BLONDE BASSOON BASICS by JARRETT RODRIGUEZ

BLONDE BASSOON BASICS by JARRETT RODRIGUEZ

Blonde Bassoon Basics

by Jarrett Rodriguez

If you’re on social media and you are a bassoonist, you’ve likely seen photos of the elusive North American blonde bassoon and its players. I am one such lucky bassoonist to perform on a blonde Moosmann bassoon. I’ve had many questions asked about my blonde bassoon over the years, and thanks to the Council of Canadian Bassoonists, I have the opportunity to answer a few of the questions that have cropped up.

What is it made from?

How many blonde bassoons are there?

Does it change the sound?

Why did you want a blonde bassoon?

Blonde Maple

One of the first questions I received about blonde bassoons was “why are they called blonde?” It turns out that there is a simple explanation. Blonde bassoons are unstained, and unstained maple is known as blonde wood, combine the two and we get blonde bassoons! Ultimately, my blonde beauty is just like the next bassoon, only in natural color.

Blonde bassoons are aesthetically enjoyable, showing off what nature gave us in the beauty of the maple, forever captured in a crystal-clear lacquer finish. No stain, no painted striping, just natural beauty combined with fine craftsmanship of the bassoon maker.

Blonde bassoons are rare and uncommon

Because it’s so rare to see to see a blonde bassoon, many people ask how many there are. While I don’t have numbers for the entire world, I do know that Moosmann is the only bassoon maker selling them in North America. I reached out to Justin Miller at Miller Marketing, the North American distributor of Moosmann bassoons to find out. To my astonishment, only 13 have been sold in North America since their introduction in 2014. Leaving me to take note that blonde bassoons are more uncommon than even I previously thought.

Sound doesn’t change based on color

I’ve often wondered why one of the first questions I get about my blonde bassoon is “does it change the sound?” I want to take a moment to answer the question, then discuss where it may originate.

No, the color of the stain, or absence of stain in my case, doesn’t affect the sound of the instrument. The largest non-performer contributions to the instrument’s sound are craftsmanship of the bassoon maker and the raw materials used in construction.

Many of us, myself included, make snap judgements based on what we have learned in the past. My colleague Matthew Ogden and I are the bassoon section with the Piedmont Symphony Orchestra in Virginia. When our paths first crossed as performers, I saw his bassoon and I was confused. It was black. I wondered if it was plastic.

Matthew’s bassoon was the first black wooden bassoon I had ever seen in person. I made an assumption based on the color. I questioned the professional quality. I did all this without questioning his ability to perform on the instrument.  Without ever hearing him, I passed judgement. And it was purely based on appearance. I realized that this is the type of bias many people face daily and now I work to be a person that drives change.

Color Doesn’t matter

In 2020, I ordered a custom made Moosmann bassoon and I chose to stay with the blonde aesthetic. I’ve grown partial to the look. While the color doesn’t change the sound of the instrument, the feeling I get when performing on my blonde bassoon changes everything. I’m not timid, I have a big personality, and if I’m going to spend so much time with an inanimate object, I want to love it! And I do love my blonde bassoon.

The truth is, I didn’t originally want a “blonde” bassoon. I purchased my first blonde bassoon second hand. I didn’t buy it because of the allure of the natural finish, but because I had heard this bassoon played so beautifully it brought me to tears. The chance to buy it was one opportunity I could not let pass. Color just doesn’t matter.

The world has changed so much, yet so much has stayed the same. In the world of classical music, judging based on color or any biased observation doesn’t have a place. It never really did, but complacency can create the illusion that everything is fine. We must be better.

Find out more about the Council of Canadian Bassoonists Mentoring Program,  Resources and Bassoon Blog

Mathieu Lussier with his former bassoon, a blonde Moosmann

Bond bassoons

My blonde beauties and their baroque friend

Scott Pool goes for a walk on the beach with his blonde Moosmann

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My First Encounter With The Bassoon – by Uta Messerhuber

My First Encounter With The Bassoon – by Uta Messerhuber

Uta Messerhuber

My First Encounter

by Uta Messerhuber  

About 20 years ago my world was shaken by a devastating loss. As a result, my perception of the world shifted. Many memories became very precious. And many unexpected wondrous moments presented themselves.

One of these magical moments was my first encounter with a bassoon – actually, a bassoonist and her bassoon.

It happened while heading to the Indigo/Chapters bookstore in Eaton Centre, Toronto with my new dear friend, H. In order to avoid some of the traffic noise and sidewalk hustle, we chose to pass through the Trinity Square park tucked behind the Bell Canada head office, where years ago I used to work. Wedged into this tiny park is a simple but pleasant water feature that splashes and trickles across the square and between office towers and a hotel. To the eastward side of the grassy area stands a small elegant structure, the Holy Trinity Church, a gothic revival built in 1870. Though modest in scale, it makes up for it with an emphasis on height and architectural techniques which draw the eyes heavenward.

I’ve always loved this little church and on work days would occasionally partake in the odd canteen lunch served by the parishioners who used the proceeds to help the needy. But on this particular Saturday, a sandwich board positioned on its steps announced a free concert including a bassoonist.

So, with my life having abruptly opened different paths, this one seemed to be leading me directly up the church steps towards the music. But not any music. This was a sound that was new to me. A reed woodwind that sounded like no other. Timidly but determinedly, we found seats facing beautiful 5-storey tall stained glass windows shimmering with light from the afternoon sun. Once we quietly settled, the music took our full attention. A bassoonist was playing accompanied by a few other musicians. Up to that day, my knowledge or awareness of the bassoon was embarrassingly paltry. I knew of the bassoon, and naively thought that it simply and squarely played a minor supporting role in formal orchestras, relegated mostly to pompous concert-hall scaled symphonic events.

Yet here it was, taking centre stage, raising its own voice heavenward in the hands of a highly skilled and passionate musician. A woman with short spikey blue hair embraced this unwieldy looking contraption of highly polished black wood and silver keys, taking short strong breaths to produce the most amazing music. I sat there transfixed, listening. For the first time, encountering the power, grace and singular voice of the bassoon. Not just any bassoon. It was clear that this woman was a skilled master at creating the most sublime music. Don’t ask me what the names of the pieces were. Something classical. It wasn’t that critical that I remembered the names of the pieces. But what I did realize was that this would be one of those precious memories. Of pure release from the pressures of the everyday, lifting my spirits and penetrating my inner swirl of emotions. This mini-concert seemed to remind me that to struggle, to wrestle, to collaborate and breathe deeply (in life or into a bassoon!) in order to release expressions of pure beauty was what this life is all about.

Since then, I have followed the bassoon and her blue-haired muse on her own journeys, listening raptly,  fascinated by the beauty they bring into the world. I am so grateful for that first encounter. Little did I know that it would bring so much pleasure and joy into my life.