I was born into a family of (mainly) sculptors and musicians, a few of whom became quite famous: the names D'Haese (Herman, Roel, Begga, Iwein and Reinhoud) and Tinel (Jef and Edgar, who was one of the first Directors of the Brussels Conservatory) are those of artists on my mother's side.
Despite this "pedigree", and although i can clearly remember being deeply touched by music from the earliest age, i didn't start playing any instrument until i was around 13. Little wonder, at that age and not all that long after full-blown Beatle-mania, that i picked up the guitar. The electric bass soon followed and it became my favorite: deep tones have always had a strong effect on me, and figuring out bass lines from LP records, or inventing my own, was one of my greatest pleasures. For the next few years i played in some twenty different bands.
My first double bass was an instrument that my parents had spotted in a shop while they were travelling abroad. They had it delivered by truck. It came in a big wooden bass crate which they sent back because it cost more than the bass inside... The instrument itself was actually quite decent. It sat in the living room corner for a while, until i decided to really give it a go.
My first teacher was a cellist who didn't have the faintest idea about how to play the bass, and who unfortunately wasn't aware that the strings on my bass were way too high above the fingerboard. The resulting tendonitis in my left hand fingers left me half-crippled for over two years.
In the meantime i went to university, where i studied German language and literature. But after two years i decided to go for a serious music education. My hand was getting better, and i managed to slowly increase my practice time on the bass. After three years of music academy i went to Brussels Conservatory.
There were lots of playing opportunities for bass students back then, and i learned as much from "real" playing as from the formal lessons. I quickly realized that my background in pop and rock music was a great advantage, and to this day i think that most of the qualities that i need as a musician, i developed by playing the bass guitar in a band setting.
Before i finished my diploma i won my first orchestra audition at the Flanders Opera in Ghent. This wasn't much of an achievement: three candidates had applied but i was the only one who actually turned up at the audition. Those were the days...
Two years later, at the National Opera audition, the competition was a lot stiffer. Again i was lucky and i got in. More than thirty years later i'm still there. I moved through the stages from Tutti to 2nd Solist in 1987 and to Principal Bass back in 1993.
In the meantime i hadn't quit studying, and after my initial "First Prize" Diploma in 1983, and the "Diplôme Supérieur" in 1987, i went back for the Master's Degree in Modern Bass in 2001, and for the Master's Degree in Historical Bass and Violone in 2006.
Studying Ancient Music was probably the best decision i ever made in my musical life. The reason why i wanted to do this was simple: all through my career i had heard the typical clichés about baroque music, and i wanted to find out how much of them were true. I needed to make up my own mind about the sense or nonsense of using gut strings, of playing with or without vibrato, about intonation and temperaments, about using a harpsichord instead of a piano. Too many "modern" musicians, i found, just kept repeating the same old silly opinions without actually knowing first-hand what they were talking about.
Like i said, it was the time of my life. I've never looked back. It's wonderful to know different worlds, not only in music. It's great to shake off the black-and-white opinions and clichés. It's enriching to combine an affinity for different ways of expression, and to be able to put things into a different perspective.
I haven't forgotten the pop and rock side of my musical history either, and i still enjoy playing the guitar, the electric bass, the ukulele. Each and every instrument is beneficial to all the others. Playing the ukulele while i was recently recovering from cancer, and physically unable to play the double bass, has made me a better musician than before.
As bass players we are privileged: we can play in any kind of setting or group, in any kind of music. I formed my own ensembles: Ensemble Per Questa Bella Mano and Duo Sweet 17. In both groups i play on gut strings and in Viennese tuning, but sometimes i will use an Eminence electric double bass (with gut strings and frets as well). With the Duo we toured in Japan several times, visiting the Fukushima region in 2013, playing in schools and kindergartens in the devastated regions. Our repertoire ranges from early baroque to contemporary pieces and even videogame music.
I would urge all my past, present, and future students to keep an open mind and to embrace differences, be it in music or in life: usually we learn more when we stray from the straight path. The proverb that says: "if you're in a hurry, take a detour" has got it right.
So, with my background, it shouldn't come as a surprise that in my lessons i will often take detours. We will explore different options in phrasing, fingering and bowing, we will use a historical perspective, we will find out what works well and what doesn't (and why it does or doesn't), we will be open-minded enough to change opinions.
We will try not to think in clichés or "schools". Schools are a remnant from the 19th century. We don't need them. French bow, German bow, Gamba bow: three chances to enrich our lives as musicians. Italian fingerings, German or Scandinavian fingerings: who cares, as long as they work? Gut, synthetic, or steel strings: let's find out what works best in each situation.
Above all, we will try and share: within our class, but more importantly we will learn to share our music with the audiences we play for. Music isn't there for us musicians alone. It was created to be heard by an audience, it was written to be shared with the world. So let's share, and make this world a better place.