bassoon blog

musings of a professional bassoonist

Saturday, August 27, 2016

"Bagpipe lung" for bassoonists

Nearly every musician on earth has probably heard the latest trending news about "bagpipe lung". This is old news for most of us, since scientists have been warning for years about the possibility of mold, fungi, yeast and pathogens lurking inside of wind instruments, ready to be inhaled into the lungs of the unsuspecting player.  That news has undoubtedly sent some former wind players scrambling to the string, percussion and keyboard instruments, but for those of us who steadfastly stand by our potentially deadly wind instruments, what can we do to ensure our survival?

Mold Basics

 Mold needs three conditions in which to grow:
  1. Moisture
  2. Food (This means actual food, or wood, leather, cotton, paper products, etc.)
  3. Ideal temperature (Mold grows in temperature between 32 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit - a generous range!  The 70-90 degree range is most conducive for mold growth.)
Of the above conditions, the two that we bassoonists can affect are moisture and food. (I suppose we can also affect temperature by storing reeds in the freezer.  I don't know about you, but for me that would increase the likelihood of showing up for work without my reeds!)

Oral hygiene

It's best (necessary, in my opinion) to brush and floss your teeth before playing the bassoon.  (Yeah, I know.....the trending news on flossing claims that flossing is useless after all.  I'm choosing to ignore that claim while waiting for future studies which refute the current news.)   Any food particles which find their way into your reed or bocal can become food for mold.  Not only is that gross and unhealthy, but it also prevents the reed and the bocal from functioning optimally.

Reed care

Although the reed must be moist for playing, we absolutely must take steps to dry out our reeds after playing.  I leave my reed container out of the bassoon case and open.  If I'm at a rehearsal or concert, I take out my reeds as soon as I get home.  First I rinse them with a strong stream of cold water and then set them out to dry.

reeds drying out after use, with the reed container open

Bocal care

For bassoonists, the cleanliness of the bocal is important.  The best way to keep a bocal hygienic (besides brushing and flossing of the player's teeth) is by running a clean bocal swab through the bocal at least once a month.  I wash my bocal swab after each use, since the last thing I want to do is send a germ-laden swab through my bocal.  After hand washing it with a mild soap, I allow it to dry outdoors in the sun, since sunlight is a natural sanitizing and bleaching agent. 

bocal swab with a tail on each end in case it becomes stuck
After running the bocal swab through the bocal, flush the bocal with water.  Allow water to accumulate inside the bocal and then blow it out forcefully so that any residue from the swabbing will be blown out.  (If you swab the bocal frequently enough, there shouldn't be any residue!)  Then force water out of the whisper key hole on the nub to ensure that it's not clogged.  Just cover the end of the bocal with your hand to force the water out of the whisper key hole.

Suck it up

One unique aspect of bassoon playing is that while playing, moisture accumulates in the bocal and at a certain point it begins gurgling or "knocking".  Some players seem to ignore it as if hoping the listener can't hear it.  The listener can hear it.  What do we do about it?

There are three ways I know of.  One is to take the bocal out of its socket and blow into the larger end of the bocal forcefully, expelling the moisture.  Another is to take the reed off the bocal and blow forcefully into the bocal, thereby blowing the moisture into the instrument.  The third method is to suck the moisture out of the bocal through the reed, which means the moisture enters the player's mouth, presumably to be swallowed.

The first method described above is impractical during rehearsals and concerts; it simply takes too much time.  Also, unless you are alone in a practice room, it makes too much noise.  The second method produces even more noise, and can absolutely disrupt a rehearsal or concert.  Furthermore, it forces moisture into the instrument.  The boot can actually accumulate so much moisture that it begins to gurgle.

Gross though it is, it's that third method which I use, and I'd be willing to bet that most professionals use it.   If you're assiduous about keeping your bocal clean, it shouldn't pose any problems.  My bocal was purchased brand new fairly recently, and I've swabbed it religiously.  I don't think it harbors mold.  (One reason I don't like to try other people's bassoons is because I'm afraid that I'll accidentally suck the moisture out of the bocal through the reed, thereby ingesting its mold, bacteria, and heaven knows what else.  This act of sucking in the moisture is habitual for me, since any moisture inside of the reed or bocal can cause things to go wrong during rehearsals or concerts.  I'm constantly sucking the moisture in through the reed.) 

Mold is more likely to grow in the reed than in the bocal because the cane itself provides food for mold.  The metal bocal does not promote mold growth UNLESS food particles have been allowed to accumulate inside it.  If you play the bassoon without brushing or flossing first, you may have created an environment for mold growth.  On top of that, if you don't regularly swab your bocal, well, some new habits may be in order.

Boot and tenor joints 

The only other action we bassoonists can take to ward off mold is to make sure that our boot and tenor joint swabs are kept clean.  It goes without saying that the boot and tenor joints must be swabbed each time the bassoon is placed back in its case.  Keeping the instrument dry is critical for the health of the instrument and its player.

On top of that, the swabs used for the boot and tenor joint must be kept clean.  It's not practical to wash those swabs after each use, unfortunately, but for heaven's sake, we should definitely wash them as frequently as possible, using mild soap and sun drying.

Sun-drying a boot swab

It's really that simple - that's all we can do.....brush and floss our teeth, dry out our reeds, swab bocals often, swab boot and tenor joints after each use, and keep those swabs clean and dry, thus holding "bagpipe lung" at bay!


Thursday, August 25, 2016

How to sharpen a double hollow ground bassoon reed knife

How can you tell if your bassoon reed knife needs sharpening?  Just drop the blade, sharp side down, onto your thumb nail.  If it catches, the blade is sharp enough.  If it just glides smoothly on your nail, then it's too dull to function optimally.

The following instructions were presented to me by the late Norman Herzberg who was widely known for his Los Angeles studio work, his revolutionary reed making concepts and tool production, and of course his legendary teaching.

These instructions apply to the double hollow ground style knife, which is probably the easiest type of knife to sharpen.

Mr. Herzberg recommended using a Norton Crystolon Combination Oilstone:
Norton Crystolon Combination Oilstone, Fine/Coarse, 1 x 2 x 8"

Being an oilstone, it must be oiled before each use.  Norton sells oil for this very purpose.  It's actually a light mineral oil:

Image result for norton oil for sharpening stone
If your knife is in really bad shape, begin with the rough side of the sharpening stone.  (An oboist reading this post might react with could a double reed player possibly be using a knife in really bad shape?   Well, bassoonists are generally much less religious about knife-sharpening than oboists, and for good reason.  For one thing, oboists are dealing with harder cane.  Oboists need a very sharp knife for precise cutting.  On the other hand, bassoonists often run into problems with accidental gouging and nicking of the cane with a very sharp knife.  Some bassoonists, according to rumor, never sharpen their knives.  My opinion is that bassoon knives should be kept reasonably sharp, passing the above-mentioned thumb nail test, at all times.)

First ensure that your stone is abutting a wall or some sort of stable object so that the stone won't move as you push the knife from the bottom to the top of the stone.  (For pushing down from top to bottom, you'll use your hand to hold the stone in place.)

Make sure that the sharpening stone is clean and dust-free before oil is applied.  I always store my sharpening stone inside of a container so that it doesn't become dusty.  Oil the stone by placing 3 drops of oil evenly spaced on the sharpening stone.
Evenly distribute 3 drops of oil on the surface of the stone.

Then smear the oil over the stone, covering it evenly.
The 3 drops of oil have been well-smeared evenly over the surface of this stone.

Start with the knife at the bottom of the stone, with the knife blade at approximately a 45 degree angle across the stone.  First lay the knife flat:

Then lift the back of the knife 1/8 inch.  That's the angle you'll maintain while sharpening

Lift the back (the thick side as opposed to the thin cutting edge) of the blade 1/8" up off of the surface of the stone.

Begin by pushing the knife up to the top of the stone.  Push into the edge of the knife.  After reaching the top of the stone, flip the knife over, then beginning at the top of the stone, push back down to the bottom of the stone.  Keep the knife rigid at all times, with the back raised 1/8 inch.  Don't roll the knife; keep it rigid.  Push into the edge you're sharpening.
Pushing the knife down from the top of the stone to the bottom
Repeat this routine a few times, then test the sharpness of the blade by dropping it onto your thumb nail.  If it catches, you're done.  If you began with a really dull knife and used the rough side of the stone first, then you'll be ready to flip the stone over to the fine side after maybe 10 or 20 swipes up and down.  Repeat the routine using the fine side.  Don't forget to oil this side also!  Then test the knife after using the fine side.

If your knife was already in decent shape, then probably only a couple of strokes on the fine side of the stone are needed.  Never use the stone without oiling it first!

Mr. Herzberg also mentioned that a hard Arkansas stone may be used. 

If you're one of those bassoonists who doesn't worry much about the sharpness of your knife, give this a try.  Chances are you'll convert!


Saturday, August 13, 2016

10 Tips for college freshmen music majors



1. Take care of yourself

You already know what to do to able to function optimally:  eat sensibly and regularly, exercise, strive for 8 hours of sleep each night, make a few friends.  Balance is key.

2. Set priorities

Make a list of your priorities and stick to that list.  Chances are, socializing is not your top priority, so be careful that your social life does not accidentally rise to the top unbeknownst to you.  Each choice you make will have either a positive or a negative impact upon your college experience.

3. Prioritize practicing

Establish a strict practicing schedule as soon as school starts.  Your success as a musician depends upon how much and how effectively you practice.  It may take you a while to figure out the best times to practice.  When I was a student at Eastman I liked to arrive at the practice rooms when the school opened at 7am so that I'd be able to choose one of my favorite practice rooms, and I always stayed until the school closed at 11pm.   I was determined to practice as much as I possibly could.  (No, I was not in the practice room all day.  Plenty of other things happened between my early arrival and my late departure.)

4. Know yourself and work with that knowledge

Know yourself and plan accordingly within reason.  For example, I'm an extremist. and that's why it suited me to arrive when the doors opened and leave when they closed at Eastman each day.   If you're gregarious, then you might benefit from practicing at peak times.  If you're a night owl, maybe it would behoove you to save your practicing for later hours when you are most energetic.

If you're not a morning person and you have a class at 8am each day, then you're going to have to find a way to force yourself to make it to that class on time.  (Try going to bed earlier!)  Do not allow yourself to skip classes unless you are deathly ill.  You have chosen to attend college and to pay a lot of money to do so.  Therefore it makes no sense to put forth anything less than wholehearted effort.

5. Revere your teacher

Pay rapt attention to the professor of your instrument.  Take notes during lessons, or if the professor allows, record (audio or video) your lessons.  If you hang on his or her every word (or playing demonstration), you'll learn faster.  Be sure to actually follow his or her instructions assiduously.

6. Listen to music

Listen to music of your chosen genre constantly in order to establish and inspire your musical goals and preferences.  Attend live performances and listen to recordings.  Of course, as a standard aspect of preparation, always listen to recordings of any music you're working on or performing.

7. Beware of distractions

Watch for distractions......they're everywhere.  Freshman year is perhaps NOT the best time to master Pokeman Go, World of Warcraft or Call of Duty.  Save Netflix for planned relaxation times.

Once you have a job (and tenure), then you can play Pokeman Go to your heart's content!

 8. Choose positively influential friends

 Choose your friends wisely.  If you're lucky enough to befriend a fellow music student who is a superior musician, you'll learn from that friend.  I hung out with a phenomenal flute student who was studying with James Galway during our freshman year at Eastman.  I learned a great deal from joining my friend in exploring interpretations of musical phrases, in listening to recordings of the world's greatest musicians, and in listening to the incomparable James Galway perform in person.

9. Say yes to performance opportunities

Say YES to any invitation to play your instrument, whether you'll be paid or not.  You need experience!

10. Ask for help

If any of your classes or assignments are confounding, don't hesitate to let the professor know right away.  Your fellow students may be of assistance also.  Everyone wants you to succeed!

If you're having trouble adjusting to college in any way, don't hesitate to use the resources at your disposal.  As far as I know, every college offers professional counseling for students, or you may wish to talk to a professor or administrator.  When I was a freshman I confided in my bassoon professor K. David Van Hoesen about an upsetting situation with my two roommates.  He called the dean, and that very day I was given a single room!

Attending college is life-changing. Have fun within reason, and rest assured that your hard work will pay off later.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Learning to double tongue on the bassoon

Until fairly recently, maybe the past 20 years or so, double tonguing on the bassoon was considered a parlor trick, along with circular breathing, and few bassoonists took it seriously.  Now, double tonguing is becoming a requirement for high level bassoon playing.  It's becoming so mainstream that I even introduce it to my high school students (although I don't insist that they learn to do it).

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about double tonguing the famous bassoon solo of Beethoven Symphony No. 4 last movement.  A reader who is interested in learning to double tongue on the bassoon asked me for advice on getting started, so here it is. 

Double tonguing on the bassoon is not as easy as it is on the flute or brass instruments, because the reed's location inside the mouth is an impediment.  I taught myself to double tongue, and it took 5 years of working on it off and on before I could actually use it in the orchestra.  I kept giving up, thinking it would never sound good enough to be useful, and that's why it took so long.

Now I believe that anyone can learn to double tongue on the bassoon.  That's great news, because fast single tonguing is largely a matter of genetics (some were born with naturally fast single tonguing ability and some weren't).   Although I was one of the lucky ones with a fast single tongue, it bothered me that I struggled to make it through the lengthy fast-tongued passages of the 4th movement of Mozart's Haffner Symphony.

Here's how I learned to double tongue.  First I had to learn how to make my tongue cooperate.  No words in the English language had required me to say "TaKaTaKaTaKa...etc." ad infinitum at a breakneck speed.  Some people use "DiGiDiGiDiGi...etc.".   Does it matter?  No.  Just make sure the first syllable begins with the tip of the tongue forward (in its normal single tonguing position) and the second syllable (the "Ka", "Ga", "Gi", "Ki" or whatever you choose) begins with the back of the tongue toward the back of the mouth.  The distance traveled by the tongue should be as short as possible.  In other words, don't place your tongue any farther back in your mouth than necessary to produce the second syllable.

I've noticed that some people seem to be able to say "TaKaTaKa...etc." fairly easily even if they've never double tongued on an instrument.  I'm baffled by that, since I had to practice saying "TaKaTaKaTaKa....etc." a lot, for weeks.  I practiced it while driving or walking.  Eventually it became easy, thankfully, because if you can't say it, you can't tongue it.

Meanwhile, I was beginning the slow work on the bassoon.  Arthur Weisberg's book The Art of Wind Playing provided the most valuable advice on learning to double tongue.  He recommended practicing slowly, on one note, the following pattern:

Ending each syllable as noted above is critically important, so instead of just "Ta", it's "Tak".   Instead of just "Ka", it's "Kat".  Each note should be extremely short.

When learning to double tongue (and when practicing it after the technique has been learned), it's necessary to listen carefully and hold yourself to a high standard.  The goal is to make each note sound identical to all of the others.  That's not easy at first, but don't give will eventually succeed.

Gradually increase the speed over a period of months.

Once this pattern is stable and reliable, begin the exercise on "Kat" rather than "Tak" in order to strengthen the weaker "Kat" by placing it on the downbeat.  Another variation suggested by Mr. Weisberg is to use only the "Kat" syllable.

Once your metronome is up to quarter=120 for the above exercises, it's time to begin double-tonguing 16th note scales, sometimes beginning with "Ta" and sometimes beginning with "Ka".  By this point, the note endings are irrelevant, of course, because the ending becomes the beginning of the next note, so "Tak" is now "Ta" and "Kat" is now "Ka".  It's wise to limit your scales to the mid range, since double-tonguing in the extremities is quite difficult.

Unlike single tonguing, it's my experience that once you learn to double-tongue, it's necessary to keep practicing it to keep it sounding good, with constant attention given to the "Ka" syllable.  Once you learn to double tongue you'll always be able to do it, but refinement of the double-tonguing requires practice.  (I still frequently practice by placing the "Ka" on the downbeats in order to keep strengthening the "Ka" syllable, with the goal of making it sound as even as single tonguing.)  It's worth the effort, since the double-tonguing bassoonist will never again have to worry about any tempo being out of reach tonguing-wise.  Haffner Symphony?  Bring it on!


Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas and bassoon swabs

If you're like many bassoonists, you may not give much thought to your swabs.....especially the care and maintenance of those swabs.  Perhaps they deserve notice, since swab malfunction can wreak havoc.

First, the bocal swab......recently the tail broke off of my bocal swab, so I will never again pass that swab through a bocal.  Why?  Well, as some of you know from firsthand experience, swabs can become stuck inside of whatever they're supposed to be cleaning/drying.  Can you imagine trying to extract a stuck swab from a delicate and expensive bocal?  Perish the thought.

This is a bocal swab with its tail ripped off (see top of photo).  Now it's the same as a swab with no tail, which is NOT recommended!
I keep the above swab only to use as an example of a swab which should never pass through a bocal.  Some swabs are actually manufactured and sold without a tail, but I do not recommend using a tailless swab.  (A swab with a tail is easily identified by the fact that it has string attached to each end.)  The reason the tail is important is because if the swab gets stuck (and nearly every bassoonist has a stuck swab story) it may be possible to use the tail to remove the swab without damaging the bassoon.  The tail at least offers hope that the swab can be pulled back out from the point of entry (in the opposite of the intended direction).

This is a proper, intact bocal swab:

an intact bocal swab with tail
Bocal swabs are easy to take care of.  I wash mine out after each use. (I run the bocal swab through my bocal once a month.  Unlike the boot and tenor swabs, the bocal swab doesn't have to be used on a daily basis.)  Since it's so small, I just scrub it with nontoxic glycerine soap and water, rinse it thoroughly, and hang it up to dry.  Washing only takes a couple of minutes, and the silk swab dries quickly.

The same swab style - silk pull-through with a tail - is ideal for the boot and tenor joints.  Washing these swabs is not as simple a matter, though, because they take longer to air dry (they're too fragile for the dryer) so you must plan the washing according to your playing schedule.  So I had to wash them today, Christmas Day, because this is my first day off from playing the bassoon in a long time.

I washed both the boot and tenor swabs today and hung them outdoors to dry (because the fresh air makes them smell good).  I just hope they'll be dry before tomorrow's Nutcracker performances.  (They will be - silk dries quickly.  On a breezy day like today, they'll be dry in a couple of hours.)

My boot swab hung out to dry
Some bassoonists don't wash their swabs, but if they did, they'd realize that while the swabs may look fine, the water used for washing tells the real story.  They're not clean.  Not at all!

Another very important part of swab maintenance is cutting off any frayed ends of tails.  Ragged tail ends may cause the swab to easily become entangled, and as many bassoonists have learned the hard way, it's absolutely mandatory to be sure that there are no knots in the swab before it is inserted into the joint or bocal.  Also, it can take a long time to disentangle a swab, and if you're in a hurry you may be tempted to go ahead and use a tangled swab.  (Don't!!)
Cutting the ragged end off is highly advisable!
Merry Christmas, and may the new year bring great reeds and gigs to all!


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Beethoven Symphony No. 4 and double-tonguing

The famous 16th note solo bassoon passage in the 4th movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 is one of the solos we bassoonists practice most assiduously.  Surely it takes the prize as being the fastest-tongued bassoon solo in the standard orchestral repertoire, since the average tempo of the solo is around 144 per quarter note.

The above video was recorded by my iPhone at very close range, so the sound may be unrealistically loud depending on the settings of the device used for listening.  In the video you might notice that right before the solo begins, I take a fast breath in tempo.  Breathing in tempo seems to add a layer of rhythmic security. 

This past week while the Columbus Symphony was rehearsing and performing Beethoven 4, I kept thinking of the advice I've heard uttered by so many successful musicians:  it's necessary to be 150% prepared in order to perform at 100% of your ability.

My routine for preparing the Beethoven 4 solo includes practicing the solo at a wide range of tempos from quarter = 60 to quarter = 160.  At each tempo, I practice the passage all slurred before adding any articulation.  Many problems which seem to be caused by tonguing are actually caused by imperfect fingering.  So the first issue to address is evenness of fingering.

To begin each practice session I set the metronome at 60 and first play the entire passage all slurred.  I work on slurring at 60 until it's really perfect and reliable.  Then I single tongue it at 60, and then, believe it or not, I double tongue it at 60.

Why double tongue at such a ridiculously slow tempo?   There are a couple of reasons.  One is that it's a worthwhile challenge to play a passage first single-tongued, then double-tongued, with the intention of making the double tonguing sound exactly the same as the single tonguing. The slower the tempo, the easier it is to hear any difference between double- and single-tonguing.  The difference is often caused by the endings of the double-tongued notes.  I have found it  helpful to use the syllables "Tuk-Kut-Tuk-Kut" instead of "Tuh-Kuh-Tuh-Kuh" especially for slow double tonguing. This is a technique I learned from Arthur Weisberg's definitive treatise The Art of Wind Playing.

Image result for the art of wind playing weisberg
by Arthur Weisberg

Also, I feel that I have a better mastery of double-tonguing when I know that I can do it successfully at any tempo.  During live musical performances, tempos fluctuate.  I feel prepared only when I have the knowledge (based upon my practicing) that I'm going to be able to tongue at any tempo, even if the tempo changes mid passage.  Single tonguing is limited by the top speed of the player's single tongue.  But double tonguing need not be limited.

There are times, especially in solo or chamber music playing, when I actually choose double-tonguing over single-tonguing even when the tempo allows for single-tonguing.  The sound created by double-tonguing, if the player is skilled enough at it, can actually be preferable.  It can sound more flexible, fluid and nimble than single-tonguing.  Sometimes single-tonguing just sounds too heavy and logy.

However, I'll admit that sometimes double-tonguing on the bassoon can sound rather aggressive, and the Beethoven solo is marked "p dolce" which is the opposite of aggressive.  How does the player tame the double tonguing to the point of soft sweetness?  For one thing, the player can use a slightly slower air stream while still maintaining the high level of air pressure necessary for successful double tonguing.  Also, the double-tonguing sound varies from reed to reed.  I tested many reeds to see which sounded best for this solo.  It's possible to double-tongue on just about any reed; however, the sound varies greatly.  Thin, buzzy reeds tend to produce a very abrasive and undesirable double-tonguing sound, for example.

So I begin at 60 and gradually increase the speed, moving up a few metronome notches at a time.  The next tempo after 60 might be 65, for example.  I don't rush through this process, even though it's tedious.  Accuracy is critical, so if I begin to space out, I take a break until my concentration returns.  I don't allow myself to increase the tempo until I've mastered the passage slurred, single tongued and double tongued.  Also at the slower speeds I practice the solo slurred with varied rhythms.

At all times, of course, close attention must be paid to the grace note in the middle of the solo.  I know that some bassoonists use unusual combinations of double- and single-tonguing designed to accommodate the grace note, and I've experimented with those combinations.  However, what works best for me is straight double-tonguing, since I've found no difference between fitting the very brief grace note into the passage when slurred or when tongued.  Again, it's a fingering issue, not a tonguing issue, even though the "tuh" syllable for the first two notes (the D grace note and the C it slurs to) of the grace note measure must be slightly longer than the other syllables in order to allow time for the grace note.   I often isolate this section of the solo for careful slow practicing:

If I were to write out the syllables for double-tonguing the above excerpt of 11 notes (one of which is the grace note) it would look like this (I've highlighted the grace note D and the C it slurs to):

Tuh-Kuh-Tuh-Kuh- Teeuh -Kuh-Tuh-Kuh-Tuh-Kuh

"Teeuh" is the syllable for the grace note D and the C which it slurs to.  The "uh" part of that highlighted syllable is not tongued - the "uh" simply indicates the syllable formed inside the mouth by the tongue position during the passage when slurring from the grace note D to the C.

It's always my goal to match the double-tonguing to the single-tonguing.  I love it when other musicians ask me if I'm double-tonguing or single-tonguing!  The last thing any of us want is to have our double-tonguing recognizable as such, because that usually means that the double-tonguing is uneven.  Some bassoonists seem to hold a rather dim view of double-tonguing, as though it's somehow inferior to single-tonguing.  It doesn't have to be!

The Beethoven Symphony No. 4 solo is easier to play in auditions or master classes than in the orchestra.  That's because when the player is alone, he or she chooses not only the tempo, but also the exact starting time of the solo!   In the orchestra, depending upon stage acoustics, the bassoonist may be in danger of starting the solo too late if the violas are located at a distance.  The aural delay of the viola section which plays before the bassoon solo can cause a late entrance of the bassoon solo.  The solution?  Watch the conductor's baton, and choose to follow the visual information from the conductor rather than the aural information from the violas (which is easier said than done).  Light (ie. your visual input from the conductor) travels faster than sound (ie. your aural input from the distant violas), so when in doubt, go with the visual (the conductor) unless you're fortunate enough to play in a great acoustical environment which somehow eliminates the aural delay created by distance.  In some orchestras, the woodwinds sit quite close to the conductor's podium, enabling the bassoons to be surrounded by the string instruments.  In such situations, the problem of aural delay is  non-existent.

Getting back to the concept of being 150% prepared, I think it's accurate to say that Beethoven 4 is one of those solos which turns out to be totally different on stage with the orchestra compared to practicing it at home or school.  Part of the reason for that is the above-mentioned loss of control over the tempo and the starting point when playing in the orchestra.  For most orchestral solos, that wouldn't be a problem, but it can be a little tricky to get the double tonguing started on cue.  The bassoon reed inside the mouth is actually an impediment to double-tonguing - it's not as easy to initiate double-tonguing on the bassoon as it would be on a brass instrument, flute or recorder.  Also I noticed that I had to remind myself in the orchestra to keep the air pressure high for double tonguing......if air support is inadequate, the double tonguing loses clarity of sound and accuracy of intonation.  It's much easier to remember that nugget of truth in the quiet isolation of the practice room than it is onstage during a rehearsal which includes a nerve racking solo!

Having prepared 150%, when concert time arrives, all that's left to do is show up and enjoy the ride.




Saturday, October 17, 2015

Current rep on my music stand

STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20\
  PROKOFIEV: Concerto No. 2 in G Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 16
  TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
  GERSHWIN (F. Campbell-Watson, arr.): Strike Up the Band
  DVORAK: "Allegro con fuoco" from Symphony No. 9 in E Minor,
  GOTTSCHALK (Hershey Kay, arr.): "Grand Walkaround" 
  ARR. (David Frost, arr.): Yankee Doodle
  WILLIAM SCHUMAN: "Chester" from New England Triptych
  SCOTT JOPLIN (Gunther Schuller, ed.): Maple Leaf Rag
  AARON COPLAND: "Variations on a Shaker Melody"
  JOHN WILLIAMS: "Harry's Wondrous World"
  JOHN PHILLIP SOUSA : Stars and Stripes Forever 
  ROSALIE BURRELL – Paved in Gold
  SAAD HADDAD – Kaman Fantasy
  PATRICK O'MALLEY – Even in Paradise
  BERMEL: A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace 
  BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1
  BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 

Yes, this is the rep on my music stand right now.  All of this is to be performed by the Columbus Symphony within the next two weeks.  Among the works are Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Strauss Don Juan, Prokofiev Piano, Brahms Symphony No.2, the infamous Chester movement from Schumann's New England Triptych, Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1, and no fewer than five contemporary works.  My music stand is toppling over from the weight of the music.

In many orchestras, this type of situation is alleviated by assistant principals.  In the Columbus Symphony there are no assistant principal woodwinds, so I play everything.  I'd love to be able to just focus on the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 solos (and REEDS for those solos) while someone else handles some of the other rep, but I won't have that luxury. 

Although orchestral players seem to work few hours from an outsider's point of view (around 20 hours per week is spent in the hall rehearsing and performing), in reality the work never ends.  We bring it home; we make reeds constantly, we study scores and recordings, and we are often working on many different pieces of music at once.

 OK, no more time for blogging......back to the music in front of me!