Thursday, June 21, 2012

Longer reeds

Last weekend was the annual bassoon event. I played the Telemann again, I'll have to get audio of that up here. Besides that, there was lots of chamber music, recitals, and workshops. One interesting aspect was a piece played by our esteemed guest clinician/soloist. It was a work for solo bassoon and narrator, a retelling of a fairy tale in music and story intended for young audiences. It's a new work, but one not quite done yet, and in fact, we were expected to contribute. After he performed the piece, he went around the room, and asked everyone present to make a couple of comments, one positive and one critique. I gotta say, I paid a lot more attention to the music when I knew I'd have to make a public statement about it! I also learned other random things, such as that you can half-hole the top line A, instead of flicking; and also that our esteemed guest no longer performed the Telemann, due to its endurance demands. I guess that explains why I was so wiped out after performing it.

On reeds. I was chatting with a fellow adult student. He doesn't make reeds, he buys them from a variety of vendors, and adjusts them according to his own theories. Fair enough, gives him more time to practice, I guess. He told me he spent $1500 last year on reeds, which seems like a lot to me. I'd be surprised if I've made even a dozen in the last year. He gave me one of his old reeds to try out, an unwrapped reed from Forrests of a kind that he particularly admires due their very hard cane. It's not new and stock, of course, but rather used, and adjusted according to his theories, which he documented in a thick document he was handing out. I found it unplayable: high crow, stiff, nearly impossible to articulate in the low register. Were it one of my reeds, I'd start shaving off the back, but I think I'd rather leave it untouched as an example of a reed that works for somebody else.

Leafing through his reed document, I was struck by the remark that trimming the tip back to adjust length was a bad idea. He quoted a KJI reeds document, stating that the stability came from the length, and another source along similar lines. This agrees with how I first learned, where you cut off the tip, then weren't supposed to touch the length; only trimming as a desperation measure which would involve remaking the tip region and probably also wrecking the reed. However, when I started with reeds with my current teacher, that went out the window. The cycle is to remove cane, looking for symmetry, response, strength, and balance of sound, and take a sliver off the tip whenever the E drops. Trimming is part of the standard adjustments, so you start longer than you typically want to finish. The end result is I think more or less Philadelphia-style: light and short. However, here was a collection of comments suggesting that shortness leads to instability. This aligns with a remark passed on from the local professional 2nd bassoonist, who suggested to my teacher that he might try out longer reeds.

Inspired by that, I took a reed off my rack that's been being ignored for a few months. I must've done some work on it, because the tip was cut off, but the opening was wide and likely there was lots of cane. I squeezed both wires a lot to get the tip opening reasonable, and tried playing it for awhile. It worked surprisingly okay. More stable? Quite possibly. I measured the length, something I rarely do, and it was 30 mm from 1st wire to tip. My basic reed for the past few months measured at about 26mm. Huge difference, but both entirely playable. Very interesting.

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