I live in a cold place. Mostly this winter has been unbelievably mild, but we're now back to the arctic conditions that are more typical for January. This is the kind of place where the hockey rinks get put indoors, so the ice is warm enough for the skates to work. Last night it was -26 C when I was coming home from rehearsal, and the low tonight is supposed to be -31, or -47 with the wind chill. Not pleasant for the people, even with appropriate clothing, but what about the instruments?
Indoors, while playing, winter is not that big of a deal. Mostly things are just dry. The outside air is bone dry, so everyone has a humidifier, but these are set on the dry side to keep condensation off the windows. Barry Stees blogged recently about humidifying cases and reeds. I'm constantly redipping my reed, so keeping the reed wet isn't a huge problem for me. I have noticed that the bassoon joints fit a bit looser, particularly the long joint. It doesn't seem that big of a deal, but maybe I should keep my case closed, with the swab in the case, just to up the humidity a bit. I have been leaving it open to help with a sticky pad problem I once had.
But what about outside, while traveling to rehearsal? There are horror stories of woodwinds cracking, particularly oboes, due to exposure to cold. Ed Neilsen has a great article about the causes and solutions. The short story is to avoid sudden changes in temperature. I have had to cart my bassoon around in cold weather, but I've never been happy about it. This Christmas, my lovely wife bought me an insulated Altieri case cover from Miller Marketing. It's robust, with tough looking nylon, big straps, and a music pocket big enough for a large folder, a bassoon stand, a music stand, reed tools, and a laptop. It gets pretty heavy and unbalanced with all that stuff in it, but it's nice to have the option. Last night was my first chance to see how well it did with serious cold. From the bus stop back to my house was maybe 10 minutes, at -26C. Since it wasn't outside long, I figured I wasn't risking much to open it quickly to see how cold it had gotten inside. The outside of my case, inside the cover, was cool to the touch, maybe fridge temperature. Inside my case, the horn was at room temperature. So yeah, looks like an insulating case cover helps. For really serious conditions, eg shipping oboes in winter, I guess I'd add room temperature gel packs outside the case. These would freeze slowly, slowing the shift to deep cold, then melt slowly, slowing the shift back to room temperature.