Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rhythmic fingering on bassoon--a K. David Van Hoesen concept

Rhythmic (or rhythmical) fingering is a concept I rarely hear about these days, yet during my student years at the Eastman School of Music I heard about it plenty from my teacher, K. David Van Hoesen.  He believed that rhythmic fingering was an important (yet often ignored) aspect of bassoon playing.  When he first brought it up in one of my lessons, he admitted that it could be very difficult to teach.  Then he mentioned that one of his students who was particularly sharp (not in pitch, but in brainpower!) had picked up on it instantly.  I wanted to be like that student, so I've been applying the rhythmic fingering concept since that very day.

Imagine playing a series of notes all slurred.  Your fingers move from the note you're on to the next note at the precise moment of changing notes.  Next, remove the slur and play each note staccato.  Unless you've been trained to use rhythmic fingering, you will likely notice that your fingers move early, in anticipation of the next note rather then waiting until the precise moment of changing notes.  Of course if you use rhythmic fingering, then your fingers will move exactly the same way they moved when you were slurring.

Why does this matter?

As K.David Van Hoesen used to say, many difficult passages can be smoothed out with a rhythmic approach to fingering.  It certainly reinforces rhythm when tongue and fingers are synchronized.  Besides, it's awfully hard to imagine a valid argument in favor of haphazard movement of the fingers.  How can that possibly lead to clarity and rhythmic accuracy?
 "Obviously in slurred passages the tongue and fingers must be coordinated, but in separated note passages (tongued passages) the same coordination between tongue and fingers should be present, but often isn't."  - K. David Van Hoesen
Finger/tongue coordination is a consciously developed habit. When fingerings and tonguing are both rhythmically conceived, they will always coincide.  If my students have trouble with tongue/finger coordination in a tongued passage, I instruct them to play the passage all slurred, thereby establishing rhythmic fingering.  Once the passage is rock solid all slurred, then the articulation is added.  This method works amazingly well.



Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Beeswax for Bassoon Reeds

Shortly after starting my job with the Columbus Symphony, someone contacted me to ask if I taught bassoon lessons.  I wasn't sure how to respond, since I was busy trying to figure out how to play principal bassoon in an orchestra and felt that I had my hands full with that.  Teaching was not really on my radar.  So I called my teacher, K. David Van Hoesen to ask him if I should teach.  He said yes, I had to teach....I'd learn from my students.....teaching would force me to analyze what I'm would help me figure out what works and what doesn't......etc., etc. He convinced me that teaching protects against complacency and stagnation.  So I taught.

And he was right, as usual.  A recent example of learning from my students has to do with sealing bassoon reeds.  Many bassoonists use glue to secure the binding on the reed and to prevent leakage and shifting of the blades.  I always used Duco Cement even though I have long been aware of its toxicity.  One of my students at the Capital University Conservatory of Music asked if I'd ever used beeswax to seal reeds.  No, I hadn't, and I was only vaguely aware that some reed makers do use it.  Further investigation ensued.

First I bought a brick of beeswax for $10.95 on Amazon.  Then I researched the matter online.  The one complaint I read about using beeswax was the problem of the binding becoming loose.  The way I make reeds, Duco cement is applied underneath the binding before wrapping the reed.  This prevents the binding from shifting later.  Once I began this practice, I have not had any issues whatsoever with loose binding.  So if Duco cement can be used underneath the wrapping, it stands to reason that beeswax can be used as an alternative underneath the wrapping.  The wax is fairly easy to place where it needs to be on the blank, and then a heat source such as a candle flame is used to melt it slightly, making it harden and adhere to the reed.

My students at Capital University were concerned about candles setting off the fire alarms.
(Note: This speaks volumes about their level of maturity......I recall my classmates at Eastman purposely setting off fire alarms for entertainment, especially at the dorms in the middle of the night!)  My Capital University students are not only mature-- they're also innovative.  One of them solved the fire problem by coming up with the excellent idea to use a soldering iron as the heat source.

Here is a Capital University bassoon major demonstrating the application of beeswax to seal the reed, both underneath and then on top of the wrapping.  He is using a battery-operated soldering iron (cost:$22.81):

The reed is immediately available as soon as the beeswax is hardens immediately.  You can soak the reed, cut the tip, play on it, and proceed with finishing right after applying the beeswax. The immediate availability of the reed after wrapping is a big plus, along with the non-toxicity.


We had mixed conclusions, ranging from liking beeswax enough to use it exclusively to planning to never use it again.  My opinion is that I found the beeswax too messy to deal with efficiently and effectively, perhaps because the beeswax I ordered was the cheapest available (or because I'm a klutz when it comes to the manipulation of beeswax).  I shared one student's observation that the binding was not secure enough....I was afraid the beeswaxed reeds might fall apart at an inopportune moment!  Most importantly though, it took too much time.  I'm already a slow reed-maker, so adding a few more minutes onto my time required to make a reed is not an option.  I'm disappointed though, because I love the fact that beeswax is nontoxic (assuming the bees were not exposed to pesticides or herbicides).  I have not sworn off beeswax forever; I'll probably give it another try someday, maybe with a higher quality beeswax.

We "gave it the old college try" as my teacher K. David Van Hoesen used to say.  If worse comes to worst and you decide you prefer not to use beeswax after trying it, you can always make beeswax candles out of it!