Sunday, December 16, 2007

Making Music

I stumbled across an excellent book in the University's music library the other day called "Making Music" and was written by sports-writer John T. Partington. He interviewed principal players in a leading Canadian orchestra about their performance processes and gave them all (mostly) anonymous names. I highly recommend the book if you're at all into this side of the classical music business.

A few excerpts that struck me:
Bass The whole thing about musical performance is communication. You have to be willing to take a risk, be willing to open yourself up.

Timpani A If you are going to be a performer, it must be the passion of your life. If you do something in life, it has to be a passion for you. Just to work is silly. When you choose something, you live with the consequences. I have always treated my work that way.
In orchestras you have musicians, and then there are those I call "workers" of music. Musicians have a great talent and they love music. The workers also have a lot of talent, and function at a high professional level, but they don't like music and they don't like conductors. Music doesn't enrich them in a personal way. Fortunately, most orchestras have 30% of the other kind, the musicians.

Violin B The moment that one said to oneself, "I don't have to do this. I'm going to see what I can do...", turned things right around. It was the sense of not being obligated to yourself, or to your past. You could actually look at the next note that you would play as something that is not in any way predetermined by any of the five million notes you have played before. That was a very freeing kind of thing. That got rid of the tension one gets from the sense of having to deliver something, which is actually at the bottom of one's feeling of nervousness and the butterflies in the stomach.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hey, that's not bad!

Just rediscovered the recording my college orchestra made of David Maslanka's "Mass". Beautiful piece, gorgeous vivid text. We were fortunate enough to perform its world premiere. Check it out if you ever get the chance.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Microphone, check

We bought a Sansa mp3 player from for a steal, ostensibly for the kids for Christmas. It turns out that it's a damn handy little tool. In addition to your standard mp3s, it plays the radio, videos, shows photos, and records "voice memos". I've been using it to record myself while I'm practicing and the sound quality is much better than the digital voice recorder I had been using and a function I have been wishing for on my iPod since we bought it over 2 years ago.

Friday, October 26, 2007

All About C (it is my blog, after all)

What am I up to? I am feeling very far behind lately. Good news is that the trio I play in is taking off a bit. We have a few potential gigs coming in the spring and most importantly, we're still enjoying each other and the music. Otherwise, I'm working on the Vivaldi Bb Major concerto. Not my favorite work, but a necessary hoop. The 2nd movement is lovely, but the 3rd seems uncharacteristic of the rest of the piece. I'm due to play with an accompanist next Friday in masterclass and I've yet another busy weekend with the family. The first concert with the TCO went off beautifully and we even had enough audience for a standing ovation. Shocking!!

I feel as if there are never enough hours in the day. Something always seems to wind up neglected, which has me wondering if pursuing a Masters degree next year would be a wise choice. I know what I've been told, "Masters degrees in performance are an easy two years." But that's still time spent studying and practicing, while working, caring for a family, and freelancing. In my current state of organization and time management, I will not be able to do it. It will require an amount of time away from my children (see above adorable picture from 3 years ago) with which I am not sure I can cope. Lots to think about.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cheese and whiiiiine

A few years ago, I subbed in an already established woodwind quintet for a few months. Extremely talented musicians tend to rub off on other musicians and unfortunately, the same holds true in reverse. That summer, I enjoyed my bassoon in a way I never had before. I played pieces of which I hadn't realized I was capable. Difficult stuff, and we not only played it well but damnit, we made music out of those note-filled pages! The regular bassoonist returned and I have truly missed playing with them.

I ended this summer with a bad audition and a stint in a local volunteer orchestra. An orchestra in whose ranks I have spent years. I've seen them improve drastically over the last three years. It really is commendable but at the end of the day, they are still a very large volunteer orchestra with a mediocre base. They have some great players in there but are severely hampered by timid strings, overly loud brass, and a second bassoon with whom I have a great deal of difficulty playing.

My little semi-pro orchestra is wonderful. I have a great time in there, thanks in no small part to the fabulously talented 2nd bassoon whom I play against. But I started off the week of rehearsals feeling horrible about my playing and wondering what the hell I was doing there.
I don't think I've ever felt so deflated and self-conscious. The volunteer orchestra just sucked the confidence right out of me! By the third rehearsal, I was feeling more myself and by the concerts, I was having a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoying bassoon again. It was easily one of the best performances I've ever turned in. Beethoven's Sixth Symphony went off beautifully, as did the Brahms Alto Rhapsody and the Tchaikovsky Cello Nocturne. So well, in fact that the solo cellist mentioned recording a CD with us and the audience gave a standing ovation at the conclusion!

Here's to the rise of talent and art rather than its fall. May we all be so blessed in our lives as to be challenged in ways that awaken our creative spirit.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On to new things

On to something besides informal audition whinging...

Right now, I'm working on the Ibert trio for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon. Two friends and I have a little trio that meets once a week. We're hoping to hire ourselves out later but for now, we're just playing music and having a good time together. Also on my docket is endless double-tonguing practicing and the Vivaldi Bb Major Concerto. Yes, it is somewhat easy but it's what my professor wants so it is what he shall have. Too proud to play ball, I am not. If I am serious about working on my technique, I need to start somewhere.

Made a decision to not take a volunteer gig in which I am very interested. It conflicts directly with a chamber orchestra concert. Sure, we're only doing Handel's Messiah (AGAIN!), but I signed up to help ferry around the timpani so I don't think I have much choice. The volunteer project sounded so interesting that it's bothering me to have to say no. I'm trying to get more information before I officially turn it down, but it is not looking good.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

For all two of you following this blog, I didn't get the position. I was very disappointed and have sluffed off on the ol' practicing wagon a bit as a result. I've also been working and had lots of rehearsals so I would prefer to fault those commitments rather than my own attitude for the drop in time spent purely practicing. Yeah...

Anyway, my reeds all stink right now, I have a lesson tomorrow, and I am exhausted from this day. I have things other than wallowing in self-pity that I should be accomplishing.

Besides, that was last week. This week, I start taking steps towards NOT shooting myself in the foot in audition/high-stress situations.

Monday, September 10, 2007


How crazy am I to be totally smitten with this idea? It's a bassoon small enough for a seven year old to use, and my eldest just happens to be seven. It won't happen, but it's awfully sweet given her earlier dedication to the idea of becoming a bassoonist like mommy. If I ever have $3k to blow, I know where I'd want to throw it. Even the case is adorable.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

It is done.

It wasn't the best presentation of myself, but at least it's done. I was extremely nervous, as I always seem to be, and had more technique issues than I should have had but I wasn't horrible. It just wasn't my best playing. She recognized my extreme nervousness and tried to get me to breathe and calm down a bit, but I think I might have been beyond help.

My competitors report about the same result but at least one of them is known to be far too critical of her own playing so I have no idea where I stand. We are supposed to receive an email with the result and to keep me from compulsively checking my email, my husband is going to forward my email to his phone. *smirk*

If I was beaten out for the sub spot, it gives me a bit more time to turn in an incredible audition next year for the then open position. I just wish I had been beaten (IF I was!) because someone else played better than my absolute best, and not because my nerves got the better of me.

T minus 12+ hours

I played for masterclass today on both Contrabassoon and Bassoon. Much to my chagrin, the contra excerpts did not go well. I've since changed reeds and revisited everything at a much slower tempo and worked it back up. I hope not to repeat today's mistakes. Just about every piece was disappointing. I pray it was a fluke, or simply that reed begging to be euthanized! I want this so badly, I would hate to lose the audition because I played poorly.

The bassoon excerpts, however, went quite well. I played the stuff from Bartok, Bolero, and Til Eulenspiegel. Bartok was great, Bolero ok with a flub or two, and Til Eulenspiegel was surprisingly good! The last one was the only one chosen by my professor and I think I nailed it just to spite him - he knew it was troubling me. Right he was to ask for it as I would not have chosen it myself and there's no point to the exercise if I'm not going to challenge myself. I think I even caught him grinning. The rest of the studio hadn't yet heard me play anything and I hope I surprised them a bit after the horrible contra performance.

Audition is at 2pm. Think calming, steady, big-breath, lyrical, lovely thoughts for me today. :)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Excerpt happy

I played my excerpts last night for a small audience at a friend's house, and it went surprisingly well. I was nervous, but minus the shakes that I've had for every similar situation in the past. I had a few little hiccups here and there, but they were the same ones that I've been having in my practice so I know what still needs work. One person in the audience was actually familiar with the pieces the excerpts were from and thought I did beautifully. Great sign, but hopefully not enough to let me get lazy.

I still have to work up a couple of excerpts from "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and am not looking forward to it. What a monster piece! I checked out the scores last week and have a recording. I'll be spending a good part of my afternoon studying both so I may get a better feel for how that section should sound. Excerpts in a vacuum sound like just that, and I want them to picture me next to them in the orchestra rather than struggling through nonsense in an empty audition room.

Marriage of Figaro needs to be settled down a bit and Til Eulenspiegel needs to be sped up. Also need to spend some time on the contra with Also Sprach, Death, and Beethoven 5 but I am really happy with my progress. Nice to feel that way instead of scared out of my frelling gourd.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Noodle salad

Excellent lesson. No more comments from him about needing to "step up my practicing" because so-and-so sounds fabulous. Just giving me little points of improvement and telling me I sound great. I don't think I've ever had a lesson go so well. :)

Having said that, I must add that I hate Bolero. Lots of finger-aches due to that little piece but it's sounding better and better. The high Dbs weren't speaking well so I started a new fingering last week that is taking a lot of work to retrain. Found a new G-A trill for the Mozart concerto that is much more in tune. My professor plays on a heckel or a fox and those fingerings don't always translate to the slightly altered fingerings of a moosmann. For the most part, the moosmann fingereings wind up being easier. It's just a matter of finding those fingerings.

Shock and awe

Cut the tips on my brand new contra reeds that I made over the weekend and they worked!! They're a little wonky in the pitch, but so much better than what I expected that I still feel like strutting. Go, me. :)

Former declaration of loyalty to the 8 year old reed is hereby rescinded. Albion reed for muchos smackeroos turned out to be much nicer than the old one once I cut the tip. Old reed on recording sounds like one big raspberry. New Albion actually has tone.

Bought Susan Nigro's Bass Nightingale off of iTunes. She is incredible. Contra playing like I've never heard. Average person could go to her concert and not spend the whole time snickering about a big flappy farty instrument blurting around on the stage. Disappointed to see that there are no liner notes attached.

Neckstrap reply

I've been trying the seat strap, neck strap and balance hangar thing when I play lately, as well. I'm not real crazy about the feeling that I'm "wearing" my bassoon, but it does seem to help the left hand. Even better, I can let go of the bassoon completely to throw up both my hands in disgust when practicing, and the bassoon continues to float safely in front of me. Nice.

What sort of neck/shoulder strap do you use? I saw one that puts the hook at your side instead of the center, but I wasn't sure if that was good for standing only, or for sitting, as well. I'd be interested to know if there's a "right" way of doing that.


I wear my bassoon. I've been doing it since I had a nasty bout with tendonitis about ten years ago. It is the only way I can get through even half an hour of playing without pain, and I never could have done it before I had a balance hanger. I use a BG shoulder strap with two hooks that I sling sideways across my chest - over head with one arm through.

Just recently though, I picked up an IDRS journal and saw an article with a different twist. The author still uses a seat strap and a neck strap, but the neck strap is looped through the back of a chair on the right side and hooked onto a regular, basic neck strap hook on the bassoon. Weight of the instrument is taken by the dual straps and your right thigh. It works beautifully and keeps the weight almost completely off of the left hand, more so than my usual balance hanger and neck strap method. The only two downsides are 1) you must have a chair with a slotted back, and 2) range of emotive movement is severely limited.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Technical difficulties

I was trying to keep the whole audition thing a secret. About a week ago, I realized that in order to keep some secrets one has to be willing to lie. I wasn't willing to lie about this so it all started unraveling. I think for the best. Last week's lesson shattered me a bit. More than a bit. I can't put my finger on what exactly it is that he says or does, but I almost always leave his office "less than".

Tonight, I had a little snack with my biggest competition. She is a beautiful bassoonist who I think sounds quite a lot like me, but with better technique. I can't say this to my family. They hear "I suck, so-and-so has way better murmurmurmur than me.. I should just give up!". I'm not being negative or defeatist. She just does. She has worked damn hard to hone that technique and deserves the praise. I have never been a strong technical player. I have hated working on technique because I never noticed how much easier it could make everything else. Almost twenty years after picking the darn instrument up, I am finally beginning to realize this simple truth. Technique is good. It's not all there is, but it makes the rest of it sooo much easier.

ANYWAY! I'd been a tad disheartened since the lesson. Tonight cheered me right up and got me excited again. I'm not the only one who gets the wind knocked out of her sails at lessons and that knowledge is amazingly comforting. I came home and practiced.. and had fun! After all the $$ we shelled out for lessons and the commitment I've started towards maybe-kinda-sorta-probably starting my Masters next year, I had begun to fear that this step was a terrible mistake. Maybe sticking close to Jessie and talking this stuff out is all the remedy I need. Even talking about the audition was therapeutic. I'd been holding so much in and now, everybody knows and I'm still ok. Made a mountain out of a mole hole and got my stress shoved up my..... ;)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reed geekery

2007-08-28 02:14 am UTC (from (link) DeleteFreezeScreenTrack This

Still liking my Moosmann, although I'm still not sure my reeds are quite right for it.

I'm told my reeds are quite narrow, but they seem to fit in pretty well with Lou Skinner's reed design. If you haven't already checked out The Bassoon Reed Manual: Lou Skinner's Theories and Techniques by James McKay, do so. It's been invaluable, especially for contra. It turns out I've been using his Five Tests for years now and never knew it because they'd been shown to me by another bassoonist. My instrument before this was a Schreiber and I remember thinking that my Moosmann 200 felt very similar in key structure and sound. I think Fox Bassoons tend to respond better to a wider reed design, which may be part of why I didn't appreciate the sound of those I tried. Anyway, here's his diagram straight from the book:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Take a lickin', keep on tickin'

Here's a troubling revelation: my eight year old contra bassoon reed from college still works. The troubling aspect of this is that it works BETTER than the Albion Silver Professional reed that I just bought from Forrests for 30 smackeroos. Wish I knew what brand it was and even more, I wish I had found it before shelling out all that cash for a reed I don't like. At least now I know what measurements to follow for the reed blanks waiting at my desk. Hard to know what's going to work best when you're borrowing an unfamiliar instrument that you can't take home with you.


Now You Know that when I park my bassoon in our front living room where the swamp cooler is, it swells so much that I have to grease the corks to get it put back together.

Now You Also Know that when I park my bassoon in the back room, where there is a window AC unit, I have to keep a humidifier in the case to keep the corks on the bocals from drying out and separating.

Now You Further Know that I am prepping for a 3rd bassoon/contra audition in two weeks. This is part of why I have been practicing so hard and have been flighty and a bit off the radar. Talking about it makes me nervous so please, don't bring it up. Those of you in town may be coerced into listening to my audition so I can have some practice with an audience.

Now Everyone Knows that I posted this little bomb on livejournal and got no response. Not that I write this stuff solely for a response, but I'm thinking most of my friendslist is probably skipping over any post with the bassoon guy on it and didn't even notice. Or, it hasn't been read yet because I posted it over the weekend. Meh. Pay attention to meeeeeeee! ;)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

First lesson

He flat out asked me if I was taking the audition and I couldn't lie. We spent the whole time working on the Mozart and Bolero. I am nervous now where before I was not, but I hope it will be a good thing. I had become used to hearing my Fs and my Es flat. I'm not in tune with myself. *scream* I've been practicing in a vacuum and it seems that all it does is gear me up to be out of tune and still nervous for the audition. An hour or two a day is not enough practice. I have to do more. It's going well, but for the Mozart to still be shaky after having it around for so many years is not good. For me to be freaking out right now is not good either. I am a great musician. I just need to let it out and remember to have fun with it.

New fingering for Bolero should help, but it will take a good chunk of time to get used to it. I feel a little guilty that I am considering leaving the kids at Kidco again today so that I can practice, but that is why we signed them up for it. They're bored but safe, and I should accept it and do what I need to do. Really don't have any desire to go to playgroup today. Want to stay home and practice and practice and practice until it's all rock solid and indestructible.

Don't get distracted by the contra. It is secondary. They will write you off before you even get to it if you screw up on the Mozart.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How much do I love iTunes?

Found on iTunes in the last week:

  • Trio for Flute, Bassoon, and Piano by Chick Corea
  • The Bass Nightingale by Susan Nigro
  • Mozart Concerto for Bassoon with Klaus Thuneman
  • Duet Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon by Richard Strauss
  • "Sleeping Bassoon", episode of Disney show, Little Einsteins
Bought all of them but The Bass Nightingale, which is an album entirely of contrabassoon music. Still pondering that one, but I'll probably cave within the week.