Last month I received my Bell bassoon! I had ordered it in fall of 2019 and Benson gave me the heads up that it was almost finished in February. I am VERY slow to learn new equipment and it takes me forever to get the muscle memory of new shaped keys into my technique. My experience with the new horn so far had been great and I have been playing it exclusively since it arrived. Now I wanted to play them both back and forth to get some sound/resonance comparisons. I found this really confusing because the keys are in different locations and so my Heckel playing suffered, but I think from the video you can get the sense of the differences. The playing experience is quite different, I can only really explain the Bell as being more “juicy” and the Heckel as “dry” I still have a lot of work to do to figure out the Bell further!
“Largo al factotum” from the Barber of Seville, this is one of the six arias from the opera that have been set as a bassoon duet. The first time I played this was at a fiend’s bassoon recital. This is a flashy aria, but the others are more lyrical and all of them are comical!
Erlkönig is a popular piece of voice repertoire that gets performed often in conservatories. So I remember hearing this at friends’ recitals when I was in school.
The piece is the setting of poetry of the same name by Goethe. It describes a Father and Son riding through the woods at night on horseback, being followed by Erlkönig (Elf King). The Father can’t see Erlkönig and eventually the son is killed. Schubert’s setting of this is clever in that he uses different ranges in the voice to represent the characters. So one single singer portrays all of parts.
My bassoon arrangement has the two middle bassoon parts do the heavy lifting by playing constant triplets. It makes for a good articulation exercise!
PDF of the score and parts is here Erlkonig Bassoons
One of my chamber groups, Keyed Kontraptions has started the season. This season is different due to the Covid outbreak, and so we have moved everything online. We are going to be releasing videos and online concerts performances in the next few months.
We are starting with a favorite piece of ours which is titled ‘Tapas’ by Marc Mellits. This is an eight movement work which is completely modular. The movements can be played in any order or just a few of them can be selected. This is a great way to build a program since we can use movements of this as an opening piece or as the closer. This piece was originally a string quartet which Marc arranged for soprano sax, clarinet, and bassoon trio.
I did an arrangement of the third movement on Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint for bassoon octet. This is a really interesting clarinet piece that puts emphasis on the bass clarinet lines.
The PDF of the arrangement is here New York Counterpoint Bassoons
Low A Mollenhauer contrabassoon for sale. Instruments with low A are uncommon and very useful. This contra has amazing tiger stripes on the maple which isn’t done any more. It comes with 2 Mollenhauer bocals.
Here is an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture.
I had the opportunity to play a run of the entire prediction a few years ago. It was a reduced version and from my vantage point in the pit I could watch the whole show as it was going on, so I had a lot of fun. Throughout the comic operetta the characters individually going through harrowing ordeals that end up turning out for the better, with each of them better off than they began. The over arching message of the show is “We live in the best of all possible worlds”
PDF to the Score is here Candide Bassoons
I arranged the first movement of Widor’s Organ Symphony for 4 bassoons and 2 contrabassoons. This piece has been a favorite of mine for a long time and I always wanted to do an arrangement but it didn’t seem possible. I finally got around to doing it and I think it turned out pretty good.
The first bassoon. part has high F, F# and G so it would be good to have a high note setup to play the Bassoon 1 part. Here is the PDF of the score and parts.
I am now offering custom contrabassoon reeds on my reed website for people who have a preference of shapes. The standard shape for all of the contrabassoon reeds is the Rieger K1, this is a versatile shape that is free blowing on most instruments.
I personally use a Heckel Contrabassoon shape, which was found and reproduced in a small batch by Arlen Fast through Fox Products. I play a mid 1980’s Heckel contra and I have been finding that this shape suits the instrument.
The shapes available for contrabassoon reeds are:
Rieger K1, K2, K3, Heckel, Skinner-Braunstein, Greg Henegar, Rhodes R1
It’s hard to describe each shape and dissect the playing qualities since so much of what makes a good reed has to do with cane and the scrape. But if I can ramble a bit, I’ve spent time with these shapes and made each of them my primary shape at one point in time so there are patterns I have noticed.
K1 is all around great. I have used this on Fox contras, Mollenhauers and Heckels and I think it makes a balanced middle of the road reed. I’d say that it sounds a little plain and can be buzzy in the first few days.
K2 is a shape that I basically never use or recommend. If it’s your thing I can make that shape for you, but this has. always been a buzzy mess for my on my instrument. I’ve tried to change wire placement, gouge, and reed lengths and I continue to not like this. It is a wide goblet/tulip shape.
K3 has some interesting qualities because it is pretty narrow and has a shallow curve from the tip to the throat. This had the effect on me like trying a Herzberg reed for the first time, with a narrow shape the scrape can be thinner and more free blowing without sagging or loss of the high register response. It has a sweeter tone than the K1 and be easier to blend with a section.
I traced the following shapers onto a piece of paper so that you can get a sense of what a reed with these shapes might look like.
The Heckel shape is a goblet/tulip shape like the K2 but much narrower. I’ve been putting a very thin tip on this and leaving a moderate amount of spine. It gives me a fast response and dark tone. I have used this on about 10 of my reeds so far this year and all of them have a wobbly middle F. It hasn’t been a bad note on this instrument before, and its a drawback that I can manage.
Rhodes R1 is basically the Fox Products straight shaper version of the K1. It is great for all instruments and needs some break in time.
Greg Henegar’s shape is a Knochenhauer shape. I haven’t studied with Greg (yet!)?) so I’m sure that he has a specific way of making reeds. Like all Knochenhauer style reeds, there is a big flare at the end of the tube, so the amount you bevel has a big impact on the tip opening. These reeds have a rich tone and really responsive high register, I notice that these will want to go a little sharp unless the reed is scraped pretty thin. This shaper was made in a small batch by Bell Bassoons in Canada, but they might still be available as a custom order.
Skinner-Braunstein shaped reeds are a wide heavier style reed. This shape is great for softer pieces of cane and gets a big round sound. Reeds made from this shape seem to last a long time as well. There is some confusion for reed makers about SKB1 and SKB2. In Skinner’s reed making method excess cane is trimmed off of the end of the tube, in most reed making now we like to trim the excess from the tip with a tip cutter. If you follow his method, you would need the SKB1, which appears narrower but is the same shape. And if you don’t trim the butt of the reed, you would buy the SKB2. Steve Braunstein makes both SKB reeds and the RR1 reeds, so I would contact him to buy them.
I wanted to attempt to make my own high note bocal by drilling an additional vent hole. I have seen some articles mentioning bore size and placement so I decided to go for it. I bought a Fox CVX 3 specifically to destroy and some heat shrink tubing. The drill bit that I used is an Irwin #60, it is 1.02mm.
I drilled through the top of the bocal at both 20mm and 25mm from the tip. Then I set 2 pieces of heat shrink tubing to cover the holes.
This allows me to choose which vent to use and also how much of the vent to have uncovered. So far I have noticed that the vent closest to the reed helps with the notes above high F but the tenor register has an airy rasp to it. The vent farther from the reed helps with notes to high F with less distortion of tone.
With the shrink wrap tubing put in place, the bocal works like normal. So it can be used normally for a piece of music and a vent can be opened for the specific passage that requires it.