Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bassoon Sound - An Overview

 J. Walter Guetter  (1895-1937)


With this post, I'd like to begin a series of blogs about bassoon sound.  I realize I'm wading into rough waters by doing this, since it's nearly impossible to accurately describe sound in words.

However, since sound is personal and eludes objective description, it is one of the most touching and poetic aspects of making music.  As they say, "Music takes over when words fail".

How To Begin?

I'll try to choose my words carefully and look for creative ways of making my points.  

To start with I'll avoid the words "bright" and "dark" as those words don't mean much to me.  They have become charged with negative (bright) and positive (dark) meaning and would only serve to divide the community reading this.

Instead, I'll enumerate what I consider the desired qualities of a good bassoon sound and devote separate posts to examining sound from several different angles.

What I say here will be opinionated and, in some cases, controversial.  Some of you may disagree with what I have to say, but that's OK.  How dull the music world would be if we all agreed on what is the perfect sound, all sounded alike!  

It's wonderful that bassoon sound has yet to become as narrowly defined as say the clarinet or oboe sound has in the United States.  Those that agree with what I have to say about bassoon sound may be strengthened in their convictions by my words.  Those that disagree may better be able to define their principles based upon reaction to my musings.

I hope for some healthy discussion at any rate!

Desired Qualities of a Good Bassoon Sound
  • Complexity or richness
  • Carrying power
  • Flexibility
  • Equal to other instruments of the orchestra
I believe a good bassoon sound, like any other acoustic instrumental sound, should have a complexity or richness to it that attracts many different listeners.  Some will like the brilliance in your sound, others will pick up on the fullness or body, etc.

The bassoon sound should carry or project so that when it has the leading line it is heard distinctly.

The sound should also be flexible when needed.  No one likes a sound that stays the same for very long.  It should be changeable at the whim of the performer or at the demand of the music.

Lastly, a good bassoon sound should strive to be as multi-facted and expressive as any other instrument of the orchestra.

Looking Ahead

In this series, you can expect posts about:
  • Strengths and weaknesses inherent in bassoon sound.  All instruments have their strengths and weaknesses.  A great performer uses the strengths and finds ways to compensate for the weaknesses.
  • The best approach for using the air to produce a great sound.
  • An acoustic analysis of bassoon sound with sound clips and spectrographs of my own sound using different reeds.
  • An historical perspective of the development of an American bassoon sound (with sound examples)
  • An aesthetic approach to describing sound from the world of painting.

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