A New Edition of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor, RV 495

I'm very excited today to release something to the world on which I've spent a great deal of time: a new performing edition of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor for bassoon, strings, and basso continuo (RV 495), prepared using a copy of Vivaldi's own manuscript. You can download the whole thing (for free!) at the end of this post. But first I'd like to talk a bit about my path to the piece and my methods in creating this edition. I hope that this will all prove useful to someone out there, particularly since this is one of the required pieces for the 2014 Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition.

Vivaldi Autograph

I've played a couple of Vivaldi's other concerti in the past. But my relationship with this piece began last year, after Nadina Mackie Jackson did me the honor of asking me to write the liner notes for the first disc in what will eventually be a set of all the Vivaldi bassoon concerti. I dove into the project with my customary gusto - books littered my desk and floor, and PDFs of miscellaneous Vivaldiana delivered to me by the wizards of Interlibrary Loan similarly cluttered my laptop screen. As far as I'm concerned, research is the fun part. If I could just keep finding and absorbing more sources without ever having to actually write anything, I'd be that much happier. But aside from the various print materials, I had a more-or-less constant Vivaldi bassoon concerto soundtrack - mostly pre-release mixes of Nadina's recording, but also versions by Michael McCraw, Sergio Azzolini, Maurice Allard, and others.

By the time I had finished the notes for Nadina, I was thoroughly fired-up about Vivaldi and his 37 bassoon concerti (plus two incomplete works). So much so, in fact, that I asked Lorna Peters, Sacramento State's wonderful harpsichord (and piano) teacher, if she'd consider programming one of them with Camerata Capistrano, the school's Baroque ensemble. Happily for me, she agreed, and I set about picking a piece. It's probably not surprising that I chose one of the concerti from Nadina's disc (RV 495), with which I'd been singing along for weeks. There are many things I love about this concerto. The first movement is fiery and flashy. The second movement foregos the upper strings entirely, creating a beautiful and passionate dialog between soloist and continuo. The third movement is just all-out intensity - it starts with the whole ensemble in driving unison (almost the Baroque equivalent of power chords), and contains what I think is one of the best licks ever written for bassoon (mm. 53-56).

I first performed the piece with Camerata Capistrano in February of this year, and luckily we've had many chances to present it again since then. Our tenth performance will come this Sunday, as part of the Bravo Bach Festival in Sacramento. This is the first time I've performed a single solo work so often, and I've found it to be an incredibly instructive and freeing experience. The ability to actually take chances and try new things over the course of multiple performances can shape your perception of and relationship to a piece in ways that are difficult - if not impossible - to recreate in the practice room or in a stand-alone performance. Even though I finished school a number of years ago, the one-and-done degree recital mentality is something I'm still trying to shake. But that's a topic for another post.

As soon as I'd settled on this concerto, I knew that I wanted to create my own performing edition. At the time, I couldn't locate an edition with string parts (I've since found one, available only from Germany). Plus, what better way to learn a piece backwards and forwards than to study the manuscript and make up a new score and set of parts? I could easily have used as my source the score published in 1957 as part of Ricordi's Complete Works edition. But the editor, Gian Francesco Malipiero, provided no critical commentary and appears to have made some editorial decisions without explicitly indicating that he'd done so. So instead, I went right to Vivaldi's own manuscript.

Vivaldi's shorthand for whole-ensemble unison writing

Vivaldi's shorthand for whole-ensemble unison writing

Vivaldi's bassoon concerti (and indeed most of his works) were not published in his own lifetime, and are only known to us through a massive collection of manuscript scores that now resides at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin, Italy. Most of these are in the composer's own hand, and the collection contains many incomplete sketches and drafts. These are strong indications that the collection was Vivaldi’s own compendium of his works, and as such, the scores are far from performance-ready. The composer made extensive use of shorthand techniques, including dal segni that would be awkward in performance and simply indicating unison parts instead of writing out the same music on multiple lines (see the example at right).

Beyond expanding this shorthand, I endeavored to keep my editorial hand as light as possible. But inevitably, there were a few instances in which I made changes or interpretive decisions. I have detailed these in a critical report within the score. I have not added any articulations, dynamics, ornaments, or any other performance suggestions; these are totally "clean" parts. There are, however, a few important ways in which this edition differs from the Ricordi edition (and other editions that have used Ricordi as their source):

  • Throughout the concerto, Vivaldi indicates that the soloist should join the continuo line during tutti sections. Except for the few passages in which Vivaldi did not make such an indication, I have provided the soloist with the bass line in small notation. The Ricordi score leaves rests for the bassoon in all of these passages.
  • Measures 211-214 of the Presto are in D minor in Vivaldi's manuscript. In measure 211 it appears that he has written and then wiped away or scratched out a sharp symbol on an F in the Viola part, but there are no other F-sharps marked in those measures. There is then a sudden change to D major in measure 215. The Ricordi score places the whole passage in D major.
  • Measure 260 of the Presto does not exist in the Ricordi edition. This comes at the end of the last solo section, and the final ritornello is a repeat of measures 23-55. In Vivaldi's manuscript, he wrote out a full measure of resolution (my bar 260), and then indicated a dal segno to measure 23. Ricordi omitted this measure, and instead elided the last solo cadence with the beginning of the final ritornello.
  • Vivaldi wrote articulation marks over the eighth notes in the solo part in measures 249-252 and 258-259. The Ricordi edition renders all of these marks as staccati. But in Vivaldi's hand, the marks in measures 258-259 are clearly longer than those in 249-252 (see below). Thus, I have marked the eighth notes in 249-252 as staccato and those in 258-259 with wedges.
Two types of Vivaldi's articulation marks

Two types of Vivaldi's articulation marks

For the actual engraving of the score and parts, I used LilyPond, which I also used for my fingering charts. It can be kind of a hassle but produces very elegant results. Also like my fingering charts, I'm releasing this under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basically, it means you can use, alter, copy, or distribute this however you'd like, so long as you give me credit and don't sell it.

It is important to note that this edition does not include a keyboard reduction. It is suitable only for study or for performance with string players and a competent harpsichordist. If you need a fully written-out keyboard part, I would recommend the new bassoon/piano edition published by TrevCo Music Publishing (they list it under its Fanna number: F8#23).

And now, without further ado, here it is:

Complete Score and Parts (ZIP)

Vivaldi RV 495 - Complete Set

Individual Files (PDFs)

Vivaldi RV 495 - Bassoon
Vivaldi RV 495 - Violin 1
Vivaldi RV 495 - Violin 2
Vivaldi RV 495 - Viola
Vivaldi RV 495 - Basso Continuo
Vivaldi RV 495 - Basso Continuo (alternate version with the second movement in score)
Vivaldi RV 495 - Score

Although I've gone over all of this with a number of fine-tooth combs, I'd welcome any corrections, comments, or other feedback.

An Inexpensive Cane Scoring Tool

Scoring is the process of cutting a number of parallel vertical lines in the bark a piece of gouged, shaped, and profiled cane. These cuts make it easier to form the cane into a cylindrical tube and help prevent cracking during the forming process. Different reed makers have various theories of scoring, involving different numbers, spacing, length, and depth of score marks. There is also quite a variety of tools one can choose from to actually perform the scoring, ranging from a $4 utility knife to Rieger's €946 scoring machine. The tool I have used for years is close to the inexpensive end of this spectrum. It is simply a tap (a tool for cutting screw threads) mounted in a file handle.

Parts and Assembly

Left: file handle and tap. Right: assembled scoring tool.

I certainly can't claim to have invented this - I saw Professor James Lotz at Tennessee Tech University demonstrate such a tool when I was a budding reed maker in high school. Miller Marketing also sells a scoring tool that looks to be basically the same thing, made by 2XReed. I don't remember what the original tap and handle cost (I've been using the same scoring tool for about 15 years). But I recently made a second one to keep in my office, and the parts came to a whopping $8. Here are a tap and handle similar to the ones that I recently purchased. If you're lucky, the tap will just fit snugly in the handle - my first tool went together that way with a simple friction fit. If you're unlucky (as I was with my recent parts), you'll have to glue the tap into the handle to keep it in place. No big deal. There are probably higher quality file handles out there with more consistent construction, but this is what my local hardware store had.

Tap Close-up

Detail of the tap

The specific size of the tap isn't critical - you just need something with cutting teeth (close up at right) with the spacing you want to achieve in your scoring lines. I use a tap for cutting 10-24 threads; the 2XReed tap looks bigger. If you actually buy your tap at a hardware store rather than online, you can just looks at all the different choices and pick one that looks right to you.

To use the tool, first put your piece of cane on an easel. Then, hold the tool perpendicular to the cane at the point you want to start your score lines - I like to start just above the second wire. Make sure that you have the edge of one set of cutting teeth lined up to dig into the cane, apply a bit of pressure, and draw the tool straight down your cane. I like to plant my thumb on the back end of the easel and use a sort of closing-the-hand motion to help keep my lines straight. One pass with the tool with score about half the width of the cane. To score the other side, just repeat the action on the other side. You can put one tooth of the scoring tool the last existing line to keep the proper spacing and direction of your score marks. I've thrown together a quick animation of the scoring process:

Scoring Animation

Click to see an animation of the scoring process

Finished Cane

Cane after a couple of passes with the tool

And there you have it: eight or nine perfectly parallel score marks in a matter of a few seconds. Above right you can see a piece of cane after a couple of passes with the scoring tool. I went a little too high on the left side of this piece of cane, but it's not a big deal. It does take a little practice to align the cutting teeth properly, and also to make the first cut perfectly straight. But getting the hang of it doesn't take very long, and pretty quickly you'll be getting very consistent results. The one drawback of this method is that it doesn't quite cut as deeply as I'd like; I like my scoring to go all the way through the cane at the back end. So, I typically deepen the marks with a utility knife - another pretty quick operation.

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: