Monday, August 31, 2015


While I’ve been in Ottawa I’ve had the chance to try two gold-plated Lefreque sound bridges. Owned by my former teacher, Jo Ann, they connect the bocal to the wing joint and the long joint to the bell. There have been a few bassoonists blogging about the lefreque and so I will leave you to read about the concept of the plates through one of the links above.

Gold-plated Lefreques
on my Eichentopf bassoon
My story has a funny twist to it – I tested them on my Eichentopf instrument by Peter de Koningh. Though I didn’t have the full variety of plates available to me (there are some made from red brass, as well as sterling silver) it was clear that more experimentation could be worthwhile. After 90 minutes of testing on various reeds and in different places, I did notice a change at the extremes of my instrument. The low C and D ‘locked’ in tune at A=415, the low G and F gained a slight depth to the sound, and the high A and B were slightly more stable. With the two plates on I could slur from high A to high B with less difficulty than without them.

The experiment is not over. Though I was impressed, I noticed a much more significant difference on my Heckel, and from Jo Ann’s description of their effect on her bassoon there may be a much better combination for my Eichentopf.

“But wait a second, Andrew, is this historical?” Technically speaking, no. These days, however, I am performing my own compositions for the Eichentopf bassoon often enough to warrant the search for any small improvement to ease playability. My compositions test every dimension of the instrument – from dynamics, to technique, range, and articulation – and any help to better facilitate a performance would appreciated.

So if you have the chance to try the Lefreque plates, no matter what century your instrument is from, I would recommend taking it. You never know what you might discover.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Post-Camp Decline, Part 1

After eight days and seven nights at the Brooke Valley Bassoon Days, I was pretty much exhausted. With a schedule packed full of activities and presentations for both the budding and professional bassoonist, it was a very stimulating time for me and I was often the last to bed.

The bulk of the camp this year was made up of young bassoonists ranging from about 13-17 years old, but there were a number of older players as well. Two students from the University of Ottawa participated (one was more of an honorary camper as he had his wisdom teeth taken out the day the camp started), along with three amateur players, Sistema NB’s staff bassoonist, Kristin, as well as the newly minted second bassoonist of the Orchestre Métropolitain, Gabrièle.

Among the faculty this year was a real depth of bassoon-related knowledge – students had the chance to take private lessons and participate in masterclasses with Shane Wieler (Marcus/Wieler Bassoon Workshop), Jim Ewen (Skookum Reeds), Richard Hoenich (Brooke Valley Musician’s Retreat), Jo Ann Simpson (Conservatoire de Gatineau), Kathy McLean (Indiana University), and I. On top of the usual coaching opportunities, each faculty member brought a needed component to round out a bassoonist’s experience; Shane spoke on simple bassoon maintenance techniques which would extend the performance life of an instrument; Jim and Jo Ann did excellent work every evening teaching aspiring reed makers, Richard Hoenich conducted the “rackett”, Kathy did a workshop on improvisation, and I spoke about conceiving the action of performance.

The Rackett
From the numerous tips I picked up from Shane and Jim, to listening to the many conversations between my peers on a variety of subjects, there was plenty for me to take away for later thought and practice. Furthermore, I had the rare opportunity to give private lessons regularly to a variety of students (3 a day!), coach small ensembles, as well as give a masterclass.

What was most comforting to me was that, at least when it came to fundamental concepts on bassoon playing, I very much fit in. Over my travels I have met a number of bassoonists and I am sometimes dismayed at how different of an approach they take to playing their instrument. Conversely, at BVBD there were a few occasions where I had the conviction to spurt out an “amen!” It led me to realise that there is a Canadian or Eastern-Canadian school of bassoon playing, and I am a product of it.

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