March 30th, 2003

happy mannequin, happy

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.

  • Current Music
    Herbie Hancock -- Maiden Voyage