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It's all about that bass for Blake

Blake Bonde took an inherited love of music and turned it into a career with his bass.

Blake Bonde
Bassist Blake Bonde on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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Basically, Blake Bonde loves bass. His joy in the instrument has led him to play in six regional symphonies this season located in four different states and one Canadian province.

Bonde will perform 30 symphony concerts this year as a member of the Rochester Symphony, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, the La Crosse Symphony, and the Dubuque Symphony. He’ll also substitute with the Thunder Bay Symphony in Ontario and the South Dakota Symphony. A single round trip to perform with each ensemble just once would involve driving a distance of 2,246 miles.

“It’s been enough miles so far this season to require two oil changes,” he jokes.

Everything from Brahms’ Symphonies to Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” will be included in Bonde’s performances this year. He also enjoys playing pieces like Michael Tippett’s “A Child of Our Time.”

Bonde’s sheet music is meticulously marked with bow strokes. He says it takes concentrated listening to adjust to each bass section’s dynamics and timing. He calls it a “nonverbal, real-time, constant negotiation” that translates to real life.

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“In a bass section you are not right for being right, you are right if you are together with everyone else,” he says.

Part of what makes Bonde’s wide-ranging performances possible are the host families that sponsor lodging for him when he’s in places like Duluth. Other symphonies provide lodging at hotels while most provide travel stipends for paid rehearsals and performances.

Blake Bonde
Bassist Blake Bonde on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Now 36, Bonde was raised in Rochester from about 6 months old. In family legend, he could be found on a rocking horse listening to polkas and singing with the bass line when he was 2. He was exposed to music through his mother Denise’s violin and his father Gerald’s classical guitar. Listening to Bach’s pipe organ music on records and hearing his grandmother Phyllis Johnson’s piano playing was also formative.

Bonde connected with bass in fifth grade at Bamber Valley Elementary and had a series of excellent teachers through middle school at Friedell and later Mayo High School. He also studied privately with Bob Gardner and later Travis Bruns.

Bruns encouraged Bonde to think music could become a career.

“I had never even considered that music could be an option,” says Bonde.

As a high school sophomore, Bonde says he “made a deal” with himself that if he could win the Southeastern Minnesota Youth Orchestra’s concerto competition he’d study music in college. He won the competition playing Sergei Koussevitzky’s “Concerto Opus 3 for String Bass and Piano.”

That year, Bonde studied bass with Joe Mish. “I can only think of one or two other students who worked as hard as he did,” says Mish. Bonde and Mish now play in the same bass section for the Rochester Symphony. “Having students get to this point is not always expected, but it certainly is the level you hope some of your students will reach," says Mish, adding, “He’s a valued colleague, not my student anymore.”

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Blake Bonde
One of bassist Blake Bonde's bows has yellow and blue strings in support of Ukraine on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Bonde began performing with the Rochester Symphony in 2002 as a high school junior. He’s been playing with the ensemble for 20 years and will be part of the symphony’s holiday performances this weekend as the ensemble says farewell to Maestro Jere Lantz, their musical leader for the past 42 years. Bonde is looking forward to playing some of Lantz’s carol arrangements including one that manages to mingle Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” with “Jingle Bells.”

“For those of us who were raised in Rochester and returned — Blake and I are both examples — it is great to be able to now be colleagues with the musicians that we looked up to in our childhood,” says Amy Lindstrom, Rochester Symphony’s president and CEO. “It’s a beautiful thing to realize that music is something that is done in a multi-generational setting and it gets passed from person to person continually.”

In 2003, Bonde was a Post Secondary Education Option student at the University of Minnesota where he eventually earned a B.A. in music performance and completed graduate level coursework. While there, he played in the university’s ensembles and joined ensembles such as the Bloomington Symphony and the Duluth Symphony in 2009. In 2012, Bonde joined the LaCrosse Symphony.

In the 2013 season, Bonde took a leave of absence from other ensembles to perform with the Thunder Bay Symphony, an ensemble he calls a “living wage” symphony. He recalls how that ensemble played concerts in local schools and even performed special arrangements along with a rock band.

“I like being part of a section,” says Bonde. “We have the same line playing out and we are unified in it, and you can feel the stage shake as we play. It is kind of visceral.”

To make a living as a musician, Bonde juggles many skills.

“Blake is one of the most versatile musicians I know. Highly successful in jazz, country, rock and classical,” says Lindstrom. “More than that, he’s a wonderfully generous artist and person.”

Bonde performs with bands like Root River Jam and County Line Drive as well as freelancing with other rock and jazz bands. He says the bass’ ability to fit within classical and popular music was partially what attracted him to it. In addition to teaching 16 students, which he describes as “one of his biggest joys,” Bonde records video and sound and works as a live sound engineer, a skill his younger brother Evan helped him develop.

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Bonde says his parents were essential to his musical journey as they searched out teachers and even purchased vehicles that fit the large double bass. “The support that my parents gave was incredibly important,” he says. “I would still be playing even if it was not my career,” says Bonde. “The days where I put in time practicing alone with my instrument, my brain just works so much better.”

Blake Bonde
Bassist Blake Bonde on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

If you go

What: See Blake Bonde perform with The Rochester Symphony for their Festive Farewell concert.

When: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11 at 2 p.m.

Where: Lourdes High School.

Tickets: Available at rochestersymphony.org

Related Topics: ROCHESTERMUSICEVENTS
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