Those that know me are aware of my slight addiction to reeds, reed making, and reed pedagogy. I am fascinated by the botany, physics, and acoustics of reeds and how these parameters interact with physiology and instrument design for each individual.
My latest Fox Red Maple 601 requires a thinner reed for my embouchure and reed design to produce the same tone quality and response than my prior Fox Red Maple 601. I have also changed bocals. I use a Leitzinger gold-plated ML-1 with this horn to produce the warm, resonant and projected tone I desire.
The change in instrument combined with a change in bocal caused consistently sinking open F’s in my reeds.
A sinking F is usually indicative of one of the following:
· Weak cane
· An over-scraped heart
· Too long of a blade
To check these, articulate “C-D-E” forcefully. In all three situations, the ‘E’ will sink as well. Use rulers, dial indicators and a sense of touch to determine which factor(s) affect the reed.
In my situation, the cane was sturdy and both the heart and blade have exacting measurements. This led me to believe the sinking ‘F’ was caused by a difference between the instrument, bocal, and reed dimensions.
The bassoon’s conical shape should taper from the bell through the throat of the reed. As I change bocals for this instrument, the plausible need exists to change the shape of my reed throat.
I chose to begin my experimentation simply. I am crafted 16 reeds: 4 each on 4 different forming mandrels. (One set acts as a control group: they are formed on my usual mandrel). The taper of a forming mandrel directly correlates to the internal shape of a finished reed. Tools are a simple, yet often overlooked, way to make dramatic differences to your reed design.
I am only halfway through my blanks at this point, but so far, a particular mandrel is standing out as superior! … a simple fix for a complex problem.
Don’t be afraid personalize your reeds today!
Professors are always excited this time of year: our new students for the Fall are calling up and, as we say here, “Making it Miami!” Similarly, it is about this time we start getting calls from the next class of prospective students.
It is a scary prospect to face college research, auditions, and decisions. This blog is dedicated to you: the students out there looking to audition for undergraduate or graduate programs during the coming year.
1.) THE INSTITUTION.
Like reeds, no two colleges are alike. Big, small, urban, rural, commuter, residential, modern, historic: it is important to visit campuses to discover which environment is welcoming to you. In addition to physical surroundings, your interaction with the student population is key. Take campus tours (led by students). Attend recruitment days, Double Reed Days, or other events where current students appear.
2.) THE BASSOON PROFESSOR.
Your advisor and mentor will be the bassoon professor. This relationship is paramount to your development as a musician, scholar, and professional in the field. A defining decision in narrowing college choices will be the varying bassoon professors. Read their bios, check out their websites, and listen to them play (via iTunes, youtube, etc.). Most importantly, contact them and set up a lesson. The best way to determine whether a teaching style grooves with your learning style is to EXPERIENCE IT first hand.
I recommend emailing professors. Their email addresses are available on university websites. A few tips on constructing an email to a college professor:
· Always use complete sentences.
· Begin the email with Dear Dr. “Fill-in-the-Blank”
· Introduce yourself! Where do you go to school? Who is your private teacher? How long have you played bassoon? Are you in any honor/extra-curricular/summer festival ensembles?
· If possible, (MANDATORY if auditioning for graduate school), attach a resume.
· Conclude the email: Sincerely, “Your First and Last Name”
· Include contact information!
3.) THE AUDITION.
Why wait? Most university websites list audition requirements. Though you may not have your audition schedule finalized, compare their requirements. Most of the repertoire preparation can begin NOW! J Isn’t that fabulous news?!
A clean, consistent, clear, and confident preparation will result in an ideal audition season.
Questions regarding repertoire, tempos, excerpts, or audition dates can be directed to bassoon professors.
Best of luck ..and remember, MAKE IT MIAMI!
Yesterday I wrote a blog entry on relaxation and personal skills. Perhaps this will pop up in April. This morning, events caused me back to the computer.
During a morning Facebook perusal, a young man contacted me seeking sheet music to a well-known, and readily available bassoon concerto. I directed him to Trevco-Varner Music Publishers. I see these requests regularly on social media –and they disturb me. We are in a field increasingly misunderstood by the whole of society: it is important we take the time to understand it ourselves.
COPYRIGHT: Composers pay to copyright their work. This protects them as the original “authors” of the work, and provides them certain rights. This includes the right to have their works purchased legally and ethically by performers, even after their death.
COPYING MUSIC: If you distribute copied music, perform from copied music, or encourage these acts without authorization from the copyright owner (the composer or publisher), you are breaking the law.
I recognize the “broke musician” adage; however, composers are your peers. They are entitled and have worked diligently to earn the royalties on the compositions you are performing.
I read and answer many questions regarding the composer/publisher relationship. There are many large and small publishing houses.
PUBLISHERS: Composers choose to work with publishers often due to the distribution network. When a bassoonist is searching for a “Bassoon/Oboe duet” they are much more likely to locate a composer’s work through searching Prairie Dawg Press than the multitude of Google results.
This does increase the cost of a composition. Now, in addition to printing, editing, copyright and actual composition, cost is added for the ease of locating that work. Marketing, including navigable websites, vendor availability at conferences and Double Reed Days, and housing/packing/shipping costs money.
The largest publishing houses (not instrument specific) also serve administrative needs for composers including bookkeeping, licensing, copyrights, etc. Again, these costs are reflected in music costs.
DOWNLOADING MUSIC: Recordings are expensive endeavors. Unlike in mainstream music (popular culture), classical solo artists and chamber musicians are rarely fully funded by labels or outside sources. A digitally released track of the Hindemith Bassoon Sonata required at minimum: rental of a venue, sound engineer, piano tuning, producer, distribution, promotion, and mechanical licensing. Again, these prices are distributed across a customer base: 99cents through $1.19 per track.
If you illegally download music, copy illegally downloaded music, distribute copied music, or encourage these acts without authorization from the copyright owner (the label or artist), you are breaking the law.
A little knowledge goes a long way! I hope we all can legally and ethically support our colleagues and peers in the publishing and composition side of Music!
Happy practicing … and listening.
I sat down to warm-up Sunday afternoon and heard a knock on my office door. Classes have not resumed at Miami University yet, so the sound startled me. Much to my surprise, a recent violin graduate, "Fred", stood in the doorway. He is preparing for Summer Festival auditions and here is the conversation that ensued:
Fred: “Dr. S, I am wondering if you would mind writing down your metronome games for me.”
Dr. S: “How in the world do you know about these?”
Fred: “A few years ago you spoke about them to the orchestra. I can’t remember all of them, but think they would help with my excerpts.”
So much of this conversation pleased me.
1.) Fred, of his own accord, sought the advice of a professor outside of his instrument family.
Learning the intricacies of how other instruments operate, how other instrumentalists practice, will only strengthen your own musicianship.
2.) Fred was seeking new ways to practice old favorites.
It is easy to practice familiar material in familiar ways. By varying your practicing routine, you train your mind and body more fully.
3.) Fred was relying on the whole of his training as he sought out new experiences.
The full value of an experience is often discovered long after it is completed. Take notes, be present, and be open: you never know how a situation can assist your future!
Now, because I know you are all curious …
SELECT METRONOME GAMES*:
*(Gathered over the years from varying sources)
1.) Penny Game
-The goal of Penny Game is consistency.
-Place 5 pennies on one side of your stand. Turn the metronome to a low marking: one that enables you to perform a short passage with no errors.
-A penny moving from one side of the stand to the other follows each accurate performance of the passage. The goal is to move all 5 pennies from one side to the other.
-If a mistake is made (in any domain: technique, intonation, rhythm, inflection, etc.), all pennies are returned to their original position and the game begins again.
-As the goal is met, move the metronome up
2.) Pyramid Game
-The goal of Pyramid Game is speed.
-Turn the metronome to a low marking: one that enables you to perform a passage with no errors.
-Perform the passage 5x.
-Move the metronome up 1 mark* (*i.e. 60 to 66, 80 to 84, etc.)
-Perform the passage 4x
-Move the metronome up 1 mark and perform the passage 3x.
-Move the metronome up 1 mark and perform the passage 2x.
-Move the metronome up 1 mark and perform the passage 1x.
3.) Inverted Pyramid
-The goal of Inverted Pyramid is accuracy.
-Turn the metronome to a low marking (Called “HOME”): one that enables you to perform a passage with no errors.
-Perform the passage 1x
-Move the metronome down 1 mark* (see above) and perform 1x
-Move the metronome up 1 mark from HOME and perform 1x
-Move the metronome down 2 marks from HOME and perform 1x
-Move the metronome up 2 marks from HOME and perform 1x
-Move the metronome down 3 marks from HOME and perform 1x
-Move the metronome up 3 marks from HOME and perform 1x
-Continue as desired.
Another semester is coming to close. I love winter break ---it is filled with practicing, reed making, and, oh yes, family!
As you all settle in for some great practice sessions, some food for thought:
The MISCONCEPTIONS of Practicing:
1.) I love my bassoon, so I should love every moment with my bassoon.
I love cookies. I do not love cookies 3 meals a day … nor do I love no-bake cookies. Actually, come to think of it, I can’t stand Chips Ahoy. So I’m a cookies snob … moreover my body will react, ahem, negatively if I only eat cookies.
The relation? Most students prefer to play only repertoire, but your “bassoon body” will react negatively if you only play repertoire. Learning the scalar passages in the Devienne Gm Sonata is great, until you are presented music in another key. Likewise, mastering the gorgeous vibrato necessary in the Bozza Sicilienne is quite the feat, until that piece is finished and another begins.
In contrast, working scales, etudes, and exercises improves your technique and fundamentals without associating these fundamentals to a specific composition. A balanced practice session is a quality practice session.
2.) I sound good enough.
The academic nature of our field is undeniable; however, the artistic nature of performance does not align with a modern grading system. One cannot “practice to a B.” There is no “Average” in practicing. There is always room for progress, always an opportunity to improve. Instead, we must set realistic and reasonable goals to be met at each practice session. Then, we have tangible self-assessment guides.
I am starting a new policy with my students next semester: they will self-grade their practicing each week.
How would you grade YOUR practicing this week?
Set daily (reasonable) goals and try again …
3.) I don’t have time to practice.
This cracks me up. Two weeks before a performance, miraculously, a LOT of time will appear in your schedule for practicing.
Current careers in the arts are varied and require double majors, minors, and active schedules. The time investment in academic coursework is intense. Practicing is focused on quality time in regular intervals. The last part of this phrase is crucial: in regular intervals. In lieu of cramming in hours prior to a big performance, schedule practice-time as you would class-time/mealtime/sleep. It is part of your day that is non-negotiable.
If you adhere to this schedule, there will be no need to cram. There will be less stress, fewer angry looks from your professor, and more time to pick out that fabulous recital outfit.
At the beginning of my career I gave a public lecture entitled "The Choreography of Performance." This lecture has become a cult classic of sorts ... being repeated ad nauseam through the years.
In this month's blog, I offer the smallest glimpse into its primary tenets (the live lecture is far more fun!!):
1.) You are performing for an audience!
A performer's appearance, demeanor, and environment affect how an audience perceives a performance. How would audience enthusiasm for a Black Sabbath (Heavy Metal) show change if the band came out dressed in tuxes, sat in chairs, and presented their show in traditional, unchanging concert lighting?
Not only would the audience react awkwardly, but the band would likely appear disconnected with the environment ---
No matter how they performed, that dissonance would exist.
Performing is about knowing your audience.
2.) You are performing in a space!
The space in which we perform interacts with the performance. Though this element is frequently out of our control--we can control seating, lighting, and our understanding of the space. Are you performing a program for an audience of 50 in a hall that seats 150? Rope off select rows controlling where your audience may sit. This controls their listening experience (and the hall appears fuller!). Did you include long, insightful program notes? Leave the lights dimmed for easier reading. Are you performing solo on a large, horizontal stage? Alter the lighting to a smaller spotlight. Is there no green room? Determine where you will 'create' your off-stage space.
Finally, practice your choreography in the space: walking on/off stage, as well as bowing can feel awkward without practice. Remember, these are moments of pride. Do not rush; look forward and be in the moment. When bowing: bend at the waist, look at your toes, and count to 3.
Bowing is not about you. It is a gracious 'nod' to the audience - an act of 'thanks' for their attendance, attention, and appreciation of your music.
Performing is about knowing your environment.
3.) You are performing music!
Appearance, demeanor, and environment interact with the music itself.
A tuxedo with tails in a concert hall may be appropriate for Vivaldi, but Miami's approaching Bassoon Ensemble Concert is anything but Vivaldi-serious.
We will be performing a "We Stole your Music. Get Over It. It Sounds Better on Bassoon Anyway." show at the end of the month. The tongue-in-cheek nature of the gig lends itself to casual (or silly) attire, a relaxed venue (we decorate our recital hall), and an audience of raucous students (our bassoon ensemble concerts are a bit ....ahem....infamous).
A reverse of any of these attributes would lessen the audience (and performer) experience.
Performing is also about knowing your music.
As you prepare for your next performance, prepare the entire performance.
What are you performing? High Art Music? Low-brow comic relief? What is your venue? Traditional Concert Hall? Classroom? Coffee Shop?
Who will be attending? Students? Professional Musicians? Community Members? Children? Elderly?
Break a leg!
My faithful readers notice I missed an August posting! I was teaching and performing as part of the Vianden International Chamber Music Festival in Luxembourg.
The bassoonists met early every morning to warm-up together prior to each days' events. The heart of our warm-up? Intonation.
Often, intonation is practiced as a concept isolated from the "rest" of music. In so doing, we train our ears, eyes, and mind to separate from one another. I train and teach in an integrative philosophy.
Tuning occurs in three phases:
1.) Internal tuning. The bassoon is an inherently out of tune instrument. I laugh with my students: "The acoustics of the bassoon want you to fail!" You have to be unwavering in your knowledge of muscle placement. Like great opera singers, we must know where each pitch lies in the body. Our ears cannot begin to function in pitch adjustment if we do not first know pitch fundamentals.
This training occurs with digital tuners. Learn to align proper* embouchure, support, air, and oral cavity with geographical intonation (A440 here in the USA).
*I stress the term "proper" as trends towards poor air, embouchure, support, etc. can also indicate fault with reeds or the instrument itself.
Long tones, Scales, and Intervals are inseparable and critical in training muscle memory as associated with tuner work.
2.) External Tuning: Placing pitch within the body is significant. Adjusting that pitch to the external world is essential. Working with a drone trains the ears to listen externally while muscles react with (eventually) instantaneous precision.
Drone applications for smart phones provide endless possibilities for creative external practice.
As technique widens, the listening focus becomes more difficult. For this reason, etude books such as Piard, Oubradous, and Krakamp, that grow more technical as they progress through an exercise offer excellent drone resources.
3.) Self Tuning: Eventually, the tuner is removed. The drone is shut down. Still, intonation is demanded. Using our academic knowledge, the simplest of harmonic/rhythmic analyses will often help tuning. Imagine the opening of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, K191. Often the Eb in third measure of the solo entrance is ...suspect.... Tuning an ascending m7 is difficult. Upon closer inspection, however, the Eb can be practiced as an accented upper neighbor tone to the chord tone 'D.' The intense study of chord tones in Internal and External Tuning Practice provides room for neighbor tones, neighbor chords, and accented non-chord tones in the listening of intonation. Associating these tones as "neighbors" as opposed to "wide leaps" makes hearing more accessible.
As I always say: HAPPY PRACTICING, ALL!
This year I was presented with an opportunity 21st century musicians often take for granted: working with a composer to create a new work for my instrument.
LA-based composer (and all-around fabulous person) Adrienne Albert wrote a new work for me to premiere at the 2013 International Double Reed Society Conference.
Albert graciously invited my thoughts on the direction of the composition. Together, we decided the first women of song provided ample inspiration. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, & Sarah Vaughan provide the sultry backdrop for Adrienne Albert's newest addition to the bassoon repertoire: Swing Shift.
Our distance (LA & Cincinnati) was no obstacle to musical collaboration. I performed score drafts during Skype sessions. Playing from my iPad (while taking notes on a paper print-out), I was able to switch quickly between drafts. Skype meetings also gave Albert the opportunity to make instantaneous changes to the score. We both commented upon the highly collaborative and effective nature of these interactions.
Days prior to the IDRS 2013 Conference, we met for an intensive work day on Swing Shift. More enjoyable than "intense work," the composition came to life as we were able to collaborate in person. Albert could mold a live ensemble to the composition's needs. Likewise, Jed Moss (piano) and I were able to sample varying musical choices for the composer to hear in a true acoustic.
The day before the world premiere, we added the final touch: percussionist Keith Lloyd joined our ensemble. His smooth attack added the right texture to create a sassy, sultry, shift back to
the Swing Era.
An experience as this not only immerses performers within the composition process (and visa-versa), but it also deepens the connections within our musical industry. From pen, to publication, to performance--we are all musicians.
Interested in purchasing Swing Shift by Adrienne Albert?
Adrienne Albert's Website & TrevCo-Varner Music
A few in the music world know that I am from El Reno, Oklahoma --the same town ravaged by an F5 tornado last month. As I checked in on the area, memories of El Reno High School surrounded me.
My high school quote (WARNING: I'm dating myself....) was from an Aerosmith song: "Life's a journey not a destination."
How relevant to the career path that chose me.
As musicians, we are taught to strive for the ideal. We spend hours in the practice room deconstructing and re-perfecting the very F-Major scale learned at our first bassoon lesson. This self-critique can be a positive tool in practicing.
It can also create a sense of incessant self-questioning with no honest reflection.
At some point, we as musicians leave the practice room for the stage. The deconstruction, the self-critique, the assessment, must stay behind (but do they?).
The stage is our place to be confident in our work to date.
But are we a finished product? Could we be stronger? Better? Cleaner? Faster?
These are always dangerous questions. No matter how we excel, no matter how we succeed, there will always be room to grow.
Now the challenge: I challenge us all to appreciate our own performances with as much zeal as we listen to our idols ...
to let our performances be a celebration of our growth.
... the practice room (and all that's in it)
will still be there tomorrow.
"Life's a journey, not a destination."
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of helping friends select wedding music. When Pachelbel's Canon popped up on my playlist, the bride instantly broke into tears of happiness and love. For the couple, it was a joyous moment.
For me, it was an insightful look at the living, embraceable power of music.
Often we as music performers, educators, scholars, and students, are so inundated with performing, teaching, writing, and advocating, that we forget to listen.
When is the last time a piece of music (listening) brought you to tears? Anger? Uncontrolled exhilaration? Wasn't it FANTASTIC?
The affect of music varies by genre, culture, composer, and performer, but there is no affect (or effect!) without audience. Reading and analyzing the dissonance of the late Beethoven String Quartets and hearing them live in the acoustic of a resonant hall are two separate types of experiences. One feeds into the experience of the other. And the other, the listening, will leave you breathless.
Somewhere in the last decade of bankruptcies, program cuts, funding slashes, we as musicians forgot the number one reason why WE listen to live music: to be embraced by it.
This weekend, go to one concert...any concert.
Allow yourself to listen to the music as my friend did: honestly.