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.
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!
Nomad Session recently finished a large work that took place over multiple concerts. This was a commission from Nick Benavides that he based on different landmarks aspects of San Francisco. The videography was done by Maggie Beidelman.
“What about San Francisco’s tucked away stair cases, community gardens, block sized patches of green and that one “quiet spot” in the neighborhood park with a great view that only a local can lead you to? These are the hidden spaces we are interested in and we believe that there is something more magical waiting to be discovered amidst all the fog that fills this city we call home”
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.
Contrabass versions exist for almost every instrument now. Most of the newer instruments are scarcely written for and are mainly used in new music. There are a few newer companies making wind instruments that can go lower and lower. Eppelsheim makes my contraforte, as well as a very well received contrabass clarinet, tubax, and contrabass sax. Hogenhuis is popular making contrabass flutes.
I tried an experiment last week involving a Green Reed for Contraforte. I just harvested some cane in early January and decided to try to immediately make a reed out of it instead of letting it dry. And this is what turned out! I regular reed that sounded and acted like any other reed but it was fresh green cane and didnt need to be soaked in water before I played on it. The texture was similar to a very hard piece of cane so I had to make this thinner than I would normally. After a few days it started to dry out and warp and is now is playing very sharp. Next I’m going to try this on regular bassoon.
I would suggest trying it to all of the cane harvesters out there!
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.
I have entered the limbo phase of my life. I am out of school and practicing all day just waiting for auditions to come up. I’m becoming a full time audition jockey and taking everything that opens. After taking auditions for a few years I realized that I have a problem retaining my audition performance. I can remember the mistakes that I made for a few days, but after months, when I am at the next audition, I try to remember how my last audition went and I have no idea.
So I decided to start an audition journal at my grad school auditions two years ago. Its just a regular composition notebook that I keep in my excerpt binder. I get really into it during an audition and try to document everything possible. Everything from how much sleep I got the night before the audition, how much coffee that I had (for nervous people caffeine can cause shaky hands) and how the audition actually went. Before I even start packing up my instruments I start jotting down what mistakes happened and how I recovered from mistakes.
I have been recommending this to all of my friends who are taking auditions. Even just for posterity’s sake, to look back and laugh at a terrible audition disaster. This is also the best way to record the experience and know in advance how you will react in future auditions.
From my own personal audition journal I found a few patterns evolving. I don’t have stage fright, so I don’t get nervous on stage or during a performance. I do get nervous the morning of an audition but it’s based on logistics.
Like… do i have the perfect reed? did i remember my reeds? do i have the correct check in time? correct date? did i warm up enough? too much? etc.
I also skip breath marks that I have specifically written in. As if after months of practicing this piece of music and logically making a decision of where to breathe, on the spot I have a better solution. So then I am forced to take a breath in a spot that makes no sense whatsoever and is completely jarring.
So outside of the obvious “having mock auditions for friends, family, and teachers” and “recording yourself” and “find many different recordings of the pieces” I would say that the audition journal is the best way to personally track and control yourself in audition settings.
The technology and resources available for making musical instruments is at an all time high. I was very impressed and surprised when I visited the Fox factory and was able to see what went in to making an instrument. I have found some interesting videos on instrument production that range from small scale productions to large factories. This is the whole orchestra in score order being made. Sorry Violas.