This cracked me up. I was just reading it here while sitting in the BMW dealership waiting for them to finish giving an oil change to my iPod accessory and I started laughing out loud. People are looking at me with raised eyebrows.
Old bass joke to make you groan:
A friend of a friend of a friend of mine told me this little tale of one of our local symphony orchestras doing a rendition of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. There is a passage in this piece where the bass section has a fairly long break. Long enough, in fact, that the double bass players stocked up the green room with libations and when this break came, they would skip down to the green room for a little sheep dip. Well, as the rehearsals went on, they started cutting their return close enough that even they started to get a little nervous. So, they got a hold of the conductor’s sheet music, punched a hole in the bottom corner and tied the pages together to buy themselves a few extra seconds. So, come performance night, you could just feel the tension. There, at the bottom of the 9th, the score is tied, and the basses are loaded.
Sharp-eyed reader Nora Renka noticed that the drop curtain at the Met’s Romeo et Juliette features a medieval figure reading a book, and on the book is written the phrase “LORVM IPSVM ALL YOVR BASE ARE BELONG TO VS.”
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.
I just remembered this story, so here goes:
I used to play with these guys back at New England Conservatory on Friday nights. We had two violins, a viola, cello, and myself on bass, plus occasional guest artists on piano, clarinet, or whatever.
What we would do every Friday night is grab a bunch of beer, or Uncle Carlo Rossi’s Light Chianti, or maybe some Absolut, and stealthily smuggle it all into one of the practice rooms in the back of the building, lock the door, close the shades, and then play a game of Grand Pause, which is basically a drinking game that we invented for classical musicians. Here is how you too can play Grand Pause with your ensemble:
- Ensemble starts playing the chosen piece of music.
- If there is a significant amount of rest – one measure for a slow movement or two for a faster one, then you must drink. The basic goal is, if you’re not playing, you’re drinking. Try not to spill your drink on your Gofriller or your neighbor’s Amati.
- If you come to a grand pause/fermata, then everyone in the group must shout “Grand Pause!!!”, and then chug-a-lug whatever is left in their glass or bottle.
- Keep playing until it is impossible to continue due to laughter/inebriation/security guards.
Once we actually got a gig playing at a Democratic Party fundraiser at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Two words: Free booze. Nuff said – you can guess what happened…