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Getting Lost in the Music: The Perspective From a Double Bassist

3 min read

Picture it. The sounds of a full orchestra harmonizing together. The fresh smell of pine sap as you rosin up your bow. Dressed to the nines in tuxedos, black dresses, bowties, cummerbunds, cufflinks and more. A conductor stepping onto their podium, getting the orchestra ready to perform a symphony. A new year has begun.

Flashback.

There is something indescribably magical about being involved in the performing arts during middle school and high school years. I myself was a double bass player. I loved getting lost in the music as my fingers would hit the vibrating steel strings shifting along the neck of the bass as I bowed. The sounds of the pops and zings while playing pizzicato plucking the strings mesmerized me. I especially liked the warm sound my bass would produce while I used vibrato. Thinking back, my instrument was an object that shaped me.

The double bass was an instrument that sat at the back of the orchestra. Any instrument which represented the bass sound was seen as a background instrument and helped build the foundation for a piece. I always wanted the instrument to be seen as more than just the low-pitched member of the orchestra, as I saw myself in a similar way. I wanted to see the double bass at the forefront of the orchestra and in turn, see myself hitting high notes I had never hit before. I knew in my soul that the instrument was capable of far greater feats and I was determined to find them.

YouTube had started getting bigger around the time I was in high school. I started being exposed to some of the greatest musical pieces around the world. I found bassists from different corners of the planet performing difficult pieces at skill levels I had never seen before. These pieces were created by some of the most talented composers from Dragonetti, Rossini, Dittersdorf, and more. I found musicians meshing all kinds of music together, like the group Nuttin’ But Stringz, who performed a fusion of hip-hop classical music. Artists like these challenged my preconceived notions of what instruments in a string orchestra sounded like, as I looked to them as a form of inspiration to create my own covers on electric bass.

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One of the most exciting phenomena that intrigued me was composer A.R. Rahman who combined South Asian instruments and Western classical instruments to form a full, unique, and lush orchestral sound. This conceptually inspired me so much to the point that I started experimenting with South Asian sounds and reconnecting with my cultural roots as South Asian sheet music was not readily available at the time I built up my chops by learning melodies by ear. I kept building up and memorizing what I had heard until it was muscle memory to me. This sentiment stayed with me for years to come as I started uploading music on YouTube, which fully reflected what I wanted to sound like.

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The double bass is very similar to our physical body and our mental health. When the weather is cold, an instrument may sound flat and when the weather is hot, an instrument may sound sharp. We need to tune ourselves each day and adjust according to the new piece we are given. We sight-read new pieces with the prior knowledge we obtained in the past and by identifying the patterns in the music. We learn to be an accompaniment or we stand up and take the melody depending on the situation. A gentle touch can lead to the sound of a beautiful harmonic when performed correctly. Being a part of an orchestra taught me to be in tune with myself.

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