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.

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