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Bronwen Naish — a Great Influence

Abstract:

In my life, few individuals have left as lasting an impact as my second teacher, Bronwen Naish. Over a span of more than forty years, our connection has endured, with Bronwen’s influence shaping not only my musical journey but also my broader perspective on life. Nestled in the solitude of North Wales, Bronwen’s journey from a cellist to a devoted double bassist reflects a determination that became a hallmark of her character. Inspired by the legendary Gary Karr, she embarked on a transformative study in Canada, overcoming the challenges of being a mother to five young children. As her student, our conversations were often punctuated with tales of her awe at the size of Gary’s car during their first encounter—an anecdote emblematic of the cultural shifts she experienced.

My formal introduction to Bronwen occurred in the late 1970s during a Bass Workshop at Normal College in Bangor, where her advocacy for Gary Karr’s style became apparent. Our collaborative exploration involved intricate exercises, daily masterclasses, and the unique experience of bass ensembles. Subsequently, I began monthly journeys to North Wales for private lessons, navigating an arduous trek with my bass in tow. These sessions, spanning evenings and weekends, were characterized by intensive practice, exploration of scenic landscapes, and communal workshops that solidified our shared commitment to allowing the double bass to ‘sing.’ Bronwen’s teaching methodology mirrored Gary’s, emphasizing slow bowings, adjusted string heights, and a focus on harmonics—a technique that would resonate in my musical pursuits for years to come.

Bronwen’s impact endured through the years, culminating in a musical reunion in 2018 for a concert in Criccieth, North Wales. Playing Passchendaele—a composition of mine—underscored the timelessness of her sound and musicianship. The celebration of her 80th birthday further marked the longevity of our connection, prompting the creation of “Scenes of Snowdonia,” a musical tribute to her life and the idyllic valley she called home. The three pieces encapsulate the joyous memories of our time together and stand as a testament to the enduring friendships cultivated over four decades.

Reflecting on the profound influence of Bronwen Naish transcends the confines of music instruction. Her dedication to the double bass, rooted in the teachings of Gary Karr, has forged lasting bonds among her students, creating a vibrant and supportive musical community. Beyond technical proficiency, Bronwen’s emphasis on the expressive potential of the double bass has instilled a deep appreciation for the instrument’s artistry. The narrative of her journey—from a remote cottage in Snowdonia to international recognition—serves as a testament to her resilience and determination. The collaboration in 2018, the celebration of her 80th birthday, and the composition of “Scenes of Snowdonia” underscore the reciprocal admiration between teacher and students, emphasizing the enduring impact of Bronwen’s mentorship. Her legacy extends beyond the realm of double bass playing, embodying inspiration, camaraderie, and a celebration of the profound connection between mentor and student—a legacy that enriches lives far beyond the boundaries of the music studio.

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ISSN: 2792-8349

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International Journal of Music

There are many people who influence your life and who have really made a difference. One such person is my second teacher Bronwen Naish, who I have known for over forty years and we are still in contact. Bronwen lived and still lives in North Wales, in an isolated cottage in the middle of Snowdonia where the only sound you can hear is birdsong and the stream flowing through the valley. She was originally a cellist and, if memory serves me well, was asked to play double bass by a friend in a local orchestra, she borrowed a bass, and from then she was hooked. She studied and had lessons but after either hearing about Gary Karr or hearing a performance decided she wanted to study in Canada with him.

At the time she had five young children but Bronwen is not the type of person to let something like that hold her back. She arranged to study with Gary for six weeks and for her sister to act as housekeeper and surrogate mum for that period. We often talked about Gary Karr in lessons, who was her main influence as a player and teacher, and she said her first memory was at the airport and was amazed that his car was so big that her bass would fit comfortably in the trunk (boot) — we didn’t have cars of that size in Britain in the early 1970s. She had lessons with him and would practice six hours a day and learned everything she could about Gary’s style of playing, which she later taught to her students.

I met Bronwen in about 1977 or 78 at a Bass Workshop at Normal College in Bangor (North Wales), where 15-20 bassists worked together on Gary’s exercises alongside a daily masterclass and a dash of bass ensembles, where everything was so new to me and so exciting. She was a great teacher and a true advocate of Gary’s playing style and we spent a long time playing slow bowings towards the bridge, also lowering the string heights and even having the bridge re-cut and the strings set closer together. These were really great times and I loved studying with Bronwen whose main aim was to allow the double bass to ‘sing’.

She played all the solo repertoire that I wanted to play and many of us often traipsed around the country to hear her recitals or concertos and we were a loyal bunch, and after forty years some of us are still in contact. After the initial workshop I began to have lessons with Bronwen in North Wales and would travel there for a weekend, once a month, and would take a Friday and Monday off from school to create a long weekend.

Travelling there was a trek indeed — a car journey to Doncaster station, with my bass and a bag of music and clothes, then a train to Leeds, then a train to Manchester, then a train to Bangor, and finally an hour’s car journey from Bangor to Bronwen’s home. Bassists are nothing if not intrepid! The first lesson would be on Friday evening, followed by lessons and practice on Saturday morning, the afternoon was free to explore the beautiful countryside, lessons on Saturday evening and on Sunday a one-day workshop in Menai Bridge with her local students. We worked on Gary’s exercises and his ‘vomit’ would last almost thirty minutes which was certainly a waker-upper on a cold and wet Sunday morning.

On Monday morning Bronwen would drive me back to Bangor station, often with a loaf of homemade bread — she bought flour by the sack and made the most glorious bread in her Aga for her five children — and then the journey back home. These were very happy times which I remember with great affection and am so pleased that Bronwen opened up the solo repertoire to me but especially the love of harmonics. We saw her a few years ago when we had a short holiday in North Wales and the valley where she lives is still as beautiful and isolated as I remember it.

In 2018 Bronwen asked my wife, Sarah Poole, and I to give a concert in Criccieth, North Wales, to mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War. It was a perfect opportunity for Bronwen and I to play together again and we included Passchendaele — a Meditation for 2 double basses and piano, which I had composed a couple of years before. I think we were both nervous to play with the other but it was a joy and privilege to make music with her again after so many years and her wonderful sound and musicianship were as bright and crisp as the day we first met.

Bronwen Naish, David Heyes & Derek Harris (piano) performing Passchendaele — a Meditation in Criccieth, North Wales on Sunday 11 November 2018.

Bronwen celebrated her 80th birthday with a celebratory concert and party in 2019, which we were so happy to attend, and as a present I composed a short piece for solo bass called Cwm Pennant, which is the name of the valley where she lives. The following day we had morning coffee at her cottage and, as we were leaving, she nonchalantly mentioned that maybe the single piece might be better as part of a suite, with the addition of two more pieces. I thought this was a perfect idea and she suggested Moel Hebog as the title for one piece, which is the mountain which is visible from Bronwen’s cottage, and Afon Dwyfor as another, the name of the stream running through the valley.

Sounds of Snowdonia was the result and the three pieces are happy memories of great times studying with Bronwen Naish in North Wales and remaining friends for over forty years.

Maybe it’s time for a reunion of some of her students — remember I’m not getting any younger!

Conclusion

In reflecting upon the profound influence of Bronwen Naish, it is evident that her impact extends far beyond the realm of music instruction. Her dedication to the double bass and her commitment to the teachings of Gary Karr have left an indelible mark on those fortunate enough to have been under her guidance. The memories of intensive workshops, the meticulous attention to technique, and the shared joy of making music have created lasting bonds among her students. The enduring friendships forged over four decades attest to the strength of the musical community she cultivated.

Bronwen’s passion for the instrument, as well as her insistence on the expressive potential of the double bass, has inspired not only technical proficiency but also a deep appreciation for the artistry and beauty that can be drawn from the instrument. The narrative of her journey, from a remote cottage in Snowdonia to international recognition, serves as a testament to her resilience and determination.

The musical collaboration with Bronwen in 2018, decades after the initial student-teacher relationship, showcased the enduring quality of her sound and musicianship. Celebrating her 80th birthday with a concert and the subsequent composition of “Scenes of Snowdonia” highlights the reciprocal admiration between teacher and students. As the years pass, the suggestion of a reunion of her students adds a note of nostalgia, emphasizing the lasting impact of her mentorship.

In essence, Bronwen Naish’s influence transcends the technical aspects of double bass playing; it is a legacy of inspiration, camaraderie, and a celebration of the profound connection between mentor and student that enriches lives beyond the confines of the music studio.

Website: bronwennaish.com

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