How do any of us get to be where we are now? Meticulous planning? Driving ambition? Blown by the wind?
I never planned to play bass guitar. As a teenager, when you might have thought I’d have been sitting in my bedroom picking out the bass line of tunes playing on pirate radio stations, I was barely even aware of bass guitar. (Yep, I’m old enough to remember pirate radio… maybe it’s because you don’t get a lot of bass on the 2 inch speaker of a tiny/tinny portable transistor radio that I never noticed it). My musical interests at the time were largely centred around classical music; I even played the violin, as leader of the school orchestra. Odd choice, as I was never all that fond of the violin as a solo instrument. If I’d chosen cello, I might still be playing it now. But that’s another story.
It was chance that started me playing bass. My son happened to have one, as well as his other guitars. With his classical guitar, he was a member of the Hertfordshire Guitar Orchestra, and so when I had to drive him to fortnightly rehearsals I figured that, rather than sit and twiddle my thumbs for 2 hours, I could take the bass along. After all, I could read bass clef since I also played piano; I’d messed around with guitar, like most teenagers – how hard could it be to follow a simple bass line?
Then I started playing in church. Again, by chance, the MD also directed occasional shows for a local amateur dramatic group, so I got invited to take part – 42nd Street was that first show. One thing led to another, names get passed around MDs, and ten years later I’m losing count of the number of shows I’ve played for. Six so far this year; that must be something like a hundred songs learned. (And forgotten – I’ve never mastered the art of memorising; always have to have dots in front of me).
I’ll be honest; it wasn’t the music that drew me in to playing for shows. Although once in a while something special comes along – like Rent, or Spring Awakening, or The Last Five Years –some shows are frankly nothing special musically. But it doesn’t really matter – what I get from these shows is something else. It’s the joy of making music as part of an ensemble – team spirit, if you like - where the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts; it’s being part of a wider creative enterprise; it’s giving pleasure to the audience; it's getting to hang with some amazing, talented, wonderful people. And it’s about learning and growing as a musician – learning to listen to what the others are playing and to what those on stage are singing; watching the MD for those cues that that tie the music to the action; incrementally improving technique; oh, and buying more gear ;)
Chance plays its part. But it’s how we respond to the opportunities that chance brings that shapes the course we take. Sometimes you have to grab an opportunity with both hands as it flies past, not quite knowing why, not knowing where it will lead, just because it holds possibility – even though you don’t at the time know what that possibility is, just that something new and unknown beckons. A piece of unwritten future waiting for you to join with chance and help shape it.
Fifteen years ago I’d never touched a bass guitar. Now it threatens to take over my life. All down to chance, and recognising and being ready to grab hold of that possibility.