Andrew Tait – The perfect swansong

Andrew 1

After 32 years as a double bassist with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO), Andrew Tait has begun settling into a thoroughly deserved retirement.

He has, as he puts it, stepped away from a family; the WASO double bass section. They were together as a section for 30 years, an Australian record. It speaks volumes of their bond.

But Andrew won’t be completely lost to WASO and classical music more broadly. While he’ll spend more time with his own family, this won’t be your average retirement.

He’ll keep on restoring and repairing fine instruments as a luthier in his Perth workshop, which he’s operated for some time behind the scenes.

Throughout his life, Andrew balanced performance with mastering the art of instrument restoration; instruments often hundreds of years old and worth tens of thousands of dollars. A love of woodwork is a feature of Andrew’s retirement plans.

Musical bloodlines

Musical talent runs in Andrew’s family and continues to be passed on through the generations.

His parents are both pianists, his wife a French horn player and daughter a singer. His son has taken a different path, but nevertheless links back to Andrew’s craftsmanship and love of wood. More on that later though.

So why the double bass then?

It dates back to the 1970s. As live music thrived, Andrew fell in love with the instrument after hearing a modern jazz quartet in action. He then sought lessons and looked to hone in on a classical technique.

Then came the introduction to the famous Soviet composer Dimitri Shoshtakovich and his 1937 work Symphony No.5. Speaking from the workshop against the backdrop of a stunning viola da gamba, Andrew details how the masterpiece has formed a key part of his professional life.

“My history teacher of all people introduced me to Shoshtakovich, which I considered the classical version of heavy rock and that turned me on,” he recounts.

“It was a Shoshtakovich piece, Shoshtakovich 5, that he used to introduce the class to modern history.

“Funnily enough, that piece has followed me around my whole life.”

A life of work dedicated to sound

To follow Andrew around, you had best keep up. Between performance and study, Andrew’s musical career has taken him to all corners of the world: various Australian states, the United States, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom to name a few.

While with WASO, Andrew worked to develop his craft as a luthier, learning from the very best. He was a Churchill Fellowship recipient, a program that affords Australians the chance to study abroad in an area they are passionate about.

That, combined with Andrew’s love of classical English instruments, brought him to the UK where he studied and worked with acclaimed luthier Roger Dawson.

In his own words, London has become a second home. So driven was Andrew to learn, he was often happy to forego the sizzling summer sun of Scarborough and Cottesloe in favour of bitterly cold European winters.

Andrew recalls his time spent with Dawson glowingly.

“What really kicked that career off for me was winning a Churchill Fellowship to go and study with Roger Dawson, my mentor in London,” he says.

“So for the last 20 years I’ve been toing and froing to London to work and study with Roger.

“I’ve got a number of grants and scholarships and things like that but I’ve also spent a lot of my own money travelling there in my holidays and spending my Perth summers in London winters.”

Swansong, legacy and retirement

It’s only fitting that Andrew’s final piece with WASO will be Shoshtakovich’s Symphony No.5. It really has gone with him: “It was the last piece I played in Melbourne when I was in the Melbourne Orchestra, then it was the first piece I played in Perth when I got here.

“I did a stint in an orchestra in Norway and it was the first piece I played there. When I saw it pop up on the program this year, I thought, in terms of bookends, that’s a great piece to end my career professionally in the orchestra.

“We’re doing Shoshtakovich 5 and that’s my swansong.”

Even in retirement, Andrew’s fingerprints will remain on WASO. The orchestra uses eight instruments of his make: six double basses, a cello and a violin.

“It’s a great source of satisfaction for me to sit back and listen to our principal cellist playing solos on the cello that he got me to copy,” he says proudly.

“I restored his lovely old instrument which was built in 1750 by an Englishman by the name of Duke, and now he plays my copy in the orchestra rather than his old original instrument.”

Andrew will continue to repair and restore, even in retirement, helping a host of classical musicians hone their sound and retain a special connection with their instrument.

It’s part of what shapes a hands-on retirement lifestyle for Andrew, a keen sailor in his spare time.

“My son’s got himself a tall ship, he’s 23 and owns his own tall ship. He’s a skipper and wants to take over the family yacht which is a little 35-footer,” he explains.

“So I’m going to build a little 18-foot Caledonia Yawl that I can keep on the back of a trailer and drag it around to the little estuaries in WA.”

That’s one way of making up for all those sacrificed Perth summers.