Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Lathe of Heaven

To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.–Chuang Tzu

Some time near the beginning of the season is the appropriate time to mention what is still my favorite perk as a member of the CSO. It isn’t our salary, printed in the newspapers again this week as it is after every contract settlement, our concert hall, or even getting to share the stage with our brass section. No, my needs are much more modest, my pleasures far simpler. I’m talking about the grinding wheel.

First, a little history of my experience with the wheel. Before the latest renovation of orchestra hall an inconspicuous door beside the musician mailboxes opened into a small ‘utility room’, a dingy little space crammed with odds and ends – tools, wires, a furnace, if I recall. In that room, bolted to a greasy workbench stood a small grinding wheel, perfect for sharpening endpins.

I’m not sure who introduced me to the wheel. During the summer months, the stage at orchestra hall is often refinished, resulting in a hard, slick surface. At the first few rehearsals of the season endpins tend to slip, making a nice sharp spike desirable. I’m sure one of my colleagues noticed my slipping and sliding and introduced me to the wheel. Strange that I don’t remember the details.

There was something of a ritual about removing the endpin and solemnly taking it down to the dark little room where the wheel resided, the hellish shower of sparks like the devil’s own workshop, the smell of sulfur.

After renovation, the little room had vanished. I believe it became part of a musicians’ lounge and for several years we were without access to a wheel until the bass section took up a collection and a new one was purchased. One of my colleagues, handy with tools, built a small pedestal for it, and the shiny new wheel sits in a corner of the bass locker room.

I used it again today in preparation for the tour. You never know what kind of stages you might come across and it is best to be prepared with a diamond-sharp point. Even stripped of its ritual, the wheel is still about my favorite part of being in the CSO.

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