Casting off baggage

So I’ve started playing the bass again. This might not sound like
a big deal, but it’s been four or five years since I put it down for a
bit, and I’m pretty happy to have finally gotten past whatever was in
my way.

What happened? The jazz performance program at McGill does not adapt
well to jazz players who are not performance majors. Everyone in the
music program there has to meet some performance requirement;
usually, people who aren’t performance majors meet their requirements on
their instruments playing classical music, not jazz. But I’d done my
first semester in jazz performance before switching into computer
music/sound recording, and I figured I wanted to stick with it.

The teacher I had assigned to me was a very good classical and jazz
bassist and jazz composer, and an awful teacher. I picked up the bass
in high school and taught myself to play it, and despite gigging
regularly, my technique was pretty atrocious. Now, my teacher at
McGill usually had people who had been admitted on their capabilities
on the instrument, so I admittedly had a lot of catching up to do.
Unfortunately, my teacher’s idea of inspiration was to remind me
every couple of lessons that I wouldn’t have been accepted on
my playing alone, and that I probably wouldn’t be able to pass the
exit exam, and so forth.

Long story short, when you hear enough of that sort of thing you
eventually believe it, and when I switched out of
the music program and into sociology in ’97 (for a bunch of reasons
beyond this), I stopped playing bass for a while. I was still playing —
that’s when I took up the Irish flute seriously — I just wasn’t
playing the bass. So that’s all sufficiently historical now that I’m
doodling around on it again, trying to get my hand strenght and
calluses back, and then I’ll start approaching it sufficiently
seriously to at least figure out if I want to spend the time to get
good again. I’ve still got decent chops on the electric, but it’ll
take me a while to get back to where I was on the upright.

In retrospect, ignoring my experiences with my teacher, though, my
McGill music experience worked out pretty well. When I went
in I was still considering a career in music, and the reality
check was a good thing overall (even if it wasn’t delivered in
the best way possible, and didn’t seem like a favor at the time).
But I managed to have a decent “career” over those few years —
I did enough studio work to generate some credits in liner notes on a
handful of local jazz players’ CDs, I got to play with the McGill
Symphony at Place des Arts (under Dutoit even!), the National Arts
Centre, and the Grand Theâtre de Québec, I played live with
them on CBC Radio, recorded for the CBC, and gigged at a bunch of
Montreal jazz clubs.

So even though I didn’t finish my music degree, it all worked out pretty
well, and I’m glad I’m finally able to push my experiences with my
teacher into the past and start playing again.

6 responses to “Casting off baggage”

  1. I did not major in music.

    Glad you’re playing again. I hope you never listen to what anyone else says again. That path is madness.

  2. Well, to their credit, after the first semester in jazz perf, I really enjoyed my time at the music faculty — their computer music program had me taking courses in music, electrical engineering, computer science, math, and physics, which is pretty much as “me” as it gets, notwithstanding the whole social sciences thing.

    I switched into sociology because I was not coping very well with life at the time, and figured that I ought to just get a BA and get out, and worry about what I really wanted to do later on. As it turned out, sociology and econ were pretty close to what I wanted to do later on, and I switched into honours a semester in, but that wasn’t the intent when I switched. (Of course, I’m happy as a sysadmin now, so..)

    But yeah, the performance thing was filled with bad mojo.

  3. Hmm….interesting.

    I have a tin whistle I plan to get into as a test to see if
    I have the interest and discipline to learn to read music,
    which is a prelude to bass which itself would be in the long
    term a prelude to electric guitar.

    (How I sometimes wish I hadn’t sold my ’76 Rickenbacker…)

    ..and then there is the synth in the works.
    Much programming to do to make it happen.

    Someday…just a matter of working towards it,
    clearing the other junk in the way.

  4. What a coincidence! I have a messageboard about tin whistles. :-)

    One thing caught me as odd, though — if you’re thinking of learning to read music to then pick up the bass, be prepared for a bit of stumbling when you move from the treble clef to the bass clef.

  5. Another interestingly coincidence, one of the reasons I stopped with violin in grade school was the gearing towards performance. I really can’t stand it. Many years later, Fezzgig persuaded me to pick up a bass. Not only is reading the music funky because of the clef, but the upside-down naming from tuning in fourths really throws you for a loop when explaning things :P