Monday, August 29, 2011

Mooman 150E

I have had a lot of fun trying a new model of bassoon these past couple of weeks.

It's a Moosman 150E.

Justin Miller has graciously allowed me time to live with the instrument for a while, try it in rehearsal, have students and colleagues play on the 150E.

This model is different from the 150.  It is brand new -- just rolled out this summer.  It is a moderately priced bassoon (around $16,000) with minimal keywork.  Silver plated keys. Has high D, E, rollers on F/Ab, Eb/C# and low D/C, right hand lock, balance hanger bushing on top of boot joint, set screw for adjusting whisper mechanism, 2 bocals.  The alternate Bb on the boot joint is absent and the G key is moved up towards the 2nd tone hole on the boot. Hard rubber finger tubes.

I tried different reeds and bocals with it, settling on my favorite pre-war #2CC as the best for making the instrument's tone come alive.

My CIM students and I gave the instrument a thorough trial on the stage of Severance Hall this morning.  First the students sat out in the seats and heard me play some excerpts on my bassoon (a 7000 series Heckel) and then the same music on the Moosman.

Then they all came on stage and I went out to listen while they played on it and their bassoons.

The students were impressed with the ease with which I could play this bassoon.  I find it to be very similar to a really good old Heckel.  Easy response, singing tenor range, very colorful tone quality.  In addition, it has a very even scale (no "bad" notes) and a homogenous tone quality.  It is easy to change colors on this instrument.  It doesn't feel rigid, heavy or stuffy in any way.

It was enlightening to hear my students play on the instrument and compare with their bassoons (a 6000, a 7000 and a 9000 Heckel).  I heard some of the same qualities mentioned above.  One of the three didn't care for the instrument, but the other two were quite taken with it. "If only I'd had this instrument in high school!"

The instrument reacted differently to the four of us. One student and I sounded more covered on the Moosman than on our Heckels, the other two sounded more brilliant on the Moosman.  The tone is certainly flexible, but not unstable.  A sensitive instrument.

Some small negatives:
  • The tone is not as complex (full?) as our Heckels.  There wasn't as much "rattle" or "purr" in the sound (squillo?). The wood is brand new, so maybe this will change over time as the bassoon opens up.
  • The bassoon may have more punch with sterling silver finger tubes.  Justin tells me he will receive one with the silver tubes sometime soon.
  • Why can't anyone make a good bocal besides Heckel?!  The bocals with the bassoon (2 "Interpret" series and 2 "Excellent" were just OK.  I prefered the "Excellent" series.)
  • The feel and position of the keywork is a bit different from what I'm used to, but this shouldn't really put anyone off.  I would like the pinky keys to be angled up just a bit more.  It feels like they are lower to the wood than necessary when depressed.
Two of my TCO section mates, John Clouser and Phil Austin, liked the instrument very much.

While I remain a fan of a good vintage Heckel (6000 to 9000 series), I'm ready to recommend this bassoon over all other brands for the following reasons:
  • It plays more like a great vintage Heckel than any other brand I've tried.
  • It responds easily. Not a chore to play.
  • The tone is focused and beautiful.
  • It has a good scale.
  • The sound doesn't spread or get ugly when you open up to "ff".
  • It's not loaded with keywork you will only use on leap years.
  • It's got a great price.
If I were in the market for a second instrument, this would be it! However, with one daughter in college and another about to enter, I'll have to put this off for now!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Patricia Heaton on acting

Last month I was driving to rehearsal and listening to the radio.  Our local NPR station, WCPN, has an interview show called "Around Noon" devoted to arts and entertainment that was on.

The show I listened to was a re-broadcast of a television interview with a local Cleveland audience by NPR host, Scott Simon with actress Patricia Heaton.  I knew she was a television actress ("Everybody Loves Raymond", "The Middle"), but I had never seen either of these shows.  She's from Bay Village (on the west side of Cleveland), so I thought she might tell some good stories with local interest so I listened.

In fact, much of the interview is devoted to her talking about the tough early days of her career before she hit it big on television.  She has lots of wise observations about acting, auditioning, and life that a young musician taking auditions can learn from.

Here is a link to the mp3 of the show.

You can listen to the whole thing (about 53 minutes long) or start in about 10 minutes where she begins to talk about her career. 

I found it very trenchant and filled with good advice for young artists.

If you listen, let me know what you think!  It's informative and entertaining.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Choosing Reeds -- Reed Hoarding

Hoarding the Reed

Willard Elliot also spoke about how he hoarded particular reeds. (from "Season with Solti" by William Barry Furlong)
For the tour week, for example, he'd been hoarding a particular reed to play during Beethoven's Third Symphony, the Eroica, in Carnegie Hall.  He though it was finished "but somehow it came back and I used it on our recording sessions for the Beethoven symphonies.  Then I put the reed aside and saved it because I was going to use it for the Carnegie Hall performance."  He did not use it in rehearsal, he did not use it in the Youth Concerts, he did not use it in the programs of the Mahler Sixth Symphony.  ("I used another reed for that because the requirements of the Sixth Symphony are not quite so great.")  The reasons he treasured this reed are embedded in the demands of the Eroica on the principal bassoon player.
I try to do much the same thing.  If I identify a reed I want to use for a particular piece or concert, I'll try not to use it on the dress rehearsal and probably won't play on it the day before.  The reed will be tired and less vibrant and responsive if I don't give it a rest.

A Pitching Rotation

I use an approach similar to that of a pitching coach in Major League Baseball.  I try to have three or four reeds that I could use for the week's repertoire available.  I do not use one reed for the whole week's rehearsals and concerts.   In addition, I have a "farm system" of reeds that I break in during the week that I could use the following week.  I also have some "veterans" on hand for use in a pinch.


For most situations, a reed that satisfies the criteria listed in my previous post, "Choosing Reeds -- Some Criteria" will be fine.  However, in some cases, demands placed on us by conductors, repertoire, ourselves, etc. make use of a good, everyday "Omnireed" insufficient to the task at hand. 

For those special situations I use the above process to select reeds that have certain inherent qualities that are different from the rest of the pack.  I try to enhance those characteristics through adjustments in one or more of the parameters listed on my website.  I then hoard these reeds (sometimes a month in advance!) and use them only for the piece for which they were intended.

Remember that you must have a large quantity of blanks available as it's probably impossible to predict what a reed's special qualities will be until you begin scraping.  Also, very few reeds (maybe 1 or 2 out of 20) will commend themselves to you as "high note specialty" or other "extreme" types of reeds.

The selection process is worth it, however.  The feeling of comfort afforded by playing a difficult excerpt on a reed chosen especially for it takes your playing to another level and enhances the impression of ease for the listener.   

Never let them see you sweat!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Choosing Reeds -- An Example

An Example

Recently we played a concert at Blossom that featured Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto and Shostakovich Symphony #10.

The Beethoven contains a beautiful duet with the flute in the second movement.  For this I chose a reed that had a clear, warm tone and great smoothness and steadiness of pitch in the tenor range.

The Shostakovich contains two solo sections in the first and 4th movement.  For these solos you need a reed that has a big dynamic range, is capable of lots of color contrast and has a good "p".  My Beethoven reed had a beautful, clear sound, but wasn't dramatic enough for these solos, so I went with something else.

The solo in the fast section of the last movement features mainly low staccato notes.  Neither the Beethoven nor the reed for the other Shostakovich had great low note articulation, but I found another one in my box that did.

My Selection Process

OK, so you're probably wondering how does he actually identify reeds with particular characteristics and how does he enhance those characteristics so they can be used for the most demanding repertoire!

Given the same shape, gouge and same preliminary scrape some reeds exhibit have unusual strengths in one area or another.  For instance, though of the same thickness, some reeds will respond better than others.  These may be good for particularly soft passages like those in Brahms 4th, 2nd mvt.

Other reeds may exhibit an ease of response in the low register and good pitch in that range.  These may be useful for the opening of Tchaikovsky 6th, for instance.

Others may have an extremely vibrant, rich tone.  Good for Shostakovich 9th?

For instance, though of the same thickness, some reeds will respond better than others.  These may be good for particularly soft passages like those in Brahms 4th, 2nd mvt. 


I test these reeds (as I do all reeds) by playing long tones, making a mental note of the reed's characteristics.  I also try playing scales at full volume to check for resonance and evenness throughout the range.  Then I'll try playing the scale in a subtone to check for ease of response and smoothness at "pp".  Then I'll test the reed by playing something challenging that I'm performing in the coming weeks to see how it does.

Enhancing Good Qualities

Next I finish the reed with the specific goal of performance of a particular piece in mind.  I usually do this just before or during the first rehearsal for that piece.  The reed is finished in most ways, to within a couple thousands of an inch thickness along the spine.  My profiler leaves much more cane on in the rails and channels.  Though I must remove a lot of cane in these areas when finishing the reed, I believe this allows me more leeway in customizing the reed, enhancing its strengths, de-emphasizing its weaknesses.

Next I use my knowledge of the various parameters of the reed's construction and scrape to nudge the reed in the right direction.  For a comprehensive list of these areas for adjustment please see my website.

For instance, if I want to further enhance a reed's low register I might trim the area near the collar thinner, ream it deeper than usual, removing cane from under the first wire and/or make the second wire more oval.

Remember that you need a large number of reeds to choose from in order to do this sort of customization as few reeds will exhibit exactly the right qualities you are looking for.

Also remember that it's OK if a specialty reed doesn't perform certain tasks acceptably.   The reed that is best for the opening of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony doesn't need to have a stable E in the staff, for instance!

In my next post, I'll discuss how I rotate reeds in rehearsal and performance.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Choosing Reeds -- Beyond the "Omnireed"

Willard Elliot

My inspiration for branching out from the "Omnireed" originally came from Willard Elliot, Principal Bassoon with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1964-1997. Willard used his reedbox like a painter uses a palette.  He chose different reeds for different tasks, different reeds for particular composers and compositions. 

Here is his description of some of his reed choices (All quotations are from "Season with Solti" by William Barry Furlong):

In many of the Beethoven symphonies, for example, we need a very dark, "covered" sound but capable of a wide dynamic range.  For Tchaikovsky, I like to have a fairly thick sound because of the nature of the writing of Tchaikovsky, especially when we are doing his Sixth Symphony, the Pathetique, which is so somber at the beginning.  It also depends on the nature of the writing for the bassoon because playing in the high register for the Stravinsky Rite of Spring will take a different kind of reed than playing the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony, or Pathetique.
In my lessons with Willard I noticed that he used several different shapes and made reeds from several different cane sources.  These were all meticulously marked on the wrapping of the reed. 

While he did use different shapes, he also believed it wasn't possible to pre-determine the qualities of a particular reed.
I don't try to predetermine what the reed is going to be, because I think the cane dictates more what the reed is going to be than what you do with it.  So in making up a lot of reeds, I make up a lot of blanks in different shapes.  The different shapes will have different tendencies so I will start working with those shapes in regard to what is coming up (repertoire), and then the cane will tell me what it is going to do -- whether it is going to be deficient in the high register.  And if it is, I try not to go too much against the natural tendencies of the cane because very often you will ruin the reed completely by trying to put something in it that is not there.  Either that happens or you go so slowly on the reed that you never get it to work.  This is something one of my teachers taught me, that it is a waste of time to piddle around with a reed for fear of ruining the sound, because the sound is in the cane.  Go ahead and get that reed to working, take the wood off, and get it to vibrating.  And if the sound is not good, you haven't wasted that much time.  Just go on to another one. 
When reading this, it's important to note that Elliot made enough blanks so that he could afford to customize the ones he finds promising in certain ways.  If you are working with just 4 or 5 reeds, this technique won't be available to you!

I firmly believe what he says about the tone being in the cane and not wasting time trying to turn a reed into something it's not destined to be.  My success rate with reeds is between 20-25%.  This comports with what others tell me.  Don't be shy about throwing out a lot of cane!

In my next post, I'll give an examples from music I performed recently, detailing how I used three different reeds for the repertoire in one concert.