What would you do if you showed up to an audition and heard, “OK, when I give you the signal, play something intense. Then on the next signal, more intensity!” Well, that’s exactly what happened to double bassist Nate Farrington. Except he was auditioning for a national Honda TV spot, and the mysterious voice belonged to the director!
Nate is one of those friends who’s always up for a project: he’s the guy I’d call if I needed to paint a fence, set up a gas grill, or transport a big piece of furniture. Come to think of it, isn’t that last one a big part of the double bassist’s life?
But Nate is also the guy I’d call if I needed to whip up a duo program in two hours’ time. Or if I needed a pair of expert ears to hear an audition list. He’s always ready to go, and he has a broad array of musical and extra-musical skills that makes him the perfect fit out here in Hollywood.
So even though he spends much of his time playing in symphonies (he’s the new principal bass of the LA Opera Orchestra), his interests range far and wide, and he’s equally at home creating music as he is re-creating it. He’s a frequent collaborator with Rocket Jump Studios, and as you’ll discover, he’s already spent some time on camera out here as well.
Nate and I talk about how to win those juicy commercial roles, as well as the (also juicy?) orchestra auditions. Here’s a hint: they both involve lots of preparation and then a letting-go of control!
We also get into the differences between some of the big symphony orchestras. Nate has played with just about all of them over the years. He’s a real inspiration for finding your own musical voice, or deciding where you fit in the ever-expanding musical universe.
Nathan: [00:00:01] Hi, and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life. Along with my wife Akiko Tarumoto, I am Nathan Cole and we are stand partners for life. But today I’m here instead with Nate Farrington, a good friend ever since I moved to L.A. five years ago. So Nate, thanks for being with us today.
Nate: [00:00:39] It’s my pleasure.
Nathan: [00:00:39] Thanks for being with me today. It’s not the “royal we” here. Nate is a bass player extraordinaire, and although we went to the same school the Curtis Institute we weren’t there at the same time. We met only five years ago when I moved out here to L.A.
Nate: [00:00:54] But I felt I’d known you since I was in school… you were, you know, the Nate before me at Curtis that everyone talked about. So it was interesting to connect, you know, to put a face with the name–that’s my name.
Nathan: [00:01:06] Back then everybody it seemed like all the adults called me Nate and everybody my age called me Nathan. So I sort of hedge my bets I go by Nathan but my website is natesviolin.com. So there’s the confusion but you’re always Nate.
Nate: [00:01:19] I am.
Nathan: [00:01:20] Now, you play bass and you play so much of the time in symphony orchestras as I do and a lot of the time with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But you’re a traveling musician. You live in L.A. but you’re really all over the place. Tell me a little about how that works.
Nate: [00:01:37] In the past five years I’ve played with Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Columbus, Philadelphia, New York Chicago, Cleveland. I’ve done concerts in the past with Boston and National and Baltimore and so it’s been a pretty interesting ride to me. The Cincinnati Symphony as well and I was slated to play with the San Diego Symphony but but wasn’t able to make it that week. It’s an incredible variety of music making that happens all over the country. And you know the basic skill set is always the same. The same thing I’ve been doing since we were little children. But it’s interesting to go from spot to spot and see what drives each group differently and how they make their sound the way they do it. It all becomes evident pretty quickly once you start playing with a new group.
Nathan: [00:02:24] Now me, I don’t play with any of those orchestras that you named.
Nate: [00:02:27] I just think it’s extremely rare. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anybody who’s done as much bouncing around as I have. It’s just been–it’s been by choice on some level. I haven’t aggressively sought a position, I’ve taken a few auditions, A few really huge auditions and done done very well in them, but they lead to opportunities to sub with the orchestras. And I think most of the time people come out of school, look for a job if there are openings in groups of a certain caliber that they’re interested in. They go after them and generally are happy to find a job and take it. And the goal would eventually be to sort of skip to the next rung on the ladder that you have in mind throughout your career, until you are are pleased with where you are, or until you aren’t winning auditions anymore. Just depends. You know lots can happen in that time as you’re sort of scaling the orchestra ladder. But my experience has just been a little different and and it’s it’s been great to see tremendous music making done differently all around the country.
Nathan: [00:03:29] Right. So since you are here in L.A., and thank goodness you are or else we might not have met for quite a while longer, why L.A.? I have a feeling I know the answer, but…
Nate: [00:03:40] It’s an easy question actually: L.A. called. I was finishing up school and living in Philadelphia and I had had this longtime girlfriend there and she and I had just broken up and I was running around the East Coast like crazy and the L.A. Phil called out of the blue and said we have somebody who’s going to be out for a year. If we guaranteed you a year of work, would you consider moving to the west coast? And you know all those things conspired. You know I needed a fresh start. It was certainly easy to run away to Los Angeles. I also had a little sister who by total happenstance was finishing up her acting school at USC. So both of us had somehow made our way out to the west coast from Ohio. And it was nice to reunite with her. It was a great situation that just sort of fell into my lap.
Nathan: [00:04:25] And that was five years ago. So you finished up that year. That makes that four years ago. But you’re still here.
Nate: [00:04:32] I am. I played actually pretty much full time with the group for three seasons. But there are two cities in the United States right now where big creative business takes place, in Los Angeles and New York. They couldn’t be more different in terms of the energy that encapsulates each. But each is able to sort of foster large creativity on a big scale. I mean the movie business is still– It’s high art in certain instances and it’s also terribly profitable in certain instances and I think it’s amazing that it can happen and take place in a place like this without the amplitude of a place like New York. You know that I feel like– generally you fit into one or the other more easily if you’re a person, and my energy– I don’t need any extra amplitude in my life, I do fine alone.
Nathan: [00:05:23] Well in fact one of first creative experiences we had together was part of that entertainment media industry where you came up to me on stage, you were playing with the L.A. Phil and you came up to me and said…
Nate: [00:05:38] That day it was very interesting, the personnel manager of the L.A. Phil knocked on the bass door and said hey Nate, just got a call from a casting agency, they need a bass player for a Honda commercial do you wanna throw your name in the ring? And so I went and auditioned. The audition was amazing and it was an interesting experience where you got into the room– as a classical musician you prepare for auditions so specifically. It’s this process where you just delve into the minutiae on a scale that maybe I don’t do at any other point in my life. You know, you’re looking at the little dots and articulations and nuances on an incredibly microscopic level. And so I heard the word audition and I went home and I immediately prepared this show piece. I was going to smoke this audition, I was gonna come in there like with this showpiece and show those directors what a bass player could do. I had this special like bluegrass thing that was like flying over all over the bass and so I dressed up in my tails because they wanted an orchestral player. So I showed up in costume with my bass and got rolling at the audition. I sat and waited for a while and was like mentally preparing to really go in and deliver this thing, and all of a sudden some thirty five year old dude in designer jeans, and he had on like an Irish bowler shows up, and he grabs like six of us. He’s like, “I’ll take you you you you and you.” And it was me, a violinist, a cellist, some dude that had brought his timpani to the audition, his drums with him, and he puts us all in a room and I’m like, “OK man, when do I–when you wanna hear my stuff, I’m ready to rock?”.
Nathan: [00:07:12] So just to be clear they weren’t casting only a bass player?
Nate: [00:07:15] No, they were casting this makeshift orchestra and I guess bass was just one of the instruments. But you know you certainly don’t have that information when you’re going into an audition. And in Hollywood that way most of the time you don’t even know what company you’re dealing with.
Nathan: [00:07:28] But isn’t it true that often you’ll have very specific directives about what…
Nate: [00:07:33] What’s interesting is how it’s like–how can they encapsulate the world that they want to fill for the audition without giving any real details about anything that’s going on inside the audition. Because they want to keep their stories and their stars sort of to themselves. So it’s a very interesting process where you kind of– at a certain point you have to make a decision. You have to decide I’m going to embody an orchestral bass player today. Or I’m going to embody a country bass player. You know you have to show up with a perspective and oftentimes your perspective may not have anything really to do with the specific thing they want in the end. But part of the job of taking auditions in that acting world here in L.A. is making a decision, and it’s so interesting that it’s just total opposite ends of the spectrum. All the specifics that you know going into an orchestral audition versus almost nothing here.
Nathan: [00:08:21] And, you know, if they’re if they’re casting tall tall dark and handsome…
Nate: [00:08:26] Right. There are going to be a fair number of folks showing up that might fit that loose description! But orchestral bass player, that already narrows it down somewhat right?
Nathan: [00:08:35] So you’ve got an advantage there.
Nate: [00:08:36] I did. Or I thought I did. But when he put me in the room with those four people he looked across the room and he says, “OK guys here’s what I need from you. And you ready? What I need– I’m going to give you the sign.” And he points at one of the people and he’s like, “when I give you that sign I need intensity,” and I was like, “What are you– What are you talking about? I brought this piece to play!” I thought this was an audition you know and it was like NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. “And then I’m going to give you a second sign, and when I give you the second sign, I need more intensity.”.
Nathan: [00:09:09] This is getting like Lost in Translation.
Nate: [00:09:13] It was a very, it totally was you know “Suntory Time”. But you know we couldn’t– I mean at this point I was lost. I mean I was standing there staring at him like when do I perform for you? This specific piece that I prepared for this moment which has been every audition I’ve ever taken–.
Nathan: [00:09:30] This is my audition!
Nate: [00:09:31] That’s exactly right. It’s like this is my moment to shine. You’ve got to give me an opportunity and that’s the big thing about orchestral auditions is that you plan the way that you walk into that space. You plan the way that you sit down and what you’re going to be doing. I mean it’s all totally planned and that has nothing to do with these auditions here. So he points at us and I’m like, “What the heck do you mean intensity? Where’s my music stand? What am I supposed to play for you?” But the violinist who was like a singer songwriter actress model chef, whatever they need from her that day, you know, whose parents had paid her violin lessons when she was young, had the violin like tucked away in her closet. She dug it out and showed up to the audition because her manager sent her and she’s like, “I can do intense!” And she started sawing away on the violin and she just she was playing. And I was like, well I guess I can thump along with her. And so I thumped along and all of a sudden you look across and there’s the director and he gives the second cue. It’s like more intensity, and she goes berserk at this point. And the timpanist is smashing his drums. And I’m really wailing and that violinist, I don’t even– I don’t know what she was doing but it was enough to where we got the gig and I was laughing coming away because they don’t tell you. They didn’t tell us on the spot that we got it but I mean it was such a surreal experience, this notion that like they called the day before, I showed up that day, I thumped away on my bass while this girl was going berserk next to me, and this guy who had brought his timpani drums. I mean just to transport a timpani to an audition is insane. You know everybody went nuts together and they said thanks we’ll let you know. And you’re like walking out and it’s, you know, who knows?
Nathan: [00:11:09] But you got the gig.
Nate: [00:11:11] Yeah that’s right. I delivered when he asked for more intense. He got what he wanted.
Nathan: [00:11:16] Right. And you got the part.
Nate: [00:11:18] We got the part. So day one: announcement of audition. Day two: audition. Day three: announcement that you got the gig. And they say be here tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. for filming, we’re going to knock this thing out tomorrow and I’m like– what do you mean tomorrow? Luckily I didn’t have any services with the orchestra and it worked out fine. But late on day three they called me and I got a call from the production manager and the production manager said, “We’re a little concerned that the director doesn’t speak musician, and we just want to make sure that there’s an interface between the director and his needs, and all of you with instruments on the stage, so we were hoping that you might know somebody who would be interested in coming tomorrow and who could sort of act as an intermediary between the director and the musicians.” And I was like, “Well, I certainly know some people I mean some very accomplished musicians at the Phil. What would you pay them and what are the hours?” She’s like, “Well we would need them to be there around 7:00 a.m. and we could guarantee release by 7:00 p.m. And we’re willing to pay 150 dollars cash and a signed picture of Patrick Warburton who was Puddy from Seinfeld, so Puddy from Seinfeld was going to sign! He was the star of the commercial and we were the backup band.
Nathan: [00:12:36] OK so they weren’t just giving out random pictures of–.
Nate: [00:12:38] So I was like, “You expect me to take that offer of 150 dollars cash, 12 hours of work and Puddy’s picture to the accomplished musicians at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who you know– I said it’s going to be tough for me to find someone.” But then Nathan popped into my head. He accepted immediately with enthusiasm! He was like I will do it.
Nathan: [00:13:04] Yes. Oh yeah.
Nate: [00:13:06] I think Puddy was the magic the magic word there.
Nathan: [00:13:08] Well Akiko and I, we’ve kept the tally now of how many Seinfeld characters and Seinfeld extras we’ve met and run into over the years. Did you know she played foosball with Kenny Bania?
Nate: [00:13:19] Did not know. That’s fantastic. Do you know how many you guys have met?
Nathan: [00:13:24] I think at this point it’s been six or seven, because actually when we– spoiler, you know to skip forward a little bit in the story, at the same shoot for the Honda commercial that we’re talking about. I met another one now because they were filming a holiday commercial at the sound stage next door so this person was playing an elf. And she had been on Seinfeld for a while. A couple of them I’ve run into in Pasadena so it’s around.
Nate: [00:13:55] Yeah you see these people from time to time it’s just the way it goes but putty. I mean that that’s more of a major– he was huge and it was so cool to see him do his thing. We were just one of 20 Christmas spots he was doing for Honda that season. And so it was– they were pumping these things out. And we got there to do the Christmas show, the Christmas commercial. And the director comes by and says great I’m so glad you all made it. Maybe you guys could come up with a few different plans for things you’d like to play. And again this is so foreign, Nathan, to what we do as classical musicians. Classical musicians, you come into orchestra you take your seat you open the folder you’ve known exactly what’s going to be in the folder for ever and you’ve played most of it many times. But the notion that we were just going to show up for this. I mean they were spending millions literally millions of dollars to shoot these commercials. Every time we stopped the the the buffing crew like ran in and spit-shined the Honda that was on the stage back behind us you know.
Nathan: [00:14:53] But now at this point in the story I’m here.
Nate: [00:14:55] Yes and Nathan accepted. We got up at 7:00 a.m. made our way down to Long Beach. I think it was Long Beach and got to work. And so the interesting thing about those shoots is that work is “sit around and wait”.
Nathan: [00:15:09] I’ve never sat around as much as that and it was fascinating that– I mean you and I share a love of all the equipment, the gear…
Nate: [00:15:19] I mean! And it’s fantastic! Oh it’s amazing to see what goes into those productions, it’s incredible right?
Nathan: [00:15:24] As you said we were standing there, so now my role I think they called me the “symphony conductor”. There was a symphony of how many six or seven six people there’s a ragtag assortment of instruments here and I was the symphony conductor and so we were standing there.
Nate: [00:15:38] The point is he quickly went from symphony conductor to symphony composer essentially, because the director walks up and says, “I need three different ideas of things you guys could play” And yeah I mean what are you supposed to do for that? So Nathan and I stood and talked about it for a minute and then Nathan assigned parts essentially and we just built some chords. We sort of took some basic pitches and assigned them to people and made sort of an order out of who was going to play when and got him ready to go so the next time the director came around we pitched our pitch, our three ideas and he was like, “that one”, and you were–I was nervous. I don’t know about those two because you know they gave us maybe 15 minutes total and all we needed was four seconds of music and then we were like, “Okay well I think that’s going to work” and then we gotta wait– what’s funny about it is that because of the lack of information again in these scenarios, where we’re feeling the pressure… but the truth is that–see quickly we discovered once we got out onstage and actually did the commercial that we were pantomiming to the sound that they were going to build into the commercial later. So even though they asked the L.A. Philharmonic to send its bass player I was no more qualified to be in that commercial. None of my skills were put to use in that commercial differently than somebody else who owned a bass. I mean that singer songwriter model actress chef was was absolutely capable of being there with her violin and completing the task and looking fantastic– she looked a lot better than I did for sure. So it was an interesting thing but we really weren’t under any pressure at all but we didn’t know that. And certainly as our first time in these situations and as performers, I think, for a living, you want to deliver something on a on a high level and so I definitely was concerned about what we were going to do right.
Nathan: [00:17:22] I know you just like Akiko and I are often horrified looking at commercials and movies and seeing what they allowed to come up on screen. And for me it’s not, you know, “oh I can’t believe that guy’s not using any vibrato, or I can’t believe the way he’s holding the bow.” To me it’s just– it’s a look. Either someone looks like they’re playing an instrument or they don’t. And it always amazes me that they wouldn’t just get someone who really plays an instrument and in this case they did.
Nate: [00:17:51] I mean it’s such an interesting thing Nathan because I actually– my one other commercial experience– the thing that we should preface this with is that these commercials can be life changing amounts of money. I had no notion when I went and took that audition. I mean I was just going to play my piece and get out of there. But I mean it’s– it can be thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars, particularly if you get into a commercial that’s renewed. I think one of the most effective commercials of all time is that little boy who comes in from the cold as the snowman and eats some Campbell’s Soup and the Snowman–.
Nathan: [00:18:24] I was just reading about that commercial!
Nate: [00:18:24] That’s a terribly famous commercial because that guy– that commercial is renewed every year. He’s paid for the renewal, he’s paid residuals again for how long it runs. He’s paid every time that commercial shows up again. There’s like a whole–the engine starts over again and we’re talking about, I guarantee that that commercial has provided over a million dollars for that kid and continues to do so. It’s a great commercial. But I didn’t understand what we were talking about in terms of the money in this situation. My other commercial experience was for an Apple commercial and they didn’t tell us what it was going to be. They just said high end, high end electronic company. And so we showed up and had a great audition and the director of the commercial as I was walking out was like, “I think we’ll be in touch soon.” You know I was pretty good, yeah I was like, OK. And I get the call the next day, “we’d like to put you on strong availability” which means please block off the day for us. You know, “we’re going to do that and we’ll give you our confirmation call later in the afternoon.” Never got the confirmation call and found out almost a year later that what had happened is they’d accidentally double booked the director’s brother to be in the commercial as a conductor and they hired a conductor and they’d made those calls and those calls had gone out. And so they had double booked the conductor position and bass was last on the list. And so they’re getting to the end and they’ve already hired the guy’s brother and they’ve got this conductor standing there so they just decide screw it we’ll rent a bass, shove it in one of those two guys’ hands and he can stand back there and be bass player number two. And so I lost. I mean I felt worse during breakups than I did when they didn’t call me back a second time because at that point I’d learned what those commercials can mean and how much money they can be worth and and I mean when they called and told me I was on strong availability I mean I was counting– that money was like totally spent on some amazing new things.
Nathan: [00:20:11] Some Apple products.
Nate: [00:20:11] Oh totally. Absolutely. But it never came and you know it’s just an interesting–it’s just an interesting art form there where you’re receiving a call on a Tuesday. You’re auditioning on a Wednesday. You’re booked on a Thursday. You’re pumping out on a Friday and it can pay for the next three or four or five or six months or years of your life depending upon how it all goes down and you don’t really know until well after the fact what you’re dealing with and what’s going on. But all the little parts that move and the way that they’re moving and shaking–you know that call that I got, which was “please bring somebody who can speak musician to musicians” actually ended up being a really smart call that they made. They got what they needed from you and you directed that commercial largely.
Nathan: [00:20:51] That’s right. I was– I don’t even know if they have a word for an off- camera…
Nate: [00:20:55] They panned across all of the musicians, Patrick Warburton was walking across the stage and as he walked across the stage he’d pass musicians one at a time and Nathan walked behind the camera with Patrick Warburton cueing every musician at the perfect moment when they were supposed to start moving and playing their note. As Patrick did his speech and we did this over and over and over again, and the director who’d made a great decision in calling somebody like Nathan into the situation was just sitting back there with his arms crossed, like nodding his head like, this is what I’m paid to do. And the truth is he had he nailed it and it worked out great for them. And he, you know, then he got to focus on directing the talent, the real talent in the situation, absolutely! No doubt. Warburton had a lot of lines and that was interesting for me to watch as it was for you too. You know he was critiquing gestures and delivery and–because they’ve got a product to sell.
Nathan: [00:21:45] And now I don’t know if you remember, for me the absolute funniest moment of the whole day was part of that– there was a giant hourglass with you know sand, some kind of sand, like that time is running out, right?
Nate: [00:21:57] We need to create the proper “sense of urgency”.
Nathan: [00:21:59] And so after doing a whole bunch of takes someone realized, well we’ve let this hourglass run this whole time and so now it’s take ten and it would take 40 minutes for the sand to run out of this hourglass and we’ve gone through 20 minutes. Now here we are and the hourglass is only half full. That’s not, you know, we need it to look mostly empty.
Nate: [00:22:20] Fix it in post!
Nathan: [00:22:21] No, someone eventually said that but remember, first one of the tech guys, one of the crew was like, “I don’t know. I mean jeez we’re gonna have to break for 20 minutes while we stand the thing on the other end and let it run out,” and another guy says, “no you idiot, you stand it on the other end because then it all goes–“. And then the last guy was like, “No you idiot, we’re going to fix it in post and it doesn’t matter!”.
Nate: [00:22:40] It’s great.
Nathan: [00:22:43] But isn’t it interesting too that for, like you say a life changing event, you know in this case you might not have felt like you earned with your performance.
Nate: [00:22:53] I didn’t earn it with my performance. But you learn that what they’re looking for is is a whole different set of things than what you’re presenting in a classical audition. And it’s as you just said about that director. The truth of the matter is that director’s job is much much larger in scope than worrying about the specific way that his violinist who is a background character is holding her bow and his commercial– now would be nice if the world gave all the attention it could to those sorts of things but his real objective in this situation is to sell Hondas. And not how I looked in that commercial. Other than my physical presence, which was just magnificent if you ask me. Yes. You know, other than that it really doesn’t have much to do with selling Hondas beyond the way I looked when they booked me.
Nathan: [00:23:37] But in the future you know there might be that bass commercial that’s going to sell–.
Nate: [00:23:42] You have no notion what it’s going to be. What’s been working in your favor or against it.
Nathan: [00:23:46] Well so what would be– if you had one take away from that whole experience or perhaps even from that and the other commercial experience that didn’t result in getting on camera. One take away from those that might apply to future bookings.
Nate: [00:24:00] Sure. You know it’s– in classical music, there is this understanding that since the time that you begin that the input that you put in the practice room or on the competition circuit or in the lessons, you know– the input into honing will translate into winning eventually. And so you are, you develop this idea in your mind of direct correlation between effort expended and rewards won. This was a lesson in going ahead and giving it your best shot and doing your best and then giving up the results of what are about to happen. You know however you want to say that, you know, giving it up to the to the universe or to God or whatever, you put out your best and you walk away from the situation and and it was so much clearer in this instance where I hadn’t tied up my ego and my ideas about music and my future and my education. All of these things are tied up over on the classical side of things. So on this performance side of things in another area of Hollywood, it was so much easier to see how many of those variables were outside of my control. What if they needed a shorter bass player that day? What if they needed a red haired bass player because of something? These are all things I have no control over, no understanding of, and all I can do is prepare, give my best and walk away. And I feel like that’s an extremely important audition lesson that I’ve needed to learn for the classical that I can apply to the classical side of things too at a certain moment. It’s time to take that preparation, give your output to the world and walk away from the situation and I definitely learned that from these– you know, how am I supposed to know some guy’s brother-in-law has been double booked and can hold a bass? It’s going to be right out of my control. So it’s really easy to see how out of my control it was in this instance when it’s been harder for me to do that on the classical side of things in auditions.
Nathan: [00:25:47] Absolutely. That’s so tough. We really– the word deserve, whether we say it or not, that’s always in the back of our minds, in the back of my mind at least.
Nate: [00:25:56] Sure. <music>.
Nathan: [00:26:06] And if that’s one take away, is another take away maybe that you want to be, you want to be the person with the control?
Nate: [00:26:16] Absolutely.
Nathan: [00:26:16] And so that’s, you know– so much of what you do now not just playing in orchestras but you’re creating and making decisions.
Nate: [00:26:24] I got to Los Angeles and my sister was finishing school and was somehow connected with a new production genius that she was going to school with. The guy was the world champion Guitar Hero player, the video game.
Nathan: [00:26:40] That’s one of my favorite South Park episodes.
Nate: [00:26:43] Well I mean I’m sure that while they were writing that episode they’d seen videos of Freddy Wong playing Guitar Hero, and Freddy Wong was a director. He was in film school at USC but he was also this world champion Guitar Hero so he knew that people were Googling his name and understood that there was equity in the fact that people were searching for him online even if it was just to see him play Guitar Hero…
Nathan: [00:27:04] And searching for, what were they mainly finding?
Nate: [00:27:08] They were finding videos of him at competitions playing Guitar Hero on YouTube, for sure. But then all of a sudden he made a video making fun of himself playing Guitar Hero. He rolled up on a on a Harley Davidson and like dropped, got off the thing and the bike falls and he grabs a thing and he shreds the guitar. You know it was this really funny video that he did the acting in. And they did all of the VFX work for their videos, for their early videos and all of the planning and directing, and he and his buddies started making YouTube videos because people were searching his name and putting it out. So all of a sudden it’s Freddy Wong starring in your favorite action scene from your favorite video game and pretty soon after years of this they’ve got six and a half million subscribers to their YouTube channel and over a billion views. And my sister was connected to his circle of friends and everyone’s dating everyone else…it’s a big school mess.
Nathan: [00:28:03] Not at all like classical music.
Nate: [00:28:05] Geez Louise. That’s a whole other episode for you. The incestuous nature of classical music has its brutal–.
Nathan: [00:28:12] Stand Partners for Life!
Nate: [00:28:13] So anyway he gave my little sister a job fetching coffee on one of their web series. They decided to do a web series called Video Game High School and when they started early production they gave her a few lines and had her working around the set and years later she worked her way from the set all the way up through the business side of things and is a managing director of the whole company. But their company called Rocket Jump Studios is one of the hottest young production companies in Hollywood. And so my connection to classical music and the art that the L.A. Phil made brought me here and gave me a platform to start experiencing L.A. But the whole time that that was going on my little sister was dipping her toe into the serious side of production in L.A. And we’ve become so interested in that great writing that happens here that then is handed to great casting directors who get all the right pieces to the puzzle. And once that’s done they go in and deal with great art. That puts you in the perfect setting for these situations and then the director comes in and manages all of it and keeps it all on the same page. And so as you see these pieces working together it became very clear to me that the musical side– so much of what we do as musicians that works, that makes you an effective classical player, are the same things that make a great actor effective in what they’re doing. Their energy, the way they transfer their energy to an audience, the way they deliver their mood. It’s the same thing in terms of tone of writing and it’s the same ideas about creating an atmosphere around a production that a set designer does so that– it really dawned on me that these are huge opportunities for creativity, and because my sister was connected in certain ways to the city and because we were so interested in movies in these productions and everything else– I’ve really worked hard since I’ve been in L.A. to get involved in as much of those things as I possibly can. All the while trying to continue playing with these orchestras and enjoying the amazing art that that keeps in my life.
Nathan: [00:30:17] I think it’s easy to be cynical, perhaps especially when you live here in L.A. around Hollywood, cynical about the business and you know just to focus on the money and the fame, and that it’s easy to forget that when things work really well that’s not an accident. That there are so many high quality pieces that have been fitted together to make it…
Nate: [00:30:40] It’s so interesting, you know Nathan, you and I both went to the Marlboro music festival. It’s a Chamber Music Festival in Vermont which has some of the most wonderful young players. It’s a very small festival–there are plenty of deserving players in classical music that don’t attend but the ones that do are are all very accomplished and excellent players. And the goal of Marlboro Music Festival is to drop everyone into the same place for seven weeks which is an extremely long time for classical musicians to sit in one place when they’re not part of a larger group. That way for seven weeks you go there and you start working on pieces and you you working on those pieces until they’re done. And done means ready to perform or until the group decides we’ve had enough and this isn’t working. But what’s interesting to me about that is that without question every single one of the people invited to that festival are fine players. But you get into the situations where you drop four amazing players into a group randomly and sometimes it’s magic and sometimes it’s absolutely not magic.
Nathan: [00:31:37] And I wasn’t any good at predicting.
Nate: [00:31:40] It’s not really possible to predict. And I see that happening here in L.A. quite a bit too. It’s that you think, like when you combine this star with these, you know– it’s very hard to know what’s actually going to come out and I think that’s why you see at the very highest level you’ll see director big actor combos that come back to work with one another, because when you know you really click with someone, it’s worth investigating further oftentimes.
Nathan: [00:32:05] So would you talk about your part in these productions? What are you doing? And that is, is it with Cate, with your sister?
Nate: [00:32:13] Sometimes it’s through Cate. Sometimes it’s with Cate. What’s neat about a young production company like Rocket Jump is that they are finding their way and are interested in creativity across a wide spectrum. They’re shooting shows right now for Hulu. They are– they had a show on Hulu earlier in the year that took viewers through their process of making YouTube shorts. They have a huge variety of output that they’re investigating right now and I think they’ll find their way terms of what works for them and what what satiates that audience that they’ve built and that everyone was hoping will follow them from YouTube over into these, I guess, more traditional types of media you’d call them. But you know we’ve written pitch ideas for episodes. I had a small part, and in one of their productions you know where I had some lines, I played a character in one of the seasons of Video Game High School. I’ve been part of background shots, I’ve dressed up in green screen costumes and been Ball Pit Monster that day. You know they just needed a tall guy to take care of. It’s been a wide variety of things. But it dawned on me a couple of years ago that there must be a way to connect my life in music with these productions. I mean music is such an amplifier inside of a movie or a TV show. It helps. It’s that extra thing that takes the set– really transforms it into a universe.
Nathan: [00:33:39] I think even to say that it’s extra… We know that’s not even doing it justice. You’ve probably seen the last scene of Star Wars Episode 4, the Throne Room scene with no music. Yes there is a video of that on YouTube and it just looks ridiculous.
Nate: [00:33:52] Yes well that’s the truth. But I mean and I think actually it’s interesting you mention that because I think John Williams’ music does a nice job of giving his director a huge universe in which to explore and not all scores do that. Some scores are much more closely tied to the specific action that’s happening in moments and/or they give a, you know, a theme, certain characters. But I think John Williams does a spectacular job of providing a universe. I mean we recently did a concert at the Hollywood Bowl right? The L.A. Phil just accompanied one of the Harry Potter movies for a live screening. So we did the soundtrack and it was just astonishing to– we didn’t get to watch the movie as we played the music when we were performing, but you felt like the universe of Harry Potter, certainly informed by the books that I’ve read and the movies that I’ve seen, but just playing the music you felt like that whole universe– that the Muggles side and then the wizarding side and all of the possibilities that exist inside there exist in his music. And feeling that inspired me to try and throw my hat in the ring of providing my own musical ideas to some of these things. And so I’ve started a young music production company here in town that’s just getting started, called Hazard Audio and we’re doing music for TV shows and hopefully eventually movies. We’ve had our first thing on Hulu in December and these– what I endeavor to do, the way that I thought I could actually access it is by connecting the creative people that I’ve met in my life in classical music. My education, our education at Curtis was pretty special in that you’re meeting some really amazingly talented people at a very young age. And they do turn out to be or at least so far they’ve turned out to be some of the real leaders in classical music as we’ve grown up together. And people have sort of ascended to the height of their gifts and we found out where you sort of fit into the world. These people that we were dealing with are pretty major talents. And I felt like I had been in contact with enough of these who were, who would be interested in Hollywood and what it has to offer, but who would never take the time specifically to seek it out and make a life sitting there waiting in the 10 year line to get an opportunity to do it. And so I decided what I would do is, while I was here playing with the L.A. Phil, I would get in line and and start trying to meet people through Cate’s company and try and connect the music world here in Los Angeles with these monster talents that are around the country and it’s totally possible to do it now with the Internet and with technology. I have people right now in Columbus, Ohio and in New York and in Louisville, Kentucky and down in Orange County all working on projects that will be pitched or that will be delivered here in L.A. in the next two weeks.
Nathan: [00:36:34] That’s amazing. And I’m guessing that you you wouldn’t feel like your classical background, your classical upbringing and all the work that you put in, that specific work… I’m guessing you do not think that that’s all been lost.
Nate: [00:36:46] Oh no! In no way has it been lost. It stretches your rubber band to expand beyond it. But what I like about it is that it immerses you in the building blocks of all of music. I mean jazzers have their own language and their own scales, but theh are scales that we know about as classical musicians and have played and can play. It doesn’t mean that I’m as well versed or that I’m fluent in their language but it is certainly a language that I’m capable of conversing with them about and what I’ve found is that classical tradition, being steeped in counterpoint and the nuts and bolts of music making, allows me to communicate in an effective way here in town, and actually allows me to deliver a product oftentimes that’s on a very high level. We’re able to to pinpoint the people that I think would be good for certain projects all around the country, call them and ask them to produce something, they send it my way, I edit with them what’s going on and and go between the production company with them and we deliver something that’s pretty neat oftentimes and that might not be possible otherwise.
Nathan: [00:37:49] And I would think too that the the kind of preparation that we do as classical musicians, whether it’s for an audition or performance or whatever, that same kind of organization and preparation looking toward a finished product or a finished performance– when you say deliver a product it’s really the same as delivering a performance, I would think.
Nate: [00:38:11] It is on some level, it isn’t on others. I mean oftentimes– it’s an interesting point because I mean essentially a conductor is a director right. I mean it’s their job to focus everyone and to bring consensus to a group. Sure. And so on some level. Yeah I guess delivering that product to the director’s wishes is the same as delivering a performance. The conductor’s wishes. So you’ve got some control. You have creative control but not ultimate control. Very limited creative control. But I’ve always thought that in all instances of art and life the way to gain more creative control is to deliver within the confines that you’re asked on the highest level possible. All of a sudden John Williams writes the score that John Williams wants to write for his movies and it’s because he’s proven time and time and time again that he is capable of the burden of understanding what his music needs to be inside a certain film. And so for now the control is not what I hope it will be later but it’s still really wonderful to have a prompt and to have some, you know, to have some direction in terms of where something has to go. It’s actually focusing in some way.
Nathan: [00:39:20] Well sure, and some of the greatest pieces have been commissioned. You know, write me this kind of a piece, and it could have been just a moneymaker. I mean we’re talking anytime in the last several hundred years.
Nate: [00:39:33] Yes it’s an interesting, it’s an interesting thing. I mean in the past week– let’s let’s say in the past two weeks, OK in the past two weeks, I performed chamber music as part of a quintet accompanying Sarah Chang in the Piazzolla Four Seasons. I performed a double bass and violin concerto with piano at a at a fundraiser for a wonderful music festival in the Olympic Mountains. I then went to Ohio and wrote a 90s rock song at a studio in Ohio with a buddy who owns a studio there, that had to be this angsty like nasty 90’s rock song with a big soaring, big soaring chorus…
Nathan: [00:40:08] You know you played me some of that!
Nate: [00:40:10] Yes, Nathan couldn’t even look me in the eye while he was– while he was listening to it. He was laughing so hard, but it nailed the pitch that we needed to, that we needed to put it in there for, so we sent that out. We had two days to prepare. Write a song, prepare it, perform it, get it out. We’re talking about electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, singing, all of that done by me and one other guy. Then I came home and I’ve got three songs that we’re delivering to an animation company: one is in a gospel style, one is in a funk style, and one is in a classical style like a chorale. So I’ve been recording those this week and performing with the L.A. Phil. We did Copland 3 last night and the Wynton Marsalis violin concerto, and so it’s provided a variety in my music making that really keeps me on my toes, keeps my noodle stretched, keeps me feeling like I’m not tethered in some way that I shouldn’t be. The opportunity to be creative is really all I think we’re searching for inside this life as a musician anyway. To have some voice and to have some say in whatever message we’re putting out: that is the ultimate. And so I’ve had lots of fun trying to make the spectrum as wide as possible.
Nathan: [00:41:16] OK, so to bring this back to orchestra since we spend so much time here at Stand Partners for Life talking about the symphony, and talking about Akiko and my jobs during the week, what have you noticed playing with so many different orchestras? You know there’s an old line that orchestral players say: every orchestra has the same people in it, just with different faces.
Nate: [00:41:38] That’s absolutely total baloney! Yeah, I don’t believe that at all. I do believe that once again it’s sort of the quest– you know, it’s helped me understand what we talked about earlier about auditions, that auditions in their own way are a focusing agent as well. That you go, you put your thing out there, you see what comes back to you in terms of success. But the truth of the matter is that each of these orchestras is so different that the word deserving really doesn’t necessarily apply. It’s tricky to be speaking about these magnificent institutions and try to boil them down to short blurbs so I hope that if anybody from any of these groups is listening that they won’t hold it against me! But it’s it’s very interesting. You know I remember playing with the Cleveland Orchestra and feeling like it’s a– it’s a Ferrari. It’s a tight orchestra, you know, whose success seemed to me to ride upon how together and how facile it was. It can change directions quickly and the quality and brilliance of the of the playing is on an extraordinarily high level and their softs were amazing inside their amazing hall and you just felt like you were in a little– a little sports car that handled like a dream. And I played with them recently after being on tour with The Philadelphia Orchestra, that I envisioned as a big rumbling Mack truck. You know I mean it’s an aircraft carrier!
Nathan: [00:43:04] Now I think Chicago was once called the Mack Truck of Orchestras–.
Nate: [00:43:07] Was it really?
Nathan: [00:43:08] By a European reviewer b ack in the Solti years.
Nate: [00:43:10] Oh that’s interesting. And I mean that in the best way possible. I mean there is a momentum that the Philadelphia Orchestra gains and this dark rich sound that their their basic string sound sort of lends to the group. And then you put their magnificent wind principals on top of this, like this bed that the strings have have made for everyone. And it’s a tremendous experience and it doesn’t seem to me to be based on the same level of tightness as a group– you know their success is in their expansive music making and in the amount of time that you have to turn a phrase with them. I love the feeling of playing that way. It’s sort of– I think that’s probably because Curtis is in Philadelphia and it’s where I learned my philosophy of bass playing, but it always feels sort of like home to play with them and Chicago. I remember we were playing Pictures at an Exhibition and we got to this transition where I felt like normally the basses have a pretty big say in the way that time will be taken. And I remember feeling the brass, like, grab hold of the moment and run me over like a steamroller. It was like, “No, take your hands off the steering wheel, Nate, we won’t be needing you for this!” And it was awesome. It was so cool to feel the assertive nature of the brass in that moment there in Chicago, and to feel what everybody is always talking about when they talk about the history of the Chicago Symphony and their brass tradition. And you know, and again, each of these orchestras you’re sitting there playing and you’re figuring out how it works, but you’re convinced the entire time that they’re all magnificent orchestras that have figured out different ways to be effective.
Nathan: [00:44:46] Right.
Nate: [00:44:47] Because because while those groups are all amazing, the L.A. Philharmonic is a pretty neat place to play too. The hall is wonderful and then the summer venue is a breath of fresh air compared to what summer venues, particularly out in the east coast, can be. It’s really a neat experience. And I love playing in the L.A. Philharmonic. I love playing newer music and rhythmic music. There’s like a, there’s like a solidity when there’s lots of moving parts that the L.A. Phil brings to that type of music that I really enjoy playing. And it’s– I feel like I can play hard and heavy in the L.A. Phil and really give a lot and that it’s well-received there. So it’s a lot of fun to play here too. Well, and the L.A. Phil takes a lot of chances with the programming it does and it’s clear while you’re playing with them that the group is well capable of handling those opportunities that are a little outside of the box. And not just comfortable. But are actually going to deliver some neat experiences that you wouldn’t get anywhere else in the country.
Nathan: [00:45:46] And how much of that comes– you know there’s always an interaction between a conductor, soloists, the orchestra, the hall, and then the planners, the administrative staff who who put the programs in the season all together.
Nate: [00:45:59] And you know the Cleveland Orchestra is playing in Severance Hall, which– once you’re playing at a certain level, giving more and playing louder and harder doesn’t gain you anything in that hall. That hall is magnificent. It’s such a beautiful place to play. And so you feel like you can whisper in it and it’s going to come across beautifully and you can just speak loudly and fully and that’s all you need from your top end, and the hall will mix everything and take care of it together. So all of a sudden you’re looking for a different type of player than the Philadelphia Orchestra was looking at when they were playing in the wet blanket that was the Academy of Music. I mean you speak to them about their experience in there and they just said, “Well we knew that once you got away from the stage you couldn’t hear anything,” and so they’re laying on their instruments. The string players are up near the bridge with flat hair you know, they’re doing– controlling all the variables that they can control to make their sound thicker richer larger and get it out into the hall, and so all of a sudden they’re looking for a slightly different type of player than the one that Cleveland is. And these conductors whose job it is to unite the sound and make these decisions and point the orchestra in a certain direction: it’s their job to understand all these variables and to have a vision for the future.
Nathan: [00:47:10] So to go back to what we talked about about with these auditions not necessarily specifically being about deserving.
Nate: [00:47:17] There’s this element that it’s like– if the Philadelphia Orchestra is cherry pie and the Cleveland Orchestra is apple pie, you go out there and you do your best and you know, if you’re not apple pie and they need apple pie you’re not going to get the job that day!
Nathan: [00:47:31] Right.
Nate: [00:47:31] And it’s not your job to diagnose who you are exactly or to worry about that beyond a certain point. They’re all wonderful institutions. I think the system will help you figure out where home is and you want to adjust your playing and your ideas to where you’ll be as successful as possible knowing what you can know about these groups. But most of the time it’s just your job to do your best and put it out there and see where you land.
Nathan: [00:47:50] Right.
Nate: [00:47:50] Your playing is going to be some version of you and that can and will change over the years. But you know, I know we’ve both always felt it was important to bring quality. That’s all you can do beyond a certain measure. I mean that’s– the word deserving is tricky because I don’t think it’s really possible to win one of these auditions without being deserving. But all you can do is push your level up to as high a place as you possibly can before that day comes and put it out there and try to walk away unfazed by either the positive result that came or the negative result that came. And of course human nature limits us and in the way that we react in these situations. But ideally, especially after doing with all this stuff in Hollywood– ideally what I’d like to do is prepare, because I know what my best is and I know I need to give my best. It’s part of my job as an artist: lay it out there when it’s time to lay it out there without worrying about what anybody thinks and then walk away from the situation satisfied that I did my best and go about my business. Even if they hire the director’s brother.
Nathan: [00:48:56] Great. Well it’s been wonderful having you here for this conversation. Nate Farrington, with a remarkably diverse musical and creative life here in L.A. L.A. for the time being anyway! Sounds like you’ve really made a home here though.
Nate: [00:49:11] Oh who knows? You never know what life will bring but L.A. is a wonderful city and I’m very pleased to be here making music with the L.A. Phil and looking around the creative landscape.
Nathan: [00:49:22] Yeah it’s a great place to be. And so for Akiko as well, my host and stand partner for life, I’ll say farewell. And we’ll put all the links to Nate’s production company and the various endeavors that we’ve talked about today, we’ll put those in the show notes. And I do hope you’ll visit natesviolin.com as well. Take a look at what I’ve been writing about, violin centric of course, but you also get my thoughts on other aspects of musical life in the symphony. And come back and give us a look at iTunes. Give us a rating if you would, leave some comments about how you’re enjoying the show. Let us know what you would like us to talk about in the future. So thanks for being with us today.
Nate: [00:50:03] Thanks so much for having me.
Nathan: [00:50:04] All right, and I’ll sign off.