On February 4th, 1945 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin sat down together for the first day of the Yalta Conference where they divided up Germany and reconfigured Eastern Europe at the end of World War 2. The whole world was watching.
On that same day, Jane Little made her debut playing bass with the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra (ASO). She had turned 16 two days before. Far fewer people were watching.
She did a good job and the ASO asked her back the next year – and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year . . .
. . . 71 years later, on February 4th, 2016, Germany was reunited, FDR, Churchill and Stalin had been dead for 50 years or more, and the Soviet Union no longer existed. But Ms. Little was still in the bassist’s chair at the ASO setting the record for the longest tenure for a musician playing with a single orchestra.
Ms. Little is well named. She weighs 98 pounds and her bass is a foot taller than she is. Have you ever tried to play a concert bass? It is physically demanding. The steel strings are thick and heavy, and the space between notes is large. It takes great hand strength and endurance to play the instrument at all, let alone play with a symphony orchestra where the bass has to compete with 70 or more fellow musicians.
Ms. Little is not only little, she’s not well. She has cancer – multiple myeloma – and is undergoing chemotherapy. Have you ever undergone chemotherapy? It kicks your ass. She is also in daily pain from a cracked vertebra which she suffered in a fall last August. To manage the pain she takes steroid pills before she performs.
The bass is often called the foundation of a band. The ASO has been grounded on a rock for 71 years.