Alumni Feature: An update with Evan Bish, BMus’18

Evan Bish is the acting principal for the Nashville Symphony’s bass section.

Since graduating from Vanderbilt six years ago, double bassist Evan Bish, BMus’18, has continued a meteoric ascent as an in-demand musician and session player. Originally from Poughkeepsie, New York, Bish studied under Joel Reist at Blair and as a third-year student was already a substitute musician with the Nashville Symphony. Bish went on to gain a MM from Rice University and officially joined the Nashville Symphony bass section in 2021, where he is currently the acting assistant principal of the bass section.

Bish’s extensive credits now include performing on the Grammy-winning recording by the Nashville Symphony, Christopher Rouse, Symphony #5, and playing on a number of major film soundtrack recordings, among them the score for the 2022 Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody. He has received fellowships to the Sarasota, Aspen, Verbier and Tanglewood summer music festivals.

What originally drew you to the double bass as an instrument?

I started playing the violin when I was three years old. When I was seven, I came home from school to a bass sitting in the music room. My mom decided that bass would be a better fit, and it stuck!

Performing in Turner Hall during his time at Blair.

How was your graduate school experience different than your undergrad studies?

My grad school experience mainly differed in that I was taking professional orchestral auditions consistently. The preparation for these meant that my lessons were primarily filled with running through audition lists and making adjustments in order to deliver the best product. At Blair, my main focus was learning new repertoire and developing stronger technique, which could be applied to many different materials.

What does your weekly schedule look like as a member of the Nashville Symphony?

Depending on the week, we may perform one show four times, or four different shows one time each. The rehearsal schedule reflects this and can sometimes mean learning a lot of music at a time! Each week looks a little different, which definitely keeps things interesting.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony.

Performing orchestral scores in sync with live film screenings is a popular current programming format. What is that experience like from the performers’ standpoint? Is it more challenging than a typical performance?

Movie concerts are some of my favorites because it’s so fun to play the iconic soundtracks of some of the most popular movies of all time. These soundtracks can be very challenging though, and unlike in a studio, we don’t have the benefit of being able to take breaks! It can certainly be a test of endurance.

What’s the most unusual recording session you’ve been called for?

I recorded a piece that is meant to be premiered on the moon. I’m not exactly sure how this works, as I always thought that sound doesn’t travel in space, but it’s definitely unusual!

What memories stand out as you look back on your time at Blair?

The things I remember most are a few unique pieces I played, such as Janáček’s Sinfonietta and Bernstein’s Mass. I believe that Mass required at least three choirs, an orchestra, and a big band. I would be shocked if I ever got to play that piece again. Also, there were some incredible faculty recitals that really inspired me, most notably one by percussion professor Ji Hye Jung. I remember leaving that recital speechless. The faculty at Blair are truly astounding and are an amazing resource for their students.

How did your Blair experience prepare you for life as a professional musician?

Because Blair does not have graduate students, the undergrads have a unique opportunity to take on responsibilities such as leading a section in an orchestra and creating chamber groups to play pieces that inspire them. In other schools, these opportunities are often reserved for graduate students. Stepping up to the plate and taking advantage of these responsibilities is a wonderful way to improve your skills and build confidence.

With the Nashville Symphony while an undergrad.

What advice do you give aspiring musicians just beginning their college studies?

Always show up prepared. You can grow so much as a player, even in a rehearsal, if you know what you’re doing. Scraping by will lead to stressful rehearsals and feeling unfulfilled. Really learning your parts for orchestra and chamber groups can be just as, if not more, beneficial as drilling your concerto for the millionth time.

Follow Evan Bish on Instagram (@evonbish) and Facebook.