concert features music composed specifically for the bass

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2002

It has many names: Double bass, standup bass, doghouse, upright bass, contrabass, bass fiddle, bass viol, string bass. With the deepest voice in the string family, the bass rarely gets the spotlight as a lead or melody instrument.

On Saturday night Patrick Murphy, principal bassist with the Juneau Symphony, performs a concert featuring music composed expressly for the bass.

"It's classical music written for the double bass and there's a little jazz at the end," Murphy said. Pianist Laurell Clough will accompany.

Murphy, 32, teaches orchestra and advanced band at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, as well as music appreciation at the University of Alaska Southeast. He was principal bassist in the Plymouth Symphony in Michigan for a year, and played for seven years with the Waterloo Symphony in Iowa, where he grew up. He moved to Juneau in 1999.

Murphy also has played bass and guitar in rock groups. He recorded a CD of his original folk and country songs called "Pantry" in 2000. Songwriting, teaching and other projects kept him away from the bass for a while and this concert provided incentive to learn new music. There is no charge for the performance.

"I just wanted to push myself," he said. "I have a degree in bass performance and haven't played much. I just started playing with the symphony."

Murphy said when the bass is featured, players often perform music written originally for other instruments and transcribed for the bass.

"I wanted to play music written for the bass," he said.

The concert will include a piece by the early 18th century Italian composer and bassist Dragonetti, a gavotte by early 17th century Italian composer Lorenziti, an elegy by late 19th century composer Bottesini, also Italian, and a concerto by 18th century Czech composer Pichel.

A gavotte is a moderately quick piece of music, originally for a dance of French peasant origins. An elegy is a short pensive composition.

"I'm also doing a contemporary piece by American jazz bassist Charlie Haden he's still living," Murphy said. "It's an unaccompanied improvisational piece."

The bass is a holdout from the viol family, a group of stringed instruments similar to the violin family but tuned in fourths instead of fifths. The bass was the largest member. The violin family became prominent and the viol group faded, Murphy said.

The term double bass refers partly to the size of the instrument and partly to the role it plays.

"In the past it was common for the bass part of a piece to be played by the harpsichord and doubled by a bass instrument like a bassoon or cello, and so the doubling of the bass line led to the term," Murphy said.

The 45minute concert will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Douglas Community United Methodist Church, Third and E streets in Douglas.

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