If you miss my posts on The Bassoon Chick, and you wish that I would return, your wish has come true: I’ve started a new blog, Rachel: In Progress. It still features my views on music, bassoon, and college life, but there’s more!
(Devoted readers will be happy to hear that tomorrow I’m starting a series on finding the perfect recital dress, so in case you enjoyed my post on recital dresses, you’re just in luck.)

I hope to see you over at the new location — thank you so much for your support and visits, even when I was an unreliable blogger!


The past few days have been spent packing up my room… and playing my last paid gig of the school year, at Eastman’s Community Music School! Although I had to wake up early after a late night of packing and a trip to the grocery store which ended in the happy purchase of Coca-Cola made from real sugar, playing for six classes of three and four year olds was actually incredibly fun and rewarding. Sappy and cliche, maybe, but as a bassoonist I like the fact that somebody’s trying to make sure that the children of today actually know what a bassoon is. Until I had the instrument in my hands, I had no idea what a bassoon was.

Playing for little kids is also gratifying because they think you’re super awesome. In ten years, those kids will probably think the bassoon is a nerdy diversion for lamesters, but right now it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. That’s my favorite thing about them: they really don’t care if anybody else thinks they’re cool. They like what they like, they oooh and ahhh over a bassoon, they pull their socks high over their leggings. (Incidentally, I am both amused and gratified that the clothes I wore as a little girl are in fashion — the girls in my elementary school may have teased me, but apparently I was secretly a visionary. Or something.) I want to keep that childlike wonder, which I know is cliche, but imagine if every time I took my bassoon out of the case, I was taken aback by how ridiculously blessed I am, to be standing in front of such an awkwardly beautiful instrument, the product of so much care on the part of its creators. I think it would mean more to practice well, to keep improving.

And to be honest, one of the perks of playing for little kids is the reassurance that if I ever have children, they might actually love the bassoon even more than me! A girl should always dream big, right?

Last night I went to a jazz recital in support of a friend. It was one of those recitals where I wasn’t sure if I’d like the music at all, and usually those are the recitals I don’t attend, but like I said, I was going to support a friend, so there I was in the back of the audience, ready to listen to the music of Tim Berne. Incidentally, if you have no idea who he is, clicking the link may be a helpful resource. But I digress.

The music was like a strange kaleidescope, shifting from sonic texture to groove and pausing at every place in between. There were people moving and head-bobbing in the audience, although I’m not sure how they did it aside from sheer force of will. It was the kind of thing I could only observe as closely as possible. And it was interesting, to hear the shifts as they occurred, the way you couldn’t count on any sort of solid ground to rest your ears on. You just had to keep listening. I think there’s a kind of hope and trust involved in that, you know? Whatever comes next could potentially be terrible, but everything that’s come before has been great, so you just hold on and keep listening.

And there was, too, this really interesting idea of strain. What I mean is, at least when I play bassoon, I try to make everything look and sound super easy. But here, I could tell when things were hard and I liked that. Maybe it wasn’t intentional — sometimes I think things aren’t universal and it turns out I’m being too forgiving — but I really liked it. Why should we pretend all music is easy for us? Sometimes it’s crazy difficult and even if I’m nailing it, isn’t it okay to get a little sympathy? Or maybe not.

There’s this weird and almost unbelievable dichotomy between classical and jazz majors at Eastman, sometimes I feel like we’re oil and water and no one’s interested enough to mix us. But sometimes, there we are in the same room, and I’m so glad that I went to the most unlikely recital and that my ears had this sonic adventure. Of course I come to this realization at the end of the school year, but on the other hand, better late than never, right?

There are a lot of music snobs at Eastman, it’s true, who can tell you that your recording of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony isn’t up to par or that you really just don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to Beethoven. But one of the great things about being a bassoonist is the inherent silliness of the instrument. It’s archaic and strange and… really, just close your eyes and say “bassoon” ten times out loud. See what I mean?

Still, the silliness of the bassoon is multiplied in bassoon quartets. The senior girls of the Eastman bassoon studio have had a blast with this idea — they gave a recital on Sunday comprised entirely of quartets to bring tears of laughter to the eyes of every member of the audience. I mean, any group that calls themselves The Breaking Winds is already a delight, right?

Thankfully, they were kind enough to record and their shenanigans have made it all the way to Youtube, so that you, too, can enjoy them:

I hope you love it!!

I was just about to go practice, but a thunderstorm started and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to restart this blog. So… here I am. It’s been almost a year since I updated, and although I don’t know how precisely I can describe it, one of the major changes I’ve experienced in the past months has been a transformation from insecure, to a girl daily gaining in confidence.
See, one of the reasons I stopped updating was that I felt as though I could never provide you, readers, with any worthwhile insights on the bassoon-playing world. I’m just a student, after all, what do I have to tell you? The thing is, maybe I can’t tell you with much certainty which bassoon to buy or how to make amazing reeds or a practice strategy that will make you a thousand times better overnight.
The only thing I have to tell is this: my story. I’m a bassoonist at the Eastman School of Music and I am working hard and getting better and every day I learn so many new things. I want to share them with you, here.
Of course I’ll still be sharing tips, suggestions, and my views on the bassoon & music, but I’m sitting here hoping, not just that this thunderstorm passes quickly so that I can go practice, but also that this blog will be a story in progress about a bassoonist in progress. And I want to invite you to take that journey with me — let’s see where it takes us.

So… did anyone check out Glee the other night? I definitely enjoyed the pilot a lot yesterday (on a practice break). Isn’t it exciting that television is suddenly into the glorification of dorky high school hobbies? Maybe we can blame High School Musical for this.
But maybe the numbers are working out. Think about it: how many people were high school cheerleaders or football players, and how many did theater, marching band, glee club, math team, debate, etc? And if television is catering to the largest common denominator (or the LCD, as one math teacher called it), isn’t it just common sense that television would now begin to cater to these activities?

I did marching band for three years at a big high school, so even the usual “marching band” stigma never really stuck. (Also, I didn’t really care.) But the drama could’ve definitely fueled a few seasons of TV: the hookups, breakups, the agony of drum corps auditions, what really happens on a marching band bus (aka: the reason for hand!check), and so on.
Or maybe youth orchestra? Everyone goes to a different high school, but everyone in my youth orchestra was pretty stellar, and you could pull the “gradual reveal” on the lives of the characters. And the conductor. And serious classical musicians (that sounds way too epic for high schoolers) have such a variety of backgrounds: some are really well-off financially and have amazing instruments and everything, some are musician’s kids and can barely afford anything, and then a lot of kids are normal middle-class. So there would be that tension, too, not to mention the whole talent and technique vs. expression and intense musical conflict that actually does arise even amongst teenage musicians. It would be pretty sweet — and probably even more awesome than marching band.

That’s one thing I’ve learned since high school: much as I loved marching band, it is not the be all end all of the musical world. I guess neither is youth symphony.
But it would still make a sweet primetime television show, wouldn’t it?


I’ve accepted a challenge from a friend to spend tomorrow practicing and reedmaking — except for the time it takes to eat, go for a run, shower, and attend my darling sister’s high school graduation (!) — so needless to say there will not be an update tomorrow.
I’m updating tonight! (Expect a Thursday update on my epic day of bassoon productivity!)

Since I’m going to be working on reeds a lot tomorrow, I’ve been thinking about how to make that time more fun and exciting. There’s no denying that reedmaking, especially making blanks, is kind of boring. You perform a few repetitive tasks over and over. You do get to use razorblades, but once you get used to it, the thrill does wear off a little. But being a good reedmaker is essential to becoming a good bassoonist. You just can’t get around it.
So, how do you motivate yourself to make reeds?

Here are some of my suggestions:

1. Movies, Miniseries, and Television! Every one of my good friends has a list of movies I need to see, and although I often miss a few minutes or more while tying a turban or shaping a particularly difficult piece of cane, the drama and suspense of a great movie (or one of Jim’s latest pranks on The Office) is sure to keep me a happy reedmaker.
2. Playing Some Sweet Tunes It might go without saying, but I love music! Sometimes I like to listen to dance party type music or indie pop or oldies, but sometimes I like to listen to classical music — especially if it has a big bassoon solo! — to motivate me. Plus, maybe it makes the reeds better by osmosis? A girl can dream.
3. Reed-Making Dates Okay, I haven’t actually been on a reed-making date, exactly, but I have had friends come over to my room and talk to me while I work on reeds. This works best in a date-like situation, though, I think, because my friends get a little annoyed with my sometimes delayed responses! Choose your moment carefully on this one.
4. Bassoonist (or Double Reed) Bonding This is much like the above option, except that everyone is making reeds! My class of bassoonists likes to get together to make reeds and it’s pretty delightful. Plus, you can help solve each other’s reed issues. Win-win-win!

Those are my suggestions — but how about you? How do you cope with the burden and time that is reedmaking? Leave your ideas in the comments!

In the time between my last update and now, I’ve added an English major (with a concentration in creative writing) to my bassoon performance major. I’d been thinking about it since October of my freshman year at Eastman, and kept deciding against being a dual degree student because of the increased workload. After all, when I was in high school, I had always looked forward to music school as the place where I “wouldn’t have to choose between music and everything else”.

So in case you are a reader who loves music and something else too, or if you have absolutely no idea why anybody would ever double major at music school, I figured I would explain.

I love English. I’m always reading a book, always thinking of ideas for stories. During freshman theory (when they explained things to us 500 different ways so we would for sure understand triads and cadences) I scribbled down poems in the margins of my notes. I’ve spent a probably embarrassing about of money at Better World Books, getting inexpensive used books and also saving the world one book at a time.

The thing is, as much as I love English, that is how much I love bassoon. Maybe I love bassoon a little more — it has less going for it, the awkwardness of the instrument, the joy and challenge of making reeds, the inherent difficulties of flicking. The Ravel Piano Concerto excerpt, the beginning of the Rite of Spring, the three dozen Vivaldi concerti.
When you love something like that, love everything about it, to make a decision to spend even more time away is difficult. It takes a while. It takes a terrible, awful creative writing class offered within the music school and practice breaks spent absorbed in novel after novel.

Last semester was my first semester as a dual degree student. Four times a week I boarded a bus to the main campus of the University of Rochester, usually reading a book on the trip, and was greeted by the stereotypical college campus. (Yes, there was grass! Once it was spring, that is.)
The thing that I loved was taking English classes with people who love English just as much as I do. Eastman does offer non-music classes (we have to take one a semester, or else a class at the main campus) but the other students are usually disinterested (I love them!!) and the professors constantly talk to us as though we could barely comprehend their subject. Now, my teachers challenged my thought processes, sending me back to the books, analyzing literature between the lines. Now, they had me look at each individual word of my writing, judging it, feeling it, seeing if it was perfect. Seeing if it was overused or misplaced.

This semester was hard. I took 22 credit hours. I was often really tired — although this has a lot to do with my theory and aural skills classes more than English. (You try writing 8-12 pages about scenes from Tristan und Isolde, along with leitmotive charts, form charts, roman numeral analysis, and so on!)
But no matter how busy, I loved it so much. I learned so much about bassoon and making music this semester (the subject of another post?), and I learned so much about English.

When you’re doing what you love beyond words, being pushed to the limit is all right. More than that: it’s pretty much fantastic.
So that’s why I added an English major, in case you’re curious.

It’s been almost a year since my last post — and I’m so sorry for disappearing like that!
A lot has happened in the past year, but even more is happening this summer. I’m playing my first real gig as a professional bassoonist (in the pit at the Ohio Light Opera), getting a new bassoon (a lovely Fox 660 — in ten days!!), and rocking a new short haircut.

Clearly, lots of changes are on the horizon.
And with a summer that could have so many new discoveries and adventures — well, as many as the middle of Ohio will allow — isn’t that a summer worth blogging about?

So add the blog to your bookmarks, and look forward to new updates! I’m back. 🙂

I will be visiting my grandparents in Miami starting today until June 23. They don’t have an internet connection, so hopefully I’ll be able to update once a week… But if not, just picture me enjoying the beach and working on reeds!

Have a great summer in the meantime!