Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Double Reed Diatribe

March 30, 2016

"Whatever possessed me to take up this ghastly instrument!" Those were my exact words last night after an hour's worth of trying to practice my bassoon. I say "trying to practice" because that's about what it amounted to. I suppose every instrument has its own quirks, but whoever thought of hollowing out a few pieces of wood, drilling some holes in it and sticking a long curved piece of tubing into one end had to have been dancing on the edge of sanity. And when he took two pieces of cane, steamed and bent them around that tube, flattened one end of the cane and tied the other end together by winding string around it, he definitely crossed over into sadism.

Reeds are funny things. Held to a mouthpiece, their vibrations set up the entire instrument for sound. Unlike any of the horns where the lips produce the vibrations, reeds are far more temperamental. They like to be moist, but not sodden, they are easily damaged, usually at the most inopportune time, and over time, they simply lose their ability to move the air properly. Take all that and double it, and you have the frustrations of a bassoonist, not to mention the utterly nonsensical fingerings in the higher scales.

Last night, I couldn't get the reeds right. I fiddled with the pliers, opening or closing their opening, trying to get the right sound. From some of them (any bassoonist has at least a dozen or so lying around) I couldn't get any sound at all, and the one I finally used was barely serviceable. They're not cheap, either! So today as I was walking the hall from ensemble rehearsal to the full concert band rehearsal, I happened to bump into Dr. Koepke, the bassoon professor at the college. We hadn't seen each other in over a year, and it was only her commenting on my instrument that caused us to stop long enough to remember each other. I showed her my new instrument (I sold the dinosaur she remembered me playing) and reiterated my comment from the night before. "I know exactly what you mean," she responded.

But tomorrow evening there is a bassoon ensemble recital, and the music will be glorious! There is nothing quite like the dark, woody sound of a bassoon, and when three or four of them play together, it is an auditory delight. So tonight I am thankful for this challenging, frustrating, ghastly instrument. I'll never be much more than a hack with it, but it has introduced me to some wonderful people who make beautiful music, which to me is the very language of heaven.

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