Monday evening means playing double bass at the ever friendly BCCO. For me it marked the start of a week with seven rehearsals or concerts – a double bass player, even one of a modest grade 6 standard, is in constant demand. Bass playing is a different world to the other instruments. For a start, the practical difficulties of transporting the instrument, stool and other kit are indeed a pain. And then can we entertain our guests after dinner with a tune or two? – well not really. It is all about the satisfaction of providing the rhythmic and harmonic foundation of the orchestra.
For me, bass playing was a new venture for a middle aged (lapsed) tuba player. My musical life began at school in the 70s in North Yorkshire. I played tuba in brass bands and concert bands, got to grade 8 fairly quickly, went on to study music and sound recording, and became a classical music recording engineer. By my late teens I was totally immersed in the world of the great classics, particularly the central Austro-German tradition, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms. But what is there for a tuba player? The instrument was only invented in the mid 19th century, so the opportunities are very limited.
And so at the age of 47, I took the plunge, hired a bass and started to teach myself. Five years on it seems like 90% struggle and 10% yey! I can play this now. Take the Beethoven symphony we rehearsed on Monday for example. The bass part, as written, is totally beyond my technical ability. The solution? Simplify the part. Play only the most important notes – and so provide the rhythmic and harmonic foundation – and then the bass player has done his job.