Reed making book review: The Banana of Life by Rian Craypo

Kristin Wolfe Jensen has published The Herzberg/Kamins Reed Making Method on her website. This is a fascinating window into the reed world of Norman Herzberg, his students, and grand-students. Presented in a series of impressively produced tutorial videos, we learn the language, the methods, and the details of a reed making culture of one of the most successful and influential twentieth-century bassoon teachers and his students as primarily transmitted by one of Herzberg’s most significant students, Benjamin Kamins, formerly principal bassoonist of the Houston Symphony and currently professor of bassoon at Rice University.

Now, Rian Craypo (a student of Wolfe Jensen and Kamins) has published a condensed but very rich book, The Banana of Life: Peeling Away the Mysteries of Reed Making for the BassoonCraypo is principal bassoonist of the Houston Symphony–one of the leading symphony orchestras in the United States. She has ample professional experience to substantiate the approach outlined in The Banana of Life, but what makes the book so delightful is her personality as a teacher.

We get to know her first in ten tutorial videos featuring her explanations and demonstrations of reed making steps from tube cane to finished reed. Craypo is patient and clear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen better pedagogy in a reed making video!

Then, in her book, Craypo takes us to the next level. Her diagnostic procedures and system for fixing and/or improving reeds is presented as an interactive gamebook in a section entitled, “Choose Your Own Adventure” (CYORMA). The book is paced as she appears in the videos–patient, systematic, and clear. We aren’t inundated with words and data, rather we turn page after page finding answers. Almost mystically, she anticipates the questions the reader/reeder will have and leads us through the process efficiently and thoroughly. I learned what is highly valued in “the method,” and I look forward to implementing the concepts, procedures, and methods in my own reeds!

The Banana of Life is a compact little book, but the careful thought with which it was designed is camouflaged by its modest appearance. This is truly an important book! The Banana of Life is published by Diabolical Genius Press and printed/sold on demand by Lulu ($25).

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