The greatest gift and curse of being a bass player is assuming the role of the anchor. In an orchestra, they are the thunder that’s felt but rarely seen, the dense, fibrous muscle holding down the structure of the music swirling around them. It’s not an instrument that just anyone can choose, it has to pick you. It has a way of profiling the ones who play it–someone hearty, strong handed, reliable, bold yet sensible, and above all a team player. Of course none of this logic occurred to Chance Wilder Onody as a teen picking up the tall, husky wooden instrument for the first time at Corona Del Mar High School. If joining the orchestra would get him out of signing up for some boring elective that included actual homework, the bass would do just fine.
Originally from Canada, Onody’s family moved to OC for right before he started high school. Enrolling in school late just before the year started, the only electives he could choose were orchestra or introduction to Marine Biology. He noticed the description of the orchestra course said “Strings” so he assumed it meant guitar.
“I went into the music class, talked to the music director and told me it was a common misconception, but he asked if I play cello, viola, violin or bass,” Wilder says. “I said ‘I play the big one in the back, and he looked and me and said oh, you play bass?’” In reality Wilder wasn’t a musician at all, save for some short-lived piano lessons as a kid. However, when he grabbed hold of the instrument, something clicked. His knack for perfect pitch, quick learning by watching the kids next to him and a tall, burly build made him a natural. His size always made him stick out, but in the back of the orchestra he fit right in. “Over time I just fell in love with the instrument completely,” he says.
Little did he know that his relationship with the bass for the next decade would take him places he never imagined–traveling across the world, sharing the stage with ‘70s rock legends, achieving viral YouTube fame and more. The latter came as a result of doing a one-man orchestra cover of “Feeling Good,” first made popular by Nina Simone and later sterilized by Michael Bublé. Onody’s cover comprised of a collage of orchestrated bass parts plucked and bowed on a variety of stand up, electric and acoustic instruments allowed him to show the amount of complexity and range four strings can offer in a classical setting.
Onody stumbled onto the viral video idea came after he’d booked a group of musicians to help him record a full band version of “Feeling Good” with him taking the lead. Unfortunately that idea fell through when all the musicians were hired to go perform at a more lucrative gig on the same day he’d planned to record. “A week or so before the actual recording date, they all got booked on a really cool gig so I ended up being a fish out of water, kinda stuck without anyone to help me,” Onody says.
Realizing that he’d started in classical music being a principal bassist, he took it as a chance to do something he’d never done before. “There’s always beautiful lines going around in the orchestra that we never get to play so for me I looked at it as musical acting, this is my chance to be everyone in the orchestra that I always wanted to be,” Onody says. The videos success (which garnered almost 400,000 views on YouTube) led to a variety of other collage-style videos of his bass playing on other covers and original tunes.
This was only the most recent success Onody experienced as a result of his love for bass. After initially thriving in high school orchestra, the young bassist kept up his playing through school in the midst of signing up for football and playing offensive and defensive line for Corona Del Mar. In between practice on the field and lunch breaks during school, he remembers sneaking off to study his instrument in the music practice rooms. It was in one of those rooms that he was discovered by Albert Wu, director/conductor of the Irvine Young Concert Artists who was visiting the school to recruit teenage players for the touring youth orchestra. He found Onody in a practice room playing Vivaldi Winter on bass. “He immediately offered me a position as a principal player in his orchestra,” Onody says. “What was beautiful about his orchestra is everyone in there got an opportunity to be a soloist and refining that down to the people who were more adept at standing in front and not getting nervous,” says Onody, who became one of the more standard soloist in that group.
The year he joined in 2008, the Irvine Young Concert Artists were selected to perform at the Olympic Games in China. Onody and dozens of his elite local peers were flown to the games and performed for thousands and toured across the continent, starting in Seoul, South Korea. Footage of their trip shows the big, bright-eyed teenage towering over the rest of his colleagues and also taking breaks to enjoy sightseeing at the Great Wall of China.
Despite being a kid, the environment he was thrust into as a musician was serious business. Onody made his debut as a soloist in a concierto with the orchestra alongside the Seoul Philharmonic and I made my concierto debut there when I was 17. “I got used to playing in front of an international audience pretty quickly,” Onody says. “I like being a soloist because I like to make my own rules. When it’s classical music, the audience knows every note you’re supposed to play so the part you get to embellish is during the solo and I can dictate the tempo of the piece and that’s when I really get to experience my sense of freedom.”
It was that early experience that’s helped him keep his cool these days as a studio musician, session player and sideman, working with artists like jazz guitarist Chris Gerolmo, the screenwriter best known for Mississippi Burning and drummer Doane Perry, formerly of Jethro Tull, who Onody performs with on many projects including his own. He’s also a regular at events like NAMM where he performs at booths for his sponsors that include NS Design, Bartolini Pickups, Tsunami Cables and Phil Jones Bass.
Despite all the places the bass has taken him, he’s always glad to be home in OC working on his next creation. Recently he made a video for an original composition, “The Music That Was Us,” that shows him playing each part on bass and keys that culminates into a contemporary classical mosaic of romantic passion. Ok, that might be laying it on a little thick, but seriously, Onody is talented and bares a striking resemblance to Fabio these days with his long hair and piercing gaze when he plays his instrument. One thing that can’t be denied is his the amount of love Onody puts into his craft and the natural high he gets from getting creative with the low end.
“My whole mantra to myself is to push the boundaries or that there are no boundaries approach it by having as much fun as possible,” Onody says. “And whatever tune I have in my head I want to try to recreate it in the real world.”