Posts Tagged ‘bassoon dork’

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?


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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!!

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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I’m playing in a reed trio at the moment, and it has been a complete blast. Picture an ensemble where all reed complaints are immediately understood, where the instruments have similar technical concerns (although I win when it comes to the question of thumb dexterity), and, perhaps most importantly, where we all have a similar reedy sense of humor.

…Okay, maybe not the last part.

But anyway, I’m playing in a reed trio with the oboist from my quintet at Eastman (he lives about half an hour away), and one of our clarinetist friends who will be a freshman at Eastman in the fall (he lives only ten minutes away!). They’re amazing musicians and are sort of turning into my brothers. Which is always a good time, if I should ever need anyone beaten up once I get back to school.
Granted, musicians are never good as hired thugs. Just thought I should put that out there!

We’re working on the Francaix Divertissement, which is adorably French and a little jazzy and effervescent and fun. It’s a perfect piece to work on in the summer, because when you play and really get into the groove it feels so effortless.
It’s also super hard and which we’ve only had for two weeks, and which we’re performing for the first time tomorrow, but I have to say that I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished in such a short span of time.

And anyway, my recital is in August, so there’s plenty of time for practice to make perfect. 🙂

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Yesterday I had a lesson at Northwestern — my last lesson with Professor Kirk until next year! (He takes me on as a temporary student when the breaks for Eastman and Northwestern are different, which is always a good time. And I have a lesson with my old teacher scheduled for tomorrow. So there hasn’t been too much distress.)

Anyway, it was (as usual) fantastic. I would stop there, except that there are a few things I need to share with the wider world.

One: If you are a bassoonist with even a little desire to improve your technique, you should go out and buy Christopher Weait’s Bassoon Scales for Reading & Bassoon Intervals for Reading. You should do this now. (They sell both at Trevco!!) These books are the bassoon music equivalent of a salad from California Pizza Kitchen: fun, tasty, and so healthy you can practically feel yourself glowing. I worked out of both books for an hour today and I can feel them working already.
If for some strange reason you can only buy one of the books, definitely definitely buy Bassoon Intervals for Reading. It’s extremely bizarre — try the consecutive major second page if you don’t believe me — but amazing for technique. If you work at for a while, I’m pretty convinced you should be able to hit any interval on the first try. Maybe the second, if it’s a particularly bad down-slur. But still. Definitely invest in this book!

Two: This might be my inner indie-snob coming to light, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. I like the Weber a lot (I even made up a little romantic comedy that corresponds to the music of the first movement!), but the Mozart has never won me over. Also, I’ve never played it.
Anyway, I had to have the first two movements prepared for yesterday, and somehow I fell in love. It’s just all so comprehensive; the technique is so organic and the mood moves from light and happy to serious and gorgeous to bombastic and silly seemingly without effort. The Weber does this at its best moments, but Weber definitely took advantage of the orchestra in creating the transitions…whereas Mozart manages them within the actual bassoon part.
Of course, this makes the technique harder because it has to have that sense of flow. And so much of the technique is just a fancy way of moving around to the next gorgeous moment, so it has to be controlled enough to come into the background. On the bright side, it just goes to show Mozart’s supreme confidence in future bassoonists!

All in all, it was definitely a great lesson and I am pumped to keep working on the Mozart.
We’ll see what Mr. Hunt has to say about it in the fall when I’m gearing up for sophomore jury… 🙂

(Also, in unrelated-but-entertaining news: I cannot stop listening to The Decemberists’s “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect”. Even if all you listen to is classical music, I really think you should venture out on a limb and listen to it. The lyrics against the simplicity of the music and the texture of Colin Meloy’s voice are absolutely fantastic.
And you thought all I wrote about was bassoon!)

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