Harvesting Cane


The day before the Meg Quigley Vival­di Com­pe­ti­tion and Bas­soon Sym­po­sium start­ed (see pre­vi­ous post), Stock­ton Sym­pho­ny con­tra­bas­soon­ist Lar­ry Rhodes (shown at right with San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny con­tra­bas­soon­ist Steve Braun­stein) led a small group of us on a cane har­vest­ing expe­di­tion. Giant cane (Arun­do don­ax), which we bas­soon­ists use to make our reeds, is clas­si­fied as an inva­sive pest in Cal­i­for­nia. It tends to grow in streams or marshy areas, and is pri­mar­i­ly prop­a­gat­ed by pieces float­ing along water­ways and tak­ing root in new loca­tions. The area sur­round­ing Stock­ton, most of which is part of the San Joaquin Riv­er Delta, is host to many stands of cane.

Lar­ry found a par­tic­u­lar­ly promis­ing look­ing cane stand via Google Earth, then went in per­son to scope it out and obtain per­mis­sion from the farmer on whose land it sits. Two car­fuls of us drove out to the spot, about 25 min­utes west of Stock­ton, where we met Lar­ry and Steve. Lar­ry showed us some of the cane he’d already cut, using it to demon­strate what we should be look­ing for in terms of diam­e­ter, growth pat­terns, and col­or. In short: for bas­soon reeds you want green cane, about an inch in diam­e­ter, that has branch­es grow­ing fair­ly low to the ground. He then set us loose in the cane patch. Armed with the small saws we’d brought, we spread out and start­ed clam­ber­ing in amongst the cane.

It became obvi­ous very quick­ly that very dif­fer­ent ages of cane grow all togeth­er. It took care­ful search­ing to find stalks of the prop­er size and age amongst lots of too-small, too-young, and dead stalks. We all start­ed out slow­ly, cut­ting one stalk at a time and tak­ing it to Lar­ry for inspec­tion. But, pret­ty soon we got the hang of just what it was we were look­ing for. The one thing we had­n’t thought about was how we’d trans­port the cane back to Stock­ton (or back home, for those who’d flown in just for MQVC). Lar­ry tied 80-some­thing stalks to the roof of his sta­tion wag­on, but our hauls were much smaller.

I end­ed up with about eight stalks, although I had to cut them in half to fit them in my car. After strip­ping the branch­es and dis­card­ing bro­ken or too-small pieces, I now have just over a dozen five-to-six-foot sec­tions of cane. They’re now stuck up in the rafters of our garage, where they’ll sit dry­ing for the next six months or so. After that, I’ll prop them upright in the sun for about two weeks months to com­plete the cur­ing process. Then, I can cut ’em up, split the tubes, and get going on turn­ing my har­vest into reeds!

More pho­tos from the expedition:

The Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition

Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition and Symposium

Much of my win­ter break (and count­less hours in the pre­ced­ing year) were devot­ed to the 2012 Meg Quigley Vival­di Com­pe­ti­tion and Sym­po­sium, which I co-host­ed with my friend and col­league Nico­lasa Kuster, of the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Pacif­ic Con­ser­va­to­ry of Music. The Com­pe­ti­tion is for young women bas­soon­ists from the Amer­i­c­as (North, Cen­tral, and South), and was found­ed in 2004 by Nico­lasa Kuster (then of Wichi­ta State Uni­ver­si­ty) and Kristin Wolfe Jensen of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin. The Com­pe­ti­tion takes place every two years, and has pre­vi­ous­ly been held at UT-Austin (2005), Itha­ca Col­lege (2007), and the Ober­lin Con­ser­va­to­ry (2010).

This year, we host­ed the com­pe­ti­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Pacif­ic. From the ini­tial pool of record­ed entries, our Pre­lim­i­nary Round judges nar­rowed the field to ten Semi-Final­ists. These ten young women trav­eled to North­ern Cal­i­for­nia for live Semi-Final and Final Rounds of com­pe­ti­tion. All ten are very tal­ent­ed play­ers, and the com­pe­ti­tion was fierce. I’m glad that judg­ing was not among my respon­si­bil­i­ties! For the Semi-Final Round, each com­peti­tor per­formed the third move­ment of Anto­nio Vivaldi’s Con­cer­to in d minor, RV 481, and Mar­gi Griebling-Haigh’s Sor­tilège, a piece that Bar­rick Stees com­mis­sioned specif­i­cal­ly for MQVC 2012. Five Final­ists emerged from that round. In the last round of com­pe­ti­tion, each of the five per­formed a work of their choice with piano and the entire Vival­di con­cer­to from mem­o­ry, backed by a string orches­tra con­duct­ed by Stephen Paul­son, Prin­ci­pal Bas­soon­ist of the San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny, and Music Direc­tor of Sym­pho­ny Par­nas­sus.

In brief, the results were as follows:

First Place: Anan­ta Kar­ilun Díaz (Venezuela)
Sec­ond Place: Sarah Ruiz (Cos­ta Rica)
Third Place: Alex Zda­nis (Unit­ed States)
Final­ists: Rachel Koeth and Kel­ly Swens­son (both Unit­ed States)
Semi-Final­ists: Julia Bair, Car­ly Gomez, Kara LaM­oure, Danielle Osbun (all Unit­ed States), and Atao Liu (Chi­na)

Con­grat­u­la­tions to them all for won­der­ful per­for­mances! For biogra­phies of the com­peti­tors and oth­er infor­ma­tion about the com­pe­ti­tion, please vis­it mqvc.org.

Next time: all about the three-day Bas­soon Sym­po­sium sur­round­ing the Competition.

Disco Bassoon

I Love Your Big Bassoon

I keep a vari­ety of online feel­ers out for bas­soon-relat­ed things. Much of what comes back to me is spam or oth­er­wise unin­ter­est­ing. But, I do find out about arti­cles and con­certs that I might not oth­er­wise. My favorite sort of dis­cov­er­ies, though, are of obscure and often long-for­got­ten bits of bas­soon miscellany.

That’s exact­ly what I came across a cou­ple of weeks ago in the record whose cov­er you see at right. It’s a 7‑inch 45 rpm sin­gle by the Nov­el­ty Dis­co Band, record­ed and pressed in France in 1977. After find­ing men­tion of it online, I bought a copy from some­one in Spain. It showed up on my doorstep late last week. Although the A‑side tune “I Love Your Big Bas­soon” is, per­haps pre­dictably, main­ly a vehi­cle for dou­ble enten­dres, it does in fact fea­ture a bas­soon play­ing short riffs and dis­co basslines. Actu­al­ly, it sounds to me like a French bas­son, which would make sense giv­en the place and time. Edit: Marc Val­lon has point­ed out that’s it’s not a bas­son, just a poor­ly mic-ed Ger­man bassoon.

I’ve been unable to find out any­thing about the Nov­el­ty Dis­co Band — this appears to be the only record released under that name. The label and sleeve pro­vide very lit­tle in the way of real infor­ma­tion. The only per­son­nel list­ed are the song­writ­ers: D. Chase and J.P. Sabard. A lit­tle ‘net research leads me to think that their full (and real) names are Dina (or Diana) Chase and Jean-Pierre Guigon. But there the trail ends. Sad­ly, there is no indi­ca­tion of who the bas­soon­ist is.

Have a lis­ten: [haiku url=“Novelty-Disco-Band-I-Love-Your-Big-Bassoon.mp3” title=“Novelty Dis­co Band — I Love Your Big Bassoon”]

Hot Rod Bassoon Strap

When­ev­er pos­si­ble, I pre­fer stand­ing up to play. I do this for solo works, small cham­ber pieces, and I’ve even helped con­vinced a wood­wind quin­tet to stand to per­form. Stand­ing gives me more free­dom of move­ment, which I feel allows for more musi­cal free­dom, as well. This free­dom of move­ment also makes it eas­i­er to com­mu­ni­cate with my fel­low per­form­ers, whether through eye con­tact or phys­i­cal ges­ture. Of course, he bas­soon also tends to project bet­ter when played stand­ing up, and a stand­ing play­er is gen­er­al­ly just more inter­est­ing for the audi­ence to watch.

To facil­i­tate stand­ing it’s impor­tant to find a strap that’s com­fort­able, along with any acces­sories that make stand­ing eas­i­er (I use a bal­ance hang­er and a right-hand crutch). There are many options for straps out there, but they most­ly fall into three cat­e­gories: neck straps, har­ness­es, and slings. I’ve tried all three. I find that neck straps put too much weight on the neck and don’t put the bas­soon in a good play­ing posi­tion. Dou­ble-shoul­der har­ness­es dis­trib­ute weight bet­ter, but are hard­er to get in and out of and can be visu­al­ly dis­tract­ing. I have, since some time in my under­grad­u­ate years, used a sin­gle-shoul­der sling.

My usu­al sling is a black one made by BG that has a thick shoul­der pad. I wear it over my right shoul­der, which is the oppo­site of what many peo­ple do. The sling does put pres­sure and weight on my right shoul­der but I feel that it’s much more even­ly dis­trib­uted than with a neck strap. The sling also allows my bas­soon to hang in a com­fort­able play­ing position.

When I played Dead Elvis last month, I did­n’t want to wear my black sling over my white Elvis jump­suit. Luck­i­ly, I had a white BG dou­ble shoul­der har­ness that I won as a door prize from Mid­west Musi­cal Imports at a dou­ble reed event a few years ago. I dis­as­sem­bled the har­ness into two pieces, one of which was basi­cal­ly a sling with­out a strap pad. It worked very well, and that got me think­ing about mak­ing anoth­er strap from scratch.

Strap Parts

Poly­ester web­bing, para­cord, mod­i­fied s‑hook, reduc­ing rings, and strap adjuster.

Rather than just go for anoth­er sol­id col­or, I found some inch-and-a-half wide poly­ester web­bing embla­zoned with hot rod flames. Along with the web­bing, I ordered a whole array of slides, adjusters, rings, and oth­er strap hard­ware. I went through quite a few iter­a­tions before set­tling on a final design. My final strap uses the items at right — it’s a fair­ly sim­ple construction.

The actu­al method of attach­ment to the bas­soon proved to be the most dif­fi­cult aspect. My BG sling uses a small rub­ber-coat­ed s‑hook, closed at one end, with a 90° twist in the mid­dle. I searched all over, online and off, but could­n’t find any hooks the prop­er size and shape. In fact, I could­n’t find any hooks with a 90° twist at all. I tried a num­ber of alter­na­tives, includ­ing var­i­ous clips, snaps, quick links, rings, and swivels, but none were suf­fi­cient for my pur­pos­es. I end­ed up tak­ing a stan­dard closed s‑hook, bend­ing it to my required shape, then coat­ing it in Plas­ti-Dip.


L to R: Unmod­i­fied S‑hook, hook with 90° twist, twist­ed hook with rub­ber coating

The fin­ished hook is sim­ply thread­ed onto a triple strand of para­cord, which I used to tie the two ends of the strap togeth­er. The strap itself con­sists of a lit­tle less than four feet of web­bing, one strap adjuster, and two web­bing-to-cord reduc­ing rings. I decid­ed to for­go a strap pad, and am hop­ing that the wider web­bing will suf­fi­cient­ly dis­trib­ute the weight. The hard­ware (oth­er than the hook) is met­al and pow­der-coat­ed in black, which looks pret­ty slick. I don’t own a sewing machine, so I had my neigh­bor­hood shoe/luggage repair per­son sew the strap togeth­er. My total costs for the fin­ished strap were about $12 or $13 in parts and sewing. Of course, I spent quite a bit of time on it. But now that I’ve set­tled on a design, the next one (should there be a next one) will go sig­nif­i­cant­ly faster.

And the final product:

Strap with Bassoon

New CD from Nadina Mackie Jackson

A cou­ple of days ago, I received Nad­i­na Mack­ie Jack­son’s new CD, Twen­ty Four Solos by Jean-Daniel Braun in the mail. I had been eager­ly await­ing the disc since its release at the end of Octo­ber. Of course I want­ed to hear Nad­i­na’s record­ing (which is won­der­ful!), but my enthu­si­asm was also part­ly self­ish; I wrote the album’s lin­er notes.

This came about a bit by chance. Nad­i­na put out a call on Face­book for help with lin­er notes, and I hap­pened to see and respond to it in pret­ty short order. So thanks to her for giv­ing me my first for­ay into writ­ing lin­er notes! I have always enjoyed writ­ing pro­gram notes for my own recitals, and I sup­pose that this was the log­i­cal next step. It’s nice to be able to bring both my bas­soon and musi­col­o­gy train­ing to bear on the same project.

Writ­ings on the life and works of Jean-Daniel Braun are sparse. But, I was able to piece togeth­er a fair amount of infor­ma­tion from a vari­ety of sources. The best of these were fac­sim­i­les of orig­i­nal print­ings which includ­ed cat­a­logs of his works, copies of his roy­al priv­i­lege for print­ing music, and small details on the title pages. In my quest to suss out every pos­si­ble detail I actu­al­ly went a lit­tle over­board, and my text had to be cut down slight­ly to fit the avail­able space. But, Nad­i­na has post­ed the full ver­sion on her web site. While you’re there, order a copy of the CD!