contraforte stand
contraforte stand

After a long search,  I have finally found an instrument stand for the contraforte. This was a find off of eBay and it was made by Aureum. This seems to be a generic low-woodwind stand that can adjust to fit many different instruments, it certainly fits contrabassoon on top of contraforte. The top of the stand is completely adjustable in height, width, and angle that it hold the contra. My only complaint would be that the peg cup at the bottom of the stand is too small, but I might remove it and add a different one.

I am unable to find out where this stand can be bought. It’s a company in Korea and I don’t think that they have any U.S. distributors. I have seen a few of these pop up on eBay though!

contraforte stand

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I just bought a Snark tuner to try out. Many of my colleagues have it and they have nothing but positive things to say about it. I have had clip on tuners before, or at least an extension to plug in to my regular tuner.

The Snark is very quick and responsive, there is no lag time waiting for the tuner to focus on the pitch. There are settings to either pick up vibrations directly from the instrument or to pick up sound through the microphone. The pitch level can be calibrated from 415-466.

This tuner is great for bassoonists because it can easily clip onto the bocal, or onto a oboe/clarinet bell. I actually purchased this tuner for my contraforte and like most tuners it cannot register the lowest octave. That would be my only drawback.

A Little night music

 

This last month I have been playing in a musical. I am playing in a Stephen Sondheim show called “A little night music” it’s being produced with a reduced score.

I have never played a musical before! I’ve been in many operas and symphony shows but never a musical, so I was initially very confused as to how the woodwind part worked. This is so far what I have learned…

Reed 1 is flute, piccolo, alto flute, and maybe clarinet

Reed 2 is flute, clarinet, and maybe alto sax

Reed 3 is clarinet, bass clarinet or tenor sax

Reed 4 can be oboe/english horn

Reed 5 is baritone sax, bassoon, bass clarinet

this is basically what I know about musical scoring so far. I think that the reed parts are different for every show and what I gather is that most people who play in musicals regularly are able to double on many instruments. Basically everyone can play flute and clarinet and sax, but only one person has to have/play the oboe, the bassoon, and the bass clarinet.

A Little night music has me on Reed 5 and for this show this means that it is only a bassoon part, which is rare.  What is also specific to musicals is having a long run of a shows. Most projects have a weekends of concerts but musicals can have multiple weeks of shows.

Family

 

Two weeks ago I acquired a French Bassoon. It was found in a middle school’s band room cabinet and had been neglected for many years. There is no manufacturer’s mark, the usual branding spot is the low D guard and this one has been removed. My best guess is either Selmer or Buffet. Also, my time with this instrument hasn’t been true to the period since it lacks a french bocal. Initially I could hardly get any sound to come out of it, I realized that some of the pads near the top of the tenor joint were leaking. So I did a temporary fix by wrapping the pads in plumber’s tape.

The fingering schematic of the lowest tritone is completely different from the German system bassoon. Luckily the Weissenborn method book comes with a full french bassoon fingering chart. After a bit of work, the layout of the low keys makes sense and it is just as fast as the German system. The one consistent problem is the transition from D flat to E flat. The rest of the instrument is very similar to the German system with slight modifications, especially in the highest notes.

I did some research into french bassoon reeds to try and create something that would work well for this system. Most of what I saw was a narrower shape with a longer blade and tube. What I decided to do was to use my regular Fox 2 shaper which is a bit narrow and leave a long blade. I found some great french bassoon reed images on the International Double Reed Society’s website under the “Reed Project” tab. There are reeds gathered from top double reed players from all around the world. I’m not sure if this link inly works from member but here it is.

http://idrs2.colorado.edu/reed/Reeds.html

The tone of the French bassoon is more muffled and nasal. It really reminds me of baroque bassoon tone but with less stability. The instrument doesn’t project as well, it seems stuffy without any “sparkle” to the sound. Also the half step isn’t clearly defined for most of the notes. The pitch center of the basson is very flexible and is stabilized with modified fingerings to bring the pitch up or bring the pitch down. My goal for this instrument is to eventually play the Saint Saens sonata on it and Daphnis and Chloe suite 2.

 

inventory

Timing in reed making is essential in creating bassoon tone. Allowing rest between stages prevents the fibers of the cane from becoming stressed. It also seems in my experience that the longer the cane can rest, or the slower it is processed into a reed; the longer the reed lasts.This is especially true of reed blanks. Blanks are fully formed reeds that are still closed at the tip and have not been finished (above right).

So my process is something like this… Self harvested cane needs at least 6-8 months to fully dry out and stabilize. I put it in a big plastic storage bin without the lid and put it in the sun on sunny days.

Store bought tube cane that you split yourself should soak for at least 2 hours. Most people I know soak it over night, but it really just depends on how thick the cane is from that harvest. Just think that the water has to soak in to the very center of the cane so that the gouger doesn’t need to work so hard.

After gouging and profiling cane, I give it a few days to rest. This is the first big step for the cane and it has basically gone from a shoot of plant to a finely measured material. Depending on when I want to have new reeds I plan on letting this cane sit for 7 days, but if I am in a rush more like 4.

Gouged cane or gouged and profiled cane needs an hour to soak before working with it. Then I shape it, score it, fold it over, add a wire, and put it on a pressure peg. These pegs (pictured left) are removable and paired with a handle. Reeds are put on here and wrapped with rubber bands creating continuous pressure to form the tube. This rests for a full day (if you listen close you can hear the snap crackle pop)

Turning this into a blank is just adding two more wires, wrapping, reaming, and sealing. Blanks get better with time and for me I notice a big difference after 5 days of resting. This stabilizes the cane fibers and gives the blank time to acclimate. Also important in making reeds last longer is having multiple reeds to play in turns. Working with a batch of reeds in this way allows reeds to last for weeks instead of a few days.

There are some different techniques that I have read about in curing cane. I read an article in IDRS a few years ago from a bassoonist in texas. He soaks all of his cane in very strong tea. When cane is soaked the water becomes cloudy. These are little particle being stripped off of the fibers and released into the water. His theory was that by already having water fully saturated that it wouldn’t take so much out of the cane.

This is a great article from IDRS that touches a bit more on the preparation of cane in the early stages

https://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/DR/JNL19/JNL19Cooper.pdf 

This is the second post from my recent cane harvest. I harvested a bunch of cane from the Ventura river and dried it out. Now it’s time to get to the rest of the cane processes.

First I cut the “knuckles” out of the cane. These are the connecting sections of the cane that hold the shoots together. Since these knots are unusable it’s import to take them out without removing any extra cane, so I cut as close to the knots as I can.

 

Cane Cane

 

At this point all of the cane is free of the joints. This will help all of the sections of cane to dry more evenly. Some of the shoots were in the middle of a stalk of cane, and weren’t uniformly exposed to air.

Now with a caliper, I measure out every shoot of cane and mark the cut. I cut my cane to 120 millimeters because this fits all of my equipment. It’s important to keep in mind that cane continues to shrink as it dries out. So when cutting in the last few stages, its better to leave a millimeter or two extra.

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After all of the cane is cut to size, I store it vertically in a plastic bin. I leave the lid off and rotate it once a week since it is still drying out.

Home grown and harvested tube cane isn’t as pretty as store bought tube cane, but it cane be. Cane companies add a few extra steps like steam cleaning (which also sanitizes) they also sort out pieces with color variations. Home harvested cane isn’t quite as reliable as store bought cane either, not every piece cane be expected to become a good reed.

I have the great advantage of living by a field of naturally occurring Arundo Donax. My mother lives in Ventura, California and the Ventura river, from the Ojai river, is infested with an unending source of cane. The easiest place for me to collect this cane is where the river meets the Ocean. The is however a problem with this cane, since it grows basically on a beach, it is very weathered and dry. From what I have experienced so far, much of this damaged cane makes very soft reeds. The sun, sand, salt, wind, humidity, and temperature take much of nutrients from the cane and leave it very porous and soft. The best cane is in the middle of the fields, so it takes a bit of work to get to, but this cane is the most protected.

All of the pieces I have cut are in different phases of the drying process. I have read many articles about the drying process and what some of the big cane producers do. First I have read from two separate sources to harvest cane the day after a full moon. “the pitch is up” and something about the gravitational difference of having the moon high in the sky during the day pulls resources from the roots into the fibers. From there on the process is very different company to company. Most french companies keep the cane outside to dry in a “teepee” formation for a whole year. Where as the Rico company keeps the freshly harvested cane outside in the sun for 10 days and then moves it all into huge indoor storage facilities and large ventilator fans.

For my part I am going to harvest enough cane to allow me to try a number of different methods. Some I will leave outside, others will stay mostly inside, and others I might cut to shorter segments to see if it will dry faster. Most of the pieces I cut are 5-6 segments long and so ill have different sections of the same cane to work with.

Ill be sure to post pictures of the reeds made from this harvested cane!

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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.