Tim Weddle, alumnus of Southeast Missouri State University, didn’t exactly audition for a chair in a highly-esteemed orchestra. But he saw an opportunity and chose not to ignore it. As a result, he’s been accepted as an associate member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra and has been invited to audition for a substitute position in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
“I chose to play for the conductor of the Civic Orchestra knowing the auditions had already passed,” Tim said. “I guess I made an impression on the guy.”
The Chicago Civic Orchestra, made up of young musicians representing the best music schools from around the country and the world, is the only training orchestra affiliated with a major American orchestra – the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Its principle goal is to recruit a diverse group of pre-professional musicians and train them at the highest level. Each young musician has the opportunity to work closely with a professional from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, along with Cliff Colnot, the orchestra’s principal conductor.
Upon graduating from Southeast in 2006 with a bachelor of arts degree in double bass performance, Tim was accepted to the master’s program at the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. He’s had the opportunity to play with the Philharmonic Orchestra, Indiana’s premiere orchestra.
“The four and a half years at Southeast helped me to focus and build my skills as a bassist. If it wasn’t for Southeast, I wouldn’t be here at Indiana.”
With thousands of musicians graduating from universities every year, competition for seats in an orchestra is fierce. Tim said when it came time to look at graduate schools, he knew he had to attend a top music school to stay in the game.
“Indiana has really given me the skills necessary for a career in classical music. The atmosphere is very competitive, especially for bassists whose primary source of income in a career setting is orchestral. There aren’t many jobs out there for bassists. You can teach, but teaching positions are even harder to come by than performance positions because many professors are tenured.”
To keep up with his colleagues, Tim said he practices for five to six hours every day, not including the two hours spent in rehearsal. He said it’s the individual’s responsibility to know his part in the music. When an instrumentalist doesn’t play well, the only result is embarrassment.
“If the individual doesn’t know his part, he gets scornful looks from his section. Nobody wants those. Even though the player knows he made a mistake, it’s like the other musicians are saying ‘I hope you realize you messed up.’”
At Indiana’s Summer Institute, Tim works with the principal bass players from the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra in preparation for their upcoming performance. Working so closely with professional musicians sounds intimidating, but Tim said having a calm and focused mind can alleviate the anxiety.
“If you get intimidated by the professionals, it shows in your playing. They’ll try and correct your nervousness rather than your musicianship. When I go into a lesson with a professional, I have the mindset of ‘they were a student, too.’ Everyone comes from the same place and works up to their professional status. The principal players are there to help you, not to destroy you.”
When the Indiana Philharmonic rehearses, it is an intense experience. Tim said the ensemble performs large and difficult works, and every rehearsal lasts two hours. Musicians are given only a ten-minute break; sometimes five minutes if they are working on a difficult piece of music. Once the conductor raises his baton, the orchestra is expected to focus solely on the task at hand, with no diversions.
“Bass players have been known to joke around a little, but the atmosphere is very hush-hush and quiet. My section’s principal has been called out because he was goofing off too much.”
After such an intense mental workout, the musicians need a break. Tim said socialization is an essential part of the music-making process.
“These are your colleagues, and it’s important to know who you’re playing with. A section is to act like ‘one.’ This is why professional symphonies sound so great – they play with the same people for years and develop their styles from each other, which ultimately marinades into a tight section.”
Tim, a native of Jefferson City, Mo., said when he first came to Southeast, he wasn’t very good at the bass.
“It wasn’t until my junior year that I really knew I wanted to pursue a career in double bass. I love challenges, and I told myself that if I choose to pursue this, I must promise to give it 100 percent every day. I’ve never stopped believing that I may get to a professional symphony. With a frame of mind like this, the battle is half over.”
Tim said he first started playing jazz music on the upright bass, and he was really influenced by electric bass players such as Victor Wooten and Les Claypool.
“It’s nice to have both musical backgrounds. Jazz can be a nice release from such a ‘stiff back and straight face’ kind of mentality in classical music. However, at Indiana, classical music takes up my entire day, so I don’t really have time for jazz. It would be fun to play jazz again someday, maybe for some extra cash.”
Tim believes it’s important to live your life so it benefits your career goals. One bit of advice he has for future Southeast students is to manage their sleep schedules so it complements their day.
“Don’t stay up late. Get an early start on your day, because life is really short and the job market is very competitive. There is no time to waste.”