Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter weather and the bassoon

It's winter in our area now, so my thoughts have turned to building a fire in our fireplace, enjoying the glow of the Christmas tree and holiday activities.

However, now that the heat is on in our buildings and cars, it's also necessary to deal with the dryness caused by the heat and what it does to reeds and bassoons.

I use a small humidifier in my bassoon case, wetting it each day to impart some moisture to the bassoon.  This helps prolong the life of the instrument, keeps pads resilient and wood from contracting or even cracking.

Other remedies include adding orange peel to the inside of the case every few days and using a string dampit. The dampit should never be put inside the long joint as it may cause mold to grow in the bore there.

Reeds also require special care in the winter.

Some time ago I hosted William Waterhouse for recitals and master classes at Interlochen and Michigan State University.  It was January during his tour and I remember him noticing that reeds would dry out in his mouth while playing.  Being British, he was not used to this experience due to the humid air brought to the British Isles by the Gulf Stream!

Indeed, there are times in the winter where I have found it necessary to stop during a performance or practice session to re-soak my reed.  The dryness closes the tip and inhibits free vibration in the blades.

Humidifying your reeds while at rest is helpful.  I use a special reed case with a hygrometer and a small piece of wet sponge in an air-tight chamber to keep the reeds humidified.

A more simple solution is to put the reed box in a plastic bag with a small hole cut in it and add some orange peel to it, putting fresh peel in every couple of days.

With all of these methods, it's important not to overdue the humidity and watch for mold!


  1. Hello Mr.Stees, I love your post about keeping the your bassoon in care during the winter season. I actually have a question for you. As a bassoonist myself, I purchased a a dampit and was curious how to use it. Which part of the bassoon am I suppose to put the dampit in? It would be really helpful if you could help me out. Thank you!!

  2. Hi, Walter,

    DO NOT put the dampit inside any of the joints. Just lay it in the case.

    Putting the dampit in one of the joints can cause mold.