College Contemporary Music Programs need an update

First of all…this is not for the big name NYC/LA/BGSU/etc. programs, don’t come at me with your luxury goods. #notallprograms

A friend snap-chatted a picture of a facebook post from his undergrad music program.  The contemporary music ensemble was playing Britten on their next program.  I love Britten.  His operas are beautiful, and his music is amazing. One of my favorite people is a Britten scholar.  But Britten isn’t contemporary.  He died in the 70’s. I went a little bit crazy on twitter about it, but I felt like I needed to flesh out my thoughts beyond 240 character snippets.

I know this is an issue we all contend with.  Symphony Orchestras planning entire seasons where the most contemporary thing they play is Stravinsky, or your local “professional contemporary ensemble” only playing works written before 1950.  But schools of music should be at the absolute forefront of contemporary musicianship, especially if you are going to offer a contemporary music ensemble, and especially if you have a composition program.

In fact, a school with a composition program, and no contemporary ensemble, is doing a disservice to both it’s performing students and the composers.  Composers who approach their peers with no exposure to works after 1950 have a severe disadvantage when trying to work out ideas. Closed feedback loops of canon lead to closed minds.

But it becomes more basic than that. Just look at the timeline, as context is so important.  Beethoven died in 1827, and Pierrot Lunaire was premiered in 1912.  Just 85 years passed between the final great death of the classicalish era (don’t @ me musicologists), and Schoenberg’s first breakout single of the aughts. It’s been 105+ years between us and that piece now.  If your contemporary music program is still programming Pierrot Lunaire, then you are not a contemporary ensemble, you are a Pierrot ensemble. That piece has been around so long, that we use it as an instrumentation template. Beethoven was more contemporary to Schoenberg than Schoenberg is to us. He is a historical artifact, just like Mozart, or Palestrina.

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However, Carter, who out lived them all, hardly gets played, while his work is just as accessible to musicians, just as hard as Schoenberg, and perfect for musicians to learn how far they want to push themselves.  There are literally thousands of composers almost willing to give the music away just to have it played by your ensemble. To have it slaved over for a couple of weeks.  Just for someone to look at it, take it home, give it love.

But new compositions aren’t puppies you pick up at the pound, they are living, breathing documents of the art that lives NOW. Just as much as Hamilton changed the way broadway thinks about it’s music, contemporary works change the way we approach all parts of music. When we work with composers, Beethoven becomes less of a god, and more of a guy, who couldn’t hear, working shit out, like the rest of us. I work with musicians every day that are living their lives, pushing themselves to the mental limit to change our lives in quieter, but albeit equally significant ways. I’ve witnessed music that would take you to the same depths as a Tchaikovsky violin concerto, but with fewer notes, and more emotional impact.  I’ve heard pieces that reflect the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s and the crisis of LGBT and black youth in the 2000’s to now–Music that would upset you, and music that would take you to a better place.

chopin new music I get it. Music is transcendent, and that old stuff has it’s place. Colleges have a mission to preserve the old, while revealing the new. And I also get that is still sounds new to a lot of us. Dada still sounds weird, and sprechstimme is not something our ears hear every day.  But we still aren’t doing enough to push the new things. Maybe we need to find a better place for Britten and Schoenberg to live. I don’t have a solution. I don’t even know if there is one. I just can’t help but encourage my peers to place a larger emphasis on the living artists that are around them, that have a greater potential to reap the benefits of your making music.  I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but I hope this reaches someone that can make a tiny change that will perhaps impact the next young student looking for something to connect with as I once did.

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Mama Said There’d be Days Like This

My mom has been my soothsayer and my truth teller.  I’m sure all moms have things they tell their kids all the time, but my mom had mantras: “Pay attention.” “Don’t put yourself in that situation.” “Be sure your sin will find you out.” “Do not terry with the trash of the earth.” I heard one of these, attached to conversation, every day of my life.

I was raised by two ADULTS. My parents were 38 and 47 when they had me.  They had lived Entire Adult Lives before I ever came along.  I capitalize that, because I realize how true that is every day. Karen had been divorced, ran two businesses, had several careers, and all the while, living her life being uncannily observant. After all of that, she married my dad, gave me life, and continued to be stronger than me (Believe. I am strong-willed.). This woman didn’t raise me to just be thoughtful about my life and independent AF, she raised me to be prepared.  My mom was the Three Eyed Raven, and she spent my entire childhood downloading everything she knew into my head. I knew how to drive in the snow before I knew how to drive.  I knew how to balance a bank account before I had money. I knew, because she told me how, every time she did it.

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She sat me down when I was 14 and we had the talk (not the sex talk…that happened at least 6 years earlier.  I told you: prepared). My talk consisted of her telling me roughly what life would be like.  She told me my 20’s would be fun, and I would spend time finding out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Then she told me that when I turned 30, I would have a crisis, and realize everything I had done so far was meaningless, and I would realize something was missing. “Almost all women do this,” she said. I really had no choice but to listen.  By then, it was just the two of us– My mom and I were the bizarro Rory and Lorelei.

 

Dammit, Mom. 

Being prepared was helpful. I spent most of my 20’s figuring out exactly what I didn’t want to do.  I thought I wanted to be a band director.  Nope.  Definitely not.  While I find teenagers endlessly entertaining, I was much more interested in entertaining them than teaching a whole group to play a Bb scale simultaneously. Also, the paperwork was horrible, and I like curse words way too much.

 

I thought I wanted to play in an orchestra.  I found out pretty quickly into my masters that it was not the job for me. I love playing in an orchestra, I’m just not interested in the political baggage.  I actually like blind auditions (I find them the least stressful), but regardless of whether I was “good enough” or not, my heart just wasn’t in it.

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Academia was eye-opening. I had wanted to be a professor for almost my whole life. I had spent most of my childhood wanting to become my teachers. When I was about halfway through my doctorate, I realized that I was in the middle of Game of Thrones, Academic Decathlon Edition.  This wasn’t just the students.  I watched professors play this game. I watched professors and students doubt each other’s credentials, and put down their art, all the while trying to reconcile my feelings of inadequacy and doubt about my own potential to do anything with music. My professors were super supportive to me (though, by the end, I’m sure they wanted to get rid of me), but a lot of my colleagues had a different experience. I was Sansa Stark, season two.  All I could think about was my own survival.   I finished my doctorate, and realized that my path was very different.

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The Fear

My 30’s hit and I was like “Damn, where’s the crisis?”  I was waiting for baby fever to hit (thank god, no), or waiting for like, idk…a spiritual vision quest, or something.

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I spent most of last year just getting over the PTSD of finishing my doctorate. Then, about 6 months ago, I realized I had spent so much time figuring out what I didn’t want to do with my life, I wasn’t entirely sure what I did want to do.  My whole life had been meaningless!  I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I have a damn doctorate.  WTF, life? WTF.

 

Then I remembered my mother’s sage advice.  I remembered that this was something that was supposed to happen.  I should have been totally prepared…….but the fear is real.  I can’t ignore it. For the first time in my life, I have dreams, but I also have fear. I’ve never really been afraid of not achieving.  I always had a clear goal.  I have fear that what I’m doing isn’t going to lead to anything.  I have figured out what I want to do with my life, but is it a thing that is going to happen?   I’ve already failed in many things, but this time it’s personal.  No one is telling me what to do, but me.  I have no one’s expectations but my own.  I no longer have teachers, professors, mentors….it is just me.

My mom told me all of this would happen, and I was prepared for the purge, but I was not prepared for the personal turmoil that comes with it.  I don’t know if anyone could be prepared for this.

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I don’t know if I’m fighting imposter syndrome, or shame, or whatever my friends are telling me is happening.  I don’t know if it is just the factor of the unknowable that is scary, or if I’m just being over dramatic. I’m so grateful to be able to stand on my own two feet and fight through the fear.  I realize some people don’t have that luxury. I still don’t know what life holds for me, but I’m working with a lot of great people to find that out.  And luckily, I still have my mom to tell me when I’m being a dumbass.

I Quit the Bassoon

For almost 4 months.  Give or take a week.

I’m no longer a student….

My defense was over in February.  I was so tired, and so very burnt out.  Here I was, for all intents and purposes, Doctor Jolene Masone, DMA.  Master of the bassoonery arts, and all that entails!  Really, it just felt awful.

My dissertation wasn’t at all groundbreaking.  It wasn’t nearly as good as I had wanted it to be.  After I handed it in, I realized all the things I could have added to it.  I hadn’t accomplished any of the things I had wanted to while getting the degree.  It never felt like I had enough time to do anything.

In April, my playing obligations ended, so I put my bassoon in the case, and shoved it under the bed.  I assumed I would take a slight break – a week maybe?  It is so good for us to be able to walk away sometimes.  I always realized how much I missed it.  The weight in my hands, the attachment to the sound, and the warmth of accomplishment were things I always associated with playing the bassoon.

Three weeks went by, and I remembered it was under the bed.  I pulled the case out and starred at it. I realized I hadn’t made a reed in 2 months. I also realized I didn’t want to pull it out of the case.  I opened the case, shrugged my shoulders, closed the case, and shoved it under the bed.

“I’ll miss it soon”  I thought to myself.

Getting a doctorate is hard…

My mom met a medical student the other day that already had a degree in clinical psychology.  My first thought was not, “Wow, how great for that lady. Get it girl!”  or “Way to change careers at 40! You are awesome!” My first thought was “For all that is holy, why would she do that to herself twice?”

I turned 30 when I started to write my dissertation.  It had already been the worst year of my life the weeks leading up to my birthday.  I was dirt poor (I pretty much owed everyone money), had just moved into a new place (that I had moved all of my stuff, plus my S.O’s by myself, and paid for it), and my significant other of 5 years had just broken up with me. I was in a minor car accident, and I found out I ran out of financial aid.

And then I had to write a dissertation.

Nothing came together easily.  Every email written was difficult, every page seemed grueling, and I was dealing with serious imposter syndrome/depression/denial of the imposter syndrome and depression.  I gained and lost (and regained) 15 pounds during the whole ordeal, and forgot to practice many nights, while I was writing seven hours a day (plus working 40 hours a week).   My dissertation recital was pretty much a disaster.  I was so disappointed in the whole thing.  My advisors were super gracious, and I am usually the first person to listen to all my recordings, but I still haven’t listened to it.  I’m not going to.

I thought this summer was a wash…

I literally let the bassoon sit behind my door this summer.  I didn’t listen to bassoon music, or watch bassoon videos.  I didn’t read about the bassoon, or music.  I didn’t miss the bassoon.

In August, a dear friend asked me to play in the pit for West Side Story.  The music was good, the conductor was amazing, and the people playing with me were all extremely good musicians.  I was so happy to be there.  It felt good to play again. My endurance was crap, but at least I could enjoy the moment with my friends, and play some good music.  The actors were so appreciative, and it was so much fun.

I just did a concert with a group  I play with all the time.  I forgot how good it was to see everyone, and enjoy watching everyone else play music.  I sucked.  I’m still not in shape, but I’ve started practicing again, and I might even make a reed this week 😉

This summer made me realize that its not the bassoon that makes me an artist. Ironically enough, getting a doctorate in the bassoon made me forget about what music does for people.  It made me forget that I care about playing music, because it’s about the people behind it.  It’s about the composer that wrote it, or the people making the music with me.  I forget that music is ultimately about people.

I was once told “If you burn out, were you really ever on fire?”  Maybe I just needed to burn the place down and start over.

 

A call for arms, and a call for scores

(Trigger Warning:  NSFW, depictions of violence below)

 

I haven’t written here for a long time.  My dissertation has taken a great toll, both on my time, and my life.  However, I do not, and cannot live in a vacuum. Facebook and twitter are rife with news reports and angry updates from friends and family over the events happening in this country.  The country of checks and balances is going too long unchecked, and unbalanced.

Flint, Michigan literally does not have water to drink, and no one is going to jail.  Black children are dying, and it seems as if no one can really be bothered. Gay and trans people are still attacked in the streets.  People are voting for the most awful thing to come out of the conservative element since McCarthyism.  Women still suffer mightily at the hands of politicians with penises, dictating and legislating against our health and well-being.

Every time something bad happens, this quote is published all over my facebook feed:  “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”  Leonard Bernstein wrote this. Most people don’t even know the context of this quote.  Bernstein was writing about the death of John F. Kennedy, and his decision to conduct Mahler’s 2nd Symphony (Resurrection) in response to this death that shook the country.

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It is a simple and eloquent quote.  Even taken out of context, it holds its meaning.

We aren’t shaken by violence anymore.  Most of us just shake our heads, saddened and dismayed.  “So sad,” we say. “Those poor people,” we utter to each other, over our stands, over our scores, over the instruments we are making our beautiful, devoted music with.  The other day, I sat in a rehearsal and someone said, “I hope someday someone will see reason, and change something.” I suddenly remembered the rest of the letter. Before the famous quote, Bernstein said this:

He was to have said [Kennedy]: ‘America’s leadership must be guided by learning and reason.’ Learning and reason: precisely the two elements that were necessarily missing from the mind of anyone who could have fired that impossible bullet. Learning and reason: the two basic precepts of all Judaistic tradition, the twin sources from which every Jewish mind from Abraham and Moses to Freud and Einstein has drawn its living power. Learning and Reason: the motto we here tonight must continue to uphold with redoubled tenacity, and must continue, at any price, to make the basis of all our actions.

Reason should triumph.  Learning and reason should be the very basis of what we do as a society.  But we should be doing it as beautifully, and devotedly as possible.

Well I’m done being devotedly beautiful.  Aren’t you angry yet? Is anyone listening anymore?  I feel like making beautiful music is now an apathetic reaction.   Let us make paintings with the piss water of Flint Michigan and the oil still washing up on the shores of Louisiana. Let us make macaroni art of the plan-B pills and birth control that are not promised in health care controlled by Hobby Lobby and catholic hospitals. Let’s make music that is written in the blood of the fallen children in every shooting since Columbine. Write plays and operas depicting the crimes of the NRA and the military machine.

When they burn our books, our art, our music, will we be standing there, playing beautifully while the ship sinks?  Why aren’t we asking the hard questions?  Where is the angry, violent, maddening threnody for the victims of police violence?  Where is the dirge for the children of Afghanistan? How about the fanfare for the common college student who will never pay off their debt?

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“and babies.” 1969  Irving Petlin, Jon Hendricks, and Frazer Dougherty
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The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after a NATO airstrike killed several Afghan civilians, including ten children during a fierce gun battle with Taliban militants in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, April 7, 2013. The U.S.-led coalition confirms that airstrikes were called in by international forces during the Afghan-led operation in a remote area of Kunar province near the Pakistan border. (AP Photo/Naimatullah Karyab)

When will the artists rise up?  

I plan on picking up my bassoon, the only real weapon, the only real voice I have, and swinging hard. Swinging for the injustice of the women around me, who do not receive adequate health care or equal pay. For the boys who go to fight a war we should not have fought, and come home broken or dead. For the people who die because someone in congress couldn’t stand up for what a human being should actually believe in: reason, learning, or decency.

Let’s get angry.  Write a revolution.

Best Bassoon Week Ever! June 2013

WHAT IS UP, BASSOONISTAS?

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Picture by January3rd

BBWE will now be a monthly installment of this wonderful new enterprise, Signals for Images, and I will be installing it into both blogs for a while. Each month, I will post a new blog covering issues in new music for bassoon, and showing you all the best of what I have found on the web (videos, composers, performers, pictures, etc).  We are all very excited to show you what we got, and how we flaunt it.  So those who are old, welcome back! If you are new, Bienvenue bassoonerinos (and composers, of course)! This is….

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Let’s get to it!

I haven’t been posting anywhere for the last couple of months, because I have been writing other things….mainly my proposal for my dissertation.  So for those of you who have been with me forever: FORGIVE ME.   Proposals are where DMA students go to die.

But, so much has happened!  So many wonderful videos!  So many great and beautiful pieces I have discovered!

First of all, my dissertation (since the proposal passed), is on Electronic Music for the bassoon. One of the composers I am talking about is Peter Van Zandt Lane, a fabulous bassoonist/composer.  This video is from a couple of years ago, but here he is, playing the first piece from Manteia, called Aeromancer. Manteia is a four-piece collection of pieces that you can get from his website.  Sometimes, in electronic music, the music is all about what the electronics can do, and not so much about the instrument. That’s not really the case for this collection of works.  Lane finds a good balance between the acoustic and the electronic, and the bassoon really gets to shine in some finer points in the composition.

Sometimes, I just get to trip over a piece.  Liza Lim, an Australian composer, wrote a piece for Alban Wesley, a bassoonist in Amsterdam. The piece is a beautiful showcase for multiphonics, and Wesley can shift in between them, in and out so smoothly, I almost can’t believe it’s not electronic. In her program notes, she says this about the work:

There are tones expressed in distinct timbres from bright to dark to fuzzy, and complex multiphonics ranging from highly dissonant rolling tones and roaring frictions to consonant harmonies. Some of the sounds are highly localised, gloriously emerging from the bell at the top of the bassoon or circulating in quite specific regions of the tube. These sonic ‘knots’ inside the vibrating hollow tube of the instrument form the musical material of Axis Mundi.

Incidentally, Alban has a great Tedx talk from a few years ago with his Calefax Quintet.

On April 12th, Rebekah Heller, the bassoonist for ICE, played a really amazing piece by Felipe Lara, entitled Metafagote. Since it is not on his works list as of now, I can only suppose it is a premiere (?).  I will find out.  The playing, is of course, superb. Heller is always amazing. Her attention to details and colors is advanced and nuanced.  It seems like the piece is using a delay, but without seeing her feet, I cannot tell if she is controlling it with a pedal or not.

CALL FOR SCORES!!!!

Because of my dissertation, I am doing a call for scores! I am writing an annotated bibliography for pieces with bassoon and electronics. Any kind of electronics! Bassoon and fixed media?  Great!  Bassoon and whammy pedal?  Send it my way.  Bassoon with interactive electronics?  Yes please! Etc.  Is it already published?  Just put a link in the comments, email me, or tweet me! You can send these scores to jkmbassoon@gmail.com.  If I really like it, I might play it, or buy it, or feature it on this blog!

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For all you broney fans and pony fans alike, here is a cover of “I’ll fly” from My Little Pony.  Incidentally, the art off of the video comes from the same artist as the top art.

Have a bassoon-worthy week!


You can follow me on twitter or instagram, and email me at jkmbassoon@gmail.com if you have a new CD coming out, have a call for scores, or are commissioning a new work.  Or, if you are a composer with a bassoon piece you would like to bring to my attention, let me know.


Follow Signals for Images on twitter or facebook.  If you would like to submit a piece or recording for consideration to any of our writers, please email us at signalsforimages@gmail.com

Submitting a Topic Proposal: As told by Cartoon Villains.

(You have to have the colon in the title, or it’s not legit)

Writing a dissertation is hard, y’all, but I feel like writing the proposal is way harder.  Once you’ve gotten to the dissertation part, you have all the information, and all the topic stuff out of the way.  But the proposal, step #1, is always the hardest step.

First, you have to pick a topic, and you might have a few thoughts. You could do that thing about the bassoon player, or you could do that dissertation on that Baroque thing you found in that book, or you could do a research project about reeds….

Yes. Yes it freaking is.

You pick one!  You are like, “Yes!  Yes! I love it!”  And then you pitch it to your prof, and she’s like…

I’m still not entirely sure any of them like my dissertation….lol

So you work on it a bit, and you bring it back to her (and your other beloved committee members), and they are minimally satisfied with the topic, though skeptical.

In their defense, there’s like 8 million DMA students at UNT all going through this process, and they are just trying to get us through without a giant implosion……or crying

So then you are off to the Library to gather ALL THE FREAKING BOOKS EVER on your topic….and articles….

Where the heck do I start?

and other dissertations…..or newspaper blurbs…….or interviews…..or toilet paper manifestos….whatever

Then you begin to write the proposal.   Sort of.  Its like a smattering here, a paragraph there.  Maybe some half-assed outlines that get scrapped and re-written.  Then you send them to your prof and she’s all….

But you know, it’s Kathleen Reynolds. So it’s not nearly as mean.

So then you are stuck in limbo, in your lair, covered in papers, crafting this proposal with scissors and glue….

Sometimes, you really wish you could smash it.

Then the first, second, even third deadline comes up, and you are just so done with this thing, you can’t even.  Then the zen of procrastination sets in.

It’s the third week of the month again!? Crap!

You have written so many versions of this thing, you don’t even want to look at it anymore.

Then you are done with the proposal (This is like, step #1 to UNT, and step #172 to you), and you send it to your committee for the first time, and you are like, “MOM LOOK WHAT I DID!”, and they are just like…

You’ve proofread it so many times, you can probably recite it better than you can play the Mozart Bassoon Concerto from memory. Your editor is so tired of your edits of edits of edits.

To be fair, everyone feels like this after reading a paper 18 times an hour for a week.

And then, when you submit it, it goes to a bunch of people who don’t know you or your paper, and they decide whether you can continue through the vortex of dissertationdom.

A week later, they send you an email.  It says one of two things:

Congratulations, you are a winner on the Price is Right!

Well, yeah. Because I’m a genius.

Or you have to do it again.

This is dedicated to all my friends going through this right now.  The struggle is real, folks.

Best Bassoon Week Ever!!! 01/20/15

Guys!  It’s the new year!  So roll out the resolutions, because this is the…

Best Bassoon Week Ever!

FIRST OF ALL.  Go buy Trent Jacob’s Album. No seriously.  Do it.  It’s good, it has some great pieces on it, AND if you do your homework, you will have listened to it before I review it next week.  Also, because I said so.  Also, we have to support each other, and Trent is awesome.  So just do it.

Second of all, I feel like people are just premiering stuff left, and right (well not really), but this is a pretty big deal.  Christopher Millard premiered a piece by Marc Neikrug with the NACO, and compared us to Japanese food. It’s a good article.  READ IT. The commission is from several major orchestras, and will probably be a great addition to the rep.

Good.  Now that we’ve gone through the syllabus…onto todays lesson:

Of course, the coolest, sickest cat with a bassoon in his hands is the ever amazing Paul Hanson.  In this video he is with the “oboman”  Jean-Luc Fillon.  This is probably some of the best playing I have heard from anyone in a long time.  Like, anyone. How can you not just geek the hell out on his playing?  Especially at 9:09, when “Aisha” comes up, and oboman is playing a freaking bass, and Paul is just killing it.  Around 11:00 it just gets dirty and sexy, but so well executed.  And then for the last piece, Hanson just uses loops so they can free-improv like freaks of nature!  Hanson has a wonderful control over the instrument and his music.  Make an album ya jerks, so I can listen to this all the time!

This next piece, Fanfare and Raga for Bassoon and Tape, is seriously an interesting thing to have on youtube, of all places. I’ve had this CD for a couple of months, but I’m glad it went up here, because it’s a really great example of early electroacoustic music for bassoon, which is awesome!  (I’m a nerd…shut it)  But seriously, this piece is kind of a big deal as a historical notch-in-our-belt kind of way.

Emerson Meyers died in 1990, but founded the Electronic Music program at Catholic University in Washington D.C. He is quoted:

“I couldn’t stand the sounds when I first came into contact with them,” Mr. Meyers said in an interview 26 years ago. “There was no direction, no form; they were just sensational noises, not music. In fact, I disliked them so much that electronic music aroused my curiosity, and I decided to look into it.” He said he soon discovered that a composer had greater control over that kind of music than any other form.”

Just think if every artist reacted to music they didn’t like, like that.  Amazing.

The bassoonist is Frank Heintz.  Heintz was probably a student at Catholic University at the time of the composition, but was contrabassoonist for the Cincinnati Symphony for many years.

The last piece in our installment for the week is Yaylada by Fazil Arslan.  Andrea Bressan is an Italian bassoonist with a lovely European sound.  Very light, but full.  The piece clearly has some wonderful middle eastern music references, with moments of chant-like music (9:40), and later some amazing dance moments (11:40).  The composer is a professor of theology in turkish religious music at the University of Istanbul, so I’m sure there are plenty of Turkish influences in this music.

I wish you all a good reed week.  Good luck!

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Bassoon Video of the Week….

I. Want. The. Music. To. This.

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Composers!  Got a composition for bassoon, or that includes bassoon, and want me to know about it?  Performers!  Commissioning a new piece and want others involved? Send me a score, a link, soundcloud, whatever… to jkmbasson@gmail.com, or twitter, and I will try my best to get it up here.  I want to support everyone!