Songs in the Key of Corona, Part 2

As I explained in Part 1, I was cleaning up a big chunk of my technique, and I realized that even after decades, there was always room for improvement. My strength was coming back day by day. The first days, I could barely play 10 or 15 minutes before collapsing and having to take a nap. That’s how much this virus can take out of anyone who has it, even those with only milder symptoms. After a while, I could play for much longer, take a break, and start again. I was simultaneously getting my technique and my stamina back, and I was enjoying it.

There was another issue, though. My main instrument was in storage in Paris at the Philharmonie. I had been playing on another bass I have here in Lyon, a really small instrument with a vibrating string length of 99 cm, or 39”. My Kappelmeyer is much larger, at 108.5 cm or 42¾”. Since we were on lockdown, I couldn’t go get that bass, and I was sick with the virus and under quarantine anyway. France finally started loosening some restrictions on May 11, and since I was done with quarantine for two and a half weeks by then, I hopped on a train from Lyon to Paris, got my instrument, and brought it back to Lyon. Now, it was time to put the initial work I had been doing on the small bass to good use on the big one.

Easier said than done.

Having to suddenly cope with an extra 10 cm or 4” of vibrating string length had me practically starting over. Some muscles in my left hand were suddenly being asked to do things they were no longer used to doing after almost two months of inactivity. The first week of playing on that bass was interesting, to say the least – taking care of left-hand technique was especially important during that time, because I didn’t want any muscle or tendon issues. I went back to short periods of playing, taking breaks, resting the hand and keeping it loose while it worked its way back into shape. To get back to being able to stretch my hand to accommodate the longer vibrating string length, I again went back and forth between Hause and Simandl, until it finally started feeling right again. I also had to take into account my general state of fatigue, and not overdo it.

Now, after almost three weeks of playing on my main instrument, things finally seem to be going the way they should. I had to take a couple of medical breaks for different testing, but other than that, the retraining and re-adaptation have gone well. The aforementioned muscles are now doing what they are supposed to, and the aches and pains are gone. What’s next? I’ve been asked to talk about the Bach B-minor Mass and how I do certain things in certain movements. That might end up being another series of articles here, or it could be a video presentation. Maybe both. Maybe I’ll also start looking a bit more seriously at Viennese tuning.

In any case, please take COVID-19 seriously. It has changed our lives and our professions, perhaps permanently. And if – or perhaps I should say when – there is a second wave, things will only get worse, at least until there is a vaccine. We, as artists, will once again have to cope. And we will prevail, sooner or later!

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