April 1, 2011

Brundage Reeds

Filed under: 20-minute,bassoon,music — Mark Dalrymple @ 2:21 pm
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Contra punctus

I am a bassoon player. The bassoon is one of those of those weird double-reed instruments which require a double-reed. Most bassoon players (and oboe players) make their own reeds. I have tried valiantly in the past to make my own reeds, but I suck at it. Huge quantities of suck. You already know I don’t like to practice, all alone in a room somewhere. You can imagine my opinion of sitting alone in a room, alone, with a knife scraping on reeds. That ranks even lower than practicing.

My spousal overunit is an oboe player, and she seems to love making reeds for four different members of the oboe family. More power to her. She likes to say to her students who are learning to make reeds “keep a laundry basket next to your reed desk. Put your old and broken reeds in there. When you fill it up, you’ll have learned enough to make good reeds.”. I can sympathize with the 10,000 hour thing, but I have many other things I’d rather do with that time than make reeds.

The reed making process is interesting, though. Get some wet cane (I bought my pre-gouged, shaped, etc), fold it over, attach some wires, crunch the end to make a tube, wrap it with string, let it dry, wet it again, cut off the end, and then start scraping.  That’s a bit of labor put in to it before you start finishing it. The scraping process is very iterative. Take some off the blade. Ut oh it’s gone flat because it’s too soft. Cut a little off the tip. Now it’s sharp because it’s harder. Repeat.  When you’re ham-fisted with a knife, like me, you can easily destroy an hour’s worth of work in seconds.

I made my own reeds for awhile, during college and after I got out. Once I got a job, I was happy to exchange money for someone else’s time. My friend Nancy started selling her own reeds which were utterly fantastic. I loved playing on them. I took some lessons on making reeds like hers, but it was a disaster. So I just kept on buying them. Unfortunately she had a life meltdown and quit the reed business suddenly.

Luckily the principal in the community orchestra I was playing in had discovered Brundage reeds. She had been playing on them for awhile and had a very nice sound. David Brundage is a bassoonist with the Army band in DC and makes bassoon and contrabassoon reeds. You can get his stuff from Ann Hodge, at pretty reasonable prices considering the quality of the reeds. I got a handlful of his reeds and really liked them. Not quite as much as Nancy’s, but they’re still good.

I like the Brundage reeds because I can take them out of the tube, put them on the bassoon, and reasonably play a rehearsal on them. They make a nice sound and can accept a lot of air before gronking out. They also last forever. Santa Claus brings me six Brundage bassoon reeds and one contra reed every HannuKwazaSolstamas. That will last me the year. Sometimes I don’t even use all six.

After the first playing out of the tube, they get pretty stiff. I Kramerize them at this point (a term introduced to me by Dr. Keith Jackson, trombone professor at WVU. I have no idea what the derivation is). You Kramerize something by playing for a period of time at double-forte. A half-hour usually breaks them in. I usually do this before a rehearsal, or while we’re playing a piece that’s brass-heavy.

After that, I just adjust by squeezing at the wires. I’ve never taken a knife to a Brundage reed. They play great. Highly recommended.


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