Fun lessons

bassoons

Recently I have been teaching my students lessons that have been based around their own interests. A few of my students have been interested in contra and so I’ve brought in the contra for them and some of my student have been interested in reed making so I taught them about reed adjustment.

I think that it is important to break up the gloom and doom of regular lessons, etudes, and scales with something that really pique students’ interests. Most bassoonists think its very fun to try new equipment, and playing contrabassoon is a useful skill for learning bassoonists.

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School Audition Season

practice

For all orchestral musicians and music students it is well known that late february/early March is school audition season. This is the time that all of the music schools hold auditions for instruments to determine who will be attending the next fall semester. I am now applying for grad schools and am right in the middle of a few auditions. I took an audition at the New England Conservatory two weekends ago and this weekend will be the Manhattan school of music and the Juilliard school. Now all of the school ask for some similar pieces but some are a little different. For example at Juilliard and NEC I am applying for a bassoon performance degree, where as at MSM I am applying for an orchestral studies degree. So Juilliard and NEC are asking for more solo repertoire and MSM is more a bunch of orchestral excerpts. I graduated from my undergrad last spring so i have enjoyed a few months of to prepare for these auditions but even still there are VERY talented people applying for these degrees and I’m excited just to hear some of them and see the schools! here are the lists

Manhattan School Of Music

Orchestral performance degree

Solo Works

Mozart Concerto, K. 191.

Hindemith sonata

Excerpts

Beethoven Symphony No. 4, last mvt.

Mozart The Marriage of Figaro, Overture

Stravinsky The Rite of Spring, opening solo

Ravel Bolero

Ravel Piano concerto

Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade, solo & cadenzas

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, mvts. 1,2 & 4

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6, mvts. 1 & 4

Juilliard

        

Two complete works of contrasting styles and periods; one must be a concerto.

Four or more standard orchestral excerpts.

Mozart

Saint Saens

Scheherazade

Ravel piano Concerto

Bolero

Tchaik 4

Brahms 3

New England Conservatory

Graduate:

Two contrasting movements from a Baroque, Classical, or Early Romantic sonata or concerto.

Mozart

Two contrasting movements from a Classical or Romantic sonata or concerto.

Saint Saens

Two contrasting movements from a contemporary sonata, concerto, or unaccompanied piece (or a one-movement work in its entirety).

Hindemith

Four orchestral excerpts of your choice.

Scheherazade

Ravel piano concerto in G

Bolero

Tchaikovsky 4

 

 

 

 

 

Cane Harvesting

I have the great advantage of living by a field of naturally occurring Arundo Donax. My mother lives in Ventura, California and the Ventura river, from the Ojai river, is infested with an unending source of cane. The easiest place for me to collect this cane is where the river meets the Ocean. The is however a problem with this cane, since it grows basically on a beach, it is very weathered and dry. From what I have experienced so far, much of this damaged cane makes very soft reeds. The sun, sand, salt, wind, humidity, and temperature take much of nutrients from the cane and leave it very porous and soft. The best cane is in the middle of the fields, so it takes a bit of work to get to, but this cane is the most protected.

All of the pieces I have cut are in different phases of the drying process. I have read many articles about the drying process and what some of the big cane producers do. First I have read from two separate sources to harvest cane the day after a full moon. “the pitch is up” and something about the gravitational difference of having the moon high in the sky during the day pulls resources from the roots into the fibers. From there on the process is very different company to company. Most french companies keep the cane outside to dry in a “teepee” formation for a whole year. Where as the Rico company keeps the freshly harvested cane outside in the sun for 10 days and then moves it all into huge indoor storage facilities and large ventilator fans.

For my part I am going to harvest enough cane to allow me to try a number of different methods. Some I will leave outside, others will stay mostly inside, and others I might cut to shorter segments to see if it will dry faster. Most of the pieces I cut are 5-6 segments long and so ill have different sections of the same cane to work with.

Ill be sure to post pictures of the reeds made from this harvested cane!

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Fox 601

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A few years ago, around 2008 I purchased my current bassoon. I had an intermediate bassoon up until that point and I decided to shop around for something new. I was going to attend the San Francisco Conservatory of Music that fall and so I needed an instrument that was going to help me learn.

I had a great time shopping around! I justified to myself that since this instrument was going to be my main instrument for the next few years, I should try as many as I want. I had many bassoons sent to my house to play test and I had a few of the overlap. I used a few different websites as well as a few players that I knew were selling. In total I tried 3 Fox 601s, 2 Heckels, a Püchner 5000, a Moosmann 222A, and a Bell.

I initially really gravitated towards one of the Heckels based on sound alone. However It didn’t have the modern extras that I knew I needed, it didn’t have high E or any rollers. The other Heckel I tried had a very even scale and came with a few amazing bocals but it was very stuffy and and had little projection. The Püchner and Moosamann were actually sort of similar and I was very impressed by the Moosmann. It had many extras , extra keys and such but I found the instrument to be very heavy and the sound took a bit more work to get going. I felt like I had to push make it sing.

As a note about my “process” for testing bassoons. I had each bassoon at my house for at least 5 days. I used different reeds and played a lot of different rep. I also recorded myself for most of my playing as not all of the bassoons overlapped for side by side comparisons. I used a Fox CVX2 on each bassoon but also used the vocals that came with them. Some bassoons sounded much better with their own bocals especially the Heckels. They needed special bocals to help the sound out. (not that all Heckels do)

The 601s were the most fun for me, I was surprised at how different they were from each other. The Fox 601 has a great projection, tone, and it’s very flexible. The Fox had that bright sparkling core of sound that drew me to play the bassoon in the first place. Now between them I found that the oldest one was the better one. The Fox i chose was is from 1997. The others were from 1998 and 2002. I know that the new 601s are a bit different especially with brighter tenor register.

I have a french whisper key, A flat B flat trill key, and the A flick key to whisper key bridge on my bassoon. I have really been impressed with it so far. My playing has completely changed while Ive been in school, and I seem to appreciate it’s sound more and more.

Legère bassoon reed

Legère has been well known for having synthetic single reeds which have been mostly used for marching bands or for doublers who don’t want to keep up with reeds for multiple instruments. This fall they have released a synthetic bassoon reed.

I have played on plastic bassoon reeds before, Charles music makes one and so does wwbw.com. These reeds are really intended for beginners to get a feel for the basic technique of bassoon and learn the first few notes. They sound very bright but passable in the low register, not much in the tenor register. That is the quality of sound that i was expecting from the Legère reeds as well. My teacher Steve Paulson played on them with the San Francisco Symphony and he sounded amazing. So i decided to put my name on the list and buy one.

The shipping took some time but the company is in Canada so its understandable. I first played a few long tones and it was a little resistant. I make reeds that are easy blowing and respond with very little effort, they can tend to be bright sounding. So in comparison this reed was a bit hard for me.

Its been a few weeks and I have been using this reed exclusively. I have gotten completely used to it and it is capable of producing a very full rich sound with a little bit of push. The tenor register especially needs a little boost to get a good vibrato. I clipped the corners and it allows me to tongue easier without the sharp edges. Double tonguing fast passages takes some getting used to as every note has a bit more resistance to get started. These reeds come in three densities: soft, medium, hard. I use soft and so does everyone i know who uses one. These reeds have more playing resistance than cane reeds.

I would recommend that everyone gets one of these to keep in the back of their reed cases for bad weather days or traveling. I have been in between apartments in San Francisco and all of my reed making equipment is packed up so if I had been using cane reeds i would have been out of usable reeds by now, not to mention the drastic weather changes here in the city.

Legère bassoon reed

Rieger Cane

ive recently been buying Rieger cane. I buy it gouged and profiled, and i think that Rieger has set their profilers limits too narrow. That is, the distance between one collar and the other collar of unfolded cane is closer than what im used to. Now there is an immediate advantage to this, after forming the reed less material needs to be clipped from the tip in order to open the reed. That extra can length is instead now part of the tube. So the overall reed is longer despite where the tip is cut. For those players who are always sharp, this may be an answer. It can be as dramatic as choosing a longer bocal but instead having the ability to shorten it by reaming.