Who's on first? If you're talking first base, in Boston it's the Red Sox's Mo Vaughn, the former Most Valuable Player for the American League. But if you mean first bass, it's Lawrence Wolfe who suits up for the home team. The principal double-bass player dons a suit jacket for the Boston Pops and tails for the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), for which he's the assistant principal bass.
Mr. Wolfe, unlike Mr. Vaughn, is not the subject of talk shows, newspaper stories, and office conversations. We were curious about Boston's other first-bassman. So we asked for an interview.
It helps, Wolfe begins, if a bass player (it's also called a double bass) has a sense of humor. "I bet you can't get that under your chin," people ask him, to which he replies, "I've tried. It hurts."
But on some days, wouldn't he rather play the piccolo? No, he says, the bass suits him in every way, including his ability to hear music "from the bottom up."
"These big hands would do no good on a piccolo or a violin," he observes, "and they're very useful on a double bass."
Wolfe says he has never found the bass a burden. Carrying it is not a problem because, at 6 ft. 4 in., he's built for the task. Occasionally, he slings the instrument over his shoulder. Sometimes, using a strap, he carries it on his back. He can also attach wheels to the bottom and scoot it around.
But when the orchestra is on tour, he leaves most of the "driving" to professional instrument movers. Wolfe describes his 110-year-old bass as a bulky box of light, thin wood that weighs 20 or 30 pounds. "I've never put it on a scale," he claims. "I'd rather play it than weigh it."
In teaching the bass, he likes to grab for a baseball analogy, reminding pupils that Mo Vaughn can't mentally review proper batting technique as the pitch comes to the plate, he's got to rely on "muscle memory." The same holds true with a good bass player, Wolfe says. He can feel Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 before he plays it. "I can feel it in my shoulders. I can feel the bow vibrating in my hand. I can feel the motions up and down," he says.
Like Vaughn, Wolfe is also a seasoned pro. "The concert will start about 1:35," he says, "and at about 1:34 I will start to dig a little deeper to make sure I'm prepared mentally to do my job as well as I can."