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Playing with the Orchestra in the Shape of a Pear

Shaz finds himself out of his depth by playing with real musicians

A last minute decision

On the evening of Sunday the 8th of March I had planned on attending a Fair Trade Quiz at the Warehouse Cafe. On the morning of the quiz I noticed on Facebook that there was a music rehearsal going on in the same place before the quiz. The event said “all abilities welcome.” I fit under the category of all abilities so I dusted off my bass and tuned it. Since I’ve been learning piano for the past 9 months I’ve barely played bass and this was a good opportunity to play music with real life other people.

Probably the worst thing about playing Bass Guitar is how heavy they are. I carry it around in a heavy case, which makes taking it to places with an amp, a hassle, a muscle ache inducing hassle.

Warning signs

When I arrived, on time of course, the conductor had not yet arrived. He would turn up nearly half an hour late. I exchanged pleasantries with those who were also on time. Somebody else in the Orchestra had sheet music for the session so I asked to have a look at it. Firstly, it was for treble clef instruments, which is not good for a bass playing instrument. Far more importantly I can’t sight read music at all. As part of learning Piano, I am learning to read music, but it is a long and arduous process. If I had a piece of music for a couple of hours, I could work some of it out. Eventually, everyone turned up and I was organised into the orchestra. As a bassist I’m used to being hidden away at the back, and that’s where there was a plug socket for my amp. What I was hoping for was there to be another bass based instrument, like a Cello or a Double Bass that I could copy, but that was not meant to be. Instead I was sat next to a Bassoon player. Bassoonists also use the bass clef so we shared sheet music.

The Orchestra plays music, and I do as well, sort of.

I’ve already said that I can’t sight read and since I’d not seen any of these pieces in advance; I had no idea as to what was going on. Luckily for me, the Bassoonist was very nice and explained a bit about each piece before we played. Also the conductor talked us through each piece before we played. Once we started playing I tried to copy whatever the Bassoonist was doing. On the songs that we played though a few times, I was able to sort of play properly with the Orchestra. The Orchestra in the Shape of a Pear play originally composed and sometimes experimental music. One of the songs was not played to sheet music, in fact I don’t know what it was played to. What we were playing from, looked more like a graph from the World Health Organisation than a chord sheet or even sheet music. I think the graph said that you play low to high, so that’s what I did. In this Orchestra the percussion was a Glockenspiel. The easiest song for me to almost play properly was one where the Conductor told me to follow the rhythm of the Glockenspiel player. It was easy to follow their consistent rhythm, and since I did not know what notes to actually play, I just played notes that might have fitted in the key I thought the song might be in. Only once did the Conductor stop us playing because of my incompetence, but he was very nice about it. I had got too excited and got too busy by playing more notes than needed. Before the final song, the Conductor said that he would tell me which notes to play, during the performance. He did so and that helped me massively.

A worthwhile experience; probably

After we had finished playing I had a brief chat with the Bassoonist about music. Apparently amplified Bassoon is a thing and there is Bassoon played in metal music out there. The Conductor thanked me for taking part and said that I would be welcome to go to any future events that they did. For me, not being told to stop playing and go home was a success. I had no problem physically playing any of the music. The bass sections were not technically difficult, but because I could not sight read I did not know what I was meant to be playing. However, since experimentation was a key part of this Orchestra, and they said that all abilities were welcome. Their tolerance for deviation from the sheet music was very high. I’d never played in a band with a conductor before either, so failing to read the sheet music meant that I took more cues from the Conductor, Bassoonist and Glockenspiel player than I did from what was written before me.

A bizarre first gig

This also counted as my first ever gig. I’ve played music with other people before, but never in front of an audience. Now this audience was just people who were in the cafe anyway having food, but they did not leave and applauded after some of the songs ended. If I was to play with the Orchestra in the Shape of a Pear again; I’d make sure that I got the sheet music a long time in advance and go through it with my piano tutor so I could at least read it, rather than failing to sight read.

Last thoughts

Overall, my last minute decision to play with the Orchestra in the Shape of a Pear was a successful one. By pushing myself far, far outside of my comfort zone, I learned a lot about playing music. I’ve never played classical music before on bass, and never with an Orchestra. I would consider playing in this environment again, but next time I’d like to be much better prepared.

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