Some people, like my trumpeter-best-friend-in-the-world Guy Few, have the skill to modulate their voices to the point that I need to be very attentive in reading the clues. Some, like me, have voices that break the moment that sorrow and doubt strike my heart.
The voice of the bassoon comes from our whole integrated system of body, mind, reed, bocal, bassoon and yet, this can always be affected by the reed.
Even if I am at the apogee of my conditioning, in the best shape possible, I still need a brand new reed to achieve the limberness, warmth and fluidity that I crave. Conversely, if I am in poor condition, or the bassoon is leaking, a good reed can be obscured.
This is where I depart completely from the training of my youth. For me, it is never a question of ‘breaking in a reed’, but rather, finding 45 minutes to fully trim a reed before my recital, concert, recording, or even private practise session.
The critical point is to fully trim.
I have many memories of doing the rapid trim with Guy either asleep on the floor (before our SUNY Fredonia recital) or bouncing madly up and down with questions (late on the evening before our Hummel recordings). It is another test of skill to manage my easily-bored-yet-always-engaged colleague while I search for the response that I want. Both of those reeds were successful. Others, trimmed in solitude in starkly mirrored, echoing dressing rooms have missed the mark and then I have played a reed that is a couple of days old. Or the time we went on tour in B.C. when I had a terrible cold, and all of my reeds seemed to possess the same congestion. It wasn’t until my ears unblocked that I could trim a reed. But I always keep trying because maybe this experience will pay off the next time I have a cold!
Usually I try to head into any concerto or recording event with at least 3 newly trimmed and unplayed reeds. Then I make one as close to the event as humanly possible. Sometimes this becomes challenging when we have to set up the chairs, drive the conductor to the venue, hand out cheques etc etc but really, multi-tasking is the essence of being a versatile musician!