That rarest of things…

At the beginning of every new season there are some things you always see. The happy faces of musicians glad to swap the sandy beaches and almost warm seas for the glamour and excitement of the rehearsal schedule, the new rota for tea duty and, more often than not, a few people with annoyingly wonderful tans and stories of glorious holidays abroad.

This time, however, I saw something that I’ve never seen before in 20 years of orchestral playing. Something almost as rare as unicorns or dragons… I saw a Double Bass player changing a string!

BSO Double Bass
That rarest of things… Jane changes a string on her double bass

As a viola player, I tend to change my strings two or three times a year. Occasionally they break (our last section principal, Stuart Green, had a fantastic habit of snapping his C strings through sheer brute force), but more often they just wear out leaving the sound dead or scratchy. Violinists change them more often, cellists less often, but bass players never, ever change their strings because they just don’t break. The lower ones are almost as thick as a finger and at well over £100 for a set, I can understand their reluctance to change for the sake of it. I’ve heard stories that ex-players pass on their strings with the instrument and the next player uses the same ones until they retire. It sounds very plausible to me and as the poor old basses get mocked as being wardrobes strung with rubber bands, I can empathise with their parsimonious ways, making a virtue of necessity.

Jamie Pullman (Viola)


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