“Bass Love”: South American Style
This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend six days in the province of San Juan, just north of Mendoza, to attend an international double bass convention. The week was incredible! Not only did I have the chance to work with world-renown bass players from Italy and France, but I also had the opportunity to meet several of the bass professors/performers from all over Argentina and much of South America. There were about 60 bassists in attendance, and it was a week full of learning, practicing, and getting to know other people that share my passion for the bass (or, as we often refer to these types of meetings in the U.S., “bass love”).
I have been to international bass conventions in the United States, but this one was distinct, presumably due to cultural differences. Firstly, there were as many tango classes/pieces/performances as there were classical pieces. It was a blast to become a little more familiar with this genre of music, and to meet some of the people that have helped tango to prosper in Argentina. One maestro in particular gave me tango pieces that he had written (for free!). The biggest cultural difference between this convention and that of the United States was the schedule. In the U.S., the bass conventions are thoroughly planned out, with booklets containing the hours, durations, and locations of each class. In San Juan, there was no ‘schedule’. The professors would find a quiet spot somewhere and give classes until it was time to eat, or time to go to sleep. I sat in some classes for five and six hours without a break! It was really fantastic to see how much the professors cared about teaching the bass, because none of the invited faculty was compensated for his time or travel.
Although all of the music events during the week were productive and exciting, the most enriching experience of the week happened during the eating/recreational hours. The convention was held at a resort in Ullúm, about 20km from the city of San Juan. The resort had a large, main building with a restaurant and spaces for classes, and we stayed in smaller cabins around the main building. I was in a cabin with five other bass students from the studio at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, and I can’t begin to describe how much fun I had getting to know the other bass players from my university. We cooked together, played bass together, laughed together until the early morning hours, and enjoyed each other’s company. It was so nice to live with other people close to my age again, and to feel like I belonged as an integrated part of the studio here. One night, we had an asado (big grill-out, basically a ‘meat marathon’) with our bass professor, the other bass students/alumni from the studio (there were about 15 of us total), and a few of the other professors. Everyone was so excited to share the asado with me, and I had all types of meat being passed to me from every direction.
Another valuable outcome of my time in San Juan was being forced to use Spanish almost 24/7. Living with five other students was such a wonderful thing for my Spanish; they were extremely helpful in that they would correct my grammar and pronunciation, as well as teach me more of the ‘informal’ language that is used between university students, rather than the formal Spain Spanish that I have been taught in the classroom back home. There were interpreters for the classes with the French and Italian bass professors (who gave the classes in English), but there were a couple of times that the interpreters did not come to the class, and I found myself helping to interpret (very poorly, of course, but nonetheless attempting). I also had an interview with a “TV person.” I have no idea who he was or why he wanted an interview with me, but when he heard that I was from the United States, he insisted on doing an interview. At the beginning of the convention, the governor of San Juan met us in the city plaza to welcome all of the students, and when someone told him I was from the U.S., there were at least 8 TV cameras in my face snapping pictures faster than I could blink! It was then when I realized how big of a deal this event was to the city of San Juan, for such a small Latin American city to be able to successfully host an event with people coming from all over the world.
Lastly, there was a very special moment at the conclusion of the convention, and I have no doubt that I will remember it forever. Coinciding with the classes and concerts all week, the convention also included a bass solo competition. This competition was the very first bass competition ever held in Latin America. What made this event so extraordinary was that the winner was an alumnus of the Mendoza bass studio at UNCuyo. As his name was announced into the microphone, he started walking over to the podium to accept his new, inclusively San Juan-made bass, and tears began to flow. As I looked over to my colleagues, they too had tears in their eyes. The sense of pride in the bass studio that evening was overwhelming, and it was clear just how much it meant to them to have their city, their university, their professor, and their colleague represented in such an immense way (as far as the bass world is concerned, anyway). That evening, all of the students and alumni from Mendoza celebrated the win over pizza and wine with our professor. While eating, each student shared what it meant to him to have the winner of the first-ever bass competition in Latin America be one of his own. It was really special to be able share this evening of pure excitement and joy with my new colleagues.
Below, I have included several pictures of the resort, the beautiful view of the mountains, and the Mendoza bass studio with some of the invited professors. I have also included a picture of our asado (although it is kind of hard to see because it was dark) and our closing meal with everyone that attended the convention.