Syncopation. It is my favorite word. I can hear it now; Elgar's "Introduction and Allegro" is playing in the background. The conductor is swinging his baton ... one, two three, four. But, between each beat there is a strange note playing. Why? It sounds off, although it adds some interest to the music. I suddenly find myself loving it. That's syncopation. It is a little offbeat, but it fits in with the rest of the music and adds a new dimension to people's thoughts. I guess I am much like the syncopation in the music ... offbeat and interesting.
What makes me so unusual? I play an instrument the size of my refrigerator and the weight of a eight-year-old child. It has a sound lower than one can sing or play on most instruments. I play the double bass. I think it is the one instrument that has the most names. People call it a bass fiddle, upright bass, big cello, stringed bass, huge violin, or (pronounced like the fish) bass.
I have been playing the piano for almost eleven years now. In tenth grade I decided I wanted to play in the orchestra at our school. A month after joining, I realized that the music was boring, and it did not always call for keyboards. I loved the piano but realized I wanted something more. I went to Mrs. Pellegrino, our conductor, and asked her if it would be all right to play a new instrument. She asked me what instrument I was interested in and I turned my head and saw a beautiful silhouette in the corner. "The bass?" I asked in a quiet manner. It was an instrument of mystery; I wanted to learn about it.
"You decided to play what??" were the first words from my parents' mouths. They were puzzled with my new hobby. Next, they told me, "OK, then. You will have to arrange for your own lessons and get yourself a bass. Also, learn how to fit it in a car, please." I accepted the challenge. Within one hour, I had scheduled lessons with a teacher and had arranged to use a school bass. I also found myself some rosin and bought books.
The next day I entered into orchestra class and took the bass outside. I tuned the strings to the notes on the piano and learned where the notes on the fingerboard were in accordance with the keyboard. I taught myself how to produce a sound from the strings and how to press my sensitive fingers down onto the tough, thick strings. I spent three hours a day practicing, trying to unravel the mystery that was underneath the monstrous sheets of wood. All I heard from my family and friends was, "You are a girl. Isn't that too big an instrument for you to play? Why?" These comments gave me even more reason to practice.
I amazed everyone with my ability and determination. Mrs. Pellegrino and my bass teacher were astonished with my improvements. After having played the bass for one month, I was able to play all of the music that the orchestra was performing. People laughed at me when I carried the bass around. Every day I carried it, though, my arms got stronger, and I eventually had stronger arms than some of my male friends.
Three months later, we traveled to the Bahamas for a competition and won first place in all of the divisions. While in the Bahamas, I must have been asked by fifteen people, "Why, what a big cello! What's a frail girl like you doing playing such a masculine instrument? Would you like us to get you some help from our husbands?" I politely said no and walked away. It was nice for them to offer; I must have looked pretty awkward ... but I managed.
Although I had only been playing for ten months, it had always been my goal to make All-States. I never dreamed of making fourth chair, ahead of two people who had both been practicing for years.
The bass plays a vital part in all music. It adds a fullness and makes the music pleasing to the ear. It has so many uses: jazz, classical, folk, or rock. I have also learned that when it is lying on its side, it can make a comfortable seat during long rehearsals. I have even decorated my bass bow case with double bass paraphernalia. I have pictures of people playing it taped all over the case. I have also pasted on a picture of Bullwinkle playing the bass (all created in Legos at FAO Schwartz). I even taped my favorite poem onto it: "Ode to the Bass" by Lauren Gress.
After two short years, I am now a master at fitting it, along with a cello, violin, and bass stool in my car. I enjoy music much more than I ever did before. My double bass has given me determination. I have shown my friends and family that it is a fun instrument to play and that it has a beautiful sound. My bass is a part of me.
I love the word syncopation because, in a strange way, it refers to me. It is a little offbeat, different. I am a girl who plays an instrument that is rather unusual, and I have made it an integral part of my life. If you ever see me lugging my bass around on the streets, please do not feel you have to help me ... I am strong enough and have learned to manage. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.