Have you ever sat on a bass stool that was bad to the bone? I don’t mean some vaguely uncomfortable, scruffy, mangy, chewed up old wooden stool or a squeaky bar stool designed to elicit annoyed glances from all the cellists in front of you.
I’m talking about a stool that actually seems designed to cause posterior havoc, to eat through your trousers and send pain stabbing up into your back and down into the soles of your feet.
Well, friends, I am quite familiar with a stool like this…a whole set of stools, actually, and they are, believe it or not, the old Chicago Symphony bass stools. Though I initially felt a sense of pride as I sat on the same stools as these guys used (or used to use), the novelty quickly wore off with the wicked chafing I received while using these instruments of destruction.
How those guys managed to endure these things is completely beyond me. I’ve been using them for Symphony Center gigs in Chicago for over 10 years; they get distributed to the second stringer groups that come through the home of the Chicago Symphony, sending scores of hapless bassists wincing back to their cars in the parking garage after performances.
Though they might not look as fearsome as I’m making them out to be from these photos, believe me: they are. Under that black pad is an evil aluminum ring of death, an uncomfortable metallic circle with no actual pad in the middle. Whether this was a result of years of use, a bizarre design choice, or some cruel prank played on visiting bass players, I’m not sure, but the result is like sitting perched on the open end of an oil drum. Ever sit on the edge of an open oil drum…and then try to play bass? Try it sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The pain begins the same every time. First, the evil aluminum circle cuts off all circulation to my legs. I then begin this kind of weird seesawing motion to bring back some feeling, which probably looks to an outside observer like, well…. I don’t even want to think about it!
My lower back hunches, vertebrae creaking uncomfortably into an unnatural contortion, my shoulders hunching like some sort of neanderthal as I try to shift my weight around to no avail. Everything in my body starts to seize up, until I feel like I’m playing with bandages wrapped tightly around all my limbs and torso. I swivel the darn thing around, trying to find a comfortable position and probably putting on a great obsessive-compulsive sideshow to the rehearsal or concert.
Also, I know I’m not the only one; my colleagues on these same stools have a look on their faces like an ill wind has wafted through the bass section by this point. We all look like a miserable, squirmy bunch of folks up there, I’m sure, undoubtedly making for an unusual impression upon the audience.