My fancy dancing

I had an amusing and somewhat embarrassing incident happen at a teacher event that I attended last year.

I was at an all-day music teacher workshop and was having a great time, like I usually do at this annual event.  The whole day consists of hour-long clinics and sessions on a variety of topics, from teaching motion in string playing to score study for the busy conductor.  Probably not the most scintillating material for all you bass players out there, but really cool stuff for me now that I’ve shifted career gears.

One of these sessions was taught by a dance instructor and was intended to get us more tied into body awareness (and just to break up the monotony of  endless music education clinics).

For this session, we were lined up in parallel rows (there were about 70 of us at the event), and we were being instructed in various dance moves.  This is not exactly one of my usual activities in life, but it was a fun diversion and I was having a good time with it.

A young female teacher who I happened to be standing next to leaned over to me early on in the session and whispered to me

“Hey Jason!  You’re a really good dancer!”

This caught me off guard and was certainly flattering.  I mean, I was just doing a line dance with a bunch of other music teachers, quasi-zombified  after hours of clinics.  I wasn’t aware that I was cutting such a slick stride across the dance floor.  I smiled and thanked her.

A few minutes later, she asked me something that really threw me.

“Do you have a background in dance?”

Flattery on the educational dance floor was an unexpected thing for me, and like an idiot, I responded (quite untruthfully, by the way)…

“Why, yes!”

I have absolutely no idea why I uttered a boldfaced lie like that.  It’s totally unlike me.  I think that I was just caught off guard by her complimenting my dance moves so much.

I though I was safe with my little untruth, but of course, a few minutes later, the next question came…

“Hey Jason… what kind of dance background do you have, exactly?”

Uh oh.

I responded with something really unconvincing, like “you know…a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”  Misrepresenting myself as an experienced dancer was becoming more uncomfortable with every passing minute.

Note to self: don’t lie.  And if you do lie, it had better not be about something like your dance background!

I also like that there is a string teacher out there that thinks that I am a trained dancer.  What was I thinking?

A Tale of Double Bass Destruction

A painful tale from a reader:

Dear Jason,
Inspired by stories of bass destruction in your blog, and especially Adam’s latest story, I felt an urge to share my own personal trauma.

A few months after I bought my first bass, I was on my way home from a gig as a young jazz player.

I parked the car parallel to the sidewalk, with the passenger side toward the road.

When I took the bass out of the passenger side, I realized that I left the engine running and the keys in the starter switch. As tired as I was, I leaned the bass against the car and went to the other side of the car to take the keys. I was not worried because it was the middle of the night, and the only car around was a police car far down the street. Because the bass was leaning on the car upright and only stuck into the road a bit, I also did not worry when I saw the police car start backing up in my direction.

When I sat in the driver’s seat and turned off the engine, I saw the policeman began driving backwards quickly, the way you can only do when it is the middle of the night and you are sure there is no one around. Before I knew what was happening, the police car came too close to the side of the road where I parked, and with great speed hit my new double bass and sent it flying in the air, and for a distance of about ten meters.

Without being able to think about anything I stormed out of the car yelling “What did you do?” and “Oh, God!” The face of the police man, who had gotten out of the car in the meantime, was white as a sheet and he only mumbled “What happened here?” a few times.

When I saw his panic, I was even more frightened, and I began to understand what happened and yell at him with greater force. It took him about half a minute to understand it was a huge instrument in a large black case, and not a relative, and then the tables were turned and he began yelling at me, releasing all the strain he was under in great relief.


I eventually sold the fragments shown in the picture fairly cheaply, and together with the insurance money from the Israeli police department, bought the bass I play to this very day.


Adventures in Student Teaching no. 543

A friend of mine from my student teacher training program at DePaul once told me a painfully funny (to me, at least) story from his middle school student teaching days:

A bassoonist by trade, this student teacher had been assigned to strong music program in a very posh Chicago suburb. The first week he was “on the job,” his mentor teacher asked him to demonstrate for new band recruits… on the tuba!

It didn’t matter that this student teacher (bassoonist, remember) couldn’t actually play the tuba–the regular teacher decided that it would be a good experience for him. Yikes!

Anyway, he muscled up and gave it the old college try, hacking through what must have been a few entertaining blats and plops of sound.

homer tuba.png

After he finished, the mentor teacher sidled up to him and, whispering in his ear in a very serious tone, said “You know, that wasn’t very good at all.”

Duh! Gotta love humiliation in music. We’re all one wrong move away from making a complete fool of ourselves in this business anyway, but still, why pile on the pain like that?

The errant percussionist

I can’t seem to keep from getting stuck playing percussion in the most random of situations.

And I’m bad at it!

As a non-percussionist, you might think that something as “simple” as whacking a drum or banging a chime is trivial (percussionists don’t think this, of course, but those violinists and violists furiously sawing away on passages of mind-numbing difficulty might think otherwise). However, I quickly discovered, after being tasked with playing gong or bass drum on a number or two, that while playing bass on a piece is akin to sending the audience subliminal messages, playing a percussion instrument is more like standing on top of a building with a megaphone and screaming into the street. Not subtle, and all eyes are on you.

I was hired to play with a quite prestigious new music ensemble (no names–I don’t want their grow popping up on Google with this story tied to it). I tend to really enjoy playing new music, and no more so than with this group. They were musically tight and picked driving and exciting repertoire. Not a lot of slow-moving 45 minute soundscapes for them–they played groovy stuff by modern composers and had quite a following.

Anyway, one of the pieces I was playing, in addition to being one of the most technically challenging things I’d ever attempted, required me to play… chimes! And I wasn’t just covering the chime part for a missing percussionist–the composer actually specified that the bass player (for who knows what reason) also play the chimes. In fact, the chime part was written as part of the bass part!

To make matters worse, the composer had written the chime part in this very rhythmically complex way, requiring me to almost never actually play on a beat, but usually on the third triplet or fourth sixteenth note of a bar… and almost nothing else was happening. Also, there was very little time for me to put my bow down and move over to the chimes to play this part.

After getting the part in the mail a few weeks before the first rehearsal, I called the conductor up, trying to clarify why a percussion part was “accidentally” written into the bass part, I found out that not only would I in fact be playing the chimes, but that I had to go pick up said chimes from Leroy’s house over on the wrong side of the tracks. I did so on my way to the first rehearsal, trying to figure out how to fit all that chime paraphernalia in with my bass and stool.

After getting set up at the rehearsal hall, I plotted a course from bass to chime, making sure that I would be able to play my bass, dong those chimes, and see the conductor the whole time. I quickly learned just how hard it was to control how loudly or softly a chime rings. When my first chime moment came, I tried to get all suave with it, just grazing the chime and making some sort of beautiful pianissimo sound. No dice–
the conductor look up at me quizzically, not hearing the note at all. I resolved to make the next one louder and ended up making this startlingly huge sound, causing much laughter among my colleagues and more than a little embarrassment for myself.

After the “real” percussionist on the gig bemusedly gave me a miniature master class on chime technique, and did a little better on subsequent rehearsals, though I still had the sense that all eyes were on me and that every little thing I did came out much clearer than to which I was accustomed.

Though that was certainly my biggest moment as a percussionist, it wasn’t the last time I would be called upon to play something back in the world of mallets and drums. Each time, it feels like epic failure followed by a little improvement and ending up as a thoroughly mediocre experience. Nothing like trying to actually play some percussion in a concert setting to giver you a whole new respect for the art of the drum, mallet, and chime!