When internationally renowned double bass soloist and Eastman School of Music Professor James VanDemark took up boxing two years ago, he saw immediate crossover benefits to his playing. VanDemark, a “lightweight” at only 5’6″ and 138 pounds, immediately thought of the impact boxing could have on his students, so he sent some of his women students for a conditioning and strength-building session. They, too, came back with greater bow control, more confidence and stamina, and more energy, producing an even bigger and more focused sound from their big instrument.
This Saturday, April 2, Van Demark is sending 18 more of his double bass students, male and female, to Rochester gym ROC Boxing & Fitness for an introductory regime of boxing basics, exercises, and strength training. According to VanDemark, it’s a unique sports-and-music crossover, the first collaboration of its kind between a world-renowned music school and a boxing gym, and offered as part of the Office of Student Life’s WISE wellness initiative program.
“Boxing is the most rhythmic of sports, and many of the basic gestures of boxing have an immediate relationship to string playing,” said VanDemark. “Learning how to punch involves very rhythmic use of the hands and arms. The speed bag necessitates an internal rhythm and excellent eye-hand coordination. Boxing also offers complete conditioning, building upper body and leg strength and giving a huge cardiovascular workout, all of which have a really immediate application to playing a large upright bass.”
The students will be working out with Dominic Arioli. Known as “Coach Dom,” Arioli has trained Golden Glove fighters, 2008 World Featherweight World Champion Ela “Bam Bam” Nunez, and New York Ranger Ryan Callahan and other professional athletes, and he’s worked with Bob Dylan-sideman Tom Garnier when Garnier’s been in Rochester. Arioli also leads the boxing program at Aquinas Institute, one of the few organized high school boxing programs in the country.
Jessica Wolfe, a senior at the Eastman School of Music, took one of the earlier sessions with Coach Dom. The routine was challenging but manageable, she described.
“The exercises involved a lot of coordination and strength building, which gave me skills that transferred into my playing,” Wolfe said. “I think boxing has certainly improved several aspects of my playing — strength, stamina, coordination, and confidence.”
This Saturday, Coach Dom will be putting the students through their paces, from jumping rope and stretching exercises, to basic boxing stances and straight punches. Plans also include Coach Dom using a drum and some bass playing by one of the students. And VanDemark will be there with a music/boxing demonstration, cheering them on.
“I’m a big proponent of the fundamentals,” said Arioli. “In music, you have to have the fundamentals down, like the scales. And in boxing you need the proper fundamentals.
“And in both, you’ve got to practice. They say, ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.’ Well, how do you get to Madison Square Garden? Practice, practice, practice.”
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