Monday, July 11, 2016

Scheherazade

Last week we opened the 2106 Blossom Festival with performances of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.

I'll discuss my interpretation of the solos and how I dealt with other difficult passages in this piece in my next post.

For now, I'd like to recommend you listen to a superlative recording of the piece. Fritz Reiner leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in what has been described as one of the best orchestral recording made of ANY orchestral piece.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Customized Scoring Tool


I've just started making a scoring tool that's customizable (number of scores) and inexpensive. The blade points are contoured to fit the arc of the shaped piece of cane.






Sunday, April 24, 2016

Website is back!

My website, steesbassoon.com is back! It's been redesigned by my daughter, Grace, who is a graphic designer.

Most of the old content is still there, including the reed making instructions. Thanks to those of you who use it for reed making for your patience!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Straight Stuff, Part 1



CANE SELECTION, PART 1
 
"The fundamental problem is still that of cane selection 
to prevent subsequent failure."
~ Jean-Marie Heinrich, The Bassoon Reed
 

In his article, The Bassoon Reed, Jean-Marie Heinrich (bassoonist and botanist) maintains that it is possible to condemn a piece of cane even before you process it (Journal of the International Double Reed Society, 1979).

This statement is based upon two concepts.


Symmetry
Everyone can agree that symmetry in all dimensions at all points between the two halves of a bassoon reed makes for a reed with the greatest potential to function well. While perfect symmetry is impossible to achieve, a reed that has good symmetry has the optimal vibrational potential because at each point the blades can vibrate at the same frequency due to their unity of thickness and shape in three dimensions.
Good symmetry is imparted to the reed through proper selection of the piece of cane, a symmetrical gouge, profile, and shape and a scrape that is as even-handed as possible. Also affecting symmetry are the wires, the bevel, and the forming procedure. Even how one fits the reed onto the mandrel, reamer or bocal (without twisting in one direction) plays a role in the symmetrical shapes put in the reed by the reed maker.

Elasticity
Defined as the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation, elasticity in bassoon reeds refers to the degree to which the tip opening retains its size and shape when vibrated over time. The life of a bassoon reed can be accurately charted through the degradation of its tip elasticity through repeated use.
It can be said with confidence that everything that is done to the cane from tube to finished reed has as its primary goal predictable elasticity. This includes gouge, profile, shape, wires, scrape, bevel, ream, etc.
Cane also has a built in elasticity with regard to its circumference in tube form. Even the thinly scraped tip of a finished reed will tend to arch more if it came from tube cane with a smaller circumference than that which came from a tube with a larger circumference. This needs to be taken into account when choosing tube sections for gouging, or when choosing gouged cane to profile.

Cane Selection

Thus, proper care must be taken in the selection of cane for processing! Whether you start with tube cane or gouged cane there are steps to take at this early stage that can save a lot of time and frustration.

Gouged Cane

Examine the piece of gouged cane by placing it on a 1" (25.4mm) piece of wooden dowel. It should fit uniformly around the circumference of the dowel.


Place the cane on a flat surface and check to see that all four corners of the piece contact the surface. Also look to see if the cane bows up in the middle or rocks from end to end. Most cane is not perfectly straight, so with some pieces you'll have to decide how much rocking of the corners you'll allow.

Tube Cane

In a previous post I outlined a method for selecting the straightest pieces from a section of tube cane.

In my next post, I'll offer an improvement upon this method with plenty of photos and instructions.

The Straight Stuff, Part 2




CANE SELECTION, PART 2

"The fundamental problem is still that of cane selection 
to prevent subsequent failure."
~ Jean-Marie Heinrich, The Bassoon Reed

From Tube to Gouge

Finding the Straightest Section

Take a piece of gouged cane with the midpoint between the two ends drawn on the bark. Use this piece as a template for marking the section on the tube you want to cut out.
With a light source located behind the tube, roll the tube back and forth slowly on a flat, non-reflective surface. Look at the tube at table level and you will see light shining through under the ends of the tube where it warps away from the table.
Roll the tube on the table to find the position in which the tube has the most contact with the table. Above you can see the left end of the tube is quite warped. This end can be cut off with a scroll saw with a fine blade. Or you can mark this end with four marks at 90 degree points and cut off the warped ends in the gouger guillotine after splitting.
Next position the marking piece by the section of tube contacting the table, away from the warped end.
Place the marking piece under the straight section of the tube.
With a pencil or a permanent marker, draw lines on the tube against both ends of the marking piece and against the midpoint drawn on the piece. 

Holding the marking piece in place on the tube, rotate the tube.  Extend the marks completely around the circumference of the tube. The straightest section of the tube should be between the outer lines. Remove the marking piece.

 Using a Radius Gauge

If you gouge cane yourself, you need to know the radius of your gouging bed. A mismatch between cane radius and gouger bed radius can result in asymmetrically gouged cane or even split cane. 

I use the Fast Systems Radius Gage. It has cut-outs ranging from 24mm to 32mm in half millimeter increments. With its wide range of radii, it can be used by bassoonists, contrabassoonists and period instrument reed makers. Most bassoon players prefer cane diameters in the range of 24-25 mm, but you should prioritize for pieces of cane that match the diameter of your gouging bed. 

The most important place for symmetry on the reed is at the fold because of its close proximity to the tip. While the section of tube cane marked out using the method above may be the straightest part of the tube, it's extremely important that the midpoint marked on the tube fit as closely as possible in the cutout that matches the gouger bed radius.

Place the tube in the cut out with the midpoint of the section sitting directly in the cut out. Rotate the tube to find the position at which little or no light shines through from behind. If it is impossible to find a good fit, try one of the adjacent cut-outs. 

Marking the Cane for Splitting Having found the best cut out and best rotation for the tube, find the two white quarter circle reference marks on the cut out and mark their positions on the tube. These are the two white marks on either side of the millimeter number in each cut out.

Then sight down the tube at such an angle that you can see the white quarter circle marks on the gauge against the bark of the tube. Mark the two positions on the end grain of the tube that correspond to the position of the two white quadrant marks.

These marks will be where you will split out the piece from the tube.

Splitting the Cane

Do not use a cane splitter! The argument above should be enough to convince you that it's not possible to find straight pieces of cane simply by placing a splitter against the end grain and splitting.

 
Hold the tube upright on the table and, using a small cleaver or broad knife, exert downward pressure with your free hand or use a mallet to tap the blade into the tube. The blade will follow the grain andsplit the section out without much effort.


This method takes about 2 minutes per section of cane.

More Usable Pieces?
  
It's very unlikely you'll get four symmetrical sections from one tube. However, it's often possible to find another symmetrical section with nearly the same radius just opposite from the section you've cut out on the tube.
You may also find larger or smaller diameter pieces usable for different instruments from one tube.