Keyed Kontraptions was the ensemble in residence at the University of California Davis Music Department 2019-2020. The residency and concert was originally scheduled to take place in April but due the the pandemic it was postponed.
Last month UC Davis was able to set up a system of low latency audio/video which allowed us to be in separate rooms but play together. This worked great and allowed us to record the concert!
I have been jealous of bass clarinet players and contrabass flute players who are able to perform standing. It adds to the stage presence for certain pieces and is more visually interesting to watch.
The parts that I used to make this standing peg cost under $10 and I bought it all at Home Depot.
For the Contraforte, the peg used is 3/8 inch so it was easy to find a match. I used an aluminum rod since it aluminum is easier to cut. I have my cordless reciprocating saw,Peg stock, black Duct Tape, a Rubber stopper. After cutting the peg to length based on my height, I wrapped the tape around an end to fit the rubber stop.
Large woodwind instruments have problems with water and condensation from regular playing. Not to mention the amount of playing that occurs in the lead in to a recital or audition. Contrabassoons are especially susceptible to water damage because they do not come apart to be swabbed, and most players cannot take their contras apart without damaging the seal when putting it back together.
Just last week I was talking to a woman who had bought a Mollenhauer contrabassoon in an estate sale. She bought half of it along with another bassoonist, and they shared it. But after a few months of playing and putting it back into the case one of them developed a cough, and through some sleuthing, found that the contrabassoon was full of mold! They brought it to a repairman who cleaned it out but it was never the same. We all heard about Trombone Lung a few years ago. This stuff can really cause respiratory ailments along the lines of Anthrax.
The best method for keeping a contrabassoon dry is to remove the tuning slide and leave it out on the stand for a few hours after playing. This won’t prevent all problems, on older contras water damage can even be seen on the outside of the instrument, through the lacquer. The contra’s “wing joint” is the common problem, this is the first piece of wood after the first bend. The danger is mold, and that the mold can damage the seal of the instrument and eat away at the wood of the bore, changing the dimensions.
Contraforte has a bad side and a good side. The bad side is that there is no tuning slide, and so nothing can be opened to help it air out; the good side is the modular design which allows players to take apart their own instruments. I can safely loosen the C-clamps and remove a bend to clean out sections. Recently I removed the second bend for the first time to find that it was lined with mold. The first bore can air dry but after a certain point the circulation doesn’t dry out the entire bore. This means that I need to do regular checks and cleanings at least once every two months.
The best tools for preventing life in an instrument are rubbing alcohol and a dehumidifier. Find a small spray bottle capable of an extremely fine mist, as fine as an aerosol spray. fill it with rubbing alcohol and spray it down the bore when you finish playing and right before you swab (non-contra) The alcohol mist will sterilize the bore and the hard to reach tone holes with the added benefit of evaporating quickly. I even do this to my bassoon before I swab it and put it away. Having a dehumidifier drying out the air makes it difficult for mold and fungi to take hold.
Today I did a large scale cleaning by removing all bends and using a fine sprayer of rubbing alcohol. By spraying sections at a time and swabbing them I killed any mold spores and other microbes living inside.
I have recently invested in a great dehumidifier from Lowes which has improved the air quality. I highly recommend a dehumidifier for woodwind players or doublers. If you can imagine all of the moisture that accumulates in the air from playing multiple instruments and reed making, it makes it hard for things to dry out fully. Especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area there is constant fog and moisture from the sea. I have been keeping my instruments at 45% humidity, this has already stopped my problem of sticky pads.
After a long search, I have finally found an instrument stand for the contraforte. This was a find off of eBay and it was made by Aureum. This seems to be a generic low-woodwind stand that can adjust to fit many different instruments, it certainly fits contrabassoon on top of contraforte. The top of the stand is completely adjustable in height, width, and angle that it hold the contra. My only complaint would be that the peg cup at the bottom of the stand is too small, but I might remove it and add a different one.
I am unable to find out where this stand can be bought. It’s a company in Korea and I don’t think that they have any U.S. distributors. I have seen a few of these pop up on eBay though!
I have some basic care tools that I use to maintain my instruments. Key oil, cork grease, bore oil etc. But there are some things that I have found to be very useful especially in buying a used contraforte. The contra was in the use of Lewis Lipnick, a very accomplished and busy player. It had some tarnish on the keys, and I don’t trust myself to take it all apart to clean it. Contrabassoons and contrafortes also suffer from water problems. Contra is the only woodwind instrument that never EVER gets swabbed!
I found these silver polish strips to be amazing! You get a wet paper towel, wipe down the tarnished area and then just wipe it with the polish wipe and its done. I also have “acidic hand oil” like we all do, but mine can damage the plating of instruments over time. So this is a very easy way to keep my keys from damage. These I found at Bed Bath and Beyond
The other great find is Silica gel packets; this is a form of desiccant, or a chemical that removes moisture from the air. I bought a couple packs of these and I keep two in the contra case at a time. When the contra is put away in the case, the instrument is still filled with moisture and warm moist air. These packets help dry out the air inside of the case. I bought mine off of Amazon
This last month I have been playing in a musical. I am playing in a Stephen Sondheim show called “A little night music” it’s being produced with a reduced score.
I have never played a musical before! I’ve been in many operas and symphony shows but never a musical, so I was initially very confused as to how the woodwind part worked. This is so far what I have learned…
Reed 1 is flute, piccolo, alto flute, and maybe clarinet
Reed 2 is flute, clarinet, and maybe alto sax
Reed 3 is clarinet, bass clarinet or tenor sax
Reed 4 can be oboe/english horn
Reed 5 is baritone sax, bassoon, bass clarinet
this is basically what I know about musical scoring so far. I think that the reed parts are different for every show and what I gather is that most people who play in musicals regularly are able to double on many instruments. Basically everyone can play flute and clarinet and sax, but only one person has to have/play the oboe, the bassoon, and the bass clarinet.
A Little night music has me on Reed 5 and for this show this means that it is only a bassoon part, which is rare. What is also specific to musicals is having a long run of a shows. Most projects have a weekends of concerts but musicals can have multiple weeks of shows.