however, it has been rather exciting week, evolving around bassoons, bassoon music and bassoonists. now you may wonder: HUH?
the average population may have heard the bassoon as the 'granpa' from peter and the wolf, prokofiev. it's a long big wooden thing with way too many keys (really, it does my head in), involves double reeds which are handmade through sugar cane panels soaked-cut-planed-trimmed-angled-boiled-frustrated-baffled-disappointed-hoped-god-knows-how-processes in a small corner of a room equipped with water boiler, lots of plastic containers, threads, tears, blood, sharp-very sharp-knife and hours and hours of turmoil. (q. what do you call a bassoonist with one good reed? a. a hopeless optimist) in fact, i think the protocol goes that if you have made THE reed, you will immediately start to mourn its upcoming death. everyone gets so fanatical about reeds and it is never quite right, from what i have seen (from students to professional double reeds player).
here, why dont you watch this 'shortish' clip in german (there's also part two), i thought it was hilarious and informative. bunch of adults with loads of bits of machinery. in fact i remember when my friend katie picked up a profiling machine, or shall we call it Aussenhobelmaschine, while we were studying in nebraska. we went to the dude's house and it is a beautiful machine- all hand made, to his specifications, solid brass- that thing was not a cheap toy! i really loved the way it felt on a layman's hand, as it was designed so beautifully. well, he did charge handsome fee and it did come with a tag: if you ever want to sell it, do get back in touch with me, i always have people who are looking for one.
i know this is for a clarinet/saxophone. i just liked the seriousness of the clip so much i couldnt help it... well, that was just for a single reed. now think about the complexity with double-trouble. prof. morelli, a great bassoonist, has a short clip (this time, it is short) where he talking about partial process of reed making (and if you want to find some more, i think the kind internet will give you more)
like any double reeds instruments, it seems that one is at constant mercy of the reeds and their particular sentiment of the day. or even an afternoon. morning. there are bad reeds and better reeds but rarely a good reed... (dont even mention a great reed unless you have a full bottle of scotch to console) the principle oboe and cor anglais player of the bbc phil (who are good friends of me/minnow), whenever they go on foreign tour, the first thing they look for at luggage collection is the 'reed making bag.' now, the blue heron lady who i admire from yyz seems a bit more at ease with reeds but may be it's because i havent been around when she was making reeds, just a thought...
anyways. it's a big complicated instrument. i often look at woodwind instruments and it makes no sense in my head. even a trumpet is easier to comprehend. the keys. millions of fingerings. huge case. oh dear. i know they all make a difference but mostly, i contribute the success of a bassoon performance to black arts. it is a difficult instrument. i think most of the time, if you can actually hold one 'right,' you are already on the winning side of the battle. yep. complicated business to wield something so big that goes across your body, strapped on ( ! ), across the upper body. did i mention small water cup they soak their second reeds? (which is often described more like a bubonic plague than a messiah)
and after all that complication, there's the playing part. bassoonists, for some reason, they seem to be a bit older when they start on the instrument. i wonder if it has to do with size (i seen kids love BIG instruments like timpany and sousa phone but rarely a bassoon- may be too skinny to be impressive?) or somewhat obscure existence of its existence (for instance, kids know what piano or violin, flute or cello looks like. i think when you see a little kiddies at pre-orch workshop, they are more likely to say 'whats that bedpost?' than 'ooh bassoon, i love the bassoon! great bassoon solo in tchaikovsky no. 4, second mvt! ')
it is a primarily a bass-range instrument. like a double bass, it takes on a specific role in an ensemble. however, solo bassoon repertoire does have some great pieces and funny enough, i got to know them because i play with a few bassoonists- wherever i go. why? well, because i like playing with them (they appreciate any pianist who take their rep seriously, which is a huge bonus), dig the sound, love the role it plays (it's the foundation and woody inner structure!) and often the piano part/reduction looks like a total mess. and yeah, i do like learning them.
this week, the conservatory had a masterclass with mr. benjamin kamins. i was happy to show up to play with kiddies and play some, had no idea how that was going to- all i heard in the wind is that he's nutty. great, i havent seen a great person who isnt nutty. and yes, he was nutty. an hour and a half of constant challenges, lots of in-your-face-tactics, loads of demands and simple rules that one just couldnt ignore. and kiddies- well, with such open mind, they responded with all their hearts (i think this is something that's been cultured in yyz bassoon studios, with blue heron lady and other teachers, which is one of the best things to learn in one's life) and some of them had close-to-miracle transformations.
they sounded like different people all together. in that short span of time. okay, it wasnt an instant transformation but they WERE breakthroughs. of course, the aim is now to take that experience away and try to replicate on will. and we, musicians, luckily gets loads of time- lifetime, in fact, to work on such project. no one can possibly pay you for such self-interests. and the ones without the self-interests, well, they will enjoy their music education and go do something else (or they should, in the field they cant help but be self-interested). and there's nothing wrong with that! people go and spend their time and money on frivolous things like steak dinner for enjoyment. life is expensive and inefficient. so why not at least enjoy it even if that is not the 'sensible' thing to do? nothing really is sensible as the idea of birth is already obscured by the its side effect: death- i find this incredibly satisfying, a road to freedom, really. here's point A and there's point B. now you go from point A to B and do it however you would like.
this post is getting ridiculously long. i should at least to try to note the short points that prof kamins made. that was the initial thought but then how can you focus on a single thing when you have a fascinating subject like the bassoon? haha. anyways, here they are:
engage. oneself. audience. graciously offer/receive.
find something that you like about you(r playing)
if something doesnt work, try ANYTHING ELSE
do slow practice. not slow mo. slow-conscious-practice.
realize what you do with your body. after all, you are DOING it.
if that doesnt work...look above.
do look up for tips that can aid your playing:
reeds knowledge (he made it sound not like black art!)
inquiring/learning/doing extra things: esp. fingerings
the list can go on and on but these six points, i thought they fit so eloquently to life, not just bassoon. see, even in the difficult bassoon world, it's simple point that will carry us through, the weak and fragile, often lost individuals. it was nice to be there where such simple thoughts were reinforced (i have seen their normal teachers talk of same points but i suppose it does make a fresh impact when it comes from 'someone else,' haha) and the valiant efforts of the students (since one tends to take one's instruments almost too seriously, to try something new on a whim is not only difficult but daring) made my morning such a pleasure. i didnt get to play much but i was too busy learning, i suppose. im still kicking self for missing the reeds workshop (i would like to learn more...) but then i did have a brilliant work session with a young bassoonist (i am excited about our recording session on monday. it's going to be awesome) so- well, i guess no loss! lucky me.
it is not a right to demand education (i think one should earn it, after all, no one can teach anyone anything- one has to take initiative and actually do it oneself to learn) nor education should be free. we dont have any problem paying for 'things,' then why should one's non-physical presence/service be cheap? if knowledge is supposed to be the peak of civilization, should we really strip all its commercial values off of it? i think not. but that's for another post. the brilliant thing is that there are people in education who can elevate what can be a stagnant academic environment (more like sprouts farm) and they arent really doing it for a fee (how do you pay for one's entire being?) they do it because they do love it. they know it and they cant help but to inseminate it further.
and my friday was full of it. actually the whole week was full of it.
what a good week. even without turkey, i should get on thanksgiving.
brilliant world and lovely people, thank you!
and kiddies, you were brilliant!
and there's no reason to stop being brilliant :)