Friday, June 22, 2012

Wow, that's terrific bāss!

Summer city band season just started up, and as I was filling out the paperwork before the first rehearsal, I realized I've been playing the bass clarinet for...TWENTY YEARS.  Twenty years!  Holy cow.  I checked the math and everything -- I started playing it the summer before eighth grade (with two years of dismal clarinet-honking before that), and other than a brief lull while I was in Montana, I've been playing it (at least sporadically) ever since. 

Nick at the homecoming parade, September 1992.
Marching in the homecoming parade in 1992 (that's me in the yellow headband) - as if it wasn't insulting enough to have to wear that ugly jogging suit, I wasn't allowed to march with the bass and had to squeak away on my crappy clarinet instead.  I got more assertive -- aka, loud -- in high school and put a stop to that nonsense right away. (Although once I had to squeeze my gut into one of the high school band uniforms with their cummerbunds and Pee Wee Herman shoes, suddenly those frumpy jogging suits didn't seem so bad.)

Anyway: the bass clarinet I have now wasn't my first.  My first was a run-down hand-me-down that lived in the recesses of the middle school band room. We formed no formal attachment.  Either it didn't sound good, or I didn't sound good, or some combination of the two.

But oh, my second.  When I got to high school, I inherited another school-owned instrument, but this one...maybe it was just because I was getting more experience, but holy crap, it sounded so much better than the first one did.  I called it my Bāss (pronounced like the fish) and blossomed into what anthropologists would refer to as a band nerd.

Jazz Band, 1994.
Jazz festival in Eau Claire, 1994.  We played that old jazz standard, "Purple Haze." (?)

I loved it so much that when I graduated, my parents offered to buy it from the school, but alas, 'twas not meant to be.  Instead, they let me use some of my graduation money to order a new one of my very own (which was very nice of them because while it was ostensibly "my" money, I knew damn well they didn't think it was "my" money).  I toted Bāss 2.0 off to college with me in the fall, where I played for a year or two with one of the concert bands on campus...until I got bored with it and decided I was more concerned with graduating on a strict four-year schedule than shoehorning band practices into my days.  But I still played with the hometown city band each summer and the high school pep band's annual alumni night during Christmas break with a lot of my friends.

Bāss 2.0 even moved out to Montana with me -- not that it got much action in Helena, but one summer me and Emily joined the local city band and quickly got our fill of that.  (It just wasn't the same as what we grew up with.)

Summer city band, 2003.
After a band concert in Helena, 2003 (with teensy tiny baby Owen!).

When I moved back to Ashland, I re-joined the city band the following summer...and those two months of the year are the only time my bass comes out of the closet.  At the end of last season, it was looking pretty bad -- years of, well, not neglect, but something milder than that, had left a lot of tarnish on the bell & other metal parts.  The case was dirty, I hadn't bought a new reed for about four years (the upside of not playing often?  you don't break your reeds as often!), it just plain wasn't looking very loved.  I promptly scribbled "clean bāss" onto my to-do list...and there it stayed.  For about ten months. Until two nights before this season of city band kicked into gear.


June 10.

I cleaned the hell out of that bāss!  It doesn't look brand-new -- there's still some little scuffs and smudges that the polish didn't totally eliminate -- but c'mon.  Look at that shine. 

Here's hoping it looks that good in another twenty years.

P.S.  For the record: this is the polish I used, bought off the shelf at Ace Hardware for a couple of bucks.  If you have a similar instrument and want to clean it up, I suggest doing some research online first to figure out what products & processes are best for your particular instrument -- different polishes have different chemical compositions, so you need to know what kind of metal you're cleaning and what's safe (and what isn't safe).  Some people go the whole nine years and disassemble everything, keys, pads & all -- I just polished the metal parts and cleaned the rest with some q-tips.  I mean, I wanted it clean, but not that clean.

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