musings of a professional bassoonist

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Reed Year

 Today is the day to begin numbering your reeds at 1 again.  I highly recommend this easy method of keeping track of the number of reeds you make each year.  My goal is to make a reed a day.   For an oboist, that goal would be more than reasonable.  For a bassoonist, though, that's a LOT of reeds, and I have never actually produced 365 in a year....not yet, anyway.  Usually I make approximately 200 reeds a year.  I sell a few of them, reject a lot of them, and play on the rest, at a rate of at least one reed per week because, as I often state on this blog, I don't like to play on old reeds.  Yes, I do have blanks left over at the end of the year, and for me, that's a necessity.  I must have a backlog (I still have a few untouched blanks from 2011) in order to avoid the dreaded reed crisis.
my first blank of 2014
There are many reasons why it behooves reed makers to attempt to make reeds daily.  I used to have a habit of reed cramming - making huge numbers of reeds in one fell swoop, and then not making reeds again for a long time after that marathon.   But sporadic reed making is not ideal because it's very possible for our reed making skills to become rusty.  For me it's especially noticeable with shaping and also with hand profiling which I always do before using the profiling machine.  (Pre-profiling by hand preserves the profiler blade.)  Also, I'm more likely to forget something, such as applying the bottom wire which I add temporarily during the forming stage, if I'm out of practice with reed making.  Furthermore, my profiler always seems a bit out-of-whack after a period of dormancy.  For me, reed making has to be constant in order for me to really stay on top of things.
this is what my blanks look like when my reedmaking skills are well-honed
And there's another really good (albeit strange) reason to make reeds regularly as opposed to sporadically.  A few days ago, a couple of my tools were suddenly missing.  My (expensive) reamer and rat tail file mysteriously disappeared
reamer and rat tail file

This was a serious problem, since I needed those two tools for finishing my reeds.  I looked everywhere.  Since I had just used those tools the day before, I couldn't imagine what had happened.  Finally, as a last resort, I decided to go through the trash.  Lo and behold, I had apparently tossed both tools into the garbage after reaming and filing the inside of a reed.  There they were,mingling with the unsavory items which really did belong in the trash.
the trash surrounding the missing reed tools
If I had not worked on reeds the next day after inexplicably tossing these items in the trash, my precious reed tools would have taken up permanent residence in the city dump, never to be found.  I took that as a sign that indeed, daily (or nearly daily) reed making is the way to go.

Yet another reason for constant, consistent reed making is that it enables experimentation.  I don't see how it would be possible to figure out which cane or which gouge is working best for you if you are not constantly monitoring your reeds.  The more regular reed making I engage in, the more aware I am of which cane, gouge, and profiler adjustment is really working.  The blanks I made in 2011 will be of some value, since I marked the cane source, but the passage of time has erased my knowledge of certain details such as what particular batch the cane was from, and whether or not the profiler blade was sharp or dull.  I am totally in touch with the blanks I made two weeks ago, and I know that the profiler blade had just been sharpened and that I was struggling with the height of the blade at that particular time.  Those details help me make better reeds because I have access to valuable information about what's working and what's not.  Reed making doesn't have to be a total crapshoot!

May the new year bring a deluge of responsive and resonant reeds to each of us.



Rich G said...

Hi Betsy,
I've read your blog with interest especially the preparation performance hints. I'm a reformed saxophonist that in later life turned to the true path of bassoonery. Currently I am principal in a midwest community orchestra. For our May concert we have programmed Respighi's Botticelli Triptych - I'm pretty excited to have this opportunity and starting to work on it now. Have you ever considered a blog post on this work? I'm probably not the only one that could profit by it. Thanks, Rich

B.S. said...

Rich, I will indeed post about the Respighi. I'll try to post it within a few days.

Thanks for your interest!