Following Braizahn Jones’ audition for the Oregon Symphony, a committee member took to the internet to sing his praises. “Braizahn’s playing really stuck out to us because of the incredible dynamic range, stylistic contrast, and flexibility he had when asked to adjust things. Flexibility is important,” wrote Colin Corner. “His Mozart was light and well-phrased, and his Mahler and Strauss were ripping.” Bravo, indeed. Jones, assistant principal bass, joined the Symphony in the fall of 2018 after graduating from The Curtis Institute of Music and studying previously at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He’s performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Seattle Symphony and serves on several summer festival faculties, including the National Orchestral Institute.
When and why did you start playing the bass?
I started in high school after a friend of mine “convinced” me to join an orchestra so she could have a friend with her.
She had five very convincing dollars. I chose the bass because our orchestra teacher offered candy bars for picking an instrument varying from mini (violin) to king-size (bass). The rest is history!
Is your family musical?
No, not at all! My younger sister developed an interest for the violin and then viola after I started to play the bass, but she’s since found passion in other areas of her life.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Listen to tons of music. It’s okay not to like everything, but you’ll never know what you do or don’t like about music unless you listen to everything. I’m constantly amazed by all the different interpretations that can exist for a single musical phrase.
What’s an average day like for you?
Typically, I have rehearsal in the morning with the Oregon Symphony. I’ll do my smoothie and coffee thing before (and maybe after, too), and then I’ll practice until that day’s nba games start. Then, I just play bass and watch basketball unless I have more important things to do. It all depends on who’s around. Also, some days, I have more than one rehearsal, and other days I teach bass lessons. On extra special days, I get to do all of the above.
Do you get nervous before a performance? Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I always get nervous before the show, but something about the first note melts away the nerves for me and turns all that energy into something else. Some call it passion, but I would describe it more as direction. If you don’t direct that energy and tell it where to go, it will tell you where to go. As for rituals, I have none that are conscious!
Tell us about your favorite performance venues.
As a bassist, many venues tend to be frustrating to play in. Typically, the acoustics either make the bass sound nonexistent or completely overwhelming. There are some exceptions, though, such as the Musikverein of Vienna, Austria. That hall sounds so pure and rich. I remember wishing I could record every second of sound I heard in that space even when we weren’t playing.
If we agree to define “classical training” in music as an “extended study and mastery of a complete system of techniques, pedagogy, musical knowledge, and repertoire,” make a case for this approach in our multimedia, digitally driven world.
I wouldn’t even know how to do otherwise. When you begin to understand the universal aspects of music in an orchestra or ensemble, there are suddenly obvious paths that a lot of abstract concepts follow. Rhythm is a great example. Once you learn to follow the most significant musical lines of a piece you’re playing, what you need to do with your rhythm for hierarchy or balance becomes clear. Learning how to balance things on a sensory and artistic level has merit in every walk of life. To succeed at work, it helps to understand that the group objectives usually take priority over the individual.
In your opinion, are symphony orchestras still relevant or are they museums?
Symphony orchestras have changed in that almost all do bring the art of coordinated instrumental music to people wherever they may be. Even the most famous orchestras take their music out of the concert hall. My favorite take on this comes from an unfortunate necessity. Music has come to be considered expendable in schools all across the nation, and orchestras are the Band-aid for this dilemma. Whether through run-out concerts at schools or hosting kid’s shows filled to the brim with students, orchestras have taken a proactive approach in providing exposure.
What are your fondest musical memories?
When I started diving deep into my favorite recordings of different symphonies, I quickly found my way to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. I was driving a friend home in a slightly mountainous area of Las Vegas, and when I turned on my music in the car, she said, “What the heck? You actually listen to this outside of class?” I didn’t even know how to respond since my love for the music was exploding, so I simply turned up the volume. By the time we got to her neighborhood, she was singing the melodies of the second movement as if she was preparing to perform them that night onstage. I saw music work its magic that day. That movement will forever make me think of that sunset and those mountains.
Who are your favorite musicians?
That’s a hard question! I’ve met and heard so many mind-blowing musicians. If I had to name one, it would have to be either Edgar Meyer or Jascha Heifetz. I don’t like using words like “divine” or “sublime,” but they are both well beyond those words in my eyes.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be thankful for the opportunity. Whatever that opportunity may be, try and find a genuine space in yourself that feels thankful for it.