By Douglas Rutherford
Of all the double bass players in this country, how many have made it to the age of 27 without getting a driver’s license? Maybe I’m just an anomaly.
The double bass is a gargantuan instrument; it’s cumbersome and it’s heavy. And I take it nearly everywhere I go. Without a driver’s license, I’ve taken my bass on many a bus, boat, taxi, tram, train, plane and automobile, and relied on countless kindly lifts. I’ve covered a lot of ground over the years, quite literally on my feet with my goliath of an instrument on my back.
Once people discover my curvaceous and deep-voiced friend, they often ask me if I wish I’d taken up the violin, the flute or even the triangle. It’s true that these instruments would be much easier to carry around and keep safe, but I’ve played the bass for so long and carried it so far and wide that I find it difficult to imagine life without it.
I’m sure the exertions of carrying a bass pale in comparison to the experiences of harpists and percussionists, or those pianists who insist on carrying their instruments around. Vladimir Horowitz is one well-known pianist who travelled with his own Steinway – my heart goes out to whoever had to organise for that thing to be flown over the Atlantic in its bulletproof case. Then there’s Krystian Zimerman, who travels with his own modified Steinway, driving the truck himself.
In any case, large instruments are not crosses to be borne and there’s a reason why they’re so big. It’s a simple fact of physics that if you want a nice big bass sound, then your instrument needs a larger resonating space. All the largest instruments are bass instruments, or instruments which encompass the lower registers (like the piano and harp). And instrument makers have plumbed these depths for many years, yielding such exotic creations as the octobass, hyperbass flute, contrabass oboe and subcontrabass clarinet.
Not everyone understands the logistical commitments of owning a double bass, but most can appreciate its rich, dark tones. So it’s up to me and my double bass playing contemporaries to tame these behemoths, walk them around town, and share their sound for the good of music.
When I think about it, the effort of transporting a double bass is really just a means to an end – once I’m sitting down with the beast, that’s when the fun begins.
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