Don’t you wish you’d played the piccolo?
In short: no! I don’t want to play an instrument that was made by the devil and draws blood from the ears of every living animal on the planet! This however is a question that most bass players get asked on the tube, bus or simply walking down the street weekly. It is probably not something that one sees everyday so I can understand why people feel the need comment. There are a whole host of phrases that we commonly hear: “That’s a big violin/guitar….”, “Play us a tune”, “Don’t you wish you played the flute/piccolo/violin” etc. etc.
Carrying an instrument, particularly a large one, for some strange reason tends to be an excuse for strangers to talk to you. It’s not something that bothers me personally but it is interesting observing this human behaviour. I actually like people talking to me because it helps open conversation about classical music and makes it feel less obscure or unknown to the average person on the street. There is definitely a barrier for many people when approaching classical music because it is not widely nor efficiently taught in schools anymore, the lack of exposure and education (amongst other things) makes it seem elite or highbrow. In actual fact, it’s just like any other form of music and can be enjoyed and understood by everyone – you don’t need a Cambridge or Oxford education!
It shocks me how many people don’t know that what I’m wheeling down the street is a double bass, many people think it’s a cello or simply have no idea. This is the saddest thing for me. The education system is clearly failing people if they don’t know what a 6ft violin shaped instrument is. It’s possible the most accessible and versatile of all the orchestral instruments, it’s also found in jazz, rock, folk and country, it’s not exclusively an orchestral instrument. This leads me to the next most common thing people say to me – “Do you play jazz” followed by the inevitable awkwardness and distance that is created when I say I’m a classical musician. It’s a huge shame that people suddenly feel they can’t relate or feel they aren’t educated enough to then talk to me further about what I do.
Not all interactions are good: I avoid rush hour like the plague yet many people on the tube, half asleep will stare the most menacing daggers at me, as if to say “what on earth are you doing bringing that on here in rush hour, do you know how little space there is for us in this sardine can?” I’m sure they are just tired and stressed but it is not the nicest thing to experience for an entire tube journey – I need to get to work too, I’m not doing it for my own amusement!
My favourite story however is about a random interaction on the tube in London. I was going across town when a group of businessmen got on the same carriage as me. There was one guy who kept looking back at me for the next 10 minutes while his mates continued to talk. I assumed this was another one of those gawking tube passengers and tried to ignore it. When he finally went to get off the tube he said to me as he went through the doors, “Don’t you wish you’d played the kazoo? Have you had that one before?” OMG, NO! I had not had that one before but he was the first person to make me laugh and had clearly thought he wanted to comment (because let’s face it, I carry around a ridiculously big instrument) and knew that I probably had heard all the jokes in the book. It was an original and I hope he heard me say that’s a first and saw my reaction of astonishment and laughter. Scottish people always know how to be original and inventive!