Meet New Faculty: Double bassist David Scholl

The bass section of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. L-R: Carl Davick, Zachary Betz, Robert Rickman, Mike Hennessy, David Scholl, Brian Melk, August Jirovec, and Jeff Takaki. Photograph by Katrin Talbot.

Double bassist David Scholl, a native of Bellevue, Washington, is new to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently serves as principal bass of the Madison, Quad City, and Dubuque Symphonies; is a frequent substitute in the Elgin, Rockford, and South Bend Symphonies; and was once a member of the Illinois Symphony and Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He’s performed as a guest artist on Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series, University of Chicago’s Contempo series, and with the Spektral Quartet. In addition to maintaining a bass studio, he is on faculty at UW-Madison’s Summer Clinic, and presents in public schools. David received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Indiana University, where he studied bass with Bruce Bransby.

Interview conducted by Kyle Johnson, a dissertator in piano performance.

Do you vary your approach to music change based on the style, genre, or setting?

To be honest, for the most part my overall approach does not change. As a bass player my role is often harmonic, so understanding the form and melody is important in any style. Depending on context I will vary my articulation or volume, but the fundamental concerns are the same across genres.

Tell us your most memorable and embarrassing musical moments.

Most memorable: While I was in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago we gave a conductorless performance of Beethoven 6. The concert was the brainchild of Yo Yo Ma, and it felt a lot like chamber music, we made a lot of our own musical decisions, and there was a heightened energy in the hall that one doesn’t experience everyday.

Most embarrassing: While playing out of tune or coming in at the wrong time is still embarrassing to this day, the memory that comes to mind is playing bass on “I Hope You Dance” with my high school’s all-girl choir. The music was not to my taste and the girls teased me about my floppy hair in all the rehearsals. I was painfully shy. Come to think of it, this may have been what pushed me into becoming a more strictly classical player.

What ensembles are you currently playing with and what upcoming performances can locals plan to attend?

I am principal bass of the Madison, Quad City, and Dubuque Symphonies. I also sub frequently with other ensembles such as Elgin, Rockford, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Locals can see me in most Madison Symphony concerts, also I am playing with WCO for its Nutcracker run in December. Additionally I am giving a solo recital in Morphy Hall on January 29th.

What it’s like to be in a “freeway orchestra” member (a musician who travels from city to city to perform)?

Some orchestras such as Milwaukee or Chicago give concerts every week and the musicians are employed full-time in one city, but for those of us that play in groups that perform less frequently, we have to travel around from town to town playing with many different groups to have a full schedule. Some musicians affectionately call it the “Freeway Philharmonic” as there is a substantial commute, and you will see many of the same faces in each group. Commuting takes a toll on us physically and mentally. The hardest aspect for me is the food: hotel rooms don’t have a kitchen and you will be lucky if it has a fridge, so there is a lot of eating out which is expensive and not the most health conscious. There are some real benefits to freelancing however. You have more freedom to pursue other projects, you get a variety of groups to perform with, and it a great way to get to know some other towns.

You’ve described Madison as “crunchy.” Define “crunchy.”

“Crunchy” is a term that comes from the type of health-conscious people who eat lots of granola, and the connotations that are associated with granola consumers, such as being environmentally conscious and having a more do-it-yourself lifestyle. Madison has a lot of great health food with all of its great restaurants, co-ops, and farmers markets; and with the thriving bike and artistic culture here the word seemed to fit. I meant it as a term of endearment, as I myself strive to be crunchier everyday.

David Scholl offers sample lessons to all college and pre-college string bass students.  Contact him at

On Monday, January 29, David Scholl will present a solo recital of works by Gliere, Faure, and Brahms. Morphy Hall, 8 PM.

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