musings of a professional bassoonist

Friday, August 27, 2010

Nagging questions

One of the most perplexing, nagging questions I have regarding the bassoon has to do with swabs.  I have 2 swabs in my case: a pull-through silk swab for the boot, and a pull-through silk swab for the tenor joint.  Swabs scare the devil out of me.  I am one of those unfortunate bassoonists who has had a stuck swab, and mine was BAD.  It was stuck in the tenor joint, and I think it happened because of knotting in the string.  (I no longer allow even the slightest knot to appear in either of my swabs!)  I can't describe the procedure which finally extracted the swab because it was so traumatic, but it involved Herculean efforts on the parts of 4 people, one of whom was bassoon repairman Carl Sawicki who provided amazing telephone coaching.

Back to the question: I have never understood how the wet swabs could possibly dry out between swabbings.  I always roll them up and place them back in the closed bassoon case after I swab.  I would think that the swabs would have to be left out to air dry in order to really dry out, but I don't do that for fear of dust getting on them.  (I have an obsessive fear of tiny particles getting under one of the bassoon's pads.  During the Nutcracker ballet, there were a couple of times when a few tiny paper snowflakes came down into the orchestra pit during performances.  Each time, I jumped out of my chair and ran out of the pit, with the bassoon, for fear of a wayward snowflake wrecking the instrument.)

I am curious about what other bassoonists do about drying out their swabs (or not).  It's important, because running a moist swab through the boot can undoubtedly lead to problems since the wooden side is supposed to remain dry at all times.  I drop the rubber weight of the swab through the wooden side first, so that the moist, lined side does not get the wooden side wet.

I mentioned Carl Sawicki who is my highly regarded repairman in Texas.  I am curious about who else is highly regarded in bassoon repair.  A good bassoon repairman is hard to find, and each of us should have a backup repairman in case our favorite becomes unavailable.  So who do you use?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, August can be a great time to practice productively, free from the challenges related to learning specific orchestral parts.  I have been spending a lot of time practicing in the high range- in fact, some days I only practice in the high range.  (That's a good way to strengthen the embouchure, also.)

Ever since I received my new Heckel I have been trying to figure out the best possible fingerings for each of the high notes.  It takes time to break in the high range, so the fingerings I chose at first are not currently the best.  Now, I find that using the high D key is best for C4 and higher.  On C#4, I no longer use both the C and D keys; I use only the D.  I'd like to know which left thumb keys other bassoonists use for the high notes.

Do you have an opinion about types of seat straps?  Some players prefer cup straps, which I'm using now, but some prefer hook straps.  How about you?  I've heard some bassoonists claim that the hook type can place too much stress on the U-tube, which seems odd to me.

OK, that's probably enough questions for one post.  To consolidate my questions, here they are:

1.  Do you dry out your swabs after swabbing?
2.  Who is your repairman (or who have you heard positive comments about)?
3.  Which left thumb keys do you use for high C4 and above?
4.  What type of seat strap do you use?

Please either comment at the end of this post or email me at betstur@aol.com.  I will post the results, anonymously so that no names are attached to responses.

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7 comments:

Bret said...

Hi Betsy,

1. No, I don't bother drying out my swabs. I tend to think that keeping the bore "dry" doesn't necessarily mean bone-dry. I think the important thing is that there isn't moisture that has pooled, beaded up, or otherwise collected. I live in a very humid climate, and I could swab all day and the wood would still have a high moisture content.

About swabs getting stuck--I also avoid any/all knots. I have also taken to swabbing starting from the narrow end. I base this on the theory that the swab is most likely to get stuck at the narrowest point, and that if I'm swabbing from narrow to wide, it will get stuck with most of the swab still outside the bassoon for easier removal. (I do this with my oboe, too.) The objection I've heard is that this brings moisture from the narrow end farther into the instrument. I don't mind this, because of my point about dryness (above).

2. James Keyes in Nashville(?) does good work. He worked with Arthur Weisberg on developing the "future bassoon." I have also used Chad Taylor in Ottawa, IL, who James Keyes recommended to me at one point when he was swamped with pre-IDRS-conference repair jobs.

3. Pass. I look forward to reading others' responses.

4. I use a hook, because it just feels more secure to me (though I can't give a convincing reason why). I agree that it seems an odd/unconvincing argument that it somehow damages the U-tube.

Cheers,
Bret

B.S. said...

Thank you, Bret. It makes sense that the bore doesn't have to be bone dry. (Many musicians place dampits in their cases to increase humidity!) I think you're right about just making sure that moisture doesn't collect so that it can damage the wood or pad.

I didn't realize that James Keyes was the one who worked with Arthur Weisberg. Your responses were very helpful!

Betsy

bassoon said...

Hi Betsy,

1. No dry swabs for me. I also have a water key on the bottom of the 13000 series Heckel that gets all the excess out during rehearsals and before a concert and I leave the bassoon on the stand upright where possible. Never have any water gurgles even in cold venues. Both sides of boot joint are lined on this instrument so again it's more as Bret says - getting rid of any pooled moisture. I have a thin swab for wing joint that gets rid of excess but isn't triangular and so big that it can get stuck as I can imagine getting it stuck is a very scary thing!

2. In UK we have Neil Allen at the Howarth factory in South England who saves the day time and time again. He is a bassoon PLAYER too which makes such a difference.

3. Benson Bell did some fabulous work on the Heckel before I had it with different liners on the vent keys that make the top of this instrument AMAZING and mean that I can get the top C4 to E very easily on a variety of crooks (currently using Leitzinger bocals as they give me the most stable response and biggest dynamic range I have ever experienced though keep my Heckel CC1 for less extreme ranges and requirements). The D key does seem to be better for top C as you say (as our instruments are not that far apart in terms of design).

4. Dutch leg support for me! I will post some pictures of my "standing up" use of harness, balance hanger and an upside down thing in the hole of my dutch leg support as this has become the closest position to sitting down I have achieved when I need to stand for recitals etc. Would be interested in how others who use a seat strap find standing up! It feels like the instrument is too close for me with my long arms. ;-)

Best Tom http://www.tomhardybassoon.com/

Anonymous said...

Betsy:
1)-I use silk pull through swabs. One for wing and sometimes 2 simultaneously for boot. I do not do anything special to dry them. Sometimes my daughter will iron them for me

2)-I bought my Fox Bassoon from Jim Laslie in Indiannapolis and prefer him and Paul Nordby. I also have used Bruce McCall in Knoxville who does excellent work on both Oboe and Bassoon. Bruce is about a 3 hour drive for me, and Jim and Paul are closer to 8, so I drive my Bassoon to Bruce and spend the day in Knoxville (playing golf, usually) and then drive back home that evening.

3)-hiC4 I use hi C key, hiC# I use either both C and D keys or just hi D key, hiEb and hiE I use hi D key or somtimes I'll use long fingerings for Eb or E, hiF involves slurring from long hiE fingering which is the only way I can reliably get hiF

4)- I always use a Fox seat strap with hook into the bottom of the boot. I do not stand to play Bassoon, although I am beginning to reconsider this choice.

Love your blog..please keep it up

Frank Watson
Greenville (SC) Symphony
Spartanburg Philharmonic
Converse College
Presbyterian College

Frank said...

Betsy:
1)-I use silk pull through swabs. One for wing and sometimes 2 simultaneously for boot. I do not do anything special to dry them. Sometimes my daughter will iron them for me

2)-I bought my Fox Bassoon from Jim Laslie in Indiannapolis and prefer him and Paul Nordby. I also have used Bruce McCall in Knoxville who does excellent work on both Oboe and Bassoon. Bruce is about a 3 hour drive for me, and Jim and Paul are closer to 8, so I drive my Bassoon to Bruce and spend the day in Knoxville (playing golf, usually) and then drive back home that evening. I hate the thought of shipping my bassoon anyplace.

3)-hiC4 I use hi C key, hiC# I use either both C and D keys or just hi D key, hiEb and hiE I use hi D key or somtimes I'll use long fingerings for Eb or E, hiF involves slurring from long hiE fingering which is the only way I can reliably get hiF

4)- I always use a Fox seat strap with hook into the bottom of the boot. I do not stand to play Bassoon, although I am beginning to reconsider this choice.

Anonymous said...

Betsy..I tried to delete the duplicate post...no luck...sorry

-Frank Watson

Rebecca said...

Hi Betsy,

Cool poll!

1. I live in the desert, so I don't worry about anything retaining any moisture--I just roll up the swab and stick it back in the case.

2. I play a Fox 601 which I used to send back to the factory, but they take a really long time. I've been using Keith Bowen in Seattle for a while, which means shipping the bassoon.

3. for high C, I use the C key. For everything else, I usually use just the D key.

4. I prefer a seat strap with a hook. The cup always seems to hard to get on for me. If I'm standing, I have a harness I bought from Miller Marketing but I'm not sure of the brand.

Rebecca Cain
Tucson Symphony Orchestra