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Bassoon: Interview and demonstration with principal Nancy Goeres

Video transcript
(energetic strings and percussion) Nancy: This is the bassoon. It's the largest member of the woodwind family. Therefore it plays the lowest notes. It's also very special because one uses a double reed to play it, and this is the reed. It's two pieces of bamboo cane tied together with wire and thread. When you blow into the reed, the two pieces of cane vibrate against each other, and that's what makes the sound. (tight, tuneless noise) Doesn't sound like a bassoon at all, but when I put it on the end of the bocal here, those silly vibrations have a chance to travel throughout the entire instrument, and that's what makes the characteristic bassoon sound. I mentioned this is a large instrument, but the tube of the instrument is even longer. It's nine feet long, so underneath here, the tube turns, and it's very small on the top, and since it is a conical bore, it gets bigger. (strings in background) Largest at the top. There are lots of keys of course, and the bassoon is unique from the other woodwind instruments, the clarinet, the oboe and the flute, because we have a lot of keys that are depressed by using our thumb. (quiet strings and solemn bassoons) One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, on the left thumb, and one, two, three, four, five on the right. When I push this key, which is all the way here, then it closes the final hole for the instrument, and that's why it's the lowest note. (low note) That's the lowest note on the bassoon, B flat. It is the highest key, but when this key is closed that means the note comes from the entire tube being closed. Actually that's the only note that comes out the top of the bassoon. (strings in background) If I play a low B Flat and someone puts their hand over the top, the note won't come out. That's the only note that won't come out. (slow playing) (string instruments join) The bassoon in the high register has a little bit brighter, I hate to use this word, because it's a little bit negative, but a little bit more shrill and bright, and then for the low register it's much more deeper and mellower sound, which is of course, what I love about the bassoon. It has a very mellow sound, and it blends beautifully in the orchestra, (strings in background) but it also comes out very prominently in solos in a very beautiful way, I feel. (slow strings and bassoons) The bassoon has many roles in the orchestra, and a composer like Stravinsky wrote the wonderful "Rite of Spring," starting with a bassoon solo, with very high notes, and at the time it was written it was rather scandalous, in many ways, but for bassoon players especially, because of the extreme high register. I think his idea was something primal. He wanted screaming in a way. Now as bassoon players we practice very hard (bassoon in background) on those high notes so that they can sound lovely, and we don't maybe play it as shrilly as it was done when it was written, but Stravinsky, then again, when he wrote the berceuse of "The Firebird" ballet, he used the bassoon for the lullaby, (violins play softly) in a very, very soft, beautiful middle-range of the instrument. (harp plucked softly) (bassoon played slowly) (oboe and strings join) I always love playing the berceuse from "The Firebird," because it really gives me a chance to show emotion and beauty in my playing, so that's very special for me. It was one of the first recordings that I had as a child. My aunt Linda gave me an anthology of recordings, and the berceuse from "The Firebird" was on there. I just thought, "Oh, that is so beautiful, so beautiful. "I want to play the bassoon," and at age seven I started playing the piano. I loved to play the piano, but I didn't love to practice the piano. I didn't have, maybe, a super-aptitude for it. I used to practice under pressure for my lesson coming up every week. When it was time, at the end of fifth grade, to choose a band instrument, and I say "band" because we didn't have a string program in Lodi, where i'm from. It was time to choose a band instrument, and my older sister played the clarinet. Even in the small town, they probably had 20 clarinetists in the band, and every week they had to have challenges for where they would sit, and they would fight about who got the first chair. She said, "Nancy, play the bassoon, "because we don't have any." I thought, "Well, that's the instrument that I've heard "and I loved, so this is the perfect choice for me," and I did, I loved it right away. My family did not love it right away. I practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced, and sounded like, to them ... They had two words for it. "Bed post" and "sick cow." I guess they had another word. "Fog horn." When I started playing the bassoon, immediately something just worked. All the parts came together, and then I was serious, so I went to Madison, which was fairly close to my hometown, and I went there to the University of Wisconsin for lessons. In seventh grade, eighth grade, aged 13 and 14, I was practicing, and I loved it. I also loved playing in the band, but then when I started playing in the Youth Symphony, (strings in background) which happened also very good, The Wisconsin Youth Symphony, which happened quite early on, then learning the symphonic music, to me then my whole world was opened, and being a bassoon player, it's certainly very important, in order to play Brahms, Shostakovitch, Mahler, Bruckner, all these wonderful symphonic pieces. There were not solo pieces written for the bassoon by those composers, so it's wonderful to be part of a large group and play in an orchestra and have all that sound surrounding you. The bassoons always sit right in the middle of the orchestra and it's been wonderful to play in an orchestra. (light orchestral music)