bassoon blog

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The devil's in the details (Columbus Symphony Russian Winter Festival II)

This week the Columbus Symphony is performing a program of exotic masterpieces as part of its Russian Winter Festival.

This is the program:
Prokofiev - Lieutenant Kije
Borodin - Polovetsian Dances
Rimski-Korsakov - Suite from The Golden Cockerel (Le Coq d'Or)
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture
(And there's also an encore which shall remain a secret.)

The bassoon is not featured heavily in this program as a solo instrument but there is always plenty to keep us occupied.  The details can be daunting.....I noticed that there were 3 intervals which captured much of my attention this week.  An interval, in case any non-musicians are reading this, may be defined as the distance between two notes.  And one of the main intervals vying for my attention this week is the one which opens the first movement Lt. Kije bassoon solo (played here with a metronome on 80 and a drone on Bb):

Often there is a noise between the high Bb and the F below it, thereby ruining the interval.  Smooth playing is one of the great challenges of bassoon playing...left to its own devices, the bassoon sounds pretty rough and rocky.  But in the hands of an aware player, many of those rough edges are smoothed out.  It takes some work though.  To master the interval from high Bb to F, the air and embouchure must be subtly manipulated AND the finger movement from the Bb fingering to the F must be absolutely perfect.  We must will the bassoon to cooperate, as thortugh we're reining in a defiant toddler.

In that same solo, sometimes the Bb to the E natural is also a troublesome interval, benefiting from an embouchure shift on the E.  And finally, the low D to the low Bb might be awkward.  For me it requires a forceful movement of the left thumb.  By this point in the solo, the player has surely moved back on the reed, so the main problem here is the swift and strong motion of the left thumb.

I recommend practicing this solo with a metronome.  The reason is because this is one of the many solos in which the bassoonist tends to lag behind.  Practicing with a metronome prepares the player to keep the tempo moving throughout the solo. I looked at the score to see if there was a tempo marking, and sure enough there was: 80 beats per minute.  As always, though, I practiced with the metronome on faster and slower tempos so that I'm prepared for anything.

Many recordings of this piece feature faulty intonation in this bassoon solo.  Practicing the solo with a sound drone on Bb will greatly reduce the chances of playing out of tune on the solo in the orchestra. This level of preparation may seem like overkill but I think pays off.  It's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

There is a tricky technical passage in the second movement of Lt. Kije which presents a different type of interval challenge - one that is solved by the fingers exclusively - between low Eb and low Gb:

I use the alternate F# key (little finger right hand) but it can be difficult to slide the little finger from the low F key to the alternate F#.  Once again, extra force is needed.....that little finger has to work hard to move cleanly from F to F#.  I recorded myself (with my phone) playing the first 2 bars of the passage a couple of times, clearly establishing the difference between the quintuplet and the four 16ths.  With a precarious passage like this one, recording it accurately provides a degree of assurance for later playing it in the orchestra.

All four of the above mentioned intervals benefit from isolated practice (meaning practicing only the interval).  I recall many a lesson with K. David Van Hoesen when one interval would be played over and over, with discussion, until it really sounded ultra smooth and connected, with the first note clearly leading to the next.  He frequently began lessons by asking to hear a broken arpeggio all slurred, paying very close attention to each interval.

The 4th movement of Lt. Kije features two bassoons and a tenor saxophone in a unison soli beginning a beat before 46:

Good intonation and ensemble are of paramount importance here.  The staccatos are ideally crisp, with clear accents, including the accented eighth at the end of each phrase (which may be the opposite of the way we often end phrases!).  The sixteenths are best double-tongued because of the tempo and character.

That reminds me of something that happened during this afternoon's rehearsal.  Our music director Rossen Milanov summarized with one word what he wanted from the orchestra: character. Similarly, my teacher K. David Van Hoesen used to insist that his students play with character and commitment at all times.  That's a valuable goal to have in mind throughout our musical endeavors.

The first time I ever used double tonguing in an orchestra was in the Borodin Polovetsian Dances.   At the time I assumed it was difficult because I was a double-tonguing novice, but I have since learned that it's an unusually taxing passage (occurring twice, with different notes):
score pages from Borodin Prince Igor (Polovetsian Dances) with tongued bassoon parts encircled
The first and second bassoons both play the exposed passage, and the tempo is extremely's in one, at a tempo of approximately 108 (remember: this is the beat per measure---it's darned fast--if the 6/8 were in two instead of one, the tempo would be 216 per beat!).  I doubt that there's a bassoonist on earth who'd be able to single tongue this, and even double tonguing it isn't easy, probably because it's relentlessly fast and it goes on for a long time.  Especially during my first experience playing this piece, I was really, really glad that I had learned to double tongue.

The first entrance of the first bassoon in the Lento of Rimsky-Korsakov's Le Coq d'Or Suite presents a different type of demanding detail:

It looks's nothing but a D3 in whole notes, right?   Well....the clarinets begin the soft woodwind chord before the 1st bassoon enters, and they are playing very, very, very quietly, as only clarinetists can do.  The entering bassoon is sure to sound like a bull in a china shop.  I actually considered using my flat pp fingering (which means I'd add the first finger of the right hand) but I decided it was too likely to be flat, ruining the intonation of the chord.  So I'm suffering through the entrance with the normal fingering.  I try not to drink coffee within 30 minutes of playing a piece like this, because caffeine makes it harder to control delicate entrances such as this one.  The second bassoon enters a bar later on the B natural below the D of the 1st bassoon.  (I'd much prefer to play the easy-to-control, ultra cooperative B natural!)

In movement III of the Rimsky-Korsakov, the oboe begins an Allegretto solo in 6/8 with the bassoon entering later.  The parts are kind of similar; it sounds as though they are supposed to line up better than they do, as though the oboe and bassoon are clumsily and unsuccessfully trying to dance together. The bassoon solo should equal the oboe solo rather than accompany it, while matching the oboe's staccato and general style:

There is a technically difficult tutti passage in movement IV.  It looks easy enough, but at a fast clip those grace notes leading to the low F are pretty tricky, especially because they're repeated:

The bassoons certainly can't be heard well in the above passages, but it's incumbent on us to do our best to master our entire program including loud tuttis. 

Even Tchaikovsky's bombastic 1812 Overture has some details to fret over.  On the first page there is an exposed passage (beginning in measure 45 with the cellos) which is a technical entanglement in the triplets in measures 47 and 51:

In measure 47 above I use the most basic fingering for Eb (just the 1st and 3rd fingers of the left hand plus the whisper key).  With most reeds, that fingering is in tune on my bassoon although I suspect that fingering may not be useful on all bassoons.  I use that same Eb fingering again in measure 51.  It's a little bit disconcerting the use that fingering, since it's not one that we commonly use, and it can be unstable.  It's hard to trust the fingering, but it is technically preferable. 

As you can see, I wrote in the first note of the next line (Eb) at the end of measure 51 above.  Such visual aids seem to help in difficult technical passages. (No use making a mistake because we don't know what the next note is!)

These are just a few of the daunting details of the first bassoon parts for this weekend's Columbus Symphony concerts.  If you're in the central Ohio area, you can hear it live on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30pm or Friday morning at 10am.  Hope to see you there!


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Tchaikowsky: Manfred Symphony

Tchaikowsky's epic Manfred Symphony (1885) stands out in numerous ways.  It is a multi-movement romantic symphonic poem rather than a numbered symphony, it's Tchaikowsky's longest symphonic work, it's an example of Tchaikowsky using the idée fixe made famous by Berlioz, AND its score includes 3 bassoons often playing in unison in exposed passages.  There are so many exposed bassoon passages is the work that I'd definitely label it bassoon-heavy.

The Manfred Symphony is based upon the dramatic poem Manfred by Lord Byron.  The Russian journalist Vladimir Stassov came up with a sketch of a program for a 4-movement musical composition and asked composer Mili Balakirev to write the music.  Balakirev didn't want to get in over his head so he sent the sketch to Hector Berlioz (an obvious choice considering the success of Berlioz's Harold in Italy which was based on Byron's Childe Harold).  Berlioz, feeling old and sickly at the time, declined, and next Balakirev tried to pass off the project to Tchaikowsky.  Tchaikowsky also balked, not giving in to Balakirev's nagging until years later.  And once he did take on the task, Tchaikowsky quipped that it was "a thousand times pleasanter to compose without a program"!

Tchaikowsky provided the following description of his setting of Manfred in the score:
I. Lento lugubre (B minor, 338 bars)
Manfred wanders in the Alps. Wearied by the fatal questions of existence, tormented by hopeless longings and the memory of past crimes, he suffers terrible spiritual yearnings. He has delved into the occult sciences and commands the mighty powers of darkness, but neither they nor anything in this world can give him the forgetfulness to which alone he vainly aspires. The memory of the lost Astarte, once passionately loved by him, gnaws at his heart, and there is neither limit nor end to Manfred's despair.
II. Vivace con spirito (B minor, 555 bars)
The Alpine Fairy appears to Manfred beneath the rainbow of a waterfall.
III. Andante con moto (G major, 282 bars)
Pastorale. A picture of the simple, free and peaceful life of the mountain folk.
IV. Allegro con fuoco (B minor–B major, 491 bars).
The subterranean palace of Arimanes. An infernal orgy. Appearance of Manfred in the midst of a bacchanal. Evocation and appearance of the spirit of Astarte, who pardons him. Death of Manfred.
In the Manfred Symphony the idée fixe melody, representing Byron's romantic protagonist Manfred, is presented in the opening by 3 bassoons and bass clarinet in unison. (An idée fixe is theme occurring in each movement of a work, lending unity and sometimes a sense of obsession.)

The Manfred Symphony opens with the idée fixe played by 3 bassoons and bass clarinet in unison.
There is usually an unspoken hierarchy for unison passages.  For example, if I'm playing in unison with a horn, I'm going to defer to the horn because it's a louder instrument.  In fact, in unison situations I almost always defer to the other instrument (unless, for example, it's a situation where blending is more important than playing underneath the other instrument).  The main reason for this is that the bassoon is the quietest of all orchestral instruments.  Also, the bassoon is like a chameleon, easily adapting to and blending with whatever musical environment it finds itself thrust into.  Generally, especially in unison situations, we bassoonists make better followers than leaders, let's face it.

Incidentally, when we play with other instruments in octaves or harmony (instead of unison) the priorities may be different.  Achieving the best balance sometimes means that the bassoon, perhaps playing in the lower octave, plays out more than the others.

In the opening of the Manfred, even though it's a unison soli I think it's appropriate for the principal bassoonist to play out like a leader.  There's only one bass clarinet, and the 2nd and 3rd bassoons are likely to follow the 1st bassoon. This passage (along with the later passages featuring the same instrumentation) is traditionally played without vibrato.  The bass clarinet doesn't use vibrato, and I think it might be nightmarish for 3 bassoonists to somehow try to sync their vibrato.  Also, there's no question that playing without vibrato makes it easier to tune with the other players.

This unison soli is played by bassoons 1,2 and 3 and bass clarinet.

The opening statement sets the tone for the entire work, so it's particularly important to aim for a strong but pleasant sound.  I "auditioned" my reeds by turning on a sound drone on low A and playing the opening on each reed.  I sought a reed which easily played in tune AND also had an appealing sound which projected well.  (And it also had to be a new reed, since that's what works best on my 15k Heckel.)

The Manfred Symphony is full of various types of unison soli passages involving the first bassoon, affording ample opportunity to practice being a chameleon.  In measure 38 of the first movement, the opening  idée fixe is stated a fifth higher, using the first and second clarinets instead of bass clarinet.  Here it seems wise for the bassoons to defer to the clarinets who are playing fortissimo.  (Bassoonists must be careful in ff passages to not ruin the sound.....we rarely truly play ff because of the undesirable sound which may result.  Clarinetists don't seem to share that problem with us.)

     Here the idée fixe is stated a fifth higher and the 3 bassoons are joined in unison by the 1st and 2nd clarinets.
Later in the first movement the first bassoon joins the low strings in a unison melodic passage.  Here the bassoonist is free to use vibrato to match the vibrating strings. Also, since this passage involves a large number of players, it's advisable for the bassoonist to play out in a soloistic manner.
Here, the 1st bassoon plays with the lower strings and vibrato is called for.
The second movement, a scurrying scherzo (which is one of my favorite scherzos ever) features some wildly whirling woodwind parts as well as plenty of staccato sixteenths.  When I listened to recordings of this movement without looking at the music, I imagined that the sixteenth note triplets, the staccato sixteenths and also the groups of 2 or 3 eighth notes were beginning ON the beat instead of where they really start (on the offbeat).  I had to re-program my brain with the corrected beat.
When listening to this movement without the music or score, it's easy (for me at least) to be fooled into thinking that each of the above passages are beginning ON the beat!
The 3rd movement offers yet another unison soli combination.  The English horn, 1st clarinet and 1st bassoon share this fff soli:
This fff soli is for English horn, 1st clarinet and 1st bassoon.

Another 3 bassoon/bass clarinet unison soli  appears fairly close to the end of the 4th movement:
Near the end of the 4th movement there is a return to the 3 bassoon plus bass clarinet combo.
The work ends quietly with important bassoon parts.  The 3rd bassoon has a very exposed passage in the last few measures:
The final measures, featuring the bassoons playing quietly
Clearly this monumental work requires much flexibility from the bassoons and presumably for the other instruments as well.  As far as I know, this is the only work for which Tchaikowsky wrote 3 bassoon parts. Sometimes those 3 bassoons play important parts in unison, and other times the 3rd bassoon is assigned challenging passages not included in the other parts.  His orchestration seems quite revolutionary and experimental.  (There are also 2 harps in this work, reminiscent of Berlioz.)

If you'd like to enjoy a rare opportunity to hear this work performed live, the Columbus Symphony is performing it this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Ohio Theatre under the direction of Music Director Rossen Milanov.  Also on the program is the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Natasha Paremski.



Friday, December 20, 2019

The art of bassoon maintenance

I'd say the bassoon is a bit unusual in that it's possible (although certainly not ideal) for its players to ignore its maintenance for years at a time, and the bassoon still seems to work.  Right?  That's the way it always seemed to me.  (I know of a professional player whose bassoon has not seen a repair-person during this century.)  On the other hand, players of other instruments seem obsessed with constant maintenance performed at least once a year.

In case there's any confusion around what I mean by "maintenance", routine maintenance on a bassoon usually involves re-seating or replacement of pads as needed; replacement of worn felts, cork stops and guide post tape; re-corking of bocal; adjustment, tightening and regulation of mechanisms; application of grease and oil; and general cleaning of the instrument.

A few years ago my very highly regarded bassoon repairman retired, and I wasn't at all sure what to do after that.  I asked around about other repairmen and received a variety of responses.  I'm pretty fussy about my equipment and I really liked the current state of my bassoon, but eventually I'd have to have it serviced again, right?   It seemed to be working just fine, but how long could I continue to deny the fact that I no longer have a repairman (and my bassoon is no longer receiving maintenance)?

In early December a good friend, also a bassoonist, offered to take me along on his next appointment at Paul Nordby Bassoon Repair in Indianapolis.  This friend said he needed work done on his bassoon, but hey, maybe I should bring mine along too, just in case (he understood my trepidation about switching repairmen).....I actually set my fears aside and went along with it.  Long story short, Paul Nordby accomplished something which I didn't know could be accomplished - he basically overhauled my bassoon during one 5-hour sitting.  And I watched, hovering like a helicopter parent.  He totally disassembled my bassoon while maintaining conversation (something I couldn't have done for all the tea in fact, I could barely converse while only observing).

Paul had me test the bassoon a couple of times.  I'm the type who is very affected by acoustics.  I had never heard the acoustics in Paul Nordby's studio before, so my bassoon sounded totally different to me (I realized too late that I should have tested the acoustics before the repairwork was done so that I'd have a baseline).  I was also distracted by how different it looked - it appeared to be brand new.  If I were a repairman, I think I'd really enjoy working on a new Heckel like mine because the end result is a brand new-looking bassoon which plays better than new (because it's more broken in).  The only useful information I extracted from my testing in his shop was that the bassoon still played, and that was enough to send me on my way with my friend who probably wished I had given a more clear stamp of approval.

The true test occurred a week later, unexpectedly.  The day after the trip to Indianapolis, the Columbus Symphony began rehearsing for Holiday Pops.  Unfortunately there weren't any real bassoon solos on the program so I couldn't tell much.  But the next week, we began our lengthy Nutcracker run.

Now, I've played the Nutcracker a few times in my day......untold hundreds.  (I wish I'd kept track.)  The Nutcracker proved very valuable for determining the difference in my bassoon resulting from its recent maintenance.  As many bassoonists know, there are some challenges in the first bassoon part of the Nutcracker. This is one that comes to mind:

During the rehearsal I was shocked to find out that this passage was 10 times easier than it's ever been before.  What had changed?  The only changed factor was the maintenance performed on my bassoon.  I guess it's reasonable to conclude that difficult technical passages benefit from a bassoon which is operating as well as it can mechanically.  Maybe that's why Paul mentioned a bassoonist who always came to see him right before important performances.

While in Indianapolis I was shocked by what came out of my tone holes.....I thought I did a really good job of keeping my bassoon clean.  So how on earth did debris end up in the tone holes?  I'm baffled.  I became understandably nervous as I anticipated the intonation changes which would surely result from the tone holes being suddenly cleaned out, but once I played the instrument I forgot all about that.....until I played the Nutcracker.  Now, my bassoon has always played pretty well in tune, but I'll admit that I always had to fuss with the D above middle C, the one held out for a few measures in the middle of the Arabian Dance.  After Paul Nordby's cleaning of the tone holes, the D came out in tune without tweaking.  And it cooperated nicely on the long diminuendo.

So this is why we maintain our bassoons.  If we really want them to function as the manufacturer intended (Paul quipped that he doubted that Heckel intended the instrument to be played with debris in the tone holes) then constant maintenance is necessary.

Now the only problem is that the Nutcracker is becoming boring without all those challenges caused by a less-than-optimally-functioning bassoon.......


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Contrabassoon for sale

 My recent post about the contrabassoon inspired an email exchange with contrabassoonist William Safford.  He has an excellent Fox Fast System contrabassoon for sale.  For anyone who is already playing professionally or who is thinking about a possible career as a contrabassoonist, this instrument could be life-changing (and career-changing). 

The Fast system contrabassoon was developed by Arlen Fast, contrabassoonist of the New York Philharmonic.  Arlen explains in this comprehensive article why it was necessary to rethink the contrabassoon.  I know from a recent phone conversation about the Herzberg profiler with Arlen Fast  that he is an absolutely brilliant man whose mind knows no limits.
Image result for fast system contrabassoon
Arlen Fast, NY Phil contrabassoonist and developer of the Fast system contrabassoon
William Safford explained to me that the Fast system is an enormous improvement over the standard contrabassoon in the upper range starting with half-hole G.  Notes such as written middle C, C#, D and Eb are all in tune, sounding clear and resonant with matching tone colors and no cracking.  Also no cross fingerings are required (except an optional one on Eb).  The middle C to high Bb slur in the Mother Goose solo speaks with more clarity and ease than on a bassoon.  The instrument plays all the way through the treble clef with beauty, security, and resonance.

Based upon what I've heard about the Fast system contra, I'm wishing that Arlen would get to work on a Fast system bassoon!!

Here is the Musical Chairs ad for William's contrabassoon for sale:

Fox Fast System Contrabassoon #5xx

Fox Fast System Contrabassoon #5xx, pic 1
Fox Fast System Contrabassoon #5xx, pic 2
Fox Fast System Contrabassoon #5xx, pic 3
Click images to enlarge

Price: $39,000 USD

One owner. The patented five-vent register system, with two semi-automatic mechanisms and three keys, greatly improves intonation, tone, and clarity of attack of the mid- and high ranges, with more than a four octave range and simplified fingerings. It is equipped with the standard Fast system keywork, plus F# trill and right thumb Ab keys.

In excellent condition, it has an incredibly even, resonant, and clear scale.

It is the right instrument for a professional or aspiring professional contrabassoonist. Fast-system instruments are being played by members of the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, and others.

Available immediately. Includes the instrument freshly serviced at the Fox factory, one Fox #2 bocal, and the original hard case. Located in upstate New York.

Link to the issue of the Double Reed, with information on Fast system:
William Safford
Tel: 518-281-8153  Email:

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Contrabassoon for Dummies

This post is intended for the type of contra player who still needs a fingering chart.
 If you are a bassoonist who is suddenly called upon to play the contra for the first time, maybe as a student receiving a seating assignment in band or orchestra, or as a professional serving as an emergency replacement for the real contra player, then this post is for you.  This is a presentation of a few basic facts about the contra which will most likely enable a clueless bassoonist to conquer the contra.

There are a few basic differences between bassoon and contra.  The one which stands out the most to me is the contra's lack of whisper key.
It's true....there is NO whisper key on the contra!

Once we get over the fact that there's no whisper key, the second major challenge is hand and finger placement.

I had a lot of trouble figuring out where to place my right hand and fingers.  I kept trying to place my first finger on the alternate Eb key.
Another difference between bassoon and contra is the manner in which Eb2 (the second octave Eb on the instrument) is played.  This is the contra fingering for the note:

Here are the keys for the left hand fingers.  As you can see, the Eb key is situated above the C key and below the D key:

Here are the keys for the left hand fingers (not labeled are the low Eb and low C# keys which are the same as on the bassoon).  Notice that there are no open holes for the fingers on the contra.
The contrabassoon does not require the use of half-holes.  Instead, the second octave F#, G and G# require no first finger of the left hand at all.

There is a movable hand rest or hand support on the contra:

The player's left hand goes underneath the support.  The support is adjustable, and it can really help stabilize the hand position if it's correctly adjusted.

Unlike the bassoon, the contra has a tuning slide which is moved by pushing or pulling the ring at the bottom:

And the contra has a spit valve, which in my opinion should be used liberally:
It seems to be helpful to blow into the contra while opening the spit valve.  If you don't remove the reed first, you might find yourself creating an embarrassing noise.

What about the reed?  I had no idea where to buy a contra reed so I did some quick research online and saw a recommendation for GoBassoon contra reeds.  I ordered one and it looked perfect.  I know from my experience with bassoon reeds that looks can be deceiving, but when I played on this reed I was thrilled with its sound and response.  I highly recommend GoBassoon contra reeds.

Hopefully this post provides enough information for the novice to get through the first rehearsal.  If anyone tells you that you shook the stage, you'll know you're well on your way to conquering the contra.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Characteristics of a top-notch wind quintet

Today I was blown away by a recital by the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet presented by Chamber Music Columbus in the Southern Theatre.

Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
The touring quintet performed the following works, with an intermission in the middle: 

Mozart: Three Fantasies for mechanical organ
Haas: Quintet, Op. 10
Ligeti: Six Bagatelles
Nielsen: Quintet for Winds, Op. 43

The Southern Theatre acoustics generally enable a very present sound, but the quality is dry (with no reverberation).  A lesser ensemble would have struggled to sound good in such a dry acoustic, but not this group.  These players knew how to skillfully finish each phrase in a way that made up for the dryness of the hall, almost as if they created their own resonance by the way they tapered the ends of notes and phrases.

It's safe to say that I've never heard a wind quintet of this quality before, not even on recordings.  What a tall order it is to successfully blend such an ill-matched group of instruments, yet this group pulled it off.  The instruments matched as well as they possibly could have; the level of homogeneity was astonishing.

How did they accomplish this?  To me it seemed that each player willingly and easily "took the back seat", only springing forth with extra volume when called upon by a solo line.  Much of the time, the entire ensemble took the back seat, with the blend...the perfect blend.....being the top priority.  No one tried to stand out as a virtuoso - there was no competition for the spotlight.  If one player did have a prominent line, the other four players totally accommodated that player as if their lives depended on it.  Consideration was the name of the game.

Never was the sound of any individual player forced.  Each player was a master of the pianissimo.  And when all five of them played pianissimo together, the sound was not five times louder than one instrument playing pianissimo - it was true pianissimo.  It may well have been the quietest wind playing I've ever heard.  Yet when it was time to shine, each individual rose to the occasion.  I thought the horn player had the smallest sound I'd ever heard UNTIL it was his turn to take a solo, and then I found out how wrong I was - he was also a brilliant and commanding soloist!

The audience expected a great performance.....they're from the Berlin Phil after all.  But I think everyone was amazed at just how impressive they were!  During the concert I found myself mentally listing the outstanding characteristics of the ensemble, and here's what I came up with:

Characteristics of a top-notch wind quintet

1. Blending of sound is prioritized, which often means that the louder instruments back off.
2. Ensemble (playing perfectly together) is prioritized at all times.
3. Pianissimo playing is highly refined, with perfect intonation.
4. Tremendous attention is paid to note endings and phrase endings.
5. Each player is constantly considerate of the other players' parts.
6. The individual sounds are never forced.

Today's concert program with a mistake on the cover!


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

reed making tip

A student recently asked me if my reeds ever crack during the reed-making process and unfortunately my answer was an emphatic YES.   I don't take it lightly, either......each time a reed cracks I manage to convince myself that the cracked reed would have been the reed of my lifetime if only I hadn't destroyed it.   Depression ensues once the anger's all part of the mourning process.

In my experience the cracking almost always happens during the tip profiling step.  The blade on the underside of the large metal plaque that the reed is inserted on for profiling is the one which cracks.  While the top blade is being profiled, the bottom blade is cracking.
the devastating sight of a cracked blade when the reed is turned over after tip profiling the other blade

This does not indicate a flaw in the tip profiling machine, though.  (I highly recommend using a tip profiler!)  I suspect that the cracking is most likely caused by not soaking the reed long enough before insertion onto the plaque.  Also it seems that when I'm impatient while making reeds, I'm much more likely to end up ruining the reed.  I've been known to become overzealous with the knife during the shaping step with dreadful results, for example.

Although my reeds rarely crack, today was one of those days.  Today's cracked reed could have been a victim of not enough soaking (it was soaked for maybe 5 minutes) before tip profiling, and I was definitely in a hurry (which is why I only soaked it for 5 minutes!).

It's time to slow down, take a deep breath and get back to the drawing board......and remember:

Don't make reeds when you're in a hurry!