Classrooms are rowdy. Band rehearsal rooms are usually worse.
But even before the music began, Xavier Foley’s presence drew a patient silence from a crowded room of novice music students at Jason Lee Middle School on Tuesday morning.
Foley — a world-class double bassist in town to perform with the Oregon Symphony this weekend — stopped by Jason Lee and nearby Gaiser Middle School to perform for young orchestra students and answer questions about his career and passions.
“Sorry, I’m just fanboying so hard right now,” said one sixth-grade student, also a bass player, as he and others marveled watching Foley put together his bass by hand — an uncommon sight for children and adults alike.
Foley had just flown into Portland earlier Tuesday morning from his home in Kansas City after recently performing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Maryland. The combination of a hectic schedule, a lack of coffee and the stress of traveling with a valuable instrument, however, didn’t faze the artist.
“Y’all wanna hear some music, then?” Foley asked the class.
The rousing “yes” launched Foley into the familiar tune of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, Prelude, a piece written for cello that Foley said required him to make adjustments to various finger placements so that it’d be possible on the standing bass.
Entranced and amazed, students took note of how Foley played with his eyes closed without any sheet music.
“It’s just something I do. It helps me listen,” Foley said of the habit. “I usually prefer memorizing over reading so there’s a little more room for music-making.”
From student to teacher
Just 29 years old, Foley can still vividly recall his days as a student like those at Jason Lee. Back then, he said, he was often a troublemaker in class. Even in early music classes, he was noted for fiddling around in between songs or playing violin or cello parts on his bass.
As he dove into the craft, music helped him focus and home in on a creative self. Before long, he was training with the legendary bassist Edgar Meyer. Then, shows at Carnegie Hall (humbly put: “I played there a few times, yeah”), and then overseas in South Korea, Germany and England.
“This is a career that suits me,” Foley said. “I have a hard time with numbers and following directions. This is all I had.”
The urge leads Foley to prefer life as a soloist over an ensemble bassist — though always interested in playing with great talents, soloing allows him to color outside the lines.
Aside from Bach, Foley performed a handful of original compositions for the students, beginning with a dynamic title “Lost Child,” which he described as being about the overwhelming sensation of being a young child lost in a grocery store.
“Is that song on Spotify?” asked one student. “I want to put that on my playlist.”
Ann Medellin, a music teacher at both Jason Lee and Gaiser, was nothing short of elated to have her students exposed to such talent and hopes it can help keep them interested. Orchestra programs at each school have already almost doubled since 2020.
“How often do these kids get to get so close to someone like that?” Medellin asked. “Wasn’t he just amazing?”
Humble and straight-to-the-point, Foley said he was honored by the level of interest the students had in his work. Throughout the visit, he appeared eager to keep playing and let the music speak for itself.
“It’s just so good to see students so engaged like this,” he said. “I felt truly blessed.”
Foley will join the Oregon Symphony in Portland this weekend to perform two solo original pieces, including “Lost Child,” as well as Bottesini’s Double Bass Concerto No. 2 and Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” For more information on how to get tickets, visit the Oregon Symphony: https://www.orsymphony.org/concerts-tickets/2223/holsts-the-planets/.
To learn more about Xavier Foley and hear his music, visit his YouTube page at: https://www.youtube.com/c/xavierfoley.