Student is master of bass viol


Ben Kerman was 9 when he first played his double bass at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

By the time the Ellicott City youth reached sixth grade, he was principal bassist for the Gifted and Talented All-County Orchestra and had studied with such world-class bassists as Francois Rabbath and Paul Ellison.

The 17-year-old Centennial High senior performed again at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, this time as principal bassist for the National Guild Youth Symphony.

The son of a music teacher, Ben decided to play the bass because he said his father was least familiar with the largest and lowest-sounding of the string instruments.

"He taught violins and violas but he didn't know all that much about bass," Ben said. "I didn't want him to teach me bass. I wanted it to be my thing, not his."

Smiling, he adds: "It wasn't really an act of vengeance."

Since he began playing bass in third grade, Ben has performed with Maryland's All State Junior String Orchestra and the All State Senior High School Orchestra.

Last year, he was one of three outstanding high school bassists to rehearse with the National Symphony Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

His repertoire includes "Capriccio Italian" by Tchaikovsky and the prelude to Wagner's opera "Die Meistersinger," as well as Carnival Overture, Op. 92 by Antonin Dvorak. Baroque and classical music are his favorites. "Romantic tends to have really boring bass parts," he said.

Once a week, Ben takes lessons from Paul Johnson at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. He performs with the Prince George's Community Orchestra and Centennial High's concert orchestra and jazz band.

During the past nine years, Ben said he has refined his playing technique and gained a better understanding of the music.

"When I was little I tended to rush a lot," he said. "I would play fast. In the last year, I learned to calm down and put my emotions into it."

Now he's focusing on his overall performance.

"You have to work on everything," he said. "If you want to be No. 1, you can't play games."

But he still manages to have fun.

When he's not playing bass, Ben enjoys history and computers.

His idea of a great time?

Studying 2,000-year-old history on a trip to Israel during his junior year.

"I'm sort of a history buff," he said. "I took notes for five to 14 hours a day. We'd get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and see the sun rise."

At school, he studies physics, English, European history, computer programming, orchestra and Native American studies -- most are advanced placement, Gifted and Talented or honors classes.

After graduation, he hopes to attend Rice University in Houston, where he wants to double major in music and political science or international studies -- or anything else.

"I want to take everything a university has to offer," he said.

"I'm scared to say I'll do music the rest of my life. I love history and computers. I also love to travel," he added.

Ben's curiosity and sense of humor contribute to his musical talents, said Kathryn Cammarata, Centennial High's orchestra director.

"He has a really wonderful outlook on life," Ms. Cammarata said, "which means he's open to new ideas. He has a possibility of making it on an orchestra or symphony in a major city."

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