Retiring from Playing the Double bass

There used to be a popular song when I was a kid; “Where do all the Flies go in the Winter Time?” so what happens to bassists when they get old?
I have mentioned some bass players in my blogs. Many go on to a ripe old age and never retire.  Some leave (or are left out!) of the profession and very few seem to retire in comfort.
I can think of one bassist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra whom I met in 1947, his name was Dan Burton and he had reached the magic BBC retiring age of 60.
Although Dan was around the age of retirement he always arrived very early for rehearsal and warmed up with scales and arpeggios plus a look at the music on his stand.
He was a burly individual who had hands, to quote Eugene Cruft, “like sides of beef”and looked very healthy.
He found an ideal cottage (so he thought), in Somersetshire in the West of England  and had only been living there for three months when Winter came and so did the floods.  Dan’s cottage was inundated, he caught pneumonia and died.

I don’t know what to add,  there should be a moral somewhere in this.

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Musicians and their Hobbies

When I was a kid there was a music hall song called  “Where do all the Flies go in the Wintertime?” One might just as well ask that of professional classical musicians.  What do they do in their spare time?  Well, it varies depending on the musician, if she/he is very busy , then it’s a humdrum life of just work and sleep. I can remember times when I would go for over three months without a day off.

Eugene Cruft, my teacher and mentor once told me that I should do all my practice before entering the musical profession because once I started I would be too busy to do anything but play, eat and sleep. And so it turned out.  All these oft quoted scenes of a Bohemian life are very rare.

To earn sufficient money to live, many musicians have to teach.  When I was freelancing in London there was no time to do that.  I was fortunate to be very successful, but it came with a price.  I bought a bigger house (with a bigger mortgage!), I sent my kids to good schools but it all had to be paid for, so I had to keep my nose to the grindstone , (or my bow on the strings).

But there were one or two who seemed to lead a more balanced life.  Two bassists were good photographers, a ‘cellist in the BBC Symphony  collected and repaired old clocks,. Two bassists in the London Philharmonic were skilled instrument repairers.  Bob Norris, sub-principal bassist with the BBC Symphony made tolerably good basses, and Cyril McArthur, a freelance bassist who sometimes played in the Philharmonia Orchestra was fed up with the rat race so he went to a little village in Italy and made bass bows.  I was told they were very good.

Looking back,  two profound statements were made to me that I didn’t realize at the time were so significant.  One, Jack Upchurch was a tolerably good bassist, but his hobby was making model steam trains from scratch .  One day I went to his house to see his model railway.  I asked him why he didn’t do more playing, and he answered “You can either live to work, or work to live”.  The second, which I mentioned in a previous blog came  from Francis Baines, a bassist in the London Philharmonic who also was a good composer.  He took leave from the LPO and went to live in a little cottage in the country for two years so that he could get down to serious composing.  When he returned to the LPO I asked him if he had learnt anything in his absence, and he said “Yes, I have. You don’t need as much money to live on as you are led to believe”.

The upshot of all this is that later on I studied painting, Tai Chi and cooking and it certainly has given me a more balanced life.  I now go to concerts to listen from the other side of the footlights and occasionally scrape the bass, but, dear friends and colleagues, try not to be as insular as I was, take time to smell the flowers, it’s wonderful!