Come join us in San Francisco this Saturday at 8pm, in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Concert Hall. Tickets are still available at
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.
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)
This year was my first IDRS conference yet and it was amazing! I met so many legendary players and nice people. There was an entire room of vendors and instruments to try as well as a room full of music provided by trevco. The bassoon selection was impressive and included:
and oboes were brought by
It was odd that even though there were Loree oboes and Heckel bassoon at the conference. Loree and Heckel were not there only their used instruments were sold through other sellers.
Legère reeds were there and many more bassoons were hooked onto some synthetic reeds. Other innovations were brought by Guntram Wolf. They brought a Lupophon and the Contraforte.
Now this is particularly interesting to me because I have been seriously getting into contrabassoon and I feel a strong pull towards the contraforte. I am now raising funds to buy a contraforte to take auditions with. I have a list of repertoire to perform and record on it and was a great treat to get to play another one this week. If you ever get a chence to get your hands on a contraforte, test it! the dynamics, range, note connection is all much easier.
A few years ago, around 2008 I purchased my current bassoon. I had an intermediate bassoon up until that point and I decided to shop around for something new. I was going to attend the San Francisco Conservatory of Music that fall and so I needed an instrument that was going to help me learn.
I had a great time shopping around! I justified to myself that since this instrument was going to be my main instrument for the next few years, I should try as many as I want. I had many bassoons sent to my house to play test and I had a few of the overlap. I used a few different websites as well as a few players that I knew were selling. In total I tried 3 Fox 601s, 2 Heckels, a Püchner 5000, a Moosmann 222A, and a Bell.
I initially really gravitated towards one of the Heckels based on sound alone. However It didn’t have the modern extras that I knew I needed, it didn’t have high E or any rollers. The other Heckel I tried had a very even scale and came with a few amazing bocals but it was very stuffy and and had little projection. The Püchner and Moosamann were actually sort of similar and I was very impressed by the Moosmann. It had many extras , extra keys and such but I found the instrument to be very heavy and the sound took a bit more work to get going. I felt like I had to push make it sing.
As a note about my “process” for testing bassoons. I had each bassoon at my house for at least 5 days. I used different reeds and played a lot of different rep. I also recorded myself for most of my playing as not all of the bassoons overlapped for side by side comparisons. I used a Fox CVX2 on each bassoon but also used the vocals that came with them. Some bassoons sounded much better with their own bocals especially the Heckels. They needed special bocals to help the sound out. (not that all Heckels do)
The 601s were the most fun for me, I was surprised at how different they were from each other. The Fox 601 has a great projection, tone, and it’s very flexible. The Fox had that bright sparkling core of sound that drew me to play the bassoon in the first place. Now between them I found that the oldest one was the better one. The Fox i chose was is from 1997. The others were from 1998 and 2002. I know that the new 601s are a bit different especially with brighter tenor register.
I have a french whisper key, A flat B flat trill key, and the A flick key to whisper key bridge on my bassoon. I have really been impressed with it so far. My playing has completely changed while Ive been in school, and I seem to appreciate it’s sound more and more.