All about that (Double) Bass

by | Aug 23, 2019 | 1 comment

It was the Fall of 1974, and little ol’ me was in 6th grade at Joslin Elementary. Like all of my classmates, we were given choices of Fine Arts electives (Band, Orchestra, Choir, etc.) and many of my friends were heading down the Band path. I’m not sure if it was the fact that so many were already heading that way or that I had recently seen some passing orchestra performance on the television, but I decided to give the orchestra a try.

The next step, of course, was to pick an instrument. For me, it always came down to either the cello or the double bass. Once I saw and held a bass, though, the decision was made.

The rest of that school year was literally just learning what the strings were, how to hold the bow, how to read music (!!!), and how to make noise that didn’t sound like somebody was waterboarding a moose.

That started a 7 year adventure in my efforts to not waterboard moose… or at least not on a regular basis.

Transitioning to the Porter Junior High School Orchestra in 7th and 8th grades meant actually learning something as an ensemble, practicing (GASP!), and picking up random musicianship skills along the way.  It was a fun time, as we were the *first* orchestra at Porter, so we were pretty small to start our first year, but doubled in size the second!  In general, extra players really help the stronger players hide the “weak ones”… except when “waterboarding events” would happen (mostly in the 2nd Violin and Viola sections).  🙂

I was introduced to something unique halfway through my 8th grade year – trying out for High School All Region Orchestra.  This was something that all high school performers did, and only the best-of-the-best were selected.  8th graders tried out just to get themselves a little experience and so that they weren’t terrified their Freshman year when that time rolled around.

But … surprising everyone (especially me), I was selected as the FIRST 8th grade All Region bassist ever in the Central Texas Region.

Obviously, I was WAY over my head in this group (i.e., I was one of the “weak ones”), but darn it if I wasn’t super proud and just happy to be there!  So, I took my “last chair” role and paid attention to the camaraderie that the basses seemed to have that was so unique from the rest of the orchestra.  If there was a “cool section” … it was the basses.

As I moved into high school, it was the same story.  We *started* the orchestra at Crockett High School, so it was not much more than a quintet to get rolling.  By the time I graduated, we were 40+ strong and a pretty decent group.  I went from the “only bass” to the leader of the pack of 5 of us!  We had some fun times. 

From 9th grade on, I always made first chair bass in both the All-City and All-Region Orchestra ensembles.  There was another bassist, a year behind me, who really gave me a run for my money the last couple of years of high school.  We became friends as a result of the competition, rather than any sort of conflict.  He made me better through the challenge, and I hope I helped him grow as well.

I was really considering music as my career at one point, weighing bass performance against my love of spaceflight.  It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years, and I was at an amazing summer camp at Baylor University.  I was (again) WAY over my head compared to some of these upper classmen, but I was really thinking about going the music path. 

The bass chair at the university made a point of talking with each of us near the end of the week, and when he told me that he could see that I had reached the maximum level of my natural ability without some *serious* application of practice time, it moved from “fun” to “work”, and I wasn’t interested in “working” in music.

The rest, as they say, is history…  I stayed with my original plans to pursue my lifelong love of supporting the US Manned Spaceflight program.  But the lessons and love of music that I gained as a classically-trained bassist have stuck with me throughout my life.

Okay – time for my favorite nerdy bass joke (sorry in advance for the groans).

The Boston Symphony recently performed Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, which is a wonderful piece that has a part near the end in which the double basses have absolutely nothing to play.

So, the bassists snuck offstage, out the backdoor, and next door to the local pub for a drink.

After quickly gulping down a few stiff drinks, one of them checked his watch and said, “Oh no, we only have 30 seconds to get back!”

The principle bassist said, “Don’t worry, I tied the last page of the conductor’s score down with string to give us a bit more time. We’ll be fine.”

So, they staggered and stumbled back into the concert hall and took their places just as the conductor was busily working on the knot in the string so he could finish the symphony.

A woman in the audience asked her husband, “What’s going on? Is there a problem?”

Her husband said, “This is a critical point – it’s the bottom of the Ninth, the score’s tied, and the bassists are loaded!”

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