In search of the Irish double bass | Blogs

My grandfather Joseph Groocock took a teaching job in Dublin in his early twenties and never returned to England. Meeting my grandmother had something to do with it – they quickly started a family with five children in a rickety cottage in the Dublin mountains. He found his brand of scholarship, eccentricity and humor to be well received and outside of high school he found a receptive audience for lectures on music appreciation and his primary love: educate music students in fugue and counterpoint. His palpable joy in sharing Bach’s work with young people was matched only by his genuine pleasure in their company; it was mutual and he was adored by three generations of music students in Dublin, including many of my professional colleagues. Although some of these students regretted that his seeds of wisdom fell on stony ground (the Bach Scholarship is not for everyone), they all loved his classes and his infectious enthusiasm.

Joe also wrote music in various styles to meet a need as it arose. One of the early successes was his whimsical musical Jack and Jill and the drainpipe – written for the boys at his school to produce a tailor-made show. A much later composition was his 1985 Sonata for Cello and Piano, written for his second wife to play with him at home. This play is greatly indebted to Brahms but is also softly sentimental and energetically joyful; it is quite the self-portrait, in its mixture of erudition and fantasy. The 2020 confinement was an opportunity for me to finally engage in this sonata and to see how it could work on my instrument, the double bass.

This is a wonderful double bass sonata. Recognizing that the piano part was such a delightful expression of her musical self, I refrained from tweaking it in any way. I therefore had to carefully choose the registers in which the bass part was transposed. The result is a piece that utilizes the full extent of the instrument, singing happily into the cello range but extending to the lower end of the bass at convenient times. Due to the confinement, a performance was not a current option so I had the idea to make a recording of it with the wonderful pianist Gary Beecher.

Deep down I had always thought of doing a solo album, I think most musicians will have fugitively imagined it. But there is never the time and in any case there is the enormous obstacle to self-doubt to overcome: why would anyone be interested? Having to share my grandfather’s charming sonata allowed me to get around the obstacle. What else can I offer?

During my years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I surprised the composers of the Contemporary Music Society by offering to play new music in their concerts; they were used to having to beg players to sign up. But I’ve always loved the adventure of new music and the way contemporary composers have explored the unique possibilities of bass resonance, timbre, texture and percussion. The romantic solo repertoire that attempted to respond to established fashions established by or for violinists generally ignored the strengths of our own instrument and often failed musically to match the smaller instruments (albeit surpassing them in spectacular athleticism).

Among other factors, the 20e century of the bass’s identity in jazz has largely contributed to its emancipation, allowing the instrument to be reinvented in its own way. Admittedly, the double bass is currently in a golden period because musicians and composers finally know it better. I have created many unaccompanied pieces by Irish composers over my 30 years of professional playing, and there were many that I remembered with a feeling that there was more to reveal than I could possibly have. explore at the time. The album that quickly took shape was therefore contemporary music from Ireland, which was closely related to me. The title would of course be The Irish Double Bass.

The pieces feature a wide variety of techniques and could serve as a guide to what a double bass can do: a resonant theme and variations by Eoghan Desmond uses an out of tune low string. My grandfather’s graceful 3-movement piano sonata. A John Kinsella stencil covers the entire fingerboard and beyond. Ian Wilson’s creative use of a unique scordature generates colorful clouds of natural harmonics. An energetic version of the Norwegian folk violin by Kevin O’Connell. A new commission from Deirdre Gribbin begins with a passage using a pair of teaspoons as dulcimer hammers. Ryan Molloy treats the bass like a giant string bodhrán. Judith Ring provides an epic setting for timbral explorations. And to conclude, I sing a favorite Irish song with my own bass accompaniment.

It’s rare to hear a bass in the spotlight, and getting up close and personal is truly rewarding. Bass adds gravy to an ensemble, making everything else better, but it’s a more fascinating sauce than you might have realized. And for players of smaller string instruments, it can reveal things that are often not taken into account; the low tone and length of the strings allow precise control of the invocation of upper partials for color. It is beautifully recorded by Laoise O’Brien and Ben Rawlins of Jiggery Pokery Productions.

I am not trying to define the Irish double bass, but to deliver a personal document of where the double bass is in Ireland: it is appreciably Irish but, like the country itself, is no longer folded in on itself. Like Ireland, the double bass is more and more confident, taking its place on the larger stage, sharing its unique qualities without the need of special pleading for advice or approval.

In memory of John Kinsella, who passed away in November. A national treasure and a lovable human.

The Irish Double Bass can be downloaded here, the CD purchased from, or it can be found on streaming services.

This album was produced with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media.

Read: “The first maker of what is unambiguously a double bass”

Read: Gary Karr: Lessons in Life

To read: The Venetian double bass: the Venetian splendor

Listen to: The Strad Podcast Episode # 21: Léon Bosch on Bootsini

Amanda J. Marsh