Failing

Failing is indeed a very difficult piece for double bass. This is a nice little low-fi version of a performance posted over at violinist.com that is great for giving you an idea of what the piece is about. Very funny! I had never actually heard this piece, though I’ve heard several very similar ones. The double bass can easily evoke a bit of comedy, and it’s no wonder. It’s just such a sight to see someone carrying one around or sawing away with virtuosity during a performance on one – it makes for great theater. I can’t tell you how many times I had to suffer inane comments such as:

  • “What have you got in there?”
  • “You should have picked the flute.”
  • “Is that a dead relative?”
  • “Is that a guitar?”

And so on, ad nauseum. Those comments used to just deflate me. I remember once standing there on the T in a crowded car on the Green Line with one other bassist coming back from a gig, and someone literally comes up to us and lays the old “flute” quote on us, like it’s funnier the 10,000th time. I hate the flute. Sorry.

I take that back. It’s not so much the flute itself that I can’t stand, but the idea of myself playing one. I’m strings only: woodwinds and brass ain’t my bag, baby. Maybe I could deal with a bassoon or something, but flute is way at the opposite end of my mental tessitura. Sorry if I offended any flutists out there ��� it was purely unintentional…

Solo bass pieces are part of why I got in to playing this instrument in the first place. The humorous pieces like Failing are great and all, but I’ve never been attracted to them personally. I’m more into pieces like Psy by Luciano Berio, or Bach suites, or a good sonata with piano like ones by Misek or Schubert.

Seriously ��� I think it makes a great solo instrument. It’s not great in the sense of it being acoustically on a comparable dynamic level as a piano or something that can cut over an orchestra for a concerto ��� no. I just like the sound of it, and it does make a nice solo instrument with small string ensembles, a quiet accommpaniment with muted piano or a plucked string, and of course unaccompanied. I’ve been arranging certain accompaniments for common bass repertoire pieces for classical guitar, for example, because I think it makes a better acoustic blend than the usual piano. Another great example of this is Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall’s performance of Zigeunerweisen with mandolin accompaniment and double bass solo. It’s a perfect role reversal of two instruments that should be logically in their opposite roles of accompanist versus soloist.

2 thoughts on “Failing”

  1. Hi

    Your article strikes a chord with me, for your annoyances are mine, and I simply LOVE the double bass.

    Thank you for your support of the double bass!

    I play a Pollman tuned in fifths CGDA, per Joel Quarrinton and Dennis Masuzzo. http://www.dennismasuzzo.com; http://www.joelquarrington.com

    Sorry about my web site being out of date. My wife died almost a year ago. Much that I would have done doesn’t get done, but I’m adapting.

    Isn’t Edgar Meyer a gas in his several incarnations!

    Warm Regards
    David

  2. Wow – 5ths no less! Very cool – we should call it an octocello… A bass tuned in 5ths must need a bit of extra tension on the low string, and I bet a full-sized bass would help. But it certaily makes a lot of sense and would solve a few certain problems we face. Maybe create a few new ones too, but hey that’s what makes experimentation fun.

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