From the Bandstand 3: Bassist Isaac Polinsky Plays National Anthem

In the third installment of "From the Bandstand," a series in which musicians write into about their experiences, Eastman School of Music bassist and current senior Isaac Polinsky discusses his experience playing the National Anthem at 136th Annual Meeting of the Northwestern Mutual Association of Network Representatives .

From the Bandstand 3: Bassist Isaac Polinsky Plays National Anthem

One of the highlights of my bass playing career was performing the Star Spangled Banner at the 136th Annual Meeting of the Northwestern Mutual Association of Network Representatives on July 25, held in the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI. It was an honor to play our National Anthem for such a large, captive audience.

This all started back in the spring of 2015. My mom has been a Wealth Management Advisor at Northwestern for over 20 years, and was on the planning committee for the 2016 Eastern Regional Meeting held in NYC in January. In her position, she recommended my brother, Gabe (also a double bassist), and I to play the Star Spangled Banner as a bass duet. Much to her surprise – a vocalist is almost always chosen – everyone loved the idea. Our plan was for one of us played the melody and the other played a harmony part for our arrangement.

Every year, Northwestern Mutual holds its annual meeting at their headquarters in Milwaukee. The planning committee for this meeting did not include my mom, but our rendition in the winter was so well received we were invited to play in Milwaukee! Since Gabe was away at the Aspen Music Festival, I said I would do a solo rendition. I tried to take the harmonies that we came up with in the duet version and incorporate it into a solo version by adding in a few double stops here and there. On the verse “and the land of the free,” I thought it would be powerful to embellish a little so that’s where I added the arpeggio that went up past the fingerboard of the bass.

By the time the performance came around, I had just returned home from spending six weeks at the Round Top Festival Institute in Round Top, Texas. There, I gained countless performance experience playing orchestra concerts every week, chamber music recitals and a mock audition. By the end, I had a better handle on maintaining a relaxed mindset and controlling my nerves when performing.

I got to rehearse in the arena the day before I performed which prepared me for the sheer magnitude of playing in the space. I was mic’ed and the sound of my bass filled out the arena with its deep, warm sound. It was really cool seeing the place go from completely empty to very packed. Right before I went on I tried to stay calm and collected, which is tough when playing in front of more than 10,000 people!

During the performance itself though I felt a great sense of pride for our country, and felt like I was conveying a message of hope and peace, in light of all the events going on in the world today. There was no greater feeling than hearing the warm applause of the audience after hitting the high G.

As a musician, I have the privilege to communicate a message to an audience without having to say one word. While the Star Spangled Banner is often performed, I tried to let the music speak for itself and in this case, to let the power and beauty of the music shine.

— Isaac Polinsky


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