Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making bassoon reeds from tube to finished reed

Well, I finally took the plunge. I have now got a room full of tube cane which I have to split, pre-gouge, gouge, shape, hardness test, profile, construct into a reed, tip on a tipper and then finish by hand. Phew. Despite the obvious long term cost savings on prepared cane (and I really do mean long term to make back all this investment!) I have to question the business sense. It’s going to take me a lot of reed sales to recoup this. However, on the few dozen or so I have made up so far it becomes obvious that I am able to make more consistent and useable reeds by being in control of the whole process. And if a piece of cane really doesn’t meet my criteria then I don’t feel bad about not making a reed out of it as it is pennies rather than pounds I am turning down! The main thing is that this will be better for the students and other players who buy reeds from me already.

I thought about making some videos of the whole process but there are already some great sites out there and some good Youtube clips. But I will share one thing right now - I changed the blade in my profiler and sharpened the one in the tipper. I had got so used to blunt blades that I hadn’t noticed how much effort and force I was using on a piece of cane and that ends up with compressed fibres and less vibration! The sharp blades are a revelation and lesson learned. I will post some pictures of the fun but meanwhile interested to hear feedback on others experiences.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Breathing and resonance

A few months ago I found the great videos on http://www.playwithapro.com/ with Gustavo Núñez from the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

This week they have put a new video up from Berlin Phil veterans oboist Hansjörg Schellenberger and flautist Emmanuel Pahud.

The download of the first video from Schellenberger (Breathing and Blowing) is free (you have to also have the player installed from the site though you can watch a free preview). Both he and Emmanuel Pahud make some points on breathing that I have never heard before and that I found amazingly helpful.  Always easier “said” rather than put into practise and done of course, but in this case it had an immediate impact on my playing.

It never ceases to amaze me how one player sounds like him or herself on whatever make of instrument they play on.  In the search for an easier life we try Heckel, Fox, Moosmann, Puchner, Bell, Soulsby, Adler, Mollenhauer and so on (though I have yet to try a Leitzinger bassoon!). Also endless reed scraping and crook changing has led me to a set up that feels comfortable with a wide dynamic range. But at the end of the day I sound like Tom playing the bassoon. Even on a Chinese Lark. Which for all of us is actually a good thing as it is our individual voice.

But some of Emmanuel Pahud’s comments on resonance (especially an analogy he makes and a comment on how to open up the sinus and nose area) go a long way to explaining to me why this would be. And a practise session after watching this video was VERY fruitful (and fruity in the “resonance” department!).

So in the interest of improving sound/projection/tuning/comfort/endurance and dynamic range have a look and let me know if you agree or disagree with them and what you get out of it! I’m sure there will be as many viewpoints as there are players but either way there is something to be gained from this video.

Hats off to founder  Adam Simonsen  (clarinetist playing in The Royal Danish Orchestra, educated from the Juilliard School of Music, and founder of Play with a Pro) for creating this site and getting these videos done!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Guildhall School of Music and Drama bassoonists in action

Well the future of bassoonery is in good hands, with Meyrick Alexander and Gordon Laing (contra) and Stuart Russell(reed making) as professors there swelling the ranks of the collective bassoons at the school for this great rendition of “Bassoonists Holiday” (which sounds like it’s Fraser Jackson’s fab arrangement for the Calibans if I am not mistaken).

A great Super Mario trio with hats and choreography on the same youtube channel too! It never ceases to amaze me how bassoonists just naturally share this zany sense of humour. On a smaller scale we have our next http://www.reedrage.co.uk/ outing on 24th July at St. Anne’s Kew in London with some great fun lined up! Maybe getting all our pupils involved for a grand finale is a good idea. So the world of bassoon ensembles is very much alive!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

BIG Double Reed 2011

Hard to believe that over half a year has gone by since the last BIG Double Reed Day but there we go. http://www.bigdoublereed.com/
With Summer Holidays coming up it’s time to spread the news to pupils and parents to put 6th November in the diary. And there was a strong adult attendance last year too so this is for everyone!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Leitzinger Bassoon Crooks

I am very pleased to have found Leitzinger crooks. Stephan Leitzinger makes the most stable yet flexible bassoon “bocals” I have ever tried. These have been popular in Europe and the US and Canada for some time but few have heard of them in the UK.
Stephan makes a vast range of styles so that you can match the crook to your bassoon and reeds and performance requirements. The main feature most people notice immediately is that with the right crook the bottom is not too sharp, the tenor not too flat and the high B and C not too sharp, with the octaves more balanced and in tune on a variety of reeds. Though the first blowing of them is not always impressive in the way that an old Heckel crook can be, once in the orchestra it is the ability to creep around pianissimo and create a real fortissimo that makes these such a hit with pro players around the world.
I was pleased to see and hear Meyrick Alexander using his platinum plated MDV2 for his final concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the BBC Proms 2010 which sounded splendid in the Ravel Left Hand Piano concerto solo!
I currently have an S2V platinum (thin walled, great for creeping around fag2 and very responsive) an MDV1 (Ravel piano concerto, Saint Saens top E’s no problem but still lovely down the bottom so not a one trick high note crook) and the best crook I have ever tried, M1F Platinum, which seems to have been made from metal mined by dwarfs and hammered into shape with the assistance of elves and is perhaps made of “Mithril”....it is some blend of metals that Stephan Leitzinger doesn’t tell us about in detail.
More information on “Leitzinger Bocals” can be found here (as well as information on his bassoons) www.leitzinger.de/en/ins_nav_02a.html
On my Mollenhauer contra I play a very early pre war Heckel contra crook which has projection qualities I haven’t found in modern ones and have a Puchner B2 which is fabulous for sorting out the flat tenor register on these contras. I am looking forward to Stephan Leitzinger’s plans to make a contra bassoon crook coming to fruition.
Julian Partridge from the Ulster Orchestra is now also playing on a Leitzinger so we have a matched section when I play there:
“I’ve been playing Fox bassoons for over 20 years and have always used Heckel crooks with them; finding the factory Fox crooks lacking flexibility, especially for grovelling around when playing 2nd bassoon. When I was working in Hong Kong I bought a Heckel C1 which was wonderful at grovelling. But I always thought it was weak in the tenor register. Fast forward ten years and Tom showed me a Leitzinger crook, which at first I didn’t warm to, but then a few months ago he leant me an M1N and I thought “wow”. It has more resistance than my Heckel but is great in the tenor register and is supremely flexible in all registers. There are rumours of a contra crook.. can’t wait.”
Julian Partridge Acting Principal Bassoon Ulster Orchestra
(Now the proud owner of the M1N)
Stephan has contacted me with the idea of coming over for a small event in UK in the Autumn which would be a great chance for more of us to try these crooks.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New site for Musicians - play with a pro

There is a new site called Play With A Pro which I came across which is amazing. It is in its early stages but already has some great masterclasses up and the bassoon world is currently represented by Gustavo Núñez from the Royal Concertebouw Orchestra.

You can see short previews on the site but I paid and watched all of the Núñez ones as I was busy making reeds and this was a change from Radio 3 and 4 (and I had enough money in my Paypal account!).

The founder is Adam Simonsen - a clarinetist playing in The Royal Danish Orchestra, and he has done a fabulous job of getting this live and working in high definition. I have been in touch with him to ask about teacher discounts and other ideas and he is very happy to receive feedback.  Hats off to him for pushing the idea through from conception to a live site with all the structure in place.

The pricing is one subject that he has obviously had to think about long and hard and it isn’t cheap but seems fair.

The only Englishman on the list so far is David Campbell and Adam says this will go live in the summer. Also there is a coming soon for Sergio Azzolini which I think can’t fail to be entertaining and useful.

The production is simple but very high quality with fabulous sound so the files are huge but it all works with the software installed from the website.