Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inspiration and Discipline

I recently read the book, "Band of Brothers", by Stephen E. Ambrose about "Easy" Company and its progress during World War II from parachuting in prior to the D-Day landing in 1944 to the occupation of Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" at the end of the war. I also watched the acclaimed TV series adapted from the book.

The leader of Easy Company was Major Richard D. Winters. His training and discipline is outlined here in a post from the blog, "The Art of Manliness". I love the name of this blog!

Described here is the discipline and mental and physical preparation for sustained battle that he put himself through. While extreme, to say the least, it is certain that this training and a good deal of luck is what got Winters and his men through the D-Day landing, the Battle of the Bulge and many other major conflicts during World War II.

There is much food for thought in these paragraphs. Winters' single-minded, thorough devotion to physical and mental toughness says a lot about his character and maturity.

As musicians, we do not need to subject ourselves to this kind of asceticism, but perhaps there are methods here that can be adapted to our discipline as well.

The job market in the classical performing field is so tight, that a young player must adopt a serious and disciplined regimen for perfecting the art in order to succeed.

Read here about some things I chose to do while in music school in order to achieve success.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Nasty Habits -- Key Noise

As stated in a previous post, it's difficult to get a true picture of how you come across while playing.

The noise made by the mechanism of the bassoon can be very distracting. Sometimes the mechanism in general is noisy. Sometimes it's just one key. The loud clang of metal on metal when a particular note is fingered can be like hearing a piano with a key sticking!

Time spent going to a repair technician or dealing with the noise yourself can be viewed as time away from practicing.  With procrastination, the player can get used to the metallic sound.

I recall times when, after getting my instrument serviced, it seemed as if my sound were smaller due to the newly quieted mechanism. I had become so used to the noise that, to me, it seemed part of my sound!

Given the tough job market for musicians, it's wise to eliminate any aspects of your presentation that might detract from a positive impression. All things being equal -- accuracy, good intonation, good rhythm, musicality, etc., it could come down to a (stupid, yes) thing like a noisy mechanism, or other distraction.

In a day-to-day setting, listening to your clanging keywork can be annoying to colleagues around you!

So, do your colleagues a favor and get your bassoon to a repair technician or quiet it yourself!

In a previous post, my repair technician, Ken Potsic, recommended certain items to keep with you for on the job maintenance.

By the way, what's wrong with the photo above? Anyone want to venture a guess?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nasty Habits -- Air Leaking

With this post, I'm starting a new series on a topic I'll call "Nasty Habits".

Much of this blog is devoted to advice for students and young professionals. It is with this in mind that I commence this series.

Embouchure Leaking

The task of playing an instrument well can be so all-encompassing that certain aspects of playing get ignored after a while. Often it takes a teacher or trusted colleague to point out lapses in your technique or notice when you've developed a bad habit.

It's nearly impossible for a bassoonist to hear how she REALLY sounds while playing. What sounds right to the player doesn't usually match up completely with what sounds right to the listener. Since we play for an audience (real or imagined), it is the listener's perspective that the player must keep in mind at all times.

One of the worst habits that some bassoonists develop is the audible leaking of air around the reed from the embouchure. When it becomes habitual, often the player stops noticing it completely!

Telling an otherwise great bassoon player that he is leaking is a bit like telling someone he has bad breath! There is the embarrassment of bringing it up, but usually, the person is glad you did!

I hope we can all agree that the sound of air leaking from the embouchure should not be part of a great bassoon sound!

Here is an article from my website which provides background to the problem and some solutions for plugging the leak.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Density photos

In response to a request, here are photos showing

dry density measurement:


and wet:

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bassoon Music For Sale

I'm selling some gently used bassoon music. 50+ titles. Includes etudes, solo pieces, chamber music, concerti, etc.

Some standard works, some off-the-beaten-path.


Send me an email if you're interested and I'll send you a complete list.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Race training

I haven't blogged about running in quite a while. However, I've managed to keep going in the meantime.

I'll be running the Cleveland Marathon on May 17th. I've been training for it all winter and spring using "Coach Jenny's" training plan.

Jenny is Jenny Hadfield, a running coach. Her website offers free training plans. Since I've run several marathons, I chose her advanced marathon plan.

It is lengthy! Since I was already in decent shape, I jumped in starting at Week 6. I like the gradual nature and the variety of workouts. I'm very bad at cross-training during race training, so this plan makes me get on the bike, rowing machine and hit the weights a couple of times each week.

My long-term goal is to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon again. I ran it in 2009 and qualified again last year. However, we were on tour during the online registration period and it slipped my mind!

Last weekend I ran a training race -- a 10 miler. I decided to run it at my goal marathon race pace -- 8'10" per mile. I am prone to get excited by all the pomp and circumstance at the race start and go out too fast, adrenaline pumping, so this would be a good exercise on pacing myself.

About 1/2 mile from the end of the race we went through a tunnel. I saw a really short little kid running just ahead of a group of four of us adults. This kid was really moving!  I shouted encouragement to the boy and the rest of the adults followed suit.  I ran with him to the finish, inspired by his prowess!

Here we are at the finish line!!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Low D "Dime Store" Fix

Most bassoonists will agree that low D is one of the worst notes on any bassoon. It's unstable, unfocused and easy to play out of tune.

Alan Fox, of Fox Products Corporation refers to low D as the "Sacrificial Lamb" of the Bassoon. The placement and size of the tone hole are not optimal for low D itself, but, since many other notes on the bassoon make their acoustical home partly in that tone hole, the placement and tone hole size are a compromise.

I have recently come upon a cheap way of improving stability, pitch and focus of low D that anyone with a ruler, scissors and a small screwdriver can implement.

After removing keys around the low D tone hole, find an ordinary soda can or the like:

Empty it and cut a strip out of it lengthwise:

The strip should be 1/4" in width (6mm). Length is equal to the circumference of the low D tone hole.  Find this by measuring the diameter (place a ruler across the middle of the tone hole at its widest point), and multiplying it by π (3.1416). 

The circumference of my low D comes out to about 1 3/4" or just under 45mm. Cut the length a bit longer than this so you can trim it to fit snugly in the tone hole.

Curl the strip with your fingers to approximate the circumference of the tone hole before fitting it in. The aluminum is thin enough to be easily manipulated, yet it will hold its shape and stick securely to the sides of the tone hole without the need for an adhesive.

Place the strip in the tone hole with a tweezers, putting the strip in so it sits just below the lip of the tone hole. A certain amount of the width will protrude into the bore -- that's on purpose!

Put the keywork back on and test the low D. If it is stable, but flat, trim the width so less protrudes into the bore until you've tuned the low D. I ended up trimming almost 1/8" from the 1/4" original width.

Thanks to James Roberson for these instructions and to Carl Sawicki for his idea.