Monday, December 14, 2015

Profiler questions

Recently, a reader of this blog asked a few questions about my profile. Here are my answers and some further thoughts.

The reader asked what the measurements are that I use to set up a profiler, with specific requests for the thickness of the fold and the collar. I apologize in advance for the use of the English measurement system. The United States educational system tried to convert all of us to the metric system in the 1970's, but some stubbornness remains!

1. General thickness. I leave an average of about .03" of thickness on the profile at all points compared to a finished reed. It has been my experience that totally finishing a reed during the profile results in weaker and fewer usable reeds.

2. How to set the thickness. The thickness of the cut should be set so that the profile is thinnest (compared to measurements for a finished reed) at the intersection of the two tapers of the reed blade slope. Some call this the bump, some call it the beginning of the heart of the reed. See below where taper 1 meets taper 2.

My reed has two major tapers (I omit a small one at the very tip for simplicity's sake.) -- one that runs from the collar to about the 3/4 of the blade's length and another, sharper taper the starts there and finishes at the tip. Most German scrape reeds are similar.

Because I use a single-barrel profiler, I get only one slope for the entire length of the blade in my profile. Thus, as you can see in the diagram above, for a thin, but usable profile, it is necessary to balance the profile by bringing it as close in thickness to that of the point at which the two reed blade tapers meet.

This means that there will be some extraneous thickness at the ends (tip and collar). You can change the angle of the slope of the profile to favor a thinner collar or tip, but you must always be sure not to set the profile so that it is too thin at the crucial point in the diagram.

* Here is a clever way to avoid ruining the blade and scraping the cane barrel when adjusting the profiler thickness. Before profiling, with no cane on the cane barrel, put a shim -- made out of a piece of paper -- on the barrel , bring the blade down and pull the shim out from under the blade. If there is friction, you've probably set the profile too thin.

My profile thickness at this point is between .001-.002" greater than finished reed thickness.

2. What are my measurements for thickness at the collar and fold? I measure the collar thickness, but not the fold. Instead of the fold, I measure the thickness at the point where the tip would be cut. My shim test takes care of making sure the fold or center point of the profile is not too thin.

My collar thickness comes in at about .038" since my finished reeds end up anywhere between .032-.035" The tip profile measurement is around .015", finished being .008-.010".

To measure the profile thickness, I use my nearly endless supply of bad cane. After profiling, I remove the cane and cut it (without folding)in the two places where the two tips would be. Then I measure the thickness using a dial indicator. Measure the cane with the gouged side up for greater accuracy!

Further thoughts:

Ideally, to get a very thin tip profile, while maintaining proper thickness at the crucial point where the tapers meet, would result in an extremely thin fold, or the cutting through of the blade at the center point. That's why my profiled tip is rather heavy.

Ways around this:
  • use a tip finisher after profiling.
  • design a ramp for the profiler that slows or cancels the downward slope just before the center point or end of cut.
The latter is what K. David Van Hoesen did in his modification of the Pfeifer double barrel profiler. The same could be done with any single barrel profiler ramp. Simply level or reverse the downward slope for the last 1/4" of the cut. The result would be a nicely thin tip, but enough cane left on the fold so that it wouldn't fray or break apart when folding.
Profilers with a double taper ramp:

1. The MD Reed Products profiler has a double taper. MD will also make a profiler with my custom ramp dimensions.

2.  Ramp upgrade. The PCD Company makes replacement ramps that fit the Rieger, Pfeifer and Popkin profilers. These ramps are machined with the double taper. I'm not sure about how the Rieger replacement fits on, but to add the Pfeifer or Popkin, you just unscrew the current ramp and screw the new on in place.

* In my test, the replacement ramp required almost no shimming to adjust the profile thickness, but if you try this, I would use the shim test described above to be sure the new ramp doesn't result in a profile that is too thin.

Shims made of sheet brass in different thicknesses (.003", .005", .010", etc.) can be found at a hobby store or online.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Reed Desk

My reed desk is starting to fill up with blanks. I get a lot of questions about how to get good reeds from your reed making.

Assuming proper tools and good workmanship, when dealing with cane we are ultimately faced with the predestination of botany.

It is indeed humbling to admit that, after decades of research and effort, I still make some reeds that will never be usable. I've spent a lot of time in this blog and on my website and in countless lessons with students sharing my wisdom about reed making.

However, I have to admit (as we all should) that often your efforts are defeated by poor cane quality. Even with the methods I use for cane selection, there are still factors in the cane that elude my eye.

So, when someone asks me how I ensure that I always have a few presentable reeds in my box, I give the following advice:

1. Never rely upon one source of cane for good reeds.
2. Keep a stock cane from at least three different sources at all times.
3. Always have blanks available from several different cane sources.
4. Leave them on your drying rack for at least two weeks -- longer will yield more good reeds.
5. Fill your reed case with reeds from these different sources.
6. Rotate your reeds for day-to-day use.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Radu Lupu Birthday

Today is Radu Lupu's 70th birthday. We have performed with him on numerous occasions. Among the memorable performances were a traversal of all 5 Beethoven Piano Concerti in Carnegie Hall several years ago.

This fall we performed the 4th Piano Concerto with him twice on tour -- once in Milan and once in Munich. While the Beethoven performance in Munich was especially memorable, it was his encore there that left us all in awe. His performance of the Brahms Eb Intermezzo made us forget that we were a tired group of touring musicians and reminded us of the power of music to inspire and soothe!

Here is Kirill Gerstein's tribute to Lupu. At the end is a video of his encore after performing with us in La Scala. Yours truly is barely visible at the beginning of the clip during the applause.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bassoon King

Another bassoonist in the news! No Nobel Prize Winner this time, just a member of the cast of the television show, The Office. Yes, Dwight Shrute (Rainn Wilson) played the bassoon -- he says for five years!

Information about his book below:

The Bassoon King

Also, enjoy this timely cartoon from trumpeter, Jeff Curnow:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Inspired Reading

Happy Thanksgiving!

Those reading in the U.S. may have some extra time on this holiday weekend, so here are two recent posts to inspire you:

1. Cellist Steven Isserlis talks about what keeps him practicing and how the Beethoven Sonatas for Piano and Cello challenge and inspire him.

2. In a long essay, Gidon Kremer lists his top 10 favorite recordings of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with lots of insights in between. To read the essay, go here and click on the link at the end of the letter.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nobel Laureate Bassoonist

In case you don't know the wonderful story of William Moerner, a bassoonist who is now a Nobel Laureate, here it is below. Courtesy of Ryan Romine, Bassoon Editor of the Double Reed Magazine.

I apologize for the small print size and the formatting!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Milan -- a 19 hour visit

Our next stop was Milan. We arrived in the early afternoon. Quite often when a large group like ours checks in to a hotel in the morning or afternoon, none or only some of the rooms have been cleaned and are ready. This creates extra stress and fatigue for that day, when often there is a concert or even a rehearsal and concert later that day.

This was the case in Milan. I was lucky to get a room right away, but my attempt at a nap was thwarted by the trumpet player in the room next to me who decided it was time to practice! I decided to punt on the nap and went to see the Duomo (above). The line to get in was pretty long and I didn't have the time to wait, so the view from outside had to suffice.

Besides I needed to keep track of the time. We had a rehearsal with our soloist, Radu Lupu on Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto which was on the program that night. This would be our only rehearsal with him, so a very important rehearsal.

After a short break, we played the concert. La Scala has an iconic look

The orchestra had never played at La Scala before. Since we played on the stage and not in the pit, I couldn't get a true view of how the acoustics for an opera performance would have been (that's what the hall was built for), so I'll just say that, from our standpoint, it was an extremely dry acoustic and not an easy place in which to make a beautiful sound. I hope I've missed something here, because it's such a legendary place!  Perhaps the voices come across best.

The concert began at 9:00pm, so with a 7:40 bus departure from the hotel, you could either enjoy a night out in Milan with no sleep or call it an early night. I opted for the latter, knowing that Paris, the next day would be exactly the same kind of tight schedule with a late arrival, rehearsal and concert packed into about 8 hours.

Touring can be glamorous and thrilling, but with a schedule like this and the need to uphold a very high standard of performing excellence, the thrill and glamour seem far away at times.

My daughter would say I have a "First World Problem" when I complain of such things -- a great job, the chance to see a lot of things I wouldn't ordinarily, so I'll stop complaining for now!

Luxembourg -- running and concertizing

Our next stop was Luxembourg. It has a wonderful, modern concert hall -- the Philharmonie. A good acoustic and a feeling of comfort on stage made for a good concert. We have played here often. Here is a good rundown of my experience there in 2011.

Running in Luxembourg is a pleasure. In the center city there is a series of parks that are great for shorter runs. For longer runs with lots of hills, there is the gorge or Grund.

This extremely picturesque area is full of lush greenery, cool streams and medieval ruins. It's easy to get lost down there but, if you're not running for time, it can be stimulating and adventurous.

I used some precious spare time in Luxembourg to get caught up on reed making. As many hotel rooms have poor lighting for this purpose, I try to bring along my Ikea LED lamp. It's flexible and has a USB connection. The adaptor for European outlets is separate.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Brussels -- Beer, chocolate and mussels

The Orchestra's first stop was in Brussels, where we played a concert in the Palais des Beaux Arts -- a beautiful Art Deco temple with rather poor acoustics.

I tried to find a good place for a long run, to continue to battle jet lag. I hit upon the canal that runs through the city, thinking it might be scenic. Perhaps the 45 degree weather and the drizzling rain influenced my impression, but I found the area along the canal to be drab and industrial.

You can't go wrong in Brussels if you like beer, chocolate or food in general, however, so my free time was not a total loss.

I also managed to find a great place for coffee. Aksum is run by two Ethiopians who roast, sell and brew single origin Ethiopian coffee exclusively. I had a really memorable espresso and a good macchiato there.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Running in Geneva

The Jet d'Eau in Geneva

I'm writing this from the cafeteria at CERN in Geneva. If my prose is a little lacking in self-confidence, it's because the IQ level in this room may be higher than in any other cafeteria I've ever been in!

I'm at the beginning of a 3-week European tour with the Orchestra, spending the first free days with my daughter and son-in-law in Geneva. He works at CERN.

Earlier today I went for a beautiful run along the shore of Lac Leman. There is nothing like good, vigorous exercise for getting over jet lag.

Like many Swiss cities located on lakes, there are very fine paths for bikes, hikers and runners to follow along the shore. My route followed the western shore of the lake, going out of the city, past the World Trade Organization headquarters, by the Botanical Garden, turning around after about 3 1/2 miles and going back.

Yesterday, I visited the church at which John Calvin preached in the 1500's. St. Pierre's is notable for its lack of decoration or ornamentation, undoubtedly removed or destroyed during the iconoclasm of the Reformation

There were are few remnants, however, including a beautifully carved 15th century choir stall.

Here is a Flower Clock that Francaix would have liked!

Tomorrow I will train to Brussels to be reunited with my bassoon and start the hard work of this tour. I now routinely pack my bassoon in the instrument trunk, due to its ivory bell. Our orchestra management has been successful in navigating through the shoals of re-entering the US with the Fisheries and Wildlife people. Traveling with it by myself, I would be tempting fate.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Extreme Measures -- Playing very softly

I've run into two instances recently in which my limits as a player were tested. I'm speaking in particular of the ability to play very softly.

In both cases, I had soft reeds that I thought would get the job done, but in rehearsal, found out the conductor wanted the passages in question softer than I was comfortable managing without taking extreme measures.

During the rehearsals, I got "The Hand" or "The Heisman". If you follow American college football, you'll know what I mean!

Here is the first solo:

The bassoon solo in the 3rd movement of Mahler's 1st Symphony. We played it at the Blossom Music Center this summer. In the first rehearsal, I played it as softly as I could comfortably, thinking that since this is an outdoor concert, I need not go to extremes with the dynamic.

Unfortunately, I was wrong!  The conductor wanted it softer, so I had to come up with a solution. I wanted to avoid muting the instrument because it is a solo and I think it should have a characteristic bassoon sound, not one that is completely altered.

Instead I found some fingerings that make this solo soft and in my comfort zone to play.

1. Use the lock for the whole solo. This necessitates venting the upper  A's  and  Bb's  so they speak in the correct octave. Vent for the whole duration of the note, so you don't lose the octave part-way through.

2. To start, alter the first  D by anchoring your right thumb on the F# post right next to the Low E key. Be careful not to contact the F# key!! Partially close the E key with the side of your thumb until you achieve a softer D that is also nicely down to pitch. There is quite often a pitch discrepancy between the Bass solo that precedes the bassoon entrance and this first note, with the Bass being on pitch or flat and you being sharp on the  D , so this little aid is helpful. Fortunately, Max Dimoff, our Principal Bass plays this solo with impeccable intonation, so he set me up beautifully!

3. Use the low Eb key on open F for a more trouble-free slur to G.

4. Your choice as to whether or not to shade the low E key for every D in the solo -- probably too much trouble, right?

5. Be sure to vent the first A!

6. Now for the most important solution -- making the A - Low A slur at the end of the phrase successful! 
  • Vent the upper A
  • for the low A, remove the vent while adding the low C# key and the thumb F# in the right hand for a comfortable, smooth slur that is very soft. Careful coordination is essential for this to work.
  • A variation on this would be to add just the F#, but the low A may be too flat on your bassoon. If so, include the low C#.
  • As this method involves lots of changes to normal fingerings in a pressure situation, you'll need to practice this quite a lot to get comfortable with it before trying it in rehearsal.

 The other passage is found at the beginning of the 3rd bassoon part in Mahler's 3rd Symphony

The slur from A to low B in the little passage at Number 1 was giving me fits when I first played it several years ago. The contrabassoon plays this passage with you, so our contrabassoonist, Jonathan Sherwin kindly showed me his solution.

Simply play the A with the low B key on (and the lock) and you'll have a better chance of landing safely on low B.

However, this past week, that wasn't good enough in rehearsal, for a very soft "ppp" was desired!  Even armed with this fingering, a soft reed and a bocal I use mainly for 3rd bassoon parts, it wasn't quiet enough.

My solution for a homemade mute! 
  • Find some flexible sponge-like packing material. 
  • Cut out a cylinder approximately 2" in diameter and 1" thick.
  • Poke a whole in the middle and tie a rubber band in a knot. 
  • Push the rubber band through the hole with the knot on one side of the packing cylinder. 
  • Leave some length of rubber band on the other end to use as a handle for pulling out of the bell
  • Insert in bell
With all of these extreme measures in place, I have so far avoided the "Heisman" gesture from the podium!

We'll see if my luck continues, for we are taking Mahler 3rd to Europe for 3 weeks this month!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Nasty Habits -- Playing in a Section

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Bassoon Section, ca. 1974 (Willard Elliot, Wilbur Simpson, John Raitt, Burl Lane)

In this post, I'd like to discuss how to play in a bassoon section. School and professional orchestras have started up around here for the indoor season and, once again, there is a demand for harmony in a section.

This is a good time to enumerate some of the things that make a section work well together.

1. Respect

An orchestra functions best when it works as a large chamber music ensemble. Therefore, EVERYONE in the orchestra matters and deserves respect. When dealing with colleagues start by assuming everyone wants and deserves to be in the group and everyone is trying their best. While sometimes this may not be so, it is always best to take the high road.

For each new rehearsal or concert, though, respect should be thought of as a precious commodity -- something that is important for you to earn each day in performance and easy to lose. This will help keep you playing your best day-in and day-out.

Respect for the music you play is even more important. This is the focus everyone should strive for.

A certain amount of special respect is due the leader or Principal player in your section. This person is the leader and the one a section looks to for guidance in terms of sound, style, etc. His/her decisions should be considered authoritative regarding how the section works together.

2. Communication 

Communication that is clear and respectful is very important. In a rehearsal, there is little time to discuss things, so short, clear questions or instructions work best. Use the first person plural "we" when asking about a passage you play with other section mates -- "Can we try. . . "

Section leaders need to communicate with their sections in a timely and clear fashion regarding part assignments, any changes in the parts communicated through them by the conductor, etc.

When necessary, try to find ways to communicate that do not interrupt warming up or disturb the flow of a rehearsal. 

Speak quietly in a way that can be heard, but won't drown out the conductor's voice.

Do not point or gesture at someone else's music. Instead, ask the person to check a bar number or letter in their part and have them tell you what they have there.

Try to use subtle body language when communicating during an ensemble rehearsal. Conductors pick up on aggressive body language and could see it as challenging to their authority.

When giving cues, make your gestures subtle, but clear. Players other than the Principal player rarely have to cue, but if you do, NEVER cue with a bigger gesture than the Principal. Do not turn to the player you are cuing, don't breathe loudly to cue, keep as still as you can while cuing clearly.

3. Tuning

ALWAYS let the Principal player try the "A" first. Once they're in, it's your turn. Principals, be aware that others are waiting to tune as well. 

When tuning chords, it's generally best to tune from the lowest note in a chord up. Instead of making assumptions about pitch, just try the isolated chord without saying anything except, "Can we try. . . "

If there is still a discrepancy, try to be flexible. If you have an unstable note, rely on the other person. Sometimes using a third person's ears to help is useful, sometimes checking yourself with a tuner is helpful. Keep in mind, if you use a tuner, use it only for reference to make sure you are not leading the other person too far off normal pitch level. The context of the chords should be ultimately controlling, not the tuner. WE PLAY WITH EACH OTHER, NOT TUNERS!

4. Etiquette 

Try to rid yourself of any bad habits you have when working in a section. 
  • Keep still and quiet during rehearsals and especially concerts.
  • Notice any nervous habits you might have that will drive your section mates crazy after a while! 
  • Don't crow your reed in rehearsal
  • Keep your key mechanism lubricated so it will be quiet when you play
  • If you must work on your reed, do this quietly. Be careful when handling tools so you don't drop them or make noise with them.
  • Keep the area around you devoid of coffee cups, etc. that can be kicked over
  • Be aware of the space around you so you don't put your things in someone else's space. 
  • Never practice someone else's solo onstage!
This list could go on and on. . .

5. Conductors 
  •  Memorize the first few notes of an entrance so the conductor can have your eyes.
  • When the conductor stops conducting YOU STOP IMMEDIATELY.
  • When the conductor asks you to play something in a different manner, do not speak unless you must. Simply nod. There isn't time for a discussion of musical points.
  • If you don't understand or wish to follow up with the conductor, do so at a break one-on-one. NEVER CHALLENGE A CONDUCTOR!
  • The conductor is not your friend. Excessive time spent schmoozing with a conductor in front of colleagues may backfire!
 6. Colleagues
  • Keep in mind that playing in an orchestra is difficult, exacting work. If you hear someone in your section play something wonderfully, let them know!
  • Show appreciation either by quietly shuffling your feet or clapping one hand against your leg.
  • Save this sign of encouragement for occasions in which the playing is truly exceptional or in which the player has overcome a difficulty or made a fine adjustment based upon a conductor's comments.
  • Excessive praise can be seen as an attempt to curry favor and may even be taken as sarcastic if the performer feels they didn't do their best.
I would love to hear what advice others have on this topic!


Friday, September 11, 2015

Nasty Habits - Teaching Yourself

"When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear."

This Zen koan goes right to the heart of the learning process. As students engage with teachers at the beginning of a new semester, it's helpful to investigate how students can best ready themselves for learning and growth. Teachers can also take much wisdom from contemplating this statement.

You may wonder who or what is the Teacher referred to above! As with most pithy sayings like this, I suppose there's no single correct answer, but here are two that occur to me:

1. The "Teacher" is actually a state of mind that exists when the Student embarks on a journey towards learning, e.g., lesson, with a receptiveness, humility and eagerness to be inspired and to be changed by engaging with great works of music, guided by someone who is farther along on this journey than they are.

2. The "Teacher" is an actual teacher whose effectiveness is enhanced by the Student's receptiveness and preparation for learning.

There are certainly other possible interpretations, but these fit my purpose for this post.

Grouchy Old Man

I'm going to sound like a grouchy old man when I say that young musicians today have many more resources for learning than I did when growing up. After I was done with school came the explosion of the market for CDs, then came the internet and YouTube, etc. Students today are actually overwhelmed with choices when looking for musical sound or style to model.

Combine this with the obsession with testing in the schools and you have a generation that often seems confused and unable to think for itself. Teachers teaching to the test often feel pressure to take short cuts and provide answers for students instead of introducing ambiguity that might delay an answer but provoke deeper, more critical thinking.

I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to "spoon-feeding." Indeed, there are often times when this is necessary -- fixing a reed for a student before an important audition instead of letting the student flounder while searching for themselves for the right solution, for instance.

However, I believe the old adage, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime", still holds true.

Sometimes, I'll challenge my students this way: "Make me really earn my pay by coming into the lesson so prepared and executing the material so convincingly that I scratch my head trying to come up with something to say."

If I have to point out wrong notes or spot something that a machine could register such as bad intonation or pulse, I'm not earning my pay and you're not getting your money's worth out of me!

Dan Silver, Professor of Clarinet at the University of Colorado shared the checklist below with me a long time ago. I think it's a great run-down of what must be taken into consideration when perfecting an etude, piece or excerpt.

In my experience, most students struggle to master the parameters of the "Fundamentals" section and grasp just a few things in the other sections in the practice between lessons. And that's in a good lesson!

 However, in a great performance, the listener is inspired by the performer's mastery of an interpretation. All the other areas must be mastered, but must remain invisible (or inaudible) to the listener. If any difficulty in these other areas becomes audible, the magic of the performance collapses like a house of cards!

Ideally, the weekly lesson should not consist wholly of spoon-feeding by the teacher or the student coming in with issues to the point such that the lesson is derailed. For at least part of an ideal lesson what is practiced is performing what has been learned during the week.

"Progress occurs between lessons." - Dan Stolper, oboist and teacher

Check this list before your next lesson. Challenge yourself to see how many of the areas listed you can master in the material you're learning. Share it with your students.

Musical Artistry              

·         Command of rhythm, pulse, ability to subdivide
·         Technical accuracy
·         Pattern recognition in reading music (scales, arpeggios, etc.)
·         Beauty of tone
·         Accurate intonation
·         Control of dynamics, large dynamic range
·         Control and variety of articulations


·         Variety of tone color
·         Seamless legato 
·         Even passage work
·         Appropriate vibrato


·         Playing exactly what’s on the page first
·         Clarity of the aural concept (what does the inner ear hear?)
·         Sense of style
·         Points of tension and release in the musical line
·         Control of line, phrasing
·         Use of rubato, if appropriate
·         Knowing context of specific piece
·         Performance practice
Physical and Mental

      • Mastery of the "Inner Game"
      • Body awareness and use
      • Stage presence, presentation
      • "X” Factor

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Nasty Habits - Private Lessons

My teaching has started up for the fall semester. The beginning of each new school year marks a period of transition for student and teacher.

New students come in with fresh faces and ideas, looking to improve and adopt new habits. Each fall I spend a little time with my students planning the semester.

One way to get things off to a good start is to set goals and give guidelines for the semester. Most classroom teachers have a syllabus that includes policies governing attendance, grading, etc. Increasingly, the private lesson music teacher has adopted these, too.

At its best, a syllabus gives student and teacher clear guidelines for the progress of the semester. At very least it functions as a kind of contract between student and teacher covering grading policy, etc.

However, many teachers are uncomfortable with the imposition of legalistic guidelines upon the creative hour that is the private lesson. For the private lesson to be effective, there needs to be a great amount of trust between student and teacher.

Paradoxically, however, sometimes the trust is most easily established when the student knows that clear expectations and boundaries exist in the lesson format.

Setting up meaningful, clear objectives is one way to start out right. "Let's work on improving your intonation this semester." "Let's prepare for your degree recital."

In addition, I've found it helpful to post some points for my students to ponder as we get started for the semester. Here is a list from oboist, Elaine Douvas I've modified for my use.

How to get the best out of your teacher

You deserve to have my best effort -- my undivided attention for one hour per week; your progress and well-being should be the most important thing in the world for the one hour you are there. Unfortunately, a teacher cannot always give his best to each and every student, especially if he has many students, but you can be sure of getting that 100% effort if you always give your own best effort and do not make unnecessary extra work for me.

Consider the following:

1. Come on time; late arrivals show avoidance.

2. Don't warm up in your lesson. Schedule your lesson time such that there is time to warm up beforehand.

3. Help me stay organized; I keep a notebook of assignments but you must keep one yourself. At the beginning of the lesson, tell me everything you have practiced and hope to cover; remind me of what happened at the previous lesson. When you leave, find a place where you can spend a few minutes writing down helpful notes from the lesson.

4. Keep the energy level high: unpack quickly, don't waste time trying out 10 reeds, do not yawn. Additionally, don't waste the next person's time by taking too long to pack up.

5. Don't engage in too much small talk. Try to let me know that you have a great deal prepared and want to get through it.

6. For the teacher-student relationship to be most productive, there must be trust and respect for the assignments given and the material chosen by the teacher.

7. Meet me halfway in the lesson. The first part of your lesson is your performance for me of the work you've done that week. The second half is our chance to analyze and improve upon your playing.

8. Take initiative; do one or two things more than you were assigned.

9. Try to grasp things quickly; don't make me repeat things (a conductor only says things once!).

10. Have problems solved before each lesson; I get frustrated working on the same things with the same person week after week.

11. Don't be a "Space Cadet!" Don't leave things behind; it makes for unnecessary texts or phone calls and extra work for me.

12. If you need a recommendation letter, make it as easy as possible for me. Supply a link in an email to me or provide me with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a hard copy.

13. Schedule your practice time as you do your classes. Treat them with the same discipline as you do your classes.

14. Plan your recitals when I can come, otherwise I may think that you don't value my opinion. Also, notify me of other performances I may want to hear to be able to help you better.

15. Go to my performances. Hearing me play gives meaning to the comments I make in your lessons. Also, go to the performances of your fellow students.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Different Kind of Toscanini Broadcast!

Above is a cartoon that appeared in 1937 on the front page of one of Vienna's major newspapers, The Illustrated Kronenzeitung. In a whimsical mixing of disciplines it shows Richard Eybner, a famous Viennese actor at a microphone impersonating a famous Viennese sportscaster, Willy Schmieger.

The caption reads, "If Schmieger broadcast a Toscanini concert." Shown are Toscanani as referee in a soccer game (see his whistle!), with players, Hugo Burghauser (bassoon) and Arnold Rose (concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic) all in athletic gear with their instruments. A timpanist appears to be the keeper.

This cartoon is featured in Burghauser's book, "Symphonische Begegnungen"

What sort of cultural change would have to take place in the US -- or perhaps anywhere else but Vienna -- for a major newspaper to put something like this on its front page?

The closest thing I could think of is Peter Schickele's broadcast of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, with Bobby Corno on first horn.

Here's another blast from the past:

This is from a December, 1945 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. Inside is an article about Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic. William Polisi, Principal Bassoon, Manuel Zegler (misspelled in caption), Second Bassoon (Zeglar would later move up to Principal Bassoon) and Roberto Sensale, contra. In the second photo, the players are posed with their instruments over a chess board. More likely the game was poker and played without instruments present, with money on the table!

The Puppet Show, Bartholemew Fair by John Nixon, 1796 was recently purchased at an auction. This image was shared with me by conductor, Nic McGegan when he conducted us at Blossom this July..

I don't think the listener is too impressed with the bassoonist's playing!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Resources and reading

I wanted to share with you some pages I've found that provide good advice for musicians who travel (including a very helpful run-down of how to deal with the ivory bell issue), a fascinating listing of Henk de Wit's bassoon and art collection, and a biography of a prominent bassoonist from the Vienna Philhamonic's web archive.

Bassoonist, Joey Grimmer has constructed a website devoted to helping musicians who travel. It's a wonderful resource! In it he provides help with itineraries and other issues for the wandering musician. Especially pertinent for instrumentalists whose instruments contain ivory are his instructions for how to deal with US Fisheries and Wildlife officials, etc.

There are differing opinions on what to do with the ivory on your bell, however. Joey's and others' solution of grinding off the ivory and replacing it with a synthetic is just one solution.

Some who don't regularly travel outside of the US are taking a wait-and-see approach, assuming the regulations will either be relaxed for those with musical instruments or more judiciously enforced in the future.

Some repair technicians have had success removing the ivory ring intact and making a substitute. The ivory ring can be refit to the bell when playing in the US. Ken Potsic has had good success with this.

I have retained my ivory bell due to the luxury I have of being part of an organization that has excellent travel staff who have run interference with Customs and Fisheries and Wildlife. As long as I choose not to carry my bassoon with me if I deviate from the orchestra flight back into the US, I'm fine. If I go abroad with my bassoon without the orchestra, however, all bets are off.

Hugo Burghauser, bassoonist

I had lunch with Lenny Hindell, former Second Bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic, last week when we were in NYC for the Lincoln Center Festival. Lenny played a few years in the MET orchestra before joining the Philharmonic. The name Hugo Burghauser came up during our conversation. I knew that Burghauser was the dedicatee of Strauss' Duet Concertino, so I was interested to learn that he had also played in the MET and Lenny knew him.

When I got home I looked up any information about Burghauser I could find. His was a dramatic life. He was a very powerful man in the Vienna Philharmonic while its president and lost everything when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.

I also searched the excellent Vienna Philharmonic digital archives for his name and found this. To read about Burghauser, scroll down about 2/3rds of the way and look for his name under the "Exile" section on the right. Click on his name and then click on the pdf. 11 pages from the archives give his story.

A rather different take on his political views from the one given on the h-net site above. I wonder which is closer to the truth?

One more for fun!  Please visit this virtual exhibit of the bassoon and art collection of the famous Dutch bassoonist, Henk de Wit.


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.