The Violin Channel recently caught up with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Assistant Principal Bassist, Mrs Jane Little – the Guinness Book of World Records holder for ‘the longest professional tenure with any single orchestra’.
In a VC-exclusive blog, the 87 year old veteran talks us through her 71 years with the Atlanta ensemble.
“My parents introduced me to music when I was very young. I loved to dance, but my feet did not cooperate. While trying to encourage a willful teenage daughter, my dad took me shopping one day offering to buy “any instrument I chose” at the music store. When we got there and I spotted the bass, which I could tell from a distance was taller than my four-foot-eleven-inches, it hit me instantly: I had to have it and learn to play it!
There were no bass instructors in Atlanta, so it took a little while to get going, but eventually through school orchestra things progressed. By 1945, as a 15-year-old, I was chosen for the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra, the forerunner of what is now the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. My first concert was Feb. 4, 1945, two days after my 16th birthday.
In those days our shows competed for stage time with the circus, wrestling and ice shows in the old city auditorium, which we nicknamed ‘the barn’ – quite often our only time to rehearse was Saturday mornings while the venue was still cleaning up Friday night’s collection of empty beer bottles.
While continuing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, I attended the University of Georgia in Athens, and later studied with the Chicago Symphony’s bass player for four years. The Theater of the Stars orchestra named me principal bass, and I also played extensively with regional ballet and opera companies, as well as in touring performances of the American Ballet Theatre, Covent Garden Ballet and Boris Goldovsky Opera Theatre.
Over the years, I played under all four of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s music directors, as well as guest conductors including Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Pierre Monteux, Leopold Stokowski, Sir John Barbirolli and James Levine, among others. During the 1996 Atlanta Olympic opening and closing ceremonies we played the “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” and “Summon The Heroes” on worldwide TV with composer/conductor John Williams – that was really special. We’ve been around the world and back several times, and I treasure the memories of meeting people in some spectacular venues.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra experience changed my life both professionally and personally. I met my husband, Warren, who was this big six-foot-two guy who played the flute, and he carried my bass for me. We were married for 41 years.
I had hoped to play in September for the record, but I injured my back and I honestly didn’t know if I’d make it back. Walking out on that stage, 71 years to the day of my first performance and playing for the Guinness World Record for longest professional tenure with a single orchestra was an incredibly special moment.
It has been an honor to perform with these amazingly talented musicians over the years and it’s time to think about my retirement. I’ve always wanted to try the electric bass guitar. Who knows: Maybe I can get some girlfriends together and go on tour – we’ll call ourselves “The Grannies!