Bach transcription for technical practice (and fun)

Unfortunately for us bassoonists Bach didn’t write all that much specifically for us. The instrument of his time wasn’t as flexible as the members of the string family or keyboards, and it lacked the carrying power that the range of the flute provides. So what we get is usually continuo parts or occasionally an interesting actual solo line in something like the orchestral suites, but frequently the “fun” material is pretty short lived.

While I love continuo playing, I sometimes lust after the music the violins or other more “solo” instruments get. So I set my sights high and made a transcription of the violin part from Bach’s 4th Brandenburg concerto. It’s terribly not idiomatic for our instrument so it provides a challenge on what to do with transposition of octaves (retaining the original key) and then also a challenge to play given some of the requirements of the notes themselves, especially at typical performance tempi.

This is not really designed to be a drop-in replacement for the violin for the ambitious bassoonist that actually wants to solo on this piece, although it could be used that way. It’s probably not balanced at all. I made it more for a practice piece. It covers the entire range of the bassoon from low B to high D, and not always in the way that is practical if I were writing this as a performance version. Still, it’s fun to play Bach so I’m releasing it into the world for anyone else that wants something interesting and fresh to practice.

Addressing Stress VPI part 2

I did not write an update that indicated that I had a follow-up scheduled with the ENT to attempt the procedure of bulking up my palette, but the doctor worked out the details and we scheduled a short out-patient procedure that happened a few hours ago.

The procedure wasn’t much different than the initial diagnosis process, in that she put a camera through my nose, but this time she also needed to reach through my mouth into the area with a needle to put in the injection. Full honesty, this was not a pleasant experience. She had to use two different numbing agents in my nose and additional anti-gag medicine (who knew such a thing existed?) to get safely into my mouth.

So she had me make the snorting noise, located the area and after a couple of attempts before I figured out how to relax my anatomy in the way she needed to access the right area, made the injection. With all the numbing medicine I wouldn’t say it was painful, but I could actually hear the squirt out of the needle into my palette through my bone structure. And yeah it wasn’t exactly comfortable.

She pulled out the needle and asked me to make the noise again.

I literally could not do it.

This is something that I figured was just normal, but at least according to my wife, this is how most people typically feel this little part of their nose/throat working. Having this seal up completely with such little effort is like finding out that all this time my elbow was also supposed to bend in the other direction.

I’m not going to dive into playing, but rather let the area settle down for 24 hours, so I might try playing a bit tomorrow night. I’ll be on some preventative antibiotics for a couple weeks and I might need some mild pain killers. There are some other weird potential side effects that others that have had this procedure done have experienced (like neck pain) but we expect they will be mild if anything.

For the next follow-up post to this I’ll include more medical specifics for those curious, and my experience playing since the procedure. She said the injection typically lasts about 3 months. So we’ll see if it’s worth maintaining or not, but so far I’m hopeful.

Addressing Stress VPI

Today I met with an ENT and a speech pathologist (who happens to be a trained singer) at the University of Minnesota clinics to discuss my issues with Stress VPI (commonly called “palatal air leak” in the music community). I’ve had issues with air leaking through my nose when playing bassoon for the last 20 years. Mostly it has been manageable, although the symptoms of this insufficiency sometimes show up at the most inopportune moments and without any predictable precursor.

[For more information on Stress VPI see the following links:
https://academic.oup.com/occmed/article/61/7/480/1461600
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/2569871
https://www.dansr.com/vandoren/resources/eliminating-the-soft-palatal-air-leak-velopharyngeal-insufficiency-vpi
http://clarinet.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Gibson-Palatal-Air-Leak.pdf ]

In the lab today I brought my bassoon, and after inserting a small camera up my nose they observed my larynx and vocal folds as I sung, and then observed the area of the nasal passage that should seal when talking and playing an instrument. While I played only for about 45 seconds I did not experience the leak, however I am able to reproduce it on command without the bassoon so I demonstrated this for them. The ENT immediately saw where the insufficiency was, although it is very small for me, as it does not impact my daily use of my mouth and nose in speech or eating.

The visit concluded with them taking the videos done during the exam and the information they have so far to several other specialists in the ENT department as to what the best course of action would be to correct this problem. There are training and physical therapy related things that could be done (which they did not seem hopeful would be helpful in my situation) as well as some outpatient pseudo-surgical remedies. There may be other things as well, but that’s what they are consulting with other doctors about.

As I learn more about this with the doctors and get a treatment plan in place, I’ll post follow-ups to this story, and hopefully help other wind players that suffer from the same playing problems I have.

Why 116mm?

As I announce the availability of GSP cane for sale, I should clarify why my cane is the somewhat unusual length of 116mm.

Most commercially available bassoon cane is sold at 120mm length, with a 30mm profiled length and a 30mm tube. When I designed my shape, I wanted to have to clip less off of the tip of the reed and still have a 56mm long overall reed, without too much tube length.

This is not without precedent. Many reed makers (Danzi, and Versiglia come to mind) trim 2mm off the end of the tube before forming the reed. I cut this step out of the process for you.

My suggested wire measurements for this shape are: 32mm from the fold, 40mm from the fold, and 4.5mm from the end of the tube. I highly encourage beveling the tube end, at least the last 7-10mm of the tube. The shape was designed with beveling in mind.GSP

Tools of the trade

I sometimes run across stuff when shopping that make me go “oh yeah, that’s a good reed making supply” or something. So here’s a post with something like that.

Students often ask me what to get for binding up a reed when forming the blank. I saw this at Ace Hardware and it was just about perfect. I’m sure you can get it in a grocery store as well, or under slightly different names. This spool would last a single reed maker a very long time.IMG_20190309_150559[1]

On forming blanks and cracking cane

For a number of years now I’ve utilized a cane processing and tube forming method that has resulted in zero cracking in my blanks on a very consistent basis. I did a rather recent unscientific experiment to see if one aspect of this process was beneficial and it seems like it is a critical component of keeping the cracking from happening. (more…)

Starting cancer treatments again

In March of 2019 I was diagnosed with a metastatic recurrence of my cancer. I will begin new chemotherapy treatments on April 10. Chemo can take quite a toll on the body, and at times I may get behind in reed orders, but I plan on continuing on working, teaching, and making reeds during treatment. I appreciate each one of my customers, many of whom have been ordering regularly from me for years! I appreciate a bit extra patience with sending orders out as I get into these new treatments (and hopefully beat this thing for good this time).

Bam High-Tec bassoon case for sale

Update: SOLD

I’ve decided to sell my previous bassoon case. It’s been used and has a bunch of scuffs on the lid/shell but is structurally in perfect condition. Latches work great, condition of the inside is great and will protect your bassoon really well. The right shoulder strap has most of the neoprene padding worn off, but the actual strap is fine. A replacement strap can be purchased from a Bam retailer if you really want.

Send me a message with questions or if you know you want it for my asking price of $400 you can order directly by clicking the button below. Shipping free withing the USA. If you are an international buyer please send me a message for a shipping estimate.

SOLD

Review of new bassoon case: MB-2 by Marcus Bonna

I had grown unhappy with my BAM high-tech bassoon case and finally saw another case on the market that I thought would actually be an improvement. I like it better, although I still don’t think the perfect bassoon case yet exists. Nobody really has the best bocal storage I can imagine, and I still can’t keep both my hand crutch and balance hanger attached while the instrument is stored. Still, this case offers flexible bocal storage, a generously sized sheet music pouch, and a compact size with interesting and compact internal layout. View the entire video review here.

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Caring for your Little-Jake pickup

Over the years I’ve sold a great many Little-Jake pickups to players all around the world. On occasion I find out one of them fails or breaks and I repair them at no cost but the shipping. There are two ways that I typically see the Little-Jakes fail, and there are ways to prevent both from ever happening in most cases. Here are some things I do to prevent damaging my own pickups.

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