I’m sure a bass fiddle is probably not the largest musical instrument you can purchase, but it has to be up there, doesn’t it? It looks like someone zapped my little violin with a gargantuan-ray, and its disconcerting to see all the familiar parts from my fiddle on a gigantic scale. The bass is currently sitting in our living room like a large and rather portly person, observing us from out of it’s F-holes. Every now and then, I’m possessed by the urge to invite it to sit at the dinner table with us.
My husband’s purchase of an upright bass was not really a surprise. It was something we had been discussing for a long time, ever since I embarked on my own musical adventure. I started with a fiddle, moved on to mandolin, and am currently spending most of my time playing a beautiful O.C. Bear acoustic guitar. My husband already owned an electric bass, and we’ve been playing together with that some for the past few months.
There are many groups that combine acoustic guitar or fiddle or mandolin with an electric bass. The two of us playing together sounded just fine. But there is something about the upright, isn’t there?
This summer while we were visiting our friends in North Carolina, we went to Jack of the Wood, a bar in Asheville, for their old time jam night. The beer was delicious, the food was great, and the music was perfect. There were a rotating group of musicians who would set up in a little circle at the front of the bar. There was almost always more than one fiddle, more than one guitar, sometimes a banjo or a mandolin. But there was always one and only one upright bass, and that sound made all the difference in the world.
The sound of an upright bass takes the ethereal voice of fiddles and mandolins and drags it right back down to earth. Because the sound of the upright bass is more seismic, as in, something you expect to feel in your feet coming up from the earth as much as you hear it in your brain coming in your ears. Sometimes I feel like the bass isn’t really about hearing at all as much as it’s about feeling the vibration somewhere inside your internal organs.
The upright bass was the instrument played professionally by my husband’s father, so it’s especially fitting to see him standing beside one. And there are certain songs that just don’t sound right without a bass, the kind of songs that need to be driven along, that suggest motion and movement instead of stillness. If an upright bass could pick up and move, I imagine it would do a fat, bouncing kind of dance around the room. You might be a little afraid of getting squashed, but it’d be awfully fun to watch.