Three Early Weber Recordings

Most of the early recordings that feature the bassoon did so in a comical fashion. A handful of artists recorded Quentin Ashlyn's song "The Bassoon" in the first decades of the 20th century, and I have in my collection a couple of very strange (at least to modern ears) "laughing records" from the same era that include the bassoon. In 1911, Carl Borgwald recorded Julius Fučík's classic "Der Alte Brummbär" in 1911 (released as "Polka Fantastique" in the U.S.). And in 1918, Edison released two somewhat silly piccolo/bassoon duets: "The Elephant and The Fly" and "The Nightingale and the Frog", both featuring Benjamin Kohon, who would later become principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic. The earliest "serious" bassoon piece on disc (the earliest that I've been able to locate, anyway) was not the Mozart Concerto, as one might guess. Rather, it was Carl Maria von Weber's Andante e Rondo Ongarese. In fact, this Romantic showpiece was recorded three separate times between 1920 and 1938.

Aside from being historical curiosities, these recordings give us a glimpse of early twentieth century bassoon playing. And as far as I can tell, none of these recordings have ever been re-released. Below you will find copies of all three, digitized from discs in my collection. I've applied a bit of noise reduction and removed the worst of the pops and clicks, but these are far from professional-quality transfers. I'd recommend listening to these on headphones or real speakers, as they may be a bit difficult to hear on laptop, tablet, or phone speakers.

Weber Recordings

The three discs in chronological order. Click for a larger version.

The first two of these were in fact made by the same man: William Gruner, who played bassoon in the Philadelphia Orchestra 1906-1917 and 1929-1951. Gruner was born in Berlin on January 12, 1883 and arrived in the United States aboard the S.S. Deutschland in April 1906. He became a U.S. citizen in 1914, and lived near Philadelphia until his death in February 1971. In the period between his two stints with the Philadelphia Orchestra (1917-1929), Gruner worked for the Victor Talking Machine Company, making numerous recordings with the Victor Orchestra and numerous smaller groups.1

William Gruner

William Gruner, from his 1923
U.S. Passport Application

Gruner and the Victor Orchestra first recorded Andante e Rondo Ongarese in June 1920. They recorded ten takes over the space of three recording sessions in Victor's Camden, New Jersey studios. The last of these, recorded on June 24th, was issued as "Hungarian Fantasie" on the B side of Victor 18684, a ten-inch 78rpm disc. The piece was severely cut down to fit this format: it lasts a mere three minutes and thirteen seconds. (For comparison, complete recordings I have by Milan Turkovic, Nadina Mackie Jackson, and Masahito Tanaka clock in at 9:53, 9:02, and 9:20, respectively.) After the initial 16 measures of the Andante, a two bar orchestral transition launches us right into the Rondo. The Rondo is a bit more substantial, but is missing huge chunks (including most of that dreaded last page of 16th-note triplets). The end of the piece has been rewritten, too. Hear it for yourself:

Listen to William Gruner - Andante e Rondo (1920)

When Gruner made this recording in 1920, the technology involved was quite similar to that invented by Thomas Edison 43 years earlier: the performers played into a large horn that transmitted sound waves to a flexible diaphragm connected to a stylus that cut the sound directly onto a wax disc. This method produced recordings with limited frequency and dynamic range and required performers to crowd around a single horn to be heard. But in 1925 Victor (and many of their competitors) adopted a new electrical recording process that used microphones, vacuum tube amplifiers, and an electromagnetic recording head. This system allowed for much greater dynamic and frequency response, and produced a generally much better sounding recording.

Gruner and the Victor Orchestra returned to the studio on October 19, 1926, and recorded an additional five takes of the Weber with the new electrical recording system. They used the same pared-down arrangement - electrical recording did nothing to mitigate the format's time constraints. This new recording was released in June 1927 as the B side of Victor 20525, another ten-inch 78rpm disc. Although Victor didn't set about re-recording their entire catalog after switching to electrical recording, this is in instance in which they clearly wanted to re-create an earlier disc. The A sides of the two discs are recordings of Tourbillon (Whirlwind), a piece for flute and piano by Adolph Krantz, albeit featuring different performers.2

If you made it all the way through Gruner's 1920 recording, you probably don't need to listen to all of this one. His interpretation doesn't change appreciably, although it is interesting to hear the differences between the two recording processes.

Listen to William Gruner - Andante e Rondo (1926)
Fernand Oubradous

Fernand Oubradous

The French bassoonist Fernand Oubradous recorded Andante e Rondo Ongarese in Paris in 1938, accompanied by the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire under the direction of Roger Désormière. Oubradous was born in Paris on February 12, 1903. He won his Premiere prix from the Paris Conservatoire in 1923 - after only a single year of bassoon study. He played with the Paris Opéra, the Orchestre Lamoureux, the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, and the Trio d'Anches de Paris. In addition to Weber's Andante e Rondo Ongarese, Oubradous recorded concerti by Mozart, Weber, and Boismortier and a great deal of chamber music. But his first job after graduating from the Conservatoire was as music director of the Théâtre de l’Atelier, and he received much acclaim as a conductor throughout his career. Oubradous died in Paris in January 1986.3 For more on Oubradous, see these two sites (both in French): fernand.oubradous.free.fr and Fernand Oubradous - Site de l'association Fou de Basson.

Oubradous's recording of the piece is nearly complete, thanks to it being issued on both sides of a twelve-inch 78rpm disc (L'Oiseau-Lyre O.L. 14). This is likely attributable to the fact that Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre has always had a more specialist and scholarly focus than more mass-market companies like Victor. Side A is the Andante, which is just over four minutes long. The Rondo (on side B) is slightly longer at four minutes and sixteen seconds. The Rondo had to be cut down a bit to fit; forty-two measures have been excised. This is mostly mostly repeated themes and sections of orchestral interludes, but the entire last statement of the rondo theme has been removed as well. There's one other interesting change: the four measures of quarter-note trills in the middle of the last flashy section have been taken out of the solo part and given to one of the orchestral bassoonists!

Listen to Fernand Oubradous - Andante et Rondo Hongrois (1938)

It's clear that recording technology and disc manufacture had improved quite a bit in the 12 years since Gruner's second recording. The bassoon is clearer and more present (the fact that he was playing a French bassoon helps, too), and the orchestra's sound has far more depth and definition. Frankly, the quality of the bassoon playing is much higher, as well. Although this particular recording hasn't been rereleased, you can occasionally find Oubradous's Mozart Concerto on CD on Amazon, or as mp3s here.


  1. John Ardoin, The Philadelphia Orchestra: A Century of Music (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999); William Gruner, Petition for Naturalization, March 20, 1913, Naturalization Petitions for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1795-1930 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm series M1522, roll 93), 335; William Gruner, 165-03-6373, Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011); William Gruner, Draft Registration Card, September 12, 1918, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm series M1509, roll PA83), 278. 

  2. The earlier disc (Victor 18684) features flutist Arthur Brooke of the Boston Symphony, while the performance on the later disc (Victor 20525) is by Clement Barone, a member of the Victor Orchestra and formerly principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

  3. Jean-Pierre Seguin, "Fernand Oubradous: A Half-Century of Woodwind History," trans. Philip Gottling, The Journal of the
    International Double Reed Society
    , no. 14 (1986),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/Journal/JNL14/JNL14.Seg.html

Bassoonasana -or- Yoga and the Bassoon

Bassoonasana

I start­ed prac­tic­ing yoga about a year and a half ago. The stu­dio I attend is devot­ed to Bikram Yoga1, a form of Hatha yoga that con­sists of a pre­scribed series of 26 pos­tures and two breath­ing exer­cis­es done in a 105°F room over the span of 90 min­utes. It’s intense. One writer pro­claimed that “if Chuck Nor­ris did yoga, it would be Bikram.“2 I first went to class at the behest of my wife Veron­i­ca (a 6–8 class­es per week devo­tee), and was sure I wouldn’t like it. But I found the class’s com­bi­na­tion of men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges to be com­pelling, and I’ve been going reg­u­lar­ly (more or less) ever since. I try to go to two or three class­es per week, but I haven’t always man­aged to main­tain this in the thick of the semes­ter.

I say that I teach music, but a good deal of my instruc­tion could, I sup­pose, be called phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion. Play­ing the bas­soon requires the coor­di­nat­ed inter­ac­tion of more body parts than most oth­er instru­ments. All ten fin­gers must be able to move both inde­pen­dent­ly and in dozens of dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions; mus­cles of inhala­tion and exha­la­tion must be fine­ly con­trolled; form­ing the prop­er embouchure is crit­i­cal; tongue, jaw, and throat posi­tion all have influ­ence on the sound a play­er pro­duces; for most set-ups, the left arm must sup­port some of the instrument’s weight. And of course there are the more gen­er­al issues of pos­ture, eye con­tact, cue­ing, and expres­sive or time-keeping ges­tures.

In the ser­vice of all of the­se things, I firm­ly believe that stay­ing fit is an impor­tant part of my musi­cal rou­tine. There are cer­tain­ly lots of types of exer­cise to choose from, and each offers its own par­tic­u­lar ben­e­fits. I’ve found my yoga prac­tice to be help­ful to my bas­soon prac­tice in many ways, across both the phys­i­cal and men­tal realms. I’d like to share some of the lessons or crossover skills that yoga has pro­vid­ed me. Pret­ty much all of the­se apply to musi­cians in gen­er­al; some of my com­men­tary is just very bassoon-specific.

Breathing

The most obvi­ous con­nec­tion between yoga and play­ing bas­soon relates to breath­ing. The class­es begin with an exer­cise that involves slow deep breath­ing (along with sim­ple arm and head move­ments). One of the pur­pos­es of this exer­cise is to explore 100% of your lung capac­i­ty, both when inhal­ing and when exhal­ing. This is some­thing I often work on with bas­soon stu­dents — being in full con­trol of your air means under­stand­ing both the top and bot­tom lim­its of your lungs. I find that young stu­dents in par­tic­u­lar often don’t real­ly have a con­cept of what a deep breath is until I get them to fill their lungs to their absolute max­i­mum. Once they’ve felt what 100% capac­i­ty feels like, it’s usu­al­ly much eas­ier for them to take an 85–90% breath and play with bet­ter sup­port and a big­ger sound. Even though I know the lim­its of my own lungs very well by now, the breath­ing exer­cis­es in yoga help me refine and main­tain my con­trol over my mus­cles of res­pi­ra­tion.

Balance

Six of the class’s twenty-six pos­tures involve bal­anc­ing on one leg, often while extend­ing oth­er limbs out into space in var­i­ous ways. Although stand­ing up and play­ing bas­soon is less acro­bat­ic than many of the­se pos­tures, it still involves being in a some­what unnat­u­ral posi­tion with a heavy asym­met­ri­cal object alter­ing your cen­ter of grav­i­ty. I’ve found that work­ing on the­se pos­tures has helped me feel more secure in being mobile when I’m stand­ing up and play­ing.

Proprioception

Every pos­ture involves var­i­ous minu­ti­ae of body posi­tion­ing: place­ment of the hands, rota­tion of the hips, angle of the feet, direc­tion of your gaze, engag­ing cer­tain mus­cles or mus­cle groups, etc. Keep­ing track of all of the­se things requires a very well-developed sense of pro­pri­o­cep­tion (per­cep­tion of the posi­tion and move­ments of the body). This sense is also essen­tial in bas­soon play­ing. Can you tell with­out a mir­ror whether your embouchure is set up cor­rect­ly? How far your fin­gers are lift­ing above the keys and holes? Whether your left thumb is head­ed for the prop­er flick key? If you’re rais­ing one shoul­der, stick­ing an elbow out, or engag­ing in some oth­er unnec­es­sary motion as you play?

Relaxation

In addi­tion to pay­ing atten­tion to the var­i­ous body parts engaged in a par­tic­u­lar pos­ture, part of the prac­tice of yoga is relax­ing the parts of the body not direct­ly involved. When engaged in a dif­fi­cult pos­ture, it’s very easy to let ten­sion creep into oth­er mus­cles and joints. This most often man­i­fests in the face via gri­maces, flared nos­trils, and the like. Teach­ers often give reminders to relax your face or even to smile at the most awk­ward, dif­fi­cult moments of class. The abil­i­ty to relax under pres­sure is vital to musi­cal per­for­mance, as well. If you let ten­sion build up — par­tic­u­lar­ly in dif­fi­cult musi­cal pas­sages — you won’t play as well, and you make your­self more prone to repet­i­tive stress injuries. Also, relax­ing the fin­gers you’re not using at any given sec­ond will keep them closer to the bas­soon, increas­ing tech­ni­cal facil­i­ty.

Listening

The teach­ers explain each pos­ture as the class does them, but they do not per­form the pos­tures them­selves. And unless you’re next to par­tic­u­lar­ly advanced stu­dents, watch­ing those around you can be of lim­it­ed val­ue. Thus, your main source of infor­ma­tion about the pos­tures is the teacher’s ver­bal descrip­tion. While you’re bal­anc­ing on one foot, using your pro­pri­o­cep­tors to tell you what your oth­er foot is doing, relax­ing your face, and remem­ber­ing to breathe, you have to reserve enough brain pow­er to pay atten­tion to the teacher’s instruc­tions. They will often provide cor­rec­tions once you’re in a pos­ture too, so you can’t tune out in the mid­dle. Sim­i­lar­ly, you have to be able to keep your ears open for audi­to­ry feed­back while you’re read­ing a dif­fi­cult musi­cal pas­sage, pay­ing atten­tion to your fin­ger height, relax­ing your shoul­ders, care­ful­ly man­ag­ing your air, and per­haps keep­ing one eye on a con­duc­tor.

Patience and Acceptance

Even after a year and a half of yoga class­es, I can’t touch my toes with straight legs. My ham­strings are still too inflex­i­ble, but I’m slow­ly improv­ing. In every class there are peo­ple far more flex­i­ble than me who can reach well past their toes — even some who can touch their fore­heads to their toes. Rather than let­ting this frus­trate me, I try to have patience with myself and take the long view. Judg­ing myself based on those more advanced than me (many of whom have been prac­tic­ing yoga for far longer than I have) is unpro­duc­tive at best and depress­ing at worst. But I can take what they do as inspi­ra­tion, and con­cen­trate on mak­ing grad­u­al pro­gress. I think that every musi­cian has had the expe­ri­ence of being flab­ber­gast­ed by hear­ing some­one far more advanced per­form on their instru­ment. The best way to respond to such an expe­ri­ence is not to think “I’ll nev­er play that well,” but to think “I want to be able to do that — what can I do to work towards his or her lev­el of per­for­mance?”.

Fur­ther­more, it’s easy to focus on your per­ceived defi­cien­cies while not rec­og­niz­ing the things at which you excel. For what­ev­er rea­son, I seem to be nat­u­ral­ly quite good at Rab­bit pose, the most intense for­ward bend of the entire series. I didn’t even real­ize I was good at it until my wife remarked on it. While it’s cer­tain­ly impor­tant to iden­ti­fy and work on the things you’re not so great at, it’s also good to pick out the things you already do well. This will both bol­ster your con­fi­dence and allow you show off your best qual­i­ties effec­tive­ly. Not so great at rapid tongu­ing? That’s ok — keep work­ing on it. But in the mean­time, don’t for­get to show­case that [rock­in’ high reg­is­ter | vel­vety tone | fast fin­ger tech­nique | what­ev­er your strength is].

Discipline

When you take your first Bikram class (at least at our stu­dio), the teacher tells you that your goal is to just stay in the room for the entire 90 min­utes. The peo­ple who laugh at the seem­ing sim­plic­i­ty of that goal are often the same peo­ple who fail to attain it. As I said above, between the heat, the dif­fi­cul­ty of the pos­tures, and the hour-and-a-half dura­tion, this class is intense. The only time I have sweat as much as I do in a Bikram class was in high school drum­line camp, car­ry­ing 30-pound tenor drums and march­ing on black­top in the noon­day sun of Ten­nessee in August. And just like in drum­line, in Bikram you are expect­ed to lis­ten, to do what you’re told when you’re told to do it, to stay focused, to remain still when you’re at rest, and to ignore the beads of sweat drip­ping down your face. Devel­op­ing this sort of focus and abil­i­ty to shut out dis­trac­tions is essen­tial in being a calm and col­lect­ed per­former.

Determination and Perseverance

This goes hand-in-hand with my dis­cus­sion of dis­ci­pline above. Many of the pos­tures involve hold­ing very dif­fi­cult posi­tions for what seems like an eter­ni­ty. In fact, there’s one sim­ply called Awk­ward pose that involves bal­anc­ing on your tip­toes while crouch­ing with your thighs par­al­lel to the floor and lock­ing your arms straight out in front of you. The easy things to do are to either not go ful­ly into the pos­ture (half crouch, don’t go all the way up on your toes, let your arms sag, etc.) or to just quit halfway through. But nei­ther of those paths lead to improve­ment. Even when you lose your bal­ance or grip in a pos­ture, the teach­ers exhort you to get right back in and try again. The same goes for musi­cal prac­tice and per­for­mance. A tech­ni­cal pas­sage isn’t clean? Don’t gloss over it, prac­tice until it’s 100% cor­rect. Don’t break that slur for a breath — keep push­ing to the end of the phrase (you’ve explored the low­er end of your lung capac­i­ty, right?). You make a mis­take in per­for­mance? Let it go and play the snot out of the rest of the piece.

Conclusions

As I said above, there are plen­ty of choic­es in how to exer­cise, each with dif­fer­ent ben­e­fits. Play­ing the bas­soon at a high lev­el is such a phys­i­cal act that I think it’s essen­tial to find some form of reg­u­lar phys­i­cal activ­i­ty that works for you. This form of hot yoga has worked well for me, but in the past I’ve also expe­ri­enced great ben­e­fits from swim­ming (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the realms of air man­age­ment, lung capac­i­ty, and effi­cien­cy of oxy­gen pro­cess­ing). What­ev­er you choose to do, be mind­ful about it — fig­ure out how it can help your musi­cian­ship, both direct­ly and indi­rect­ly.


  1. The epony­mous founder of this style of yoga is a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure, and is cur­rent­ly embroiled in law­suits that allege rape, sex­u­al assault, and oth­er supre­me nas­ti­ness. If I can love Wagner’s music while despis­ing the man, I can cer­tain­ly reap the ben­e­fits of this yoga with­out sup­port­ing its prog­en­i­tor. 

  2. Olivia Solon, “Bikram Yoga: Is It Worth the Sweat?Huff­in­g­ton Post, 03/01/2012. 

TuBassoon at U-Nite

TuBassoon at U-Nite

TuBassoon with modern dancers during a U-Nite promo shoot for Good Day Sacramento. (Craig Koscho, Sac State Public Affairs)

On the evening of April 11th, I performed as part of the second annual U-Nite, a mini-festival of the arts at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum. The event featured faculty and students from the various parts of Sacramento State's College of Arts and Letters. Performers and exhibitors were stationed around the museum, presenting short programs of music, dance, film, theater, visual arts, and the written word. My colleague Julian Dixon and I played in one of the galleries as the duo TuBassoon.

Surrounded by gorgeous California landscape paintings, we played 25-30 minutes of music drawn from numerous sources. We had previously played P.D.Q. Bach's "Dutch" Suite for bassoon and tuba, so that was an easy choice. Although there are at least a couple of other works written specifically for bassoon and tuba, we ended up adapting the rest of our repertoire from other sources. We played the first movement of Mozart's gorgeous Sonata, K. 292 (for bassoon and cello), one movement of a Telemann canonic sonata, and a suite of short tuba duets by Walter Sear.

The morning of U-Nite, Julian and I were part of a live segment on the morning show Good Day Sacramento. We're playing P.D.Q. Bach's "Panther Dance" in the background while reporter Courtney Dempsey interviews U-Nite's organizers:

Incidentally, if TuBassoon continues, we might just have to make Courtney's description our motto. Tubassoon: A lil' tuba, a lil' bassoon.

After our evening performance, I was able to catch Citywater's performance of a new piece by Stephen Blumberg, which was great. But unfortunately, between grabbing a bite to eat from the museum café, getting set up, and talking to audience members after our performance, that was all I was able to take in. But this video collage from Sac State's Office of Public Affairs provides an excellent overview of what I missed, and shows off the excellent range and diversity of the event:

New Wave Bassoon

Mo 45rpm Single  Cover

In my ongo­ing quest to find bas­soons in unex­pect­ed places, I’ve uncov­ered a new gem. The Mo (or some­times sim­ply “Mo”) was a Dutch New Wave band formed in 1979 by broth­ers Clemens and Huub de Lange. The band had a cou­ple of incar­na­tions, but its ini­tial line­up includ­ed singer Heili Helder, drum­mer Harm Bieger, Clemens de Lange on key­boards, and Huub de Lange on key boards and — you guessed it — bas­soon. Huub de Lange appears to be known most­ly as a choral com­poser now; here’s his Choral­Wiki page. I wrote to him ask­ing some ques­tions about the band, but got no respon­se.

A num­ber of the songs on The Mo’s epony­mous 1980 album include bas­soon. But one song in par­tic­u­lar stands out. “Band With Bas­soon” not only includes Huub de Lange’s bas­soon play­ing, but is also self-referentially about a band that uses a bas­soon! “Band With Bas­soon” also appears on a 45rpm sin­gle from the album (the cov­er of the sin­gle can be seen above). Here it is:

Listen to The Mo - Band With Bassoon

I’ve done my best to tran­scribe the lyrics, but there’s a line of two in the third verse that I just can’t quite make out. If you can fig­ure out what she’s singing there, please let me know.

So, guess what we found on the moon
Down in the crater lake
Don’t think our sto­ry is fake
A band with bas­soon

So, can you imag­ine our joy
They cap­tured us with their sound
Know­ing they couldn’t go wrong
The band with bas­soon

Boy, […play­ing a…]
Just a [lit­tle child]
So he said: “Bas­soon band,
You’ll be the star in our land”

Then, we got into the ship
Tak­in’ ‘em back to the earth
And we sang “Bas­soon band,
You’ll be the star in our land”

So, they’re rock­ing the world with their tune
Young kids, they shout for more
They nev­er seen that before
A band with bas­soon

YouTube, that great repos­i­to­ry of for­got­ten cul­ture, has two videos of The Mo in action. Both seem to be tak­en from about twelfth-generation tape copies of TV broad­casts, but they’re still watch­able. The first is a song called “Nan­cy” that fea­tures Huub de Lange rock­ing out front and cen­ter on bas­soon in a shiny bright blue 80s out­fit:

 

There’s no bas­soon play­ing in “Fred Astaire,” but de Lange has his horn at the ready in a stand next to his key­board:

The $3 Bassoon Reed Case

Case With Reeds

The $3 Reed Case

I have a num­ber of nice reed cas­es: a leather-covered three-reed case that came with my bas­soon, a nine-reed wood­en case by Wise­man, and a cou­ple of beau­ti­ful maple cas­es by Roger Gar­rett. But I always seem to need more lit­tle box­es for trans­port­ing reeds for stu­dents, stash­ing French or peri­od bas­soon reeds, or just to hold over­flow from my oth­er cas­es. My go-to for this sort of thing is the tried-and-true Altoids tin. But Altoids tins are just slight­ly the wrong dimen­sions to be a tru­ly space-efficient reed case, and as a result I’ve always got my eye out for oth­er lit­tle tins or box­es. Ver­mints tins are a marked improve­ment (they’re a bit wider and shal­low­er than Altoids tins). But I recent­ly stum­bled across some lit­tle hinged plas­tic box­es at the Con­tain­er Store that are near­ly per­fect.

Reed Case Tools and Materials

Reed Case Tools and Mate­ri­als

Best of all, they’re only $2 a pop. Add a ~$1 sheet of foam from a craft store and some tools you almost cer­tain­ly already have lying around, and you’ve got a seven-reed case for about $3. Here’s all you’ll need to make one:

Mate­ri­als:

Tools:

  • Duco cement
  • X-acto or util­i­ty knife
  • ruler

You can buy specially-made strips of reed foam from Reeds ‘n Stuff. I’ve used them, and they work well. But the foam hold­ers in my Wise­man case hold reeds in a more com­pact fash­ion, so I decid­ed to basi­cal­ly copy that design for this case. The Wise­man foam isn’t a purpose-made strip but is actu­al­ly made up of mul­ti­ple lit­tle pieces glued togeth­er: tall pieces to go between reeds, short pieces to go under them, and long strips at the top and bot­tom to hold it all togeth­er. Using that method I can fit sev­en reeds in this 94mm-wide plas­tic case; the Reeds ‘n Stuff strip would only fit five in the same space.

Foam Pieces

Emp­ty Box and Foam Pieces

The first step is to cut lit­tle pieces out of the foam sheet. The pre­cise dimen­sions will depend on the thick­ness of your foam — mine is 5mm thick. I decid­ed to make the top and bot­tom strips 6mm wide and the entire cen­ter assem­bly 15mm wide. The cen­ter assem­bly is made up of eight 12mm x 15mm blocks (placed ver­ti­cal­ly) and sev­en 7mm x 15mm blocks (placed hor­i­zon­tal­ly). I neglect­ed to get a good pic­ture of the foam assem­bly itself, but you should be able to fig­ure out how it’s put togeth­er from the fin­ished case pic­tures.

After I cut out all the foam bits, I did a dry fit in the plas­tic box. I hadn’t account­ed for the box’s beveled edges, so I had to trim a bit of foam off the cor­ners of the end pieces. After a lit­tle tri­al and error, I had every­thing fit­ting snug­ly. I made sure the foam assem­bly was squared up to the edges of the box, and then I used my knife to light­ly score the box’s bot­tom to mark the foam’s posi­tion. I removed the foam, and then used some sand­pa­per to rough up the plas­tic where the foam would be glued in. The box’s sur­face is very smooth, so rough­ing it up a bit pro­vides the glue with a bet­ter sur­face to which to adhere.

Then, it’s just a mat­ter of apply­ing glue to the box and to the appro­pri­ate areas of each piece of foam (where they’ll con­tact the box or oth­er foam), and assem­bling it all. I put in the upper nar­row strip first, then built the cen­ter assem­bly from left to right, then applied the bot­tom nar­row strip to square it all up. I cut some more bits of foam in basi­cal­ly a reverse pat­tern so that clos­ing the case clamped it all togeth­er while the glue dried. I picked Duco because that’s some­thing we bas­soon­ists tend to have lying around, but cyano­acry­late (super glue) may actu­al­ly be a bet­ter choice for this sort of plas­tic. Time will tell if I need to re-glue any­thing.

Since I’m plan­ning to use this as an aux­il­iary reed case, I didn’t both­er punch­ing any holes in it. But if you plan to use one of the­se on a day-to-day basis and antic­i­pate putting your reeds away wet, you should provide it with some form of ven­ti­la­tion. I bet a sol­der­ing iron could melt nice lit­tle air holes in this plas­tic — don’t breathe in the fumes, though.

Two Views of the Finished Case

Two Views of the Fin­ished Case

One note about using this case: the reeds are so close togeth­er that you have to tilt them slight­ly to fit them all in (you can see the tilt­ing and over­lap in the pho­to above). I’ve done this for years with my Wise­man case, but it might seem a lit­tle strange if you’ve nev­er done it before. There’s plen­ty of ver­ti­cal clear­ance on both sides for the reeds to sit safe­ly this way, and if you treat both reeds and case with the prop­er care, this con­fig­u­ra­tion shouldn’t cause any prob­lems.