A definitive guide to being a musician on public transport
13 September 2019, 17:12 | Updated: 13 September 2019, 17:13
Heavy instruments on public transport: it’s a recipe for bruises, embarrassment and extreme public heckling. But you’ve got a gig to get to, right? So here’s the best way to negotiate the bus, the train or (please no) the plane...
Think: do I actually need my instrument today?
The answer is almost always yes, but on those rare days we don’t need our instruments with us, we shouldn’t be tempted to take iit ‘just in case’. Chances are Joshua Bell is not going to be on your bus looking for his next duet partner.
Plan your entry
If you are taking your instrument on public transport, we can’t emphasise enough the importance of planning. Buses have steps, train stations have terrifying electric gates which force you to ride your wheeled double bass case through them like it’s a weird go-kart, airports have a tendency to smash instruments to bits. Take heed.
Take advantage of the many nooks and crannies, zipped areas and flappy pockets on your instrument case and secrete snack items for when your journey is long. Future you will thank you.
This mostly applies to musicians with hefty instruments to lug around: you will need forearms of oak to haul your tuba into the waist-height luggage rack of your average commuter train. The best way to prepare for this onslaught is preparation. Weights, push-ups, bicep curls: whatever it takes.
Beware of non-musicians
Unbelievable as it may seem, non-musicians are not naturally in tune with the rhythms of dragging a flight case onto the top deck of a bus and tend to react badly when they come into contact with sharp corners. Tell them you understand and respect their howls of pain but can offer nothing in return, for you are a musician in a hurry.
Remember: you’re on your own
The public won’t offer you help. They’ll stare, dumbfounded by your determination to get your contrabassoon into the overhead storage bins. The public are not your friends in these situations, and as such you should treat every voyage on public transport as a solo mission.
Arm yourself with witty responses
Public transport isn’t just a physical challenge for the average musician, it’s a mental one too. When someone asks you if it’s a machine gun in your violin case, give them a steely stare and say, “Yes.” When someone asks if you wished you’d taken up the flute instead of the cello, tell them you wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone.
Alternatively, perfect your “I’m ignoring you” face
If you don’t want to trot out another witticism to shut down any unwanted comments, there are many alternatives: simply pretend you don’t speak their language, wear headphones or – and this is our favourite – contemplate the middle distance as if what this person has said simply cannot reach you.
Use your case to your advantage
Stuck in bus station or airport lounge with a long period of waiting ahead of you? Cast your double bass aside and curl up in the furry softness of your instrument case for a refreshing snooze. (See above point on snacks: these come in useful in this scenario.)
Ask yourself: does this situation need a flashmob?
The answer is usually no.
Finally, embrace your own insanity
It truly takes a musician to voluntarily attempt public transport with a large instrument in tow. You will annoy people, and people will annoy you. But if it gets you where you need to go, just remember that this is a necessary evil and you should always keep your receipts. Good luck out there!