musings of a professional bassoonist

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween bassoon excerpts

Last night the Columbus Symphony performed a Halloween Pops concert under the direction of Albert-George Schram. Here's a review of the concert:
Music Review | Columbus Symphony: Pops season begins on Halloween high note

I was surprised to discover that the Halloween repertoire features so many challenges for the bassoon.  It would be possible to hold a principal bassoon audition based upon Halloween repertoire alone!

For tonguing, there is no greater test than "Sleigh-Ride" from The Devil and Daniel Webster by Bernard Herrmann.  Take a look:

Here's a closer look:

The tempo requires this passage to be double-tongued, and of course, double-tonguing is quite difficult in the lower range of the bassoon.  Low range double-tonguing varies greatly from reed to reed, and I was fortunate to find a reed that cooperated.  I still had to practice it, though, using my usual approach of first perfecting it all slurred and then adding the tonguing.  I kept my fingers very close to the holes for this passage, which is a technique promoted by my teacher K. David Van Hoesen.

I had never heard this intriguing little piece before.  It has an eerie quality to it, making it a wise choice for Halloween.  I'm glad to have another tongue-twister under my belt.

A more familiar number on this program was the Saint-Saens Danse Macabre, a Halloween staple.

At letter A, the bassoon and oboe play the melody in octaves.  This solo can be a finger twister.  I like to practice it at a range of tempos so that I'm ready for anything, and so that I'm capable of moving it if I have to.  When practicing a passage like this in which the fingers can become entangled, I focus on complete relaxation above all.  As soon as tension sets in, the fingers seize up.  This type of passage is another example of one which I practice all slurred, to ensure that the fingers are moving with total evenness.

Here's another Halloween piece which was new to me:

The solo starting in measure 21 is awkward at the fast cut-time tempo.  For odd passages like this, the best solution seems to be familiarity.  I went over it slowly many times to make it automatic, focusing on being relaxed at all times.  As soon as tension creeps in, the accuracy diminishes.

Mussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain is another Halloween favorite.  Two of its tricky passages appear on this page:

At the top of the page, the bassoon joins the oboe in octaves to provide the melody.  If your fingers are secure, you have the freedom to employ a bit of rubato and push ahead on the eighths.  For me, the coordination between tongue and fingers is best ensured by first practicing the passage all slurred. (I know- I keep saying this!)

Five measures after F, the 1st clarinet and 1st bassoon start an accelerando.  Once again, if your technique is secure, alteration brought about by either rubato or tempo change is no problem.  I always try to prepare passages to such a level which allows for such flexibility.  You never know what's going to happen in the orchestra.....

I'm sure there's a bassoon audition list appropriate for each holiday- in fact, I'm already envisioning a Christmas audition list.  The Tchaikowsky Nutcracker Ballet (the complete ballet, not the suite) provides plenty of fodder for a bassoon audition- add to that the Resphighi Adoration of the Magi, and every imagineable aspect of bassoon playing is covered!


T.B. said...

As far as pops concerts go (they were never my favorite, LOL), you had some great stuff to play! All that was missing was some Berlioz :)

Does Vets have a real organ?

Today a friend and I took our kids to NYU to see "Harold and the Purple Crayon". I drove there AND back in one piece, LOL. My world has changed...

Next: Hanukkah bassoon repetoire.

(*pin drop*)

B.S. said...

Hah! That was exactly what I was thinking- we should have played movements 4 and 5 of Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique!! Then the bassoon audition list would have been quite complete.

Vets had a real organ last night. It sounded good.

Oh, I remember Harold and the Purple Crayon! What fun- and you survived the drive to boot.

Yes, the pin is indeed dropping...

NewFirePW said...

Ah...some of the old favorites! Thanks for sharing! I agree with B. S. - the Berlioz would have rounded it out nicely. I did "The Devil and Daniel Webster" YEARS ago! (That passage reminds me of Colpand's RODEO - closest bassoonists seem to come to "fiddling"! LOL)

T. B. - write some Bsn. Quartets for Hanukkah! That would be fun...

B.S. said...

Great idea, NewFirePW- how about writing some Hanukkah Bassoon Quartets, T.B.?

T.B. said...

Oh, thanks a LOT. Now I have an earworm: "Dreidel, Dreidel Dreidel..."

I think that something worth writing (or playing) would be too obscure for even bassoonists... Nah, maybe not bassoonists!

I have a Jewish exercise CD (I tap my toe to it... it's progress) that has an awesome version of "David Melech Yisrael". Every Jewish toddler knows this song, but this rendition is accompanied by fiddling that is so anachronistic, it's cool. I am no fan of anything remotely country either, so when I'm jamming to my air fiddle, my husband gets a strange look on his face and leaves the room...

Can you imagine a bassoon quartet noodling bluegrass-style to "Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah, come light the menorah, let's have a party, we'll all dance the hora..."

People would point and laugh. Including Kenny Sidle. Then the bassoonists would take a bow and pick the splinters of cane out of their tongues, LOL...

T.B. said...

Ah! I found it!! Go here and click on Dovid Hamelech:

B.S. said...

T.B., I think you're onto something here. Bluegrass Hanukkah for Bassoon Quartet is something that's never been done before, and now, after checking out your link, I'm thinking there might be a bassoon quartet exercise CD on the horizon.....we'd need a drummer, though.

T.B. said...

Got one. My 6 year old just started playing and he'd be perfect for the job... he's got great rhythm, steady beat, subdivides... so far he has a snare and high hat that a friend gave us. We don't need any more than that, do we?

B.S. said...

Your son sounds perfect- he's young, rhythmic, and good looking- what more could we ask for?