Nomad Session – Cool Grey City

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”

“Gardens”

“Stairs”

“Landscapes”

 

Plastic Fantastic!

There is a new wave of music products that is aimed, not to be the very best, but to be accessible and affordable. There have been plastic woodwind instruments for many decades, and they are a more cost effective and durable choice for young players.

plastic bassoon oboe

Now there is a new wave of plastic instruments that are lower quality and don’t try to compete with the real wooden instruments. These instruments are mostly made in Asia, and are mostly made from injection mold plastic.

Pbone and Ptrumpet

ptrumpet

pbone

Tiger Brass

plastic trumpet plastic trombone plastic euphonium plastic tuba

Nuvo

plastic flute nuvo flute

Vibrato Sax

plastic sax

 

Practicing Difficult Passages

Sometimes as professional players we hit road blocks in our repertoire. As good as we think we are, and as prepared as we may be, there will always be a passage lurking out there which will require some work. So much of being a bassoon player is about playing in an appropriate and handsome way and blending with an orchestra. I have recently chosen a piece of music for an upcoming recital that is pushing my limits, I will be playing the Franck Cello Sonata on Contraforte. The recital is in about three months and I have in working on this piece for the last three weeks. At this point all of the “fun music” has been rehearsed as much as it needs to be and the technical passages now need to be “woodshed.”

 

Franck Cello Sonata(I had to repair some of the slurs)

I chose the Franck Cello Sonata because it really shows off the upper register of the Contraforte. I’m finding that I’m able to play extreme high note passages in an easier way than on the bassoon. This passage that I selected is one that I am finding to be particularly difficult to get up to tempo. It is getting better each day, but I think it is only due to switching up my practice techniques and thinking about the note groupings in new ways.

For this passage the beginning of measure 4 is a tricky spot, mostly this has to do with the fingering system on the Contraforte. These are the ways that I use to practice it:

Franck Sonata Franck Sonata Franck Sonata Franck Sonata Franck Sonata

These are the ways that I first use to learn a difficult spot of music. If after a few days the passage is still unplayable then I use a few different rhythms to add in. As a side note, I find practicing to be stressful. By micromanaging difficult passages like this, one can create “baby steps” that are achievable everyday. These rhythm studies are a way of taking the notes out of musical context and playing them as a mechanical technical exercise.

Franck Sonata Franck Sonata

This second set of excercises is designed to focus on the notes. These help me when I am having trouble concentrating, or am practicing in the morning and still half asleep. Playing staccato isolated notes is a memorization technique. The sixteenth slurred pattern isolates the finger movement between the notes, I try to have “lightening fast” fingers. Play the note full length and then move to the next fingering as fast and efficiently as possible.

Some other things that I try to keep in mind when I practice, in order to make my sessions as efficient as possible…

-Have a good reed

-Warm up with both long tone and technical exercises

-Have a tuner and metronome on whenever you are playing alone

-Don’t allow yourself to get away with cracked notes or sloppy fingers

Standing Peg for Contrabassoon, Contraforte, Bass Clarinet

Standing Contraforte

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.

Contra peg 2

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. 

Contra Peg

 

Learning to Audition Better

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.

 

Building an Orchestra

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.

Flute

Oboe

Clarinet

Bassoon

Trumpet

French Horn

Trombone

Tuba

Violin

Viola

Cello

Bass

Harp

Sax

 

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