Musings from the Reed Museum by Adam Romey

Musings from the Reed Museum by Adam Romey

Musings from the Reed Museum

By Adam Romey

Mathieu Lussier’s recent and insightful blog post about reeds, “IL EST GRAND LE MYSTÈRE,” describes three main categories of the relationship that bassoonists have with reed making. Roughly translated, the first group knew what they were getting into, the second did not but discovered a fascinating new world, and the third who did not know and were tempted to flee once they realized what they had gotten themselves into but remained committed to the study of the bassoon. I fall somewhere between the first two types in that I thought I knew what I was getting into but generally became more interested the more I learned.

Bassoon Reeds,. famous bassoonists' reeds

The Reed Museum, est. 2008

As a part of this process, I began intentionally collecting the reeds of teachers, friends, and many others not long after I started university which has grown into what I consider to be a sort of small museum. This collection now includes 62 reeds or blanks from 39 unique sources from the United States, Canada, and Europe (mostly Germany and the Netherlands). Most of the contributors are professional bassoonists I studied or interacted with, along with a smattering of students, friends, and commercial makers. There are reeds from orchestral musicians (sometimes from different members of the section of a single orchestra), chamber musicians, freelancers, professors, and soloists. Of the more commonly used American styles, there are representations from the pedagogical philosophies of Norman Herzberg/Benjamin Kamins, Bernard Garfield, and K. David van Hoesen, to name a few, as well as former students of those teachers who went in other directions. Well-known soloists and recording artists Nadina Mackie Jackson and Bram van Sambeek have multiple entries to their name. There are distinct reeds from inspiring past and present bassoonists belonging to groups including  the Baltimore Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the National Symphony (Washington D.C), the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Albany Symphony, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, in no particular order.

 

Through numerous moves and many affectionate handlings, some reeds are in better condition than others, but all provide opportunities for learning and observation. 

Reeds of five American principal bassoonists

 When I began to study reed-making as a teenager, I was initially very excited about what I viewed as an aspect of taking responsibility for a musician’s identity and individual needs that was unique to the double reed instruments. Upon reflection, it seems natural that an extension of this mindset was my deep curiosity about the reeds made by other people. I firmly believe that being exposed to all shapes and sizes (in this case quite literally) of ideas and approaches provides a wide range of useful information. Exploring the gamut of what different set-ups feel, sound, and look like can awaken the imagination to new possibilities of artistry, comfort, ease, and efficiency; one can also discover that the choices one makes are an appropriate fit for current demands and store the experience for future situations. I will be kind to my younger self and simply say that I was forward at times in my quest to learn, and that at this point in my life I follow different rules of etiquette when around new players.

 

To the less experienced reed-makers, I offer some ideas to consider during their studies from years of observing other people’s reeds and making my own. To the more experienced reed-makers, perhaps these could be of use or create opportunities for discussion and debate!

1. Wonderful artistry through the bassoon comes in many forms, and the basic styles of reeds used in the process are equally as varied. Big reeds, small reeds, and everything in between can be heard in inspiring performances by bassoonists. This could be taken as an invitation to experiment freely, as there are reeds large and small, short and long, and everything in between heard in inspiring performances by bassoonists. However, another takeaway is that reed styles of experienced players all have a truth to them which serves their artistic personality,professional demands, and playing style. To those studying reed-making, it can be an invaluable part of the learning process to understand what this means in the context of the teacher. As you build foundations of tone, phrasing, and fundamentals with your mentor, an approach to reed-making that is integrated with these elements will provide a ‘true North’ for future experimentation and development.

Reeds of Brian Pollard, former principal bassoonist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, 1954-1996

Reeds of Nadina Mackie Jackson, including an early freehand reed #49, the main reed that she used to record her Vivaldi Volume I

2. No two pieces of cane are identical, so no two reeds ever look exactly alike. “This isn’t a great example of what I do” is far and away the most common remark from experienced reed-makers when they have agreed to share an old or dysfunctional reed with me. One lesson from this is that reeds rarely, if ever, look identical to one another, even from the same experienced individual. Although this reed is not part of the museum, one of my favorite memories where this became blindingly clear was at my first professional audition. The player in the warm-up room after me sounded absolutely fabulous. We spoke later and he graciously allowed me to look at his reed, which I expected to follow certain attributes from his current teacher: no cracks, no side-slipping, fairly narrow. Instead, I saw a reed a little wider than I presumed, with a huge crack down the back of one side and a substantial side slip. He told me it was a freak piece of cane that wanted to be a good reed. After he won the audition on this reed, and multiple subsequent auditions over the next few years on the same reed, I threw preconceptions of what a great reed had to look like out the window. It is worth noting that this player is an extremely diligent reed-maker, so this “ugly duckling” was really that extraordinary.

3. Everyone has distinct details in their reed-making that they are attached to that others may disagree with (or perhaps not even notice!). Some reed-makers clip off the corners of their reeds, while others feel strongly about leaving them. Some reed makers want their wires slightly loose so they do not choke the cane, while others prefer tight wires even if there is a little indentation. Some reed-makers side-slip to the right, or to the left, or not at all. Through hours of practice and countless performances involving many different reeds, experienced players have come to conclusions about how their reeds can best support their artistry. Other players may have come to entirely different conclusions! I separate this idea from the point about general styles because often these details are outside of the principles and philosophies that define an approach, which creates a gentler space for experimentation and variation that could possibly exist outside the integrated context. Put another way, details like tightness of the wires (or even the approach to installing and tightening wires, as I have found) that make a significant difference to some but not all players can have a noticeable effect without entirely abandoning a given reed style. Additionally, there are other opportunities for learning when aspects like these are monitored for consistency.

Second bassoon reeds

In summary, reed-making and adjusting is a journey in tandem with many bassoonists’ musical lives. Perhaps this is best illustrated by a fond memory when talking with a seasoned orchestral bassoonist I admired. It was early in my reed-making studies, and I told him that I was just beginning to learn. His response: “So am I.”

Adam Romey

Bassoonist Adam Romey is currently the Education and Community Engagement Coordinator for the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Il est grand le mystère

Il est grand le mystère

Philip Morehead - Council of Canadian Bassoonists

Il est grand le mystère

par Mathieu Lussier

Je pense qu’on peut facilement distinguer trois grandes catégories de bassonistes en observant la relation qu’ils et elles entretiennent avec la fabrication d’anches.

1-Ceux et celles qui savaient dans quoi ils et elles s’embarquaient.

2- Ceux et celles qui ne savaient pas mais qui ont découvert un monde fascinant.

3- Ceux et celles qui ne savaient pas, qui ont eu la tentation de fuir lorsqu’ils et elles ont appris, mais qui ont tout de même persévéré dans l’apprentissage du basson.

 J’appartiens sans aucun doute à la troisième catégorie. Ma «Reed Room » n’a jamais connu d’expansion territoriale au-delà de la boîte à biscuit en métal qui séjourne en permanence sur mon comptoir de cuisine. Les gens qui vivent avec moi doivent accepter ce fait sans discuter, mais sans devoir craindre l’agrandissement du territoire consacré à une des rares activités de motricité fine que je sache pratiquer. J’aime donc penser que je fais partie d’une sous-catégorie de la 3e catégorie: ceux et celles qui acceptent peut-être leur destin mais qui sont absolument déterminés à minimiser TOUTES les conséquences de ce choix dans leur vie quotidienne. Il faut que ce soit simple, rapide, efficace.

 Ma mère étant psychanalyste, je comprends sans peine qu’il me faut probablement remonter à mon « enfance » de bassoniste afin de comprendre la nature particulière de mon lien avec les anches. Si ma première professeure de basson, la merveilleuse et regrettée Andrée Lehoux, m’a inculqué avec rigueur et calme les rudiments de la fabrication et de la taille des anches, le passage entre mes trois années de conservatoire avec l’autonomiste Rodolfo Masella (nous étions très libres de nos choix) et ma dernière année avec son successeur, Gérald Corey, fut spectaculaire. Non pas spectaculaire  du point de vue des résultats personnels, mais plutôt par la découverte de mon abyssale ignorance du vaste monde de la fabrication des anches. Dans cet univers, Gérald Corey, homme d’une grande bonté, d’un grand savoir et d’une immense générosité dans le partage des ressources et des connaissances était, je le compris rapidement, l’apôtre d’un maître absolu des anches en Amérique du Nord, Louis Skinner.

Pour moi, dont le monde des anches se résumait à une petite trousse à outils (2 mandrins, un alésoir, une lime et un couteau), l’arrivée de Monsieur Corey à mon cours de basson avec ce qui semblait à mes yeux la plus grosse valise jamais conçue pour le voyage, entièrement remplie par des outils d’anches, a pris des allures d’épiphanie angoissante, me faisant instantanément mesurer ce qu’il me restait à apprendre. Knochenhauer, Mechler étaient des noms qui revenaient souvent, entremêlés d’histoires de Louis Skinner et d’une variété de modèles qui me semblait infinie. J’étais plein de bonne volonté mais nullement prêt à recevoir cette avalanche de savoir et donc plutôt enclin à m’inspirer de l’autruche, ce sympathique oiseau, et de m’enfouir la tête dans le sable.

 C’est une nouvelle rencontre, déterminante pour l’ensemble de ma pratique du basson, qui me fera sortir la tête du sable et finalement trouver un modèle d’anche qui me convient et qui n’a que très peu changé depuis 1995. Lors de mon deuxième été au Centre d’arts d’Orford, aujourd’hui Orford Musique, Christopher Millard a non seulement pris le temps de me reconstruire comme bassoniste, mais il m’a également expliqué avec un rare talent de vulgarisateur les principes de base des théories de Louis Skinner. Au fil des ans, il avait non seulement parfaitement assimilé l’ensemble de la chose,  mais il arrivait aussi à transformer en principes accessibles à un esprit peu curieux de cette étrange science comme le mien des concepts que j’associais davantage à la science quantique qu’à la fabrication d’anches. 

Anche plus courte, plus large, grattage probablement assez peu orthodoxe car peu symétrique, mes anches sont encore fortement inspirées de celles que Chris m’a montré à faire il y a 25 ans.

Un questionnement demeure cependant: bien que je sois heureux avec ce modèle, que j’aie l’impression que mes anches me permettent de faire ce que je souhaite au basson, que ce modèle s’adapte facilement à la taille des anches baroques ou classiques que je dois régulièrement faire, pourquoi personne d’autre que moi n’arrive à jouer mes anches?

 En réalité, une seule personne a réussi à jouer une de mes anches avec aisance. Elle avait 11 ans et était plus petite que son basson…Oserai-je dire que j’appartiens en fait à une sous-catégorie de la sous-catégorie précédemment mentionnée de la 3e catégorie: Ceux et celles qui, d’une certaine façon, renoncent à tout comprendre?

 Il est grand le mystère….

 

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