Loaded onto the kobo this month

Magnetic circuits, ancient Greek, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.

The listening crowd admire the lofty sound

The day before yesterday, while integrating line charges, I put Handel’s Alexander’s Feast on to keep me company; an oratorio on the text of a very silly Dryden poem, which I like because it has sick tunes and also because I love Alexander and particularly Alexander portrayed as a complete wacko clown.

Please, Mr. Stone, I don’t want a thinly veiled Iraq War allegory, I want whatever the hell this is! (Talbot Shrewsbury Book, 1444)

“What a goofy oratorio,” thinks I, integrating, “too bad I’ll probably never get to play it.” Though, only playing the bassoon here would not quite be sufficient. Much as we all know that playing percussion is just as difficult, subtle, and lifelong an enterprise as playing any other instrument (not even counting all the loading and unloading while everyone packs up and goes home!), Now strike the golden lyre again is the kind of timpani part that makes you think, “hey, I could play that. In fact, I want to play that. I ought to play that! I GOTTA play that! Someone get me two big drums to bang RIGHT NOW!”

…and then, the very next day, what should appear in my very own inbox but a gig full of Handel, including three numbers from Alexander’s Feast. (But only on bassoon. Womp womp. )

new knife!

Got a Landwell in an under-the-table-stand knife deal at the halftime of pops with the Hamilton Phil tonight… now I have to learn how to sharpen a knife like an oboist properly

high/low, on/off, and other flighty metaphorical entities

Speaking of unexamined cultural assumptions– such as the notion that a number “goes” in order from most to least significant digit-- all of the light switches seem to work in reverse here. As in, the light is on when it’s in the down position, and off when it’s in the up position. This feels wrong, as if there must surely be some real, physical justification as to why up-on/down-off is the correct way for a light switch to work, which of course there isn’t.

Which reminds me of this document which showed up on my RSS reader a few weeks ago: Musical Pitch is Not “High” or “Low”, about different metaphors for pitch. Which was the first time I’d seen it suggested that the idea of high and low pitches is a metaphor; it’s so deeply ingrained in Western musical culture that it feels as if it must be a literal description of physical reality.

And sure, high notes are “high frequency”– but then also, they’re “low period,” so why not that definition instead?1 High notes seem “high” if you play an on-the shoulder string instrument because your hand is closer to your face… but then, if you play a between-the-legs string instrument, high notes have your hand closer to the ground. Vocalized, “high” notes feel higher in the body– but that’s because the only piece of objective physical reality at play here is that shorter objects produce “higher” pitches, and in the context of singing that translates to a higher feeling in the body. If you wanted to map shorter vs. longer objects to a vertical axis, though, a reasonable way to do so would be to stand them up on the shared reference point of the ground– in which case the terminating point of a shorter object is lower to the ground than the terminating point of a longer one, which is higher. And indeed, several cultures and studies on the list do indeed use the high/low metaphors in that other, “reversed” fashion.

does not have the desired rhetorical effect

Things that the Messiah makes seem cool and fun and sexy:

Things that the Messiah makes seem boring and lame:

A basic technique lost and found

I was playing a concert recently with a rather speedy Bach continuo part. As I was practicing, it occurred to me to wonder what exactly had happened to the technique of double-tonguing on the bassoon in the first part of the 20th century.

Plenty of Baroque continuo parts, including those usually including bassoon, contain passages that only the most freakish of wagglers could single-tongue. It seems obvious that Baroque bassoonists must have been able to double tongue; and sure enough, in JJ Quantz’s chapter on articulation, after describing several tonguing techniques including double tonguing, he notes:

Why Quantz thinks you can’t double tongue on the oboe is a mystery for another day (or for a Baroque oboist to tell me); the point is, bassoonists were known double-tonguers in 1752, if not known good-reed-havers.

Why, then, did double-tonguing seem to disappear from the toolbox for a period of time? That it did is of course anecdotal, but it does seem to me that among the generation of professional bassoonists who got jobs in the early or mid 20th century, it was very much an optional technique. That generation is largely gone from the active playing scene, but many people still have stories of teachers or older colleagues who didn’t double tongue, and I have even heard it said by some of those players that bassoons don’t double tongue, or that if they do it is a new invention. (This does seem to be largely true on clarinet. “Fucking slur two tongue two… shit!”)

Bassoon historians slide into my DMs…

A musician being nice about a conductor?

Linhan Cui is the real deal, as a conductor, and will soon be snapped up by a major orchestra if there’s any justice in the world; in the meantime, I treasure every concert I get to play under her direction.

Blanche Neige

What if Clive Barker had a fever dream of Snow White as imagined by Angela Carter? This is the question nobody but me asked, but I imagine Angelin Preljocaj’s Blanche Neige to answer.

Winnipeg is one of my favourite orchestras to play with, and recently I was invited to play guest principal for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of this show. The draw for musicians is that it’s a new ballet constructed entirely out of Mahler symphonies; but once I watched a video of a previous production sent to the orchestra, I was also excited for the reaction to the work, which is– look, I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that this is a very sexy ballet. The costumes were designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. The sexy cats had headgear intended to convey the danceable impression of ball gags. When Snow White eats the apple, it’s less a trick and more of an orgasmic force feeding.

I’m not casting aspersions. It all– in my opinion, from the production I did watch and the reaction of the Winnipeg audience– worked great. There is something about the project of presenting Mahler as anything other than an integral whole symphony that invites, nearly demands, a certain amount of enjoyable grotesquerie; Ken Russell comes to mind. That said, the music was not as chopped up as you might think it would have to be; no crazy cuts and very few significant alterations to make the music fit the dance. There were even two entire movements, the Purgatorio of the Tenth symphony and the third movement of the First, which accompanied probably one of the most memorable stagings in the show: the introduction of the seven dwarves (I think credited here instead as “miners”), an entire vertical ballet taking place on a sheer rock face, one of the pieces of it that is available online:

The only really wacky alteration was this section, from the very end of the 3rd movement of the Third symphony, being repeated eleven times:

…which is how I learned that in the Brothers Grimm version of the story, the happily ever after is that the Prince orders the evil Queen to dance herself to death while wearing a pair of red-hot iron shoes, which is what is happening during the above. Disney sure didn’t mention that part!

Anyway, I’m very much hoping that the National Ballet or some other company around these parts picks this up, as I’d like to see it properly!


The last time I was at the National Music Camp, I was 14 and played a bassoon for the first time in the beginning bassoon elective. This summer I returned as a faculty member. (Full disclosure… once I started playing bassoon in earnest, my allegiance was firmly to the other music camp, on the grounds that the dining hall was quieter and they didn’t make you do “evening program,” so I never actually attended as a camper on bassoon.)

I didn’t take all that many pictures– one of the excellent things this camp did was take away all the camper’s phones, so there just wasn’t much photo-taking culture in the absence of ubiquitous devices. To be honest, I suspect a lot of the kids (those who didn’t sneak them in anyway, that is) were relieved to have them gone for a week. Hey, maybe they’ll do the same for the faculty in the future!

Laurel leading a very cozy band sectional

A bat taking a rest outside the bassoon studio (I realize this does not exactly look like the peak of bat health, but at least it flew away and we didn’t have a dead bat to deal with…)

Not a camper any more… they can’t force me to stay in the loud horrible dining hall… ate all my meals on the dock with my buddy Montaigne.

Very good doggo getting ready to listen to faculty wind quintet rehearsal

Pulled out the 2nd cello suite for a faculty concert

Garden Walk

Arcady Ensemble’s “Garden Walk” concert– the first half was a setup where, instead of musicians assembling in a central location for a concert, musicians are spread out through the Whistling Gardens playing solo works with related thematic material, and the audience walks around through them. Ronald Beckett’s music is always fantastic and the dedication of his audience to the ensemble is impressive.

My spot in the garden

The entrance to the performance space

Who am I to disagree?