Meet Blake Hilley a Juilliard Double Bassist, Singer and Songwriter
Blake has released his music onto all streaming platforms including Apple Music and Spotify. He has released a collection of impressionistic works in his EP “Selections for Double Bass and Piano”
https://ffm.to/87oekle . He also released his debut single “Kol Nidrei”
onto these platforms as well which Jason Heath of Contrabass Conversations discusses with Blake in his podcast.
As a singer/songwriter, Blake released his original song “Fairytales”
onto Apple Music and Spotify featuring his voice, bass, original music and lyrics.
Lisa: Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
Blake: I’ve always had a strong liking to music. I tried guitar, played piano, but none of those instruments got me motivated to work. The double bass was a different story. When I left Atlanta Violins with my first 1/2 sized bass, I was about to burst. Becoming a musician was an easy choice because it was the only choice for me. It occurred to me that I wanted to chase perfection and beauty for the rest of my life. I still chase it today.
Lisa: How do you balance the performative/creative side of making music with the technical side of engineering it?
Blake: Technicality, the maneuvering of the strings, and musicality, the artistic interpretation, work together. In order to achieve an artistic goal, I must be able to execute it. It is dangerous to allow technique to determine my musical performance. This is because my musical ideas are limited to a blueprint. However, allowing my musical ideas to determine my plan of action in choosing bowings and fingerings is good craftsmanship.
Lisa: How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Blake: I typically study classical music. The classical music I have released include my “Selections for Double Bass and Piano” and my single “Kol Nidrei”. I also have begun composing rock songs including my latest release “Fairytales”.
Lisa: How did you end up choosing the double bass as your instrument?
Blake: How did I start? My introduction to the double bass began in my middle school auditorium. The students were given an introduction to each instrument, and what hooked me was the Jaws theme demonstrated on the double bass. Before we could choose our instruments, we had to be tested on them to see if we had a natural ability to perform it. I remember a teacher shouting, “for those who want double bass, go to the bass room.” I walked into an armory of basses with a few students. We were each handed a bass, and the test simply was to see if we could hold down a string. I could, and from that day, my musical journey began.
Lisa: Congrats on top honors of the 2020 CAI Competition in your division. What was that experience like – the preparation, the performance, the judges…?
Blake: Thank you! I played Faure’s elegie in c minor for the CAI Competition. When I practiced this piece, I worked towards a moving presentation. I wanted to tell a story. I would decide if I should make the first note robust or tender. Where is the climax? How should I present the recapitulation? After the work in the practice room, you practice the performance. For example, I would play it in front of my colleagues in studio class to see if my ideas translate efficiently on the spot. I remember distinctly that I auditicned on the weekend in New York, and it was snowing heavily. My accompanist and I booked an uber fast and headed to Jersey to perform. I walked into a snow plastered building, to the NV Factory Recording Studio. Each contestant was told to come no earlier than 15 minutes. You would be given a green room, then, you would walk on stage. I walked onto 5 judges. In the movies, they are always smiling and encouraging. In reality , you encounter impassible stares in which it seems nothing could move them. I played, and they said thank you. Finally, you wait. I won top prize in my division. When you perform in these competitions, the key is to have your mind only focused on the craft. If you think of the judges, the criticism, or the performance, it becomes impossible to perform. For me, it seems everything freezes. It is just me and the music.
Lisa: I love your single “Kol Nidre”. What inspired you to write it?
Blake: “Kol Nidrei” is a classical piece by Max Bruch. It is based off the Jewish prayer “Kol Nidrei” (which translates to “All Vows”) sung on Yom Kippur. The prayer expresses repentance of sin and unfulfilled vows and promises to God. The melody to me is haunting and solemn. When I play it on the bass, I use no vibrato (a musical technique that gives a note warmth) in the opening theme. I think the theme is stark and declaratory. Max Bruch wrote his “Kol Nidrei” originally on the cello with piano. I play it on the double bass. Max Bruch’s rendition of the prayer fits both religious and secular occasions. I find the piece to be a comment on mortality: facing it (d minor), denying it (D major), and accepting it (d minor). I talk with Jason Heath about my interpretation of the “Kol Nidrei” on his podcast Contrabass Conversations, which you can find on my website.
Lisa: How do you nourish your creative side when you’re not working? And how do you avoid burnout?
Blake: I nourish my creativity through listening to music. My favorite genres are Classical, Punk Rock, and Alternative. I avoid burnout by working on a variety of pieces. In that way, I do not get weary of one piece or style since I have a large work load.
Lisa: Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Blake: In the double bass world, I enjoy my teacher Rex Surany, Principal Bassist of the Metropolitan Opera. He always encourages to find your own voice and to use good craftsmanship to shape your artistry. I also like Joel Quarrington’s work, whom I have had the chance of studying with at Orford Music Online this summer on scholarship. His work is unique to me because he makes the double bass sing. I also like Edgar Meyer. I’ve had the chance to play with Edgar Meyer, but I would love a chance to work with him closer in the future. I feel that I have been lucky at Juilliard to be exposed to such great artists already including Itzhak Perlman, whom I have worked with in orchestra both at Alice Tully Hall and for the visual orchestra featured on CBS Sunday Morning. I also have worked with David Robertson, whom I performed with in his production of the Juilliard Orchestra and Mahler’s 5th Symphony at Carnegie Hall.
Lisa: What does your curiosity look like? How do you explore things?
Blake: When I work on pieces, I like to explore the potential of melody and harmony. I like to feel the life of music when I perform and how to play in such a way others can feel it too.
Lisa: At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
Blake: I honestly hope they enjoy it. I’ve been asked what is my most significant artistic moment, and I always say it is when an audience member tells me that he/she really enjoyed my music. I enjoy it because that is the goal, to produce beauty.
Lisa: What are you currently working on, and what’s next for you?
Blake: Due to the pandemic, I am currently working on solo Bach, especially the 1st cello suite. I am preparing on recording and releasing a movement from the Suite. I am also working on another song to release expressing the mood of quarantine.
To learn more about Blake Hilley, please visit www.blakehilleybass.com