Learning Library Segments
Bruce ColsonPrimary Use of Medium: Classical & Irish Folk
Interviewer: Donna Wetegrove
Interview Location: Bruce's home base in North Central Austin as he takes time for us "between gigs".
Interview Date: 9.6.06
Writer: Lori Henika
Videographer/Audio Editor: Josh Kinney
What Type Of Artist Do You See Yourself As?
"I'm a musician. More specifically, a violinist, but a musician."
How Did You Get Here?
Bruce's mother decided, even before he was born, that he was going to be a violinist. She, a pianist, wanted to accompany her son as he played the violin, and introduced him to the instrument when he was seven years old. Bruce's future as a violinist was already determined, but like most adolescents, he did not want to practice as much as his father wanted him to. By the time he reached junior high school, his parents allowed him to stop, but he then realized he didn't want to. For his senior year in high school, Bruce did not play the violin after a run-in with the orchestra teacher. Much like knowing as a child that he would play the violin, Bruce knew that he would go to college. After not playing the violin for a year, he pulled it back out, auditioned, and was accepted into music school. He started practicing five to seven hours each day through college. Bruce was accepted into the Austin Symphony during his second year of college, and then began doing freelance work with small orchestras. He notes that playing for all of these different groups helped his reading ability- he could pick up a piece and play it very quickly.
Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?
"It's funny that I've stuck it out all this time, because now I enjoy it more than ever. Bruce speaks about the variety of music that he clearly loves working with. The musical group he is a part of, Mundi, takes Renaissance and Medieval music and updates it with a more modern sound. "That's Mundi. Everybody has an idea of what it sounds like. But it's a lot of fun, and that really stretches me because I have to improvise…Being on stage as a soloist almost, … is quite different from sitting in the middle of an orchestral section playing music that's sitting in front of you." Bruce's background of classical music has led him to explore other kinds, like Irish fiddling and Baroque music. He finds that his ability to play all different kinds of music helps expand his career. One of his friends, a conductor, contacted Bruce about playing a score he was conducting that had Classical and fiddle elements, noting that Bruce was the only person he knew that could do it.
"I love the piano, too. I love the way the piano sounds. I don't know. I don't know why. I mean, you'd think I would have gone to piano at least some because my mother played, and I did try a little bit early on to play. It's so different from the violin. I mean it's a harmonic instrument you're playing, you know, chords and harmony, whereas the violin is purely, almost purely a melodic instrument. You're playing one line. I don't know. I'm not sure I can come up with a significant answer to that question. I guess I just stuck with it."
Does The Material Dictate The Design, Or Does Your Design Idea Dictate How The Material/Medium Is Used?
The music Mundi plays usually begins with Darrel, the guitarist, finding written out music of Renaissance or Medieval songs, or hearing something that he likes and writing it down. The group sits down to play it and talk about how they might want to change what they have started out with. The dynamic within the group allows everyone's opinions to be incorporated, and allows the songs to continually change. Part of the change that occurs in the songs is spontaneous. Occasionally, someone might have a new idea about how a song should sound, so he or she may just go ahead and play it that way. Other times, musicians may lose track of where they are in the music, and play something that sounds similar until they find their way back to the right place.
What Tools Are Required In Your Process?
"This is a violin. You gotta have a violin to be a violinist. I'm not sure exactly what I could say about this. This actually is a very old violin. This violin is about 250 years old, so it was built around the time of Mozart. That's kind of cool. And the reason I play this particular violin is because I really like the way it sounds. It has a particular sound that I really like, plus most people who think violins think expensive, and a good violin is expensive and I was able to afford this one, so [another] factor … is affordability. I had a friend who is a stringed instrument dealer in Houston and he knew I was looking for an instrument and we would meet occasionally and he would show me things and this came up at one point and I was able to purchase it." Bruce explains how the angle and shape of the neck on a Baroque violin differs from his violin- the Baroque neck is thicker, shorter, and the angle almost perfectly flat. The neck of his own violin has been replaced to withstand the higher tension of modern strings, while the instrument and the scroll are original. A Baroque violin also has gut strings (strings made from sheep or cow gut) that provide a warmth and richness to the sound. Bruce's own violin has composite strings with metal wound around a core that provide a brighter, louder sound. Bruce notes that a Classical soloist would want this kind of loud sound that can carry through a concert hall, but an orchestral musician would not want to stand out from the other instruments. Although Bruce has four or five violins, he uses this particular one for everything he plays, and is keeping his eye out for another one to add to his collection.
Do You Consider It Functional Art?
"I think music is a necessity."
Please Speak About The Connections In Your Work.
Bruce speaks about the kinds of people that he meets and has worked with in his career, including Bob Hope, Red Skelton, the Smothers Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. He notes that people get excited when they learn that he is a musician. They become interested and start asking questions, "so it sets the stage to have a conversation."
Please Summarize Your Entire Process.
One of the most notable differences in how Bruce plays with Mundi and outside of Mundi is the availability of the sheet music during the performance. The piece that he is currently learning will be performed in a couple of days. He does not have to memorize the work, as the music will be in front of him during the performance. There will be a conductor, and he will be expected to strictly adhere to the written music. Playing with Mundi, most of the music is memorized, so there is an added pressure of learning the music, but there is no strict rule that the music has to be played exactly how it is written, so the flexibility leads to a more relaxed performance. The current members of Mundi have been playing together for two years, and have become comfortable enough together to be able to interact with each other and with the music during performances.
Do You Recommend What You Do As A Career Choice? … Why?
"The only way I would recommend being a violinist as a career choice is if somebody absolutely loves it to death and can't imagine … doing anything else." As a working musician, Bruce recognizes the difficulties in finding steady work, and notes that in working with Mundi, he has to put faith into the success and "paying dues" for something he believes in above taking other jobs that might conflict with Mundi performances. "I see potential, and if I didn't, I probably wouldn't still be doing it." He advises musicians to find local music groups with which to play. Bruce also teaches violin to students, performs with the Austin Lyric Opera, and the Austin Symphony. "The variety is what makes it worthwhile and what makes it doable. I wouldn't want to do just one thing."
What Tips Might You Have For Someone New To The Medium? … How Best To Develop Their Interest?
There are so many different kinds of violin music, and Bruce suggests gaining exposure to as many of them as possible. Especially in Austin, being so close to the university, there are often free concerts and student exhibitions. For those not inclined to venture out to see music, he mentions that just looking through a different part of the CD section in a store and picking out something that you might not normally choose can expose people to some great music.
Bruce's 250 year old violin is a testament to sustaining resources- "You use a computer. You just use it and then throw it away and get another one. You don't really do that with a violin. This appreciates as I use it so I want to take care of it… It's an investment you know, so I have to watch out for it."
Making multiples of a creative effort, like a CD, seems necessary to Bruce to sustain being a musician. Not enough hours exist to make a nice living on an hourly basis. People enjoy the ability to buy a recording of a show and listen to it on their own time, recreating the experience of being at the live show. Mundi is on its third pressing of the first CD, and the second CD was released in November 2006.
Mundi recently finished a tour playing six or seven concerts in less than two weeks in Spain. Part of the motivation for going to Spain in particular is that some of the music Mundi plays is of Spanish origin, and Darrel thought it would be exciting to play in the place where the music came from. Bruce notes that Mundi's sound may appeal more to a European audience than an American one because the American sensibility tends to be very focused on certain types of music. People that have seen Mundi live have told Bruce that they love listening to the CD at home, but they are even more excited to see the group in person because of the live music experience. The group's website, www.mundiensemble.com has the CD available for purchase and has a schedule of their shows.
Where Do You See Your Creativity Evolving?
Bruce strives to be comfortable enough to play any kind of music on command and as authentically as possible. He has recently started playing the mandolin, and might explore even more instruments. He also hopes that interest in Mundi continues to grow enough the he could focus solely on that part of his music. "I'm doing everything that I would like to be able to be doing."
6807 Miranda Drive, Austin, Texas 78752
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