Contrabassoons of the World!

It’s so amazing that we live in the age of youtube and world wide web! We are able to hear what different players sound like all over the world, the differing styles and tones of certain players. Contrabassoon is especially interesting because I don’t think that contrabassoon tone is uniform throughout most cities! Thanks to players uploading footage and interviews we are able to hear from a wind section that we wouldn’t normally have access to. These are a few clips featuring players around the world.

 

Amrei Liebold, Orchestre de Paris

Luke Whitehead, Philharmonia Orchestra

Dominic Morgan, London Symphony Orchestra

Lewis Lipnick, National Symphony Orchestra

Jaap de Vries, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra

Gregg Henegar, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Contraforte Range

The usable range of the Contraforte is from A0-C5. This is an improvement on the contrabassoon range by a few steps. Although I know some very talented contra players that can play almost as high as any contraforte. Im mostly posting this so that composers are able to hear the timbre change of the different registers.

The Contraforte does not have a dependable high D but it is possible. Here I play the opening bassoon solo from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, at actually pitch. I used an extremely thick reed with a lot of resistance.

Contraforte Fingering Chart

Thomas Adès and the San Francisco Symphony

Thomas Adès

This weekend (March 5,6,7) Thomas Adès with be conducting his own composition with the San Francisco Symphony. His piece “In Seven Days” is based on the seven days of creation outlined in the book of Genesis. It is a multimedia piece including video projection and he scored it using a contraforte!

Bay area people should all go and hear some contraforte in Davies hall!

SF Symphony Tickets

This is the first time that contraforte has been used in the San Francisco Symphony and it will be performed by Steven Braunstein.

Steven Braunstein Contraforte

Steve Kris ContraforteHere I am visiting the Contraforte tamer

 

Green Reed!?

Green Reed

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!

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

Hand Profiling Bassoon Cane

Bassoon predates profiling jigs and modern profilers, so early players profiled cane by hand. The process isn’t complicated but it takes practice to get used to the feel of carving off material. Just like a modern profiler takes off a “chip” of cane at a time, hand profiling takes off thin layers at a time. This also works just as well for contrabassoon cane.

To start, take a piece of soaked, gouged bassoon cane and strap it to an easel. Hand gouging is even easier than hand profiling (wrap sandpaper around an easel and keep measuring until you’re there) I use a rubber band to attach cane to the easel, I am using 120mm cane. Mark the centerline and mark the two collars. My finished reeds have a blade length of 26.5mm from the collar, so I keep 28mm of blade length for the blank before I cut it open. In other words, mark your collar line at 28mm from the center on both sides.

Marked bassoon cane

Then score the center line and the two collar lines, score deeply so that you can get a chip started. Then take your knife and remove then bark. Start at a collar line and pull towards the center, this step is just the bark so do make the chip too big. Bassoon Cane Chip

Now You should be left with a uniformly “peeled” area of an equal thickness. For people beginning to hand profile, the first few pieces of cane, this will already be a disaster. I like to use a double hollow ground knife for this whole process since I can get the edge sharper and control the cutting angle better.

Hand Profiled Cane

Now thinking ahead to what you’ll like to have when finishing the reed, the spine should be left alone. It is thick right now, but once it becomes too thin then it is ruined. Mark two lines on the center line dividing the cane into thirds. Then divide both of those outside thirds in half again. Hand Profiling Bassoon Cane

The center area will become the spine so it will be left alone for now. Take off another layer from the outside thirds (everything except the center) and another layer from the two outermost sections. So now in total; the center of the cane was only peeled, the outer thirds had been peeled and a layer taken off, and the outermost section has been peeled and two layers taken off.

Bassoon Cane Hand Profiling

At this point use sand paper or a large metal file to buff out the lines and sharp edges. I prefer course sand paper and then medium sandpaper. Make sure to give it another dip in water before folding and shaping.

Hand Profiled Bassoon Cane

The finished piece should look something like this. It will never be as pretty as when a profiler is used, and it will take much more time than using a profiler. Hand profiled cane will create a thicker blank which leads to more work in the finishing stage. I have relied on my hand profiling when my profiler blade was out being sharpened, and I started in high school when I didn’t own a profiler. There are 2 or 3 different patterns to creating the final dimensions this is the simplest and quickest. The biggest obstacle is learning how to set the chip thickness and feeling how deep to cut for each layer. I consider peeling the bark as taking off a layer, so each chip should be the same thickness as the bark.

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