Boismortier Concerto & Maurice Allard

Bernard Wahl - Nonesuch.jpg

I was a young bassoon student (the case almost touched the ground when I carried it by the handle) taking lessons once a week with Wilbur Simpson (for many years second bassoonist with the Chicago Symphony). One week, before we headed upstairs to his bassoon studio, he ushered me into the living room and said, “I want you to hear this!” He carefully laid an LP on the turntable, located the needle and turned up the volume. Enthusiastically, he exclaimed, “Wait ’til you hear this–a french bassoonist with a marvelous tone!” For my first experience hearing the french bassoon, I was blessed with the round sound of the incomparable Maurice Allard (1923-2004) performing Boismortier’s Concerto in D. Read William Waterhouse’s biographical sketch.

Allard

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Glickman/Popkin Bassoon Camp

The Glickman/Popkin Bassoon Camp is a ten-day summer camp for bassoonists 18 years of age and above, of any skill level.

DATES for the 2016 Glickman Popkin Bassoon  Camp
May 30 – June 9

Each day includes master classes, reed making classes, ensemble activities and recital hours. Also included are bassoon repairs, bassoon makers, music and tool vendors, and many ways to relax and learn through social engagements.

Established in 1978 by Loren Glickman and Mark Popkin and located at the beautiful Wildacres Retreat Center in Little Switzerland, NC.

                    bassoons_andrew_cuneo     mcgill_d     hollingsworth3

This year, the guest artists are:

  • Andrew Cuneo, principal, St. Louis Symphony;
  • David McGill, professor of bassoon at Northwestern University and former principal, Chicago Symphony;
  • Harrison Hollingsworth, principal, New York City Ballet Orchestra.

A limited number of scholarships are available for those students who apply and meet the requirements.

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Dancing fingers

tenUnless we are very secure in our “digital” technique, we may encounter fast, technically difficult passages and experience the nauseating feeling of “digital” overload! If the speed we can manage with confident manual dexterity is exceeded, fingers twitch and dance about as if frantically probing the darkness for a light switch! Our fingers sketch the interval patterns–we’re rolling the dice with the notes on the page. Sure, there’s one chance in 272,160 that we randomly might grab the right fingering for a given note, but that level of accuracy will get us fired! So, how can we gain security with our finger technique and increase our speed limit?

Most everyone knows that consistent slow practice is the key to developing technical superiority. Starting slowly and steadily, we gradually increase our speed while maintaining accuracy. Little by little we painstakingly work to program our fingers with many and multiple combinations–for every possible interval. In fact, if we could smoothly, quickly, and accurately perform every possible interval on the instrument (every single note to every one of the other notes), we could say we have mastered the fingering technique on the instrument. Let’s get started!

We’re using Herbert L. Clarke’s Second Study for our technical workouts this semester. Here is the pattern:Clarke_Second StudyOnce memorized, this exercise is a great way to work on velocity in all keys. Some of the patterns will feel easy, and some will be quite awkward to start. We’ve been in the habit of playing the pattern the first time at a slow tempo, then picking up the speed on the repeat. In some cases, it’s a good idea to repeat the pattern multiple times at different tempos. As Clarke advised, “REMEMBER that to improve, one must master difficulties each day.”

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Practicing slowly

Many great performers have much to say about practicing slowly. Orchestral musicians especially have the habit of setting the metronome at a slow speed (maybe half tempo) and gradually increasing the tempo a notch at a time to eventually bring a difficult passage up to full speed. Since flawless accuracy is the goal, so many repetitions ultimately pay off.

One concern, though, is that if we don’t pay attention while practicing slowly, we really don’t improve very much. Great athletes practice complex plays or strategic movements in “slow motion” in order to analyze precisely where every part of the body must be in order to perfectly execute the maneuver. Just moving slowly isn’t enough–mindful technical analysis at a slow tempo is the goal.

So, practice a challenging passage slowly. Pay attention to every movement of your fingers. Notice where glitches occur, then back out and try again in order to “fix” the problem. If this passage is like the pattern a wide receiver will run to evade the defender and make a spectacular catch in the end zone, every footstep will be carefully mapped. The angle of the body, the position of the hands, and the gaze of the eyes all will be a part of the design.

One-Handed-Grabs-Foot_News

On the bassoon, complex fingering patterns and movements combine for every interval. Become sensitive to how every accurate fingering feels so that you may be able to recognize errors. Choreograph the passage and learn where you need to focus your concentration. Where do you need to be looking? Make the most of your “slow motion” practice in order to perfect even the most difficult music. bumblebee

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Wide leaps

Ruggiero ostinato multikey

As we are working on tuning/voicing/articulating passages featuring wide leaps, a little etude is in order :-) I’ve provided multiple keys to cover more interval content.

I suggest practicing this exercise with varied tonguing and slurring patterns. Of particular importance is to play the lower notes more prominently, and the upper notes more quietly. Try playing the lower notes longer/stronger and the upper notes shorter/lighter, for example. As always, keep your metronome & tuner handy!

Note on the source: This is a basso ostinato pattern known as “Ruggiero,” derived from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso “Ruggier, qual sempre fui, tal esser voglio” [Giuseppe Gerbino and Alexander Silbiger. “Ruggiero (i).” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/24116.]
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Milde op. 24

I like Ludwig Milde’s Twenty-Four Scale and Arpeggio Studies, op. 24. These etudes are great for daily maintenance and workout. I don’t know what it is, but I really like #8–it’s probably because the upper middle register slurs are good vitamins, especially in D major!

Milde_op24_p11IMSLP has a link to the Sibley Library copy of the the Hofmeister edition of Milde op. 24. There are a few wrong notes in this edition (easily corrected), but it’s nice to have a convenient electronic copy for your bassoon music archive.

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First tools for reed making/adjusting

Here’s a quick shopping list for the (few) tools needed for beginning reed making/adjusting:

Mandrel. I recommend the forming mandrel #2130 sold by Womble Williams. You can make your own holding mandrel with a mandrel pin and a do-it-yourself handle.

mandrel

Pliers. I made many reeds with a pair of 6-inch needle-nose pliers I purchased at Ace Hardware in 1970. Just be sure your pliers have a built-in wire cutter.

pliersWire. #22 soft brass wire is best. Sometimes craft stores carry wire like this, but you may want to check the double reed shops.22brasswirePlaque. It is important to protect the reed when you are working on it. I like a traditional arrow-head contoured plaque–available at double reed shops.

plaqueFile. I like my Grobet files, but any 4-inch warding file will do the trick.

file

Sandpaper. #400 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper is very handy. I use it to sand the reed tip (to improve response) and for fine finishing of the reed blades.

sandpaperWe like to use cotton thread to wrap bassoon reeds. Nylon thread tends to stretch and squeeze the tube closed. Cotton #10 crochet thread is an inexpensive alternative to the various specialty string available for wrapping reeds, and it’s available in many colors!

aunt-lydia-s-classic-crochet-cotton-size-10-6Duco is probably the most popular glue used to seal and waterproof the thread.

duco

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Baroquemusic.it

Baroquemusic.it is a terrific resource! There are a few solo pieces for bassoon (including two Vivaldi concertos—RV501 and RV487—and the Boismortier concerto in D) and considerable chamber music with prominent bassoon parts (e.g. Zelenka trio sonata #5, ZWV 181). A special favorite of mine is Biagio Marini’s Affetti Musicali (1617) which features great early Baroque writing for bassoon. The scores are immaculate, many produced directly from manuscripts. MIDI files are included. We used the MIDI files for a concerto in Garageband to easily create a handy accompaniment (muting the solo track and adjusting the tempo) for practicing. The editions are also indexed and linked through IMSLP.

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Paul Nordby Bassoon Repair

nordbyLast week, I had the great good fortune to have my bassoon adjusted by Paul Nordby in Indianapolis. What a genuinely nice man and wonderful bassoon specialist! My bassoon plays better than ever! In the 1970s, I had taken a bassoon to James Laslie, the terrific bassoon repair expert with whom Paul apprenticed. I think Mr. Nordby is every bit the skilled craftsman and artist Mr. Laslie was—what an outstanding legacy! It takes about four months lead time to schedule an appointment with Paul Nordby, and it is well worth it. I thought I knew what needed attention, but when Paul was finished, he had eliminated numerous leaks and plenty of key slop. I’m such a jock, I just play the instrument I have in front of me. Mr. Nordby knew what I REALLY needed to make my instrument EXCELLENT!

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Caprices by Karl (Carl) Jacobi

An early edition of Karl Jacobi’s Six Caprices op. 16 (1836) is available on IMSLP. These technical etudes are challenging, virtuosic, and enjoyable to play! The Caprices make great reading material, and they allow for ample expression in addition to requiring considerable technical facility. In his 1980 dissertation, A Biographical Dictionary of Bassoonists Born Before 1825, Woodrow Hodges explains that Karl (Carl) Jacobi was a bassoonist, composer, and teacher whose compositions were popular with bassoonists in the first half of the 19th century.

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