I have a few high school students that ask me about playing bassoon at the next level. They ask me about the conservatory experience and what playing in college is like. This is a big topic and every school is so varied, I can only talk about my time in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and what my friends have told me about other schools.

Each school has experienced faculty but there are usually a few star teachers in the bunch. At the SF Conservatory the star wind faculty are Steve Paulson for bassoon and Tim Day for Flute. So for bassoon I would highly recommend the conservatory for private lessons and pedagogy alone. Steve Braunstein -contrabassoon for SF Symphony- just started on faculty for contrabassoon and has been really amazing in this past year.

The academics for the Bachelors program is VERY easy. 4 semesters of theory and musicianship and a history class and a few music history classes. The masters program involves a theory and musician review and pro seminars. I had a lot of time on my hands for performance classes and reed making.

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The conservatory offers resources to the students (sort of) There is a recording studio that students can rent time in with a technician. The campus has three performance spaces for recitals and there is rumored to be a student development office to help students. For the double reed players there is a reed room with gougers and a profiler and space to store instruments.

The real problem I have with conservatories is the market for orchestral players after school. I tell my students that in most other fields there are some jobs that they can fill, but as a musician we me never be able to make a living. On top of that the San Francisco Conservatory tuition in fall of 2014 is $40,000 per year. FAFSA will help low income families and private lenders offering student loans can sometimes cover the rest of tuition.

What I think is important to know is that most of the big time players teach a private studio on top of their school studios. So a good option may be to attend another school for a “practical degree” while still studying the instrument. That would create a better chance of having a career immediately after school.

If I haven’t scared people away from conservatories yet, then I’ll talk about the process. Applying to any college is one of the hardest parts of the degree; letters of recommendation, a resume, audition dates, audition material, transcripts, and application fees make the process very stressful. The audition itself is usually pretty painless though, since most of the good teachers are also good people. If you really want to have a good chance of being considered it’s important to meet with the teacher a few weeks before the audition and have a lesson (or two)

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