Christopher Hanulik Plays “The Beast”

In Westport, the name “Hanulik” is well known, and much revered. John Hanulik — who died in 2005, at 71 — taught singing, band, orchestra and music theory to thousands of elementary, junior and senior high school students, for nearly 40 years.

In Los Angeles, “Hanulik” belongs to Christopher. Principal bassist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he brings his father’s lessons — and his own inherited passion — to an international audience.

The Los Angeles Times recently profiled 4 members of the orchestra, in words and video. Hanulik had a leading role in the story, called “Tales of Obsession and Perfection.”

Christopher Hanulik (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

Christopher Hanulik (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

Hanulik — himself a Staples grad — and his fellow musicians are “at once perfectionists and realists,” the Times says, “chasing mathematical structures into beauty.”

They are also well paid. Principal players earn much more than the base salary of $150,124 — plus overtime.

But getting onto the Los Angeles Philharmonic stage is “tougher than winning admission to Harvard.”

Hanulik earned his spot in 1984 — fresh out of Juilliard. “He has steady hands and a boyish mischievousness,” the Times reports. But “over the years Hanulik, 51, has come to rely on muscle memory.” He calls his 25-pound instrument “the beast,” and notes:

I’ve got to be working scales and arpeggios to keep in shape. The bass is a physical instrument. Your body won’t let you do things you once could. It’s like an athlete. You have to guard against overuse, stress on ligaments and tendinitis.

His Italian bass is 265 years old. It cost $30,000 in 1987 — and is now worth $250,000.

The job of his section, Hanulik says, is to “lay down a sound as plush as a carpet,” for the rest of the orchestra to float upon.

Christopher Hanulik (far right) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

Christopher Hanulik (far right) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

In addition to his job with the Philharmonic — and their international tours — Hanulik teaches at UCLA, and privately. He’s also on the Aspen Music Festival faculty.

He worries about the future of classical music. It must venture in new directions — but not too far. Last year, the Seattle Symphony played with rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot.

“Do we really really need to be doing that?” Hanulik wonders. “How does that translate into coming to hear Beethoven’s Seventh?”

Meanwhile, back in Westport, a new generation of teachers — the successors to John Hanulik — does their best to inspire the next generation of Christopher Hanuliks.

(To see the video of Hanulik, click here. Hat tip: Dave Donovan)

3 responses to “Christopher Hanulik Plays “The Beast”

  1. Scott Brodie (Staples '70)

    Great to see Christopher carrying on the Hanulik “family business” to even greater acclaim. John Hanulik was my first music teacher — I started studying with him on clarinet in 4th grade. Two years later, he suggested I switch to oboe (which was in fact his primary instrument), which I have enjoyed ever since — 50 years and counting! I still find that the lessons I learned from him — especially interpreting the core orchestral repertoire — have held up to this day. I remain grateful.

  2. Wish my memory was a little clearer, but I can picture the huge smile on John’s face when he described Christopher’s relationship with his bass. I think it was “animal” but it most certainly defined his playing as aggressive and magical. Proud doesn’t begin to cover how John felt about his son’s playing and his accomplishments.

    I was completely caught off guard when the article mentioned that John died ten years ago. What a loss to so many but what a gift his life was to so many. I remember the day when John and Christopher came to my house to pick out two little kittens for their family. Those kittens were blessed to live in a house of love and music.

  3. William Adler

    I’m so happy to hear of Chris Hanulik’s great success. The Hanulik family were neighbors when I was first growing up in Westport in a small neighborhood that also was home at the time to other legendary Westport teachers Arthur Marciano and Edna Kearns. I never had the privilege of studying under John Hanulik as a teacher but he was a kind and friendly neighbor.