In the Paris Musical Instrument Museum there are a few display cases of bassoons, and one of them contains a bassoon made metal. This bassoon was made by Arsène Zoë Lecomte at the end of the 19th century. It was made based on the Buffet “French” bassoon fingering system/bore.
I was recently talking to my neighbor about what I do, and it turns out that he used to be a clarinet player. He said that he didn’t continue on to a professional level because he needed to invest so much in equipment. To be a pro clarinet player, he said, he needed to buy a whole family of pro clarinets and he just wanted to play Bb soprano clarinet. So this got me into talking about the bassoon tangents that people get into, in a professional or sub-professional way. Every bassoon player plays bassoon for a while and then there are a few different directions to go experimenting.
Probably the most responsible secondary horn is contrabassoon. This is very practical since it’s also used in the orchestra and most bassoon teachers can help with it. The only obstacle with contra is getting access to one since they are expensive and unpopular. As a student in college it’s becoming standard to take out extra loan money to finance a new instrument, but usually graduate programs are more lenient on addition loans.
French Basson is mostly dead at this point. People play them out of curiosity and on a hobbyist level. I had one for many years and I was never tempted to take it to a gig instead of a Heckel system bassoon. That being said, french bassoon can be a cool thing to pull out on a recital or for chamber music. My high point was being able to play the Saint-Saens Sonate on it, but it never made it out to a recital. This scratches the itch of wanting to play a historical instrument but its also pretty easy to learn.
Baroque bassoon is another route that some players go. Baroque orchestras are becoming much more popular in California and New York, and so there are maybe a few more gigs for baroque players on top of regular orchestra gigs. Baroque is much more difficult to play well and isn’t as pleasing to listen to unaccompanied, so learning it can be tedious. When I have done “baroque” orchestra gigs, it usually ends up being some sort of mixed ensemble. The woodwinds and principal strings play baroque instruments, but the rest of the strings play on modern setups. I am not a baroque bassoon player but I do sometimes want to play historical literature on the authentic instruments. Baroque bassoon are also much much cheaper than modern bassoons.
The bassoon has recently been modernized even further with the addition of an electric pickup. With a modified bocal, players can plug into an amp and use the same filters and effects that an guitarist can use. There are so many great electric players but not so many gigs. This isn’t so much a career path as it is a way to bridge the gap and get into jazz or rock etc.
I am selling my French Bassoon! I have had this bassoon for a few years now and have had so many adventures with it. But in the last year I haven’t really played on it and I have decided to find it a new home. This bassoon has been dated to 1940 but unfortunately bears no makers mark or serial number. The bell shape looks like the Selmer French Bassoons at that time. I am including the bocal that it came with and the music lyre base that was attached to the bell (although I took it off)
You can find the listing for this bassoon on eBay:
There are 2 Buffet Contrabassoons for sale on Musical Chairs. These are contras built with the french fingering system and a different bore than a Heckel system contra. They appear to be in great condition and I’m sure will sell quickly. This is the instrument intended for in the works of Debussy, Stravinsky, and Ravel.
Les Siècles performed Rite of Spring using period instruments at the BBC Proms. The bassoon section uses old french bassoons and tall construction french contras.
“The bassoon family” is a bassoon lesson that I teach when a student is in a slump. Too many weeks on etudes or a concerto often makes high schoolers lose interest. So I give them a contra lesson, or for the students that have lessons in my home, an introduction to the bassoon family. I have two high school seniors this year, and contrabassoon will definitely be a part of college orchestra playing.
The start of each lesson is playing through the circle of fifths, 12 major scales. This is a nice way to get into contrabassoon and introduce the vent keys and the Eb keys. The student can get a small taste of standard orchestra excerpts like the Contrabassoon solos written by Ravel in his Piano Concerto in G, and Ma Mère l’Oye. Contrabassoon comes quickly to many bassoonists, and Contraforte come quickly to bassoonists who also play sax. The simple octave keys on the Contraforte make it a closer match to high woodwinds.
It’s also interesting to introduce students to the Baroque bassoon. I make a point to have students learn a baroque piece every year, since honor orchestras and college auditions ask for pieces from contrasting eras. The basic scale of the baroque bassoon is the same as modern bassoon, so a few Vivaldi concertos translate well to the baroque bassoon. This also provides a useful insight into the instrument that the piece was written for, and how lucky we are to have a modernized bassoon.
The french bassoon is mostly for informational use. To learn the lowest octave chromatically and play a few scales. I don’t teach much French repertoire to high schoolers so it’s an instrument with no direct connection to their experiences. But I Play a few recordings of french bassoon players, explain the Paris Conservatory, and the school of French players that still exist throughout the world.
Probably the least important part of reed making is reed thread. This is the most visual and artistic aspect of the process but serves little purpose. There are a few shapes that require wrapping to seal properly (Hertzberg) but outside of that, good shaping and Duco cement will suffice. Threads are available at double reed supply stores. I have been looking for other sources of reed thread (for cheaper) but have come up short. I know people who prefer cotton thread, and for those people “Aunt Lydia’s” thread is availabe at many stores. I don’t personally like how Duco cement works with cotton. Nylon size FF thread or 138 can be found at many online retailers. I have been using OMEGA thread. Its a nice nylon thread but its thicker than FF so maybe it isn’t usable for oboe/english horn. It comes in 90 different colors and its very cheap. This is great for bassoon and contra reeds and it doesn’t take as much thread to create a turban. I have a friend who buys all of her thread off of the thread exchange. They sell larger spools and in many colors. And of course all of the double reed supply stores have thread. Most of my thread is from RDGForrests and Charles