Wednesday, July 25, 2012

to bass or not to bass

(an illustration Ellie drew in the midst of deciding which instrument to play- flute or bass)

Ellie and I began talking about instruments several months ago.  It wasn't the first time it had come up.  She wants (really...lets be honest...I want and she agreed) to participate in a group music opportunity while in junior high and high school.  She also wanted an instrument that would be a good compliment to play with her sisters (violin + cello).  There aren't many options for acoustic guitar in those settings.  We have asked every music teacher we know, friends, kids in orchestra/band...and we have received wonderful suggestions-
  • bass guitar (jazz band)
  • marimba
  • flute
  • viola
  • saxophone
Where the idea of double-upright-bass came from...Ellie saw it played @ a Lower Light's concert.  The upright bass wore a hat at that concert.  She LOVED it!  She wanted to play it.

At first I was excited for her.
We interviewed a few teachers...I loved them!
Then reality began setting in:  $, the size (it is a BIG instrument and Ellie is NOT big), carrying it around, etc...
Talking with a musician I greatly respect---she cautioned me---the music written for upright bass in orchestra is very simple and in her opinion boring.  She worried she wouldn't like it.
Again flute and viola were suggested.

Viola, for Ellie was out of the question (too close to violin).  We decided to look into flute.  My good friend Heather has wonderful taste in music teachers (we share a few of them!) so I asked her about her daughter's flute teacher...who they LOVE.   We went to her house.  She was WONDERFUL.  We LOVED her teaching style.  Ellie knew she would like her---but we both knew, as we walked away from the lesson we observed, that the flute is not Ellie's instrument.  I asked her to write down a pro/con list for bass/flute (she illustrated it...see above)---
  • She likes the size of flute (I do too!).  
  • She liked the flute teacher!  (I loved her!)
  • But she also really likes the bass teacher she had chosen.  (I do too!)  
  • She loves the uniqueness of the bass.  (She doesn't know anyone who plays the upright bass and that appeals to her.)
  • She loves the rhythmic side of music
I emailed my concerns to the prospective bass teacher explaining what we hoped to accomplish by adding another instrument to Ellie's learning (she is continuing with guitar as well).  His response to my concerns (boring, big, $) changed my perspective-

"The bass section is the foundation of the harmonic and rhythmic structure of the string orchestra.  And to a violinist, playing long tones for 60%+ of ones existence can be quite a violinist.  One of the things I instill in my students is without the bass, the orchestra would sound thin and empty.  Listen to any classical music and you'll hear the beautiful melodies in the upper strings, but you will feel the bass,  in a deeper, almost metaphysical way.  It's very interesting when I demonstrate in seminars how important the bass is, by taking them out of recordings.  The orchestra is lessened by the loss of presence with the bass.  Some of the most difficult orchestral passages ever composed are for the double bass.  That's why many universities around the world give hefty scholarships to good bassists.  For every 1 excellent bassist, there are 50+ violinists.  Bass is vital. We are a rare breed.

"Also, bass is the only orchestral instrument (also adding the bass guitar, same strings etc) that can play in ANY musical situation.  Jazz, bluegrass, rock , folk, you name it...they all need a bass.

"Another aspect of the bass is it's a fantastic (and under-estimated) solo instrument."

...but what he said at then end wouldn't leave my mind,

"I think the MOST important thing is Ellie needs to really decide what she wants to do.  If she REALLY wants to play the bass, in her heart, but isn't sure about the physical aspects of being a bassist, give her time. And I'm always willing to help. One thing I hear from so many 'ex-musicians' is: 'I wish I'd never quit playing my [insert instrument here].'  Regret.   I'd hate for Ellie to be a trumpet player trapped in a bassists body, if you get my drift."

She has worked hard, sold different things around the house, completed extra chores, saved...and we bought her double-upright-bass this week.  Lessons start next month...and I couldn't be more sure that she is a bassist trapped in a bassists body---a wonderful combination.  

She will love it! (And I will too!)


Tebbs Family said...

I am SO excited for her!!!! What are your girls going to call their musical group?? :)

nikki said...

My nephew, who is TINY even though he is 13, plays the upright bass and loves it. Ellie is going to be great! I hope to see the Davis girls playing weddings soon :)

nikki said...

My nephew, who is TINY even though he is 13, plays the upright bass and loves it. Ellie is going to be great! I hope to see the Davis girls playing weddings soon :)

Anonymous said...

GO Ellie!
Enjoy it girl. We have a friend who played the bass. The only real problem was getting it in the car!
Cindy H.