Contrabassoon

A Contrabassoon has entered my life recently and I am very excited to start using it. This instrument was owned by Steve Braunstein. He ordered it from Heckel while he was playing with the Toronto symphony, it was finished 1984. Over the summer I trialled 2 other Heckel contras and this instrument was by far the standout. I am very lucky to be the custodian of this horn for a few years.

I get asked about the Contraforte vs. Contrabassoon and I mostly stay quiet. But I think that the entire repertoire is accessible to either instrument. I would like to experiment with using both instruments this season, choosing the instrument that fits the character of the piece.

Woodwind Moisture Care

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.

Contraforte

 

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.

Contraforte Contraforte Contraforte

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.

Dehumidifier

Bach on bassoon and contrabassoon

I have been arranging the Bach Partita for bassoon/contrabassoon. Each of the movements can be found as PDF files on the right sidebar for your own use. I have been having fun with the contraforte recently so I did them on the CF.

Bassoon Manufacturing

One thing that sets the bassoon apart from other members of the orchestra and even the woodwind family is the price of the instrument. I don’t know a single bassoonist who bought their own first professional instrument. It seems like bassoons are also becoming more expensive, I remember when i was in high school looking at a new Renard 240. 7 years ago they retailed for a little under $6,000, and now nearly $9,000.

I usually thought it was either market inflation or just greedy business owners, but now after having additions done to my own bassoon I can see the amount of work involved. I found a series of videos on youtube about the manufacturing of fox bassoons. This was a video put out by fox a few years ago and posted over a series of videos by someone online. Im sure if anyone had an interest they would already have found these anyways but here they are.

Bocals

Bocal Collection

Like many players, I am always on the hunt for another bocal. When I was first getting good at the bassoon I was very happy with my sound and then i tried a new bocal and my sound was all of the sudden SO much better. I think that experience created new way of thinking, that there is always a richer more vibrant sound that i can achieve.

So now I have a bit of a bocal collection going. I really only use one bocal everyday and then I have some specialty bocals. I have: Fox *CVX*R2, *CVX*2, CVC2, CVC3, C and then a few no name bocals that came with my student instruments. I am not a very big fan of Fox bocals but when i try a batch of them i usually find a good match in there. Fox bocals have also in my experience been the most consistent. I have had a few used Heckel bocals sent to me on consignment and there is a drastic different between two bocals of the same model.

I purchased a Fox *CVX* R2 last spring and so far it has been the best bocal I have paired with my Fox 601. It has very little resistance and great pitch control for low notes. The high notes are a little harder to get out than on my *CVX*2 which is the only reason i have a *CVX*2. My two CVC bocals came with my current bassoon and for me they aren’t as vibrant as i would like them to be, they tend to be a little muffled and don’t have the high notes.

I am VERY lucky to work down the street from Forrests Music. After work or on lunch breaks I often go over to test used instruments and bocals. I have gotten the chance to try out the Paraschos bocals and the Leitzinger bocals.  The Paraschos bocal comes in two forms, one as basically solid wood and the other lined with metal. In my experience the Paraschos lined with metal seems to be more resonant and the solid wood version muffles my sound. These bocals are also new so I’m not sure how long their live expectancy is (cracks etc.) Now the Leitzinger bocal is another recent addition or at least in the last few years. There are so many different specifications for these bocals; alloys, length, bend, plating and taper. I haven’t gotten to try all of the different options by far but for the few bocals I tried they seem to be very open and vibrant. Easy playing in all ranges but again i think certain models are better suited for the highest playing. Id seriously consider a Leitzinger as my next new bocal.

Last week I tried the Leitzinger bassoon as well, it seemed to me like more of a gimmick. Like they have great bocals and now they made a “bassoon to match.” It’s priced “competitively” at $24,000. I only got a few minutes with one, and I know that we are all used to our own instruments but the pitch and projection wasn’t even as good as a Fox 240. The f# and g# keys also must have been drilled incorrectly because anything involving those two keys was uncontrollably sharp and had far too much resistance.

These bocals can be found new or used (on consignment):

http://www.forrestsmusic.com

http://www.rdgwoodwinds.com

http://www.charlesmusic.com

http://www.millermarketingco.com

 

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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