It is perhaps hard to realise the immense strain that the second basses are under constantly during rehearsals and in concerts.
We can hear the elegantly voiced tunes from the sopranos; the frighteningly accurate and harmonic pulse of the altos; the stratospherically cultured pitch of the tenors; the Italian ice-cream inspired baritone of the first basses; and then us.
We smile confidently when we have to sing a pedal note especially if it is 90 bars long as it gives us time to get to the same note together over the first 45 bars. It means we do not have to worry about our breathing (the small apostrophes above the relevant bar written with one of our seven pencils – each). We can now confidently look at Peter for a disturbingly long period disrupted only by the sudden realisation that the pedal note should have stopped 20 bars previously.
We have learnt to lean slightly right as the altos often have our note but become distracted by the haircuts of the first basses and tenors and their remarkably co-ordinated ear movements (especially the unshaven ones).
Yet we are not without mischief. We are the ones that boo quietly when the tenors win the raffle. We are the ones who fling the back door open to cool our strained voice boxes only to be thwarted by those of a more temperate nature and disposition. We are the ones who pretend to swap places at half time. We are the ones who scan our musical copies to see if the double basses and cellos can give us our notes on a regular basis. We are the ones who cease singing during the warm-up when notes drift past the ceiling-limited sanctuary of middle C.
And yet we feel we belong. ‘Gravitas’ is our watchword and we are the foundation on which all other voices descend although in the words of other authors and not I………
‘Never invite a second bass to look after your dog when you are on holiday. They will either fail to find the key or come in far too early or far too late.’