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.

Zwilich Bassoon Concerto

When I was work­ing on my Master’s degree at Flori­da State, I had the great for­tune to have a les­son with Pulitzer Prize-Win­ning com­pos­er Ellen Taaffe Zwilich on her Con­cer­to for Bas­soon and Orches­tra (1992). At the time, I wrote up a lit­tle report on my expe­ri­ence and post­ed it on a pre­vi­ous incar­na­tion of my web site. I’d more-or less for­got­ten about it (the post, not the expe­ri­ence!) until a cou­ple of days ago. My friend and fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Nico­lasa Kuster men­tioned that she’d found it while search­ing for infor­ma­tion on the con­cer­to. I’ve decid­ed to repost my expe­ri­ences here, with just a few edits for clar­i­ty.

Late­ly, I’ve been work­ing on Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s bas­soon con­cer­to. I want­ed to work on some­thing new (to me) for this year’s con­cer­to com­pe­ti­tion. I con­sult­ed with pro­fes­sor [Jef­frey] Keeseck­er, and he sug­gest­ed either the Jolivet Con­cer­to or the Zwilich. Both are tough, but he said that the Zwilich is more both audi­ence- and per­former-friend­ly. I ordered a CD, lis­tened to the piece, and decid­ed to play it. Anoth­er rea­son for choos­ing the Zwilich is that she is on fac­ul­ty at FSU. She is the Fran­cis Eppes Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Com­po­si­tion, but is only in res­i­dence for one week each semes­ter. A few weeks ago, I found out that she’d soon be in town, and I man­aged to get an appoint­ment with her.

I was quite ner­vous in the days lead­ing up to my les­son. I’d been prac­tic­ing the piece like crazy. After all, it’s not every day that you play a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning composer’s piece for her. When I arrived at the appoint­ed time, I found that Dr. Zwilich had been dou­ble-booked. I had some time to spare, so I let the oth­er stu­dent, who is pur­su­ing a Mas­ters in com­po­si­tion, go first. I wait­ed out­side for half an hour, then my turn came.

Dr. Zwilich was very laid-back and friend­ly. She said that while she’d enjoyed writ­ing for the bas­soon, she doesn’t com­plete­ly under­stand the instru­ment, and cer­tain­ly doesn’t under­stand why any­one would want to play it. I have to say that I often agree with her! Appar­ent­ly when Nan­cy Goeres, the prin­ci­pal bas­soon­ist of the Pitts­burgh Sym­pho­ny and ded­i­ca­tee of the work, exam­ined the first move­ment of the work-in-progress, she said that she liked it, but that it need­ed to be hard­er to be a con­cer­to. So, Zwilich turned around and wrote a sec­ond move­ment based on octa­ton­ic scales with lots of six­teenth-note runs at quar­ter note equals 168bpm. When Goeres received that move­ment she asked, “What did I do, wave a red cape at a bull?”

I start­ed by ask­ing a few ques­tions about artic­u­la­tion, phras­ing, and her nota­tion. Then, I played the first move­ment and much of the sec­ond (and final) move­ment. Dr. Zwilich seemed quite hap­py with what I was doing, and was com­pli­men­ta­ry of my play­ing. She had a few gen­er­al com­ments about the first move­ment, and offered some sug­ges­tions for attack­ing the blaz­ing­ly fast sec­ond move­ment. She also want­ed me to change a cou­ple of things in the sec­ond move­ment caden­za. For­tu­nate­ly, many of her sug­ges­tions and changes will actu­al­ly make the piece eas­i­er to play.

We end­ed up going twen­ty min­utes over into the next person’s time, so I got almost the full hour I’d been allot­ted, despite her being dou­ble booked. Before I left, she com­pli­ment­ed my play­ing again, and asked me to keep her post­ed about my progress in the con­cer­to com­pe­ti­tion. I’m very glad that I had the chance to talk to and be coached by Ellen Zwilich. It’s not often that a musi­cian, let alone a stu­dent, is offered the chance to work one-on-one with an emi­nent com­pos­er on one of their pieces.

Although I didn’t end up win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion, I did per­form the Con­cer­to in reduc­tion (with piano and per­cus­sion) a cou­ple of times in the fol­low­ing year or two. It’s prob­a­bly about time for me to revis­it the piece!

CSU Stanislaus Recital Poster and Streaming

Many thanks to Kristi­na Stam­per at the CSU Stanis­laus School of the Arts for cre­at­ing this won­der­ful poster for my upcom­ing recital. You can watch the con­cert live (Feb. 21, 7:30pm Pacif­ic) on the web right here.

Down­load the full con­cert pro­gram.

CSU Stanislaus Recital Poster

Blank Fingering Chart Paper

Although I’ve set out all of my basic fin­ger­ings in my fin­ger­ing charts, from time to time I find myself want­i­ng to make note of an eas­i­er way to pro­duce a par­tic­u­lar trill, spe­cial fin­ger­ings for har­mon­ics or mul­ti­phon­ics, or a new alter­nate fin­ger­ing I’ve learned from a col­league. To make this eas­i­er, I whipped up a print­able blank fin­ger­ing chart that makes it easy to jot down a fin­ger­ing quick­ly and leg­i­bly. The staves are com­plete­ly emp­ty so that you can write notes in any clef, and the blank fin­ger­ing dia­grams are once again cour­tesy of Bret Pimentel’s Fin­ger­ing Dia­gram Builder. I hope you’ll find this to be use­ful, too!

Update (6/25/2014): Find the lat­est ver­sion of my blank fin­ger­ing chart paper here: http://davidawells.com/resources/blank-chart-paper/