One of my chamber groups, Keyed Kontraptions has started the season. This season is different due to the Covid outbreak, and so we have moved everything online. We are going to be releasing videos and online concerts performances in the next few months.
We are starting with a favorite piece of ours which is titled ‘Tapas’ by Marc Mellits. This is an eight movement work which is completely modular. The movements can be played in any order or just a few of them can be selected. This is a great way to build a program since we can use movements of this as an opening piece or as the closer. This piece was originally a string quartet which Marc arranged for soprano sax, clarinet, and bassoon trio.
Keyed Kontraptions was the ensemble in residence at the University of California Davis Music Department 2019-2020. The residency and concert was originally scheduled to take place in April but due the the pandemic it was postponed.
Last month UC Davis was able to set up a system of low latency audio/video which allowed us to be in separate rooms but play together. This worked great and allowed us to record the concert!
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the price for new musical instruments skyrocketing, it’s not surprising that some people have actually gone into building their own instrument! Most of the people I have found who built their own horns don’t actually play but are master carpenters or handymen who are curious. Others are musicians who are testing out different possibilities of their instrument families.
This man made a wooden trumpet out of a home workshop. Although he isn’t a trumpet player, this is a functional piston trumpet.
The Bamboo Sax has been around for a while, I saw one on vacation in 2006
The least embarrassing bassoon related video I could find was of Robin Howell making a bassoon bocal, which would be interesting to try but I don’t think I would trust it!
MY favorite video on youtube right now is of this guy who built his own CONTRABASSOON! It actually sounds nice, has a recognizable scale, and doesn’t look like garbage. I was really amazed when I saw this.