Picking a fight… or how to survive a train journey with a double bass

By Theresia

April 16, 2024

Theresia’s double bass player, Ariel Walton, shares her experiences and useful tips on how to travel by train as a musician: even with a bulky companion!

by Ariel Walton

I never thought about picking a fight with a drunk, burly tattooed and pierced guy until he almost sat on my double bass. Let’s backtrack about how I got here…

Hello lovely reader, my name is Ariel, and I have been playing the double bass for most of my life. I’m from the beautiful state of Pennsylvania in the United States of America. As much as I enjoyed living there, there were more music opportunities for me by traveling across the Atlantic to live in the Netherlands.

Beautiful Pensylvania… As much as I enjoyed living there, there were more music opportunities for me by traveling across the Atlantic to live in the Netherlands.

To say it’s been a complete culture shock is an understatement. While I could ramble ad nauseam about the minute details between these two countries, I would like to focus on one today: Transportation.

Like most of Europe, there has been an eco-friendly push to use public transit. No problem if you play the kazoo, but when you have an instrument larger than you, it can pose quite an “adventure.” This includes taking trams, subways, buses, and of course the topic of today: the train.

Honestly, I had no previous experience relying on trains to transport my instrument before I moved to Europe. When I was in youth orchestra, my parents would drive me an hour one way to rehearse in State College. Later, I would frequently go to Pittsburgh, a two-and-a-half hour commute, for private lessons. That is the norm, and it makes sense since 90% of households in the US have at least one car. The car represents flexibility and efficiency to travel wherever one needs to go. Realistically, it was the only option in the area I grew up.

Consequently, I had to quickly learn the dos and don’ts of traveling with my large and cumbersome companion when in Europe. Based on the short time I have been using European trains to travel, here’s what I recommend:

1. DO look for train cars with handicap, bicycle, or baby-stroller markings… engineers have designed them specifically for those items to fit. Your baby — ahem I mean bass will be most comfortable there.

2. DO plan on getting dirty sitting on the floor, in the aisle, or wedged into a door frame. It’s not traveling in style, but it gets the job done.

3. DO pack snacks. No one wants to deal with a hungry and stressed musician.

4. DON’T expect to make every train. Even an Olympic sprinter couldn’t make it across the platform if the area is packed full of people.

5. DON’T forget to smile and be appreciative of the transportation staff. They’re just doing their job.

6. DON’T pick a fight with a drunk burly tattooed and pierced guy in Arnhem when he goes to sit on your bass!

Public transport
…sitting on the floor of a train… It’s not traveling in style, but it gets the job done.

As climatic as it would have been to tackle that man american-football-style to the ground, I quickly realized it was not worth it to try reasoning with a person who was drunk and twice my size. I simply offered him my seat, which he willingly took. While sitting on the floor was not the most comfortable position, I knew that my instrument was safe from him sitting on it. Did he learn his lesson? Probably not… (the real question that concerns me is what led him to being drunk at 10 am on a train!?)

The one positive aspect of this experience was knowing that I was being environmentally friendly by using public transportation. Furthermore, the project I was traveling for, the Theresia Orchestra, is part of a larger group called ICONS who works with an outside party to carbon-offset all the travel its musicians do. They have projects in four different countries and have already captured 74.44 tons of CO2. By choosing to take a train over a car, these emissions for each individual are more than halved. Additionally, consider that these trains can seat 450-900 people, compared to most cars only seating 5. For perspective, a single average car owner in America produces 4.6 tons of CO2 annually. While public transportation is not the most glamorous way to travel with a bass, I argue it is the sustainable thing to do for our planet.

Bass by the door: at the very least, we will be the first to go down!

Hopefully these ramblings have been insightful and amusing. I’m curious to hear your instrument travel adventures.

Your hysterical-bassist* Ariel

*@hystericalbass is my instagram handle


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About Theresia

Theresia's blog is the place where stories of members, places and music are told. Some posts are in english, some in italian: find your own language and enjoy the blog!