On communicable diseases and buying reeds

With the current hysteria level related to COVID-19 coronavirus, and two cases reported in my home state of Minnesota, I wanted to write up a little on my process for handling reeds in general. I hope this alleviates some concerns some customers might have about buying reeds from me. I have a compromised immune system myself, so I am hyper-aware of the concern for spreading disease.

First, I NEVER take reeds back from a customer once they have been sold. I would not play on a returned reed myself, and would not expect anyone else to. So rest assured, any reeds you get from me have only ever been handled by me, and me alone. Nobody assists me in my reed making.

I do play test the reeds before I sell them. This means they have been in my mouth. It’s the only way any professional reed maker can confirm that the reeds they sell to the customer are any good! This does mean I take some precautions though, to make sure my customers are safe from anything potentially communicable. I never work on reeds (even handling cane) for my customers when I am feeling any symptoms of illness. Every new step of the reed making process has fresh water in a cleaned container, so there is little chance of cross contamination.

After I have finished a reed it goes into a bath of water and high concentration isopropyl alcohol. The sonic cleaner runs for about 2-3 minutes. This effectively sanitizes the reeds as much as I can without ruining the cane. I wash my hands before rinsing these reeds and putting them on the drying rack to dry overnight. I also wash my hands before I pack the reeds in their tube vials.

These are steps I have always taken when preparing reeds for customers, not any kind of special treatment now due to the global outbreak of COVID-19 or this season’s very high levels of influenza cases.

Bassoon fingering chart

I made this chart a long time ago but never posted it to my website. Mostly these fingerings are considered standard in the USA, although we all have our own ways of doing things. Especially in the highest register there are multiple options so experiment and consult with a qualified teacher on how to best play notes above B-flat 4.

I made three reeds in under an hour in a livestream

I needed to change my profiler blade, and I needed to test a 2-camera setup for filming my reed making station for online lessons and digital summer camps coming up. The full stream was an hour and I made 3 reeds, although some time was wasted at the beginning getting the stream set up and my first piece of cane turned out to be damaged (I discovered after shaping and profiling). This is not my usual method of making reeds, but it is a very useful method for making something quickly. The only thing that’s missing from the reed is a wrapping, which you can’t do effectively when the reed is this soaked.

The video can be viewed here:

Two summer music making opportunities

This summer I will be coaching and teaching at two music camps at The University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Each camp is geared towards different age groups and instrument focus:

If you are a high school musician playing oboe or bassoon, join us for the annual week long double reed camp. June 28-July 2. https://www.uwec.edu/blugold-camps/double-reed/

If you are an adult woodwind player (flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon) join us for our first ever adult chamber music workshop, July 16-19. https://www.uwec.edu/blugold-camps/music/chamber/

Recital: February 23, 2020 @ 5pm Central

Faculty Recital: Stolen Works
Bassoon transcriptions by Trent Jacobs

5pm, Phillips Recital Hall, Haas Fine Arts Center at the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire. Streamed live from this page.

Trent Jacobs, bassoon
Namji Kim, piano

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828): Sonata in A minor (D.821), originally for Arpeggione           

  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegretto

Intermission

Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953): Sonata, Op. 94, originally for Flute

  1. Andantino
  2. Scherzo: allegretto scherzando
  3. Andante
  4. Allegro con brio

A lick for bassoons, in all keys and full range.

“The Lick” has become a ubiquitous part of certain internet music sub-cultures. T-shirts, mugs, string quartets, and likely hundreds of quotes by jazz musicians have made it quite cliche. For the uninitiated, here is the video that started it all, and here is a discussion of the meme culture surrounding The Lick, and a serious take on it.

What I never really realized about The Lick, was how pedagogically interesting it could be. In David Bruce’s video above, he describes how it is constructed: a short scale fragment, followed by an arpeggio and a resolution. How convenient! So I figured this might be a reasonably useful tool for practicing patterns around the instrument.

So I quickly made this preliminary sheet up that has The Lick in all the standard playable range of the bassoon, with the lowest iteration bottoming out on our lowest B-flat, and the highest topping at E5. I then created a modal alteration that puts it more or less in Lydian, if the original is in Dorian, which hits a different scale fragment (all whole steps) and different arpeggio type (minor instead of major). Then I figured I would invert the figure. This is intervallically inverted, not diatonically, so we end up with a fragment that kind of sounds like minor but after landing on the last note could retroactively be viewed as being mixolydian.

This may be a test draft of something more interesting where I can treat the pattern as being more diatonically transposed to create a long figure that could then be transposed into all major and minor keys. If I have time.

Suggestions for practice:

  1. Skip the whole notes completely. When doing the ascending pattern this creates a voice leading half step between each iteration of the figure, extending the scale figure. It makes for an interesting connection in the inverted version.
  2. Swing or straight rhythm, pick various articulation patterns.
  3. Switch the rhythm to be 1/8 1/8 1/4, 1/8 1/8 1/4, whole. This highlights the arpeggio figure a bit more than the regular rhythm. This is noted at the end of the document.

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