QUIeT CLOWNING ALOUD…
Ben Glossop reveals the soul of the Harlequin
Allowed to act like a clown? Required to act the clown, while perfecting my sound by laughing. Please sign me up. Learn tricks like juggling, circular breathing, or double tonguing with a reed stuck in my mouth that I whittled from a plant grown in the earth while pretending to be drunk?
A bassoon-ee clown is almost always a little sad. My Harlequin’s backstory has a fondness for existentialist ‘loneliness, a falling leaf’ poetry, hoping that it will impress the fair Columbina.
The bassoon is a mask.
The secret to Commedia dell’arte is in the mask. The character will reveal itself to you when you look at yourself in the mask. You don’t have to be you. Being you can be scary. But being you behind a mask is a fun. No need to be afraid of the dinosaurs of the past, just act the part. We are all brave triceratopses working together to overcome the ferocious T-Rex.
Charlie Chaplin composed, charming and dramatic music for his films. He played a prince of the paupers whose frenetic movements were balletic and full of grace.
This is a Chaplinesque scene in suburban Ottawa.
Portraying the character of Pantalone on my bassoon in Manuel de Falla’s “The Three Cornered Hat” with the Kingston Symphony Orchestra was a thrill. It inspired KSO music director Evan Mitchel and me to reminisce about it on a “Kingston Symphony Sundays” video produced by the orchestra in 2021. This discussion gets to the nuts and bolts of what this blog is all about.
When we play the bassoon, especially if we have a funny, slightly over the top part to play we can let out our inner rock star, or sitcom character. Even if we’re shy on the outside, our inner joy gets to bubble out with our thwackee stacatee and our goofee boopees.
Playing the clown puts us in touch with our inner child. We get to play with the coolest of toys for a job. What a joy it is creating music for and with kids.
The best thing about putting on a clown’s mask is that it encourages us to act as a slightly more audacious version of ourselves. Thus, we have the best of both worlds, sincerity and significance. We can allow parts of ourselves and the characters we can imagine in our heads to shine with extra brightness.
Sometimes you have to ask for inspiration.
“Hey, Dottore, what fancy idea should I base my bassoon quartet on?”
“Simple Harlequin. The bassoon quartet. It is Fun Music.”
And so this became the goal as well as the title for the quartet. The fact that the piece ends in a blues (or bloose for the double oo in bassoon 🙂 tickled my funny boone. The bloose smiles while telling us its sad story. Neither Major nor Minor. Mixolydian mode makes me moody.
The thing that clowning around the way can most teach us as respiring bassoon players is to let go and open up. To use all of our air, and to fill the bassoon with all that it wants to take, and sometimes that little bit extra ends up being the growl in our voice. Part of the sadness we show, as we more often sing than talk.
We walk, dance, and prance. Craftspeople and Artists combined. When carrying a tune, say, as a loon on a lake of soft strings, blow your horn like it is on your bike as you ride down your favourite hill.
Go with the flow. Plan lots, but if life zigs when it could have wagged (and you feel like a bird on a bumping bike), then playing with those gags as a joyous act that brightens our way, is embracing what it is to be human. This is a clown’s first and only tool. Embracing and mocking humanity.
The rest is props and masks 🙂
Ben is a primary creator of Ottawa’s Poets’ Pathway. A monument of 14 bronze plaques and 35 kms of green space dedicated Canada’s past and future Poets.