China Tour Blog #1: AC Flight 31 Toronto —> Beijing: A Case of the Bass

IMG_20150527_115132There was a real buzz of anticipation as the Esprit Orchestra members began to gather at Pearson Airport’s Terminal 1 group check in on the morning of May 27.  Most of the players have never been to China so there was a real sense of adventure as we got ready to introduce the Beijing and Nanning New Music Festival participants to the work of Canadian composers Omar Daniel, Alex Pauk, Alexina Louie and Murray Schafer.

Our bassist Joe Phillips arrived with a very large metal case on wheels and was persuaded by all of us to open it up, right there on the spot near check-in, to reveal an ingenious 5 string double bass (they normally have 4 strings). What made it ingenious was the fact that it is a specially-constructed bass commissioned for touring by National Arts Centre Orchestra bassist Joel Quarrington. The neck of the bass is removable and has its own spot in the packing crate alongside the body of the instrument, so although overly large, it is very compact for a double bass – it’s half the height! None of us had ever seen anything like this, but it really makes a lot of sense for touring.

Esprit at airportThe challenge on the other end is that the player has to arrive early at rehearsals to assemble the instrument. The neck gets attached with a kind of pin and screw. The strings have to be ‘strung,’ and the bridge has to be put in place. Next, the tightening and tuning… then voilà! The bass is up and running and ready to go. It is not as easy as lifting an intact instrument from its normal case, but what a thrill and relief it was when Joe got it all assembled and the bass sang its first notes on Chinese soil!

Travelling with other large string instruments is always challenging too. The celli need their own seats on the plane. An attendant arrives to remove the seat cushion bottom and the cello has to be wedged into its place. Finally, a netting structure needs to be placed over it to secure it for the journey. The whole boarding of the ‘celli passengers’ takes over 40 minutes!

All of that means double nose counts (players and their ‘axes’) at the luggage carousel in Beijing! All musicians and instruments accounted for, ready for action!

– Alexina Louie