It started last year. The double bass player at our son’s school was in year six and about to leave. The strings and orchestra group was soon going to be without that deep sound that rounds out their music.
There’s no glory in the double bass. They play the rhythm as the rest of the instruments do the fancy stuff around it. I haven’t heard of double bass soloists. They never get the limelight.
Plus that jolly thing is huge to cart around.
Yet, as soon as the request was made after a very pleasant strings performance for parents, I saw my husband’s head turn towards our boy.
“Do you want to try it?” he leans over to ask T.
“Yes please!” The answer is out in a flash. He nods so hard his glasses almost fall off.
I stifle a groan. He was doing such a great job with the cello. He wasn’t brilliant like the school’s first violinist who probably practices diligently to get where she is. But he was enjoying it, and slowly improving. I had visions of him one day mastering the instrument and moving people to tears with his emotive playing; of filling concert halls with adoring crowds and being applauded by Yo-yo Ma.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea,” I mutter. Two pairs of eyes turn and look daggers at me. Before I can stop them, my two men are walking up to the music teacher and asking him where they can sign up to learn the double bass.
For the past year and a half, every morning at 7:45am, our son would go to his instruments and play. Not only could we hear both the cello and the double bass in our small apartment, the deep sound also reverberated to our neighbours.
Our wonderful long suffering neighbours. Not once have they come to complain. Instead they have been encouraging, saying instead how much our boy has improved over time.
I wouldn’t know. I was always out the door by about 7:30am to head to work. Music has been something my husband and son did together.
For the next year I heard our son play at various concerts. He seemed to hold his own, tapping his foot to keep the beat. The instrument did sound deep and lovely. Not doing all the intricate stuff, but keeping the beat in the background. I couldn’t help feeling a little proud.
Then I hear our son was going to perform at the Sydney Opera House with the senior strings ensemble. There were now two double bass players at school, but our boy was going to be the only double bass player that evening.
The opportunity was for the Festival of Instrumental Music organised by the New South Wales Government. It is an annual concert series for New South Wales Public Schools students that is coordinated by the Department of Education’s Arts Units. Once a year, kids from public schools across the state come together to perform at the prestigious Opera House.
My husband was on the phone as soon as the box office lines opened. He was on there for about an hour trying to secure tickets. As soon as the Grandparents heard, they paid their plane fare to come up from Victoria to see their grandson play.
There was a weekend intensive before they were to play. For two whole days, they were taken through their paces.
“Urgh, I think I played my pieces about 400 times!” T grunted when we came to pick him up.
The night of the big concert we had a simple meal and made our way to the Opera House. Because the double bass could not fit in our car with everyone in it, we took the train. It was peak hour. People were everywhere. I looked across the crush of people to our little boy. His face was pale against a sea of dark suits.
“I feel like I have giant butterflies in my stomach, mum,” he whispers to me as the Opera House loomed in front of us.
“Me too,” I respond.
“They say breathing helps. Try breathing deeply through your nose and breathing out slowly through your mouth. And try to relax your tummy at the same time.”
I smile as I see this little human God has given us try to steady his nerves.
“Thanks mum. It’s kinda working.”
We see other proud parents, too. Walking with their children to the same place. Some are carrying small recorders.
“Why couldn’t you have played something as small as that,” his father mutters, as he carries the double bass on his back. Ha!
Our son gives me a giant hug before he spots his friends and leaves us. We head into the concert hall and take our place. And we wait. Politely listening to all the other kids and applauding at all the right spots.
He’s on after the interval. Technically, his school senior string ensemble group is on after the interval. But all I can see is the tiny kid on stage with the huge double bass. Oh please, don’t trip and break things, I silently pray. He doesn’t.
There is a pause. The room falls quiet. And they start. The music swells and beneath all the beautiful melody played by the violins, even under the notes played by the cellos, I can hear him. That one double bass and the boy keeping the rhythm. My mouth is dry. I’m worried he may make a mistake, but I can’t hear anything go awry. I can hear him pluck the beat. I can hear him boost the cellos with that deep sound. A deep and steady backbone to the music. And it’s beautiful.
They really did a wonderful job that night. And we were grateful. Grateful for the talented music teacher who lead them all there. Grateful for a state government that offered so many kids an opportunity of a lifetime. Grateful that although we had tried and tried for more children without success, God had still chosen to bless us with this little boy who has made us so proud and brought joy to our lives.