THE TASK WILL REVEAL ITSELF - HOW TO TRANSPORT A BASSOON:
Many years ago, when I was still in attendance at Hamilton Junior High School, Eddie Goldman had the idea that I should learn to play the oboe as part of my musical education. No, it’s not an oboe, it’s a trumpet, but I’m doing the best I can with the available resources. See below. I’m not sure why he thought this would be a good idea, but when I went to speak to “Lefty” Leftchuk, head of musical instruction and leader of the Hamilton Junior High School band in which my friend Billy Cooper played the trumpet, he, that would be Leftchuk, thought it was a terrible idea, so nothing ever came of it. I have no idea how you spell Leftchuk, so I’m spelling it the way its sounded when Billy said it, which was often. I have no idea why he thought the idea of me playing the oboe was something he wouldn’t even consider, though I do recall being totally out of breath after I ran up the stairs to his office. Interestingly, what used to be Hamilton Junior High School is now Alexander Hamilton Preparatory Academy, one of the better High Schools in the State of New Jersey. It is still located at 310 Cherry Street if you want to go and see for yourself.
Billy Cooper thought the idea was hilarious, but he was getting the oboe mixed up with the bassoon and since a bassoon was about the same size as I was at that particular moment I could see why he found the idea amusing. I resented Billy Cooper for this and for all the other unkind remarks he would make whenever he got the chance, but then he had troubles of his own, which included an emotionally distant father, and a bunch of older step-brothers who abused him when his own mother wasn’t paying any attention to him, which was most of the time. I wonder what ever happened to him?
The oboe has a larger and more seductive sounding sibling called the English Horn, and if you can play the oboe I would imagine you can also play the English Horn. There is not much of a repertoire for the English Horn, however, so it would behoove you to learn the oboe first, not that there is much of a repertoire for the oboe either. I once saw a young man at Le Conservatoire who could play both instruments - not at the same time but yes during the same piece of orchestral music. I can only hope he will find a lucrative day job. Larger in size but lower in pitch is the bassoon, a lengthy affair about which I know less than I think I do, but we will be getting to this in a moment. Finally, there is the contra-bassoon, an impossibly large and unwieldy object that has a little stick on the bottom that allows it to stand on the floor while you are playing it, not unlike a bass clarinet. I once heard a concert with an ensemble featuring a contra-bassoon. It turned out that having a remarkable ability to sit perfectly still while the other instruments are playing and you have absolutely nothing to do is a big part of the skill of playing a contra-bassoon.
Here is something I did not know about a bassoon. You can carry your bassoon in a back-pack. Is this common knowledge? Did I miss something when they were informing the world about this? Like most things we learn I found this out inadvertently and unintentionally at a concert given by a group of young musicians during the Bowdoin International Music Festival up there in Brunswick, Maine. Let me qualify that statement. We learn things inadvertently and unintentionally. Sometimes we learns these things at concerts in Brunswick Maine, but while this is a sufficient condition for learning something new, it is not a necessary condition. You can learn new things anywhere, and you can even learn that @ellocutioner is a remarkable poet just by reading stuff like his poem on Ello. They - that would be the young musicians - were playing Mládí, by Leoš Janáček, a sextet for wind instruments, including a bassoon.
The bassoonist was a young woman called Atau Liu, who was wearing a beautifully tailored black pants suit or a suit, in which she looked very dashing. She was not the first woman I ever saw - or do I mean heard - playing a bassoon, but she is probably the smallest. One of the nice things about the Bowdoin festival is that during the pause, or the intermission, or the interval or whatever you call it when you get to stand up and walk around before the second half of the concert the musicians are there in the lobby sort of mingling with the audience. I once talked to Janet Ying
and Ayano Ninomiya at one of these events and I didn’t even swoon. Anyway, so here comes Atau Liu and she is “wearing” I guess you would say a rather posh and slightly oversize back-pack which is obviously nowhere near long enough to stuff a bassoon into it, but what else would she be carrying in there I ask myself.
What now ensues is one of those interesting debates you have with yourself about whether it would be a good idea to approach a total stranger, a much younger woman keep in mind, and ask her if she has a bassoon inside her back-pack and if she does how does she get it to fit. My previous experience with Janet Ying and Ayano Ninomiya tells me that professional musicians are used to chatting with members of the audience - I once got to tell Jonathan Crow we were going to miss him after I found out he was moving to Toronto, but that’s another story - and that they are generally very approachable. My intuition, or maybe some kind of wary self-consciousness or fear of embarrassment tells me that I don’t want to be the ridiculous old man who goes up to a young woman to ask an ignorant question about how she carries her bassoon around with her.
So instead of making an ass of myself I let her alone to talk with her friends, or maybe chat up somebody who could do her some good career-wise and waited until I got home to do a little research.
It turns out that a bassoon can be disassembled into six parts, and they can all be arranged to fit easily into a backpack. Once you have found this out you will be very happy that you did not ask Atau Liu your own stupid question. It’s true that even stupid questions have answers and I would always encourage my students to ask them because sometimes the questions they wanted to ask weren’t really stupid, but in any event I liked their curiosity and also their eagerness to learn things. The thing about a stupid question is that you have to know when to ask them and who to ask them to.
And speaking of questions, be they stupid or annoying or whatever, I would really like to know, @wtf, why the selection of musical instruments in the emoji collection on Ello is so skimpy. It’s not that I am asking for something as exotic as an English Horn, although I wouldn’t mind, but how about a basic symphony orchestra with like maybe a French Horn, Tuba, Bassoon, Cello, that sort of thing. At the moment we seem to be limited to a violin, a saxophone, a trumpet and an electric guitar. That would be a challenge all by itself for any composer, but probably not completely beyond the reach for somebody with a taste for unusual chamber music. And after all Olivier Messaien came up with the Quartet for the End of Time because the only instruments available in that P.O.W. camp were violin, cello, clarinet and piano. Let me know when you figure this out.