Portrait by illustrator Tilda Rose

Interviewed by Ali King
Director, Marketing and Business Development
Curtis Institute of Music

February 4, 2021

AK: I was sorry to hear that your bass is in the hospital! How’s it doing?

XF: I put my bass down next to this radiator in an apartment, which caused the wood to lose moisture faster than normally. The brace on the back of the bass caved in and popped open.

AK: When will it be fixed?

XF: Well I live in New Jersey but the bass luthier who made my instrument is in Virginia, so I had to drive it there for repair last week. I’m eager to get it back tomorrow!

AK: Before our conversation today I checked out your website and was impressed by your many entrepreneurial pursuits!

XF: When your opportunities are gig-dependent, it’s a little scary because you can feel not in control of your life. After graduating from Curtis, I started learning new skills and building my own opportunities. I made a lot of mistakes initially, financially, but over time have found out what works. For example, word of mouth marketing with your community that already loves what you’re doing, and is also free, has far more return on investment than paid advertisements that are a shot in the dark.

AK: Is the word of mouth marketing to cultivate a teaching studio?

XF: I haven’t taught as much lately because I’m getting busier with gigs, but the people who have asked me for lessons are people I’ve built relationships with — maybe they asked me a question on Instagram and I responded, or took one of my free classes. As time went by and people got to know and trust me, then they felt comfortable asking me to teach them.

AK: It’s great to hear that you’re busy! What work do you have coming up?

XF: Presenters who postponed gigs from last year are picking up a bit now, with socially distanced small audiences or livestreams. I did a livestreamed recital in Birmingham, Alabama, which I drove to. (I don’t enjoy flying during COVID-19 but do like driving long distances to relax and think about things.) Coming up I’m doing a recording with Randall Goosby, a violinist, for Decca Records in New York City.

AK: Tell me about the music you compose.

XF: Mainly I write music that highlights the bass — both for solo and ensemble, because I felt like there wasn’t much out there. The person who inspired me to do this is Edgar Meyer who teaches at Curtis. I’m influenced by different cultures and genres, like Irish folk songs. I wrote a piece called Irish Fantasy while at Curtis for solo bass. The most recent piece I wrote was based on death metal.

AK: Whaaat…I want to hear it! Is there a recording available?

XF: Haha, right? You’ve got to put a lot of energy into it; it sounds like there are vocals if you play it right. I don’t have a recording to share but did do an Instagram Live performance of it yesterday.

AK: Bummed to have missed it, but that’s a good segue to talk about Instagram, where you post regularly. How do you think about what you share on social media?

XF: I used to be against social media — like the person who swore they’d never go on it. But after graduating I found myself thinking about how to reach my audience. I can’t reach people unless I go to where they are, and everyone is on social media. I’ve learned to like it because I’ve found a specific use for it.

AK: Have you made any surprising connections from it?

XF: Honestly I’ve got a lot of haters! Sometimes it gets to me. I try my best to be polite. A lot of times I notice that it’s older, amateur bass players who give me the most trouble, oddly enough. There are a lot of Facebook groups for double bass insiders where sometimes I’ll post videos; I remember one person, a teacher I think, giving me trouble about my bow grip. When I get negative feedback I usually check out their profiles and it’s rarely someone whose opinion I admire, so that’s my strategy for coping with it.

AK: You get more positive feedback than negative though, right?

XF: Oh yeah, for sure!

AK: Are you still in touch with the Curtis community as an alumnus?

XF: Definitely with other alumni, who I collaborate with sometimes — recently my teacher at Curtis, Hal Robinson, reached out to me about a bass quartet I wrote a while ago; he’s working on the piece with his students. I think they’ll send me of a recording when they’re able to make that happen, and I’ll be able to give feedback via Zoom, so that’ll be cool!

Casual conversations with Curtis Institute of Music young alumni. Portraits by Philadelphia-area artists. Find us @CurtisInstitute on social media.

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