Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Days in the Life of a Bassoon Soloist

Each day is filled from the front to the back with students, reeds, musical ambition, practise, planning, rehearsing and sometimes with concerts.  The concerts are the pearls that link every endeavour.
I get up early and made reeds, and sometimes manage to practise a bit before my first students arrive.  I look forward to seeing them and get motivated in the course of answering their questions; even when I make demands of them, I secretly wish I could immediately practise on my own to see if I can fulfill those same demands!   There is hardly time to prepare each task yet I lunge eagerly from one to the next, each moment feeling quite certain that I have forgotten something.
On Saturday, one of my lovely former students has flown from Newfoundland for some reed lessons and I showed her how I handshape (no shaper, just a sharp craft knife) and handprofile (no profiler, just a sharp reed knife, files, sandpaper and easel).  The time flew by.  So incredibly wonderful to be working side-by-side with a young artist who is really beginning to find her way yet still knows what she wants to learn. 
Last Sunday, a “day off” was wonderful .. started with a rehearsal for the showcase with Guy Few that we will perform next week... then 12 students started arriving for our day of working on reeds.  I showed all of them (ages 16 -23) how to shape and profile using only knives, files, sandpaper and easel. 
I think back to my years as a student... 2 years at the University of British Columbia followed by 4 years at the Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia).  Each day was filled from front to back with learning to make reeds, learning music.   And boys.
Later, when I joined the Montreal Symphony, my days were filled with rehearsals, recordings, practising.  And boys (Quebec boys).  I came home to Pender Island. B.C. at the end of the summer seasons, exhausted by the year’s work, new as I was to the  confining rigours of playing in a large orchestra.  All I wanted to do, really, was make reeds and practise material that I wanted to get to during the year but never could.  Once my youngest cousin came to visit.  Four years old, he wanted to play.  I could hear him outside my room where I was practising.  He asked his mother... “when will she be finished?” and his mother said, “she will never be finished.”
 I am still recording, rehearsing, practising & performing but with very different results.  And I am still surrounded by boys, but now they are my young colleagues.  Quite different.  And there are lots of girl colleagues too.
This week started with a 12 hour day of teaching and each student came in brandishing a new discovery... Sheba had a list of promotional ideas and a clear recital development plan and a list of things that she had learned from her masters’ recital.... Betsy had done every exercise that I had assigned her, even the really boring ones, and has thus jumped into a category of her own... Kevin brought in an exquisitely shaped piece of cane in the Thunemann style (or as near as we can figure based on copying examples) and updates on his Spanish concerto/recital ideas... Christopher brought in a book a Vivaldi arias that he is integrating into a vocal-based recital programme (bassoon as singer)... Neil brought in a newly-made reed, all handshaped/profiled and based on a Reigher shape that he had discovered, along with ideas/questions about interior gouge/relationship to bark.  I snatched the reed from him, once we had trimmed it a bit more, and discovered a dimension to the response that I have been searching for in my own reeds. After meeting my son and getting him home and preparing my teaching materials, I return to the University to lead the Double Reed Class.  We did solos and ensembles and I introduced them to circular breathing... such a pleasure to see their sweet perfect faces taking on all kinds of shapes as they dived into this!  And some of them figured it out, or rather, just started doing it without really knowing how they put it together.  After this class, I met with a dozen bassoonists from both U of T and the Glenn Gould School to discuss the plans for our annual Vivaldi Christmas Concert.
Then I went home and cleaned up and practised for an hour... my days stretch from 6:30 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. and they still are not long enough for all that I want to do.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jean-Daniel Braun - liner notes update

I sent out a public plea for help in finding information about Jean-Daniel Braun... I want to release this recording of his 24 Solos (1740) on Halloween, but have not been able to find any substantial information.  I decided to also ask for help in writing the liner notes... I figured that the same person with the skills to discover information probably would have the skill to string the words together quicker than I would!

My undignified FaceBook bleat brought helpful bassoonists out of the woodwork and I offered the task to Dave Wells of Sacramento State University... he possesses a handy combination of degrees (musicology and bassoon performance) and an intrepid spirit.  He reports that information is thin on the ground but he has a few leads and has ordered some facsimiles... with any luck, a story will emerge!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Best Administrative Assistant Ever

This summer, for the first time, I hired an administrative assistant.  OK, I hired a student who is indeed helping with a lot of administration but also has the guts and courage and kindness to help with looking after my kid and my elderly parents on occasion and doesn't mind helping with changing the kitty litter if absolutely necessary. Neil Bishop is a fantastic assistant, probably because he is also a very dedicated bassoonist who understands what I am working to achieve.

This is my first season in 6 years that has ALL of my teaching located in one city! My students are all at the University of Toronto and the Glenn Gould School of Music along with private teaching.  As amazingly wonderful as it is (and it is wonderful), I was overwhelmed with the layers of scheduling that this requires in addition to my travel etc.  My administrative assistant is handling the scheduling of my students and saving me 5 hours of computer work per week.  Priceless!

I have just finished a major recording (Vivaldi Concerti) and have a lot of work to finalize the editions, finish paying the bills and prepare the tours and release dates along with producing the liner notes etc.  I have delegated my assistant to help with the corrections and publishing.  So wonderful.

I am submitting grant applications for a video project to accompany the CD release and have found a producer/director who is willing to write the story board and script thus making it possible for me to even consider this new project.  He mentioned that we will need an administrative assistant when we go to Venice for the shoot in spring of 2012.

I am going to release the project that I recorded last summer (24 Solos by Jean-Daniel Braun) and everything is ready EXCEPT the all-important liner notes... I have put out a very public appeal for a writer/researcher to help me with this.  I don't think my assistant has time for this.

My old parents and my teenaged son all have important projects --- I can attend most of them but sometimes need someone to help me, and my first call is always to my assistant.  And when my iPhone baffles me, my assistant always knows the answer.

We live in an amazing time when the youngest artists can help the older ones in such profound ways.
Thank you, Neil Bishop!

We are all in this together!!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Read Between the Lines

Read Between The Lines
One of my friends told me that writing a blog about the recording projects that I do as a bassoonist is an extreme niche market.
I thought, “Really!?”
Because, after all, the process includes getting an idea and making something happen... it also includes some amazingly diverse, talented and funny people.
And are these not universally desirable things? 
Anyway, yesterday I had the real fun of playing on some tracks of new arrangements and new songs by the beloved Canadian folksinger, Valdy (Valdemar Horsdal) and his collaborator, Karel Roessingh.  Guy Few came with me and added corno da caccia and trumpet along with bassoon.  Today, Valdy and Karel went into a reggae studio to add some more sounds.  They said that are going to drive up and down Highway 401, calling on old and new friends, dropping into different studios, all going into creating a new CD that will be released before Valdy goes home in December from his fall tour.
The first song we recorded was Read Between The Lines --- a song written in praise of literacy and probably the title track for the new CD. 
The music is open-hearted and has such an attractive lilting groove.  We went on to record contributions to other songs, including Ragged Band of Angels (I love the title and images in this one) and two songs that Karel and Valdy each wrote on their separate plane flights.  The musicianship of these two was very impressive as they tweaked our arrangements during the recording.
Anyway, we are living in a great artistic time when technology allows for the flowering of trans-genre friendships.