Writing Home: Grüße aus Frankfurt!

Greetings from Frankfort!

Paul Cannon
Photo by Norbert Miguletz

Fall 2016
By Paul Cannon ’13

WHEN I ENROLLED AT RICE IN 2006, I arrived with a specific career trajectory firmly in mind. The Shepherd School has a reputation for placing graduates in major American orchestras, and it was that goal alone which I’d pursued since adolescence.

Ten years and two degrees later, I live in Frankfurt, Germany. I’m not in an orchestra, and I couldn’t be happier.

Working with Professor Paul Ellison [the Lynette S. Autrey Professor of Double Bass], I was gently persuaded to put the careerist mentality on the back burner and focus on my musical education. I allowed myself to study techniques and repertoire not directly related to the orchestral job market. I wanted to master any skill to do with double bass, no matter how seemingly useless or trivial. I figured if the focus remained on improving and expanding my abilities, the right job would come at the right time.

Goals have a funny way of changing. As I worked through increasingly obscure and esoteric material, my interests began drifting away from traditional music. I’d studied the most recent developments on my instrument and wanted to continue that work.

The call came in 2012, halfway through my master’s degree at Rice. Ensemble Modern, a flagship institution for contemporary music, had an opening and offered me a trial. Arriving in Frankfurt, I was greeted by some very welcome advice: “Please don’t hold back. We like our bass player to push us.” This was the right job. I was home.

These days, I spend much of my time touring with this great ensemble. Last year, I recorded four albums and played 55 concerts all over the world. Unlike a typical orchestra, most of these concerts were unique programs, including several dozen premieres and many more rarely performed works. This means I’m always learning new, often very difficult music — sometimes inventing new techniques on the fly to accommodate new compositional ideas.

The small size and flexibility of the group allows us to pursue any kind of project, from concerts to theater to ballet to electronica to educational. I’m meeting all types of artists and musicians wherever we go. I’m proud to be a small part in an international community of cultural experimenters and trailblazers.

I have learned, and continue to appreciate, that there’s no such thing as useless knowledge or trivial abilities. I’m challenged every day to improve and expand my craft. When it comes to that point, I won’t be holding back.

Are you a young alum living outside the U.S.? Write us a letter and tell us about your day-to-day experiences: ricemagazine@rice.edu.