Thursday, February 11, 2016

When We Are Too Afraid/Tired/Frustrated to Share

One of my main goals with this blog is to increase the amount of positive content there is on the information super highway regarding musicians and what we do.  At the same time, I want to share the reality of what it's like to be a musician specific to me - a women, a mom, a bassoonist, living and performing in a very unlikely locale. 

Here follows a conversation that I bump up against a lot.

BACKGROUND:  (Read this if you want to know what traveling musicians do.)

Last week was my monthly residency with the Billings Symphony.  Every month of the concert season (September - April) I spend 6 days (Tuesday - Sunday) fulfilling my duties as principal bassoonist of this wonderful orchestra!  My compensation includes a per service fee, mileage, daily per Diem and housing.

It's tricky because I'm already on the road a lot with the Chinook Winds.  Being a homeschool mom means that when I'm not around I either have to find someone to fill my shoes at home, embrace several days with limited homeschooling for our 13 yo son, or bring him on the road with me.  As he gets older and more independent, this becomes easier but, in general, when you are a Domestic Goddess, it's hard to be gone with such consistency.

Last week was a great example of why I dread and look forward to these weeks.  We played Scheherazade...'nuff said.  OBVIOUSLY I wanted in on that!  However, I was out of town the entire week prior in addition to the much anticipated PBS premier event.  I spent 36 hours home, in between trips doing laundry, unpacking, repacking, finishing reeds, prepping teaching materials for private students and university students, and then my son and I hit the road to Billings.  We had great intentions to catch up on a ton of math and finish up reviewing for 2 big finals he has in science and history.

The reality is that the previous week was *SUPER STRESSFUL* and exhausting with the PBS event, a 2-day university interview out-of-state (+travel time), and then filling in for Helena Symphony which kept me away from home 3 more days.  I arrived in Billings, immediately taught a lesson, went to rehearsal, went to bed, woke at 4:30 am, drove 5 hours to Missoula for my university teaching, 5 hours back, played another rehearsal that SAME DAY, and then had the remainder of the week: more rehearsals, 2 more private lessons, 2 performances.  

All of which I am truly grateful for because I'm doing what I chose to do - be a musician. 


When I wasn't in rehearsal, driving, or teaching, I SHOULD have been homeschooling.  In reality, I, walk through the door, put down bassoon, crawl into bed, pass out.

Oh, and I took my son to the YMCA to stretch his limbs in the pool the day after he spent 10 hours in the car with me to cross the state for my university duties.

HERE IS WHERE THE STORY REALLY BEGINS: (Read this if you want to know what every musician dreads sometimes.)

Feeling too lazy and unbelievably drowsy, I opted to sit on the sidelines and catch up on reading ("Freak the Mighty" for my son's literature course).  It took every ounce of energy I had to not lay down on the bench and just sleep.  But that would have been tacky and clearly irresponsible, so I kept it together.  With only one person in the pool (#homeschoolers) in the middle of the day, the lifeguard sat down next to me and struck up a conversation.

Let me be clear, he was a SUPER nice guy!  He had nothing better to do and I have no qualms chatting with strangers.  But I KNEW there were going to be a series of questions because, let's be honest, we were OBVIOUSLY out of place.

"You folks aren't from around these parts, are you?"

Skipping school today?
No, we're homeschoolers.
LITANY OF HOMESCHOOL QUESTIONS (no we don't beat our son with the bible and keep him locked in his room)
Do you come here often?
No, we are from Great Falls.
Visiting family?
No, playing with the symphony.
Cool!  What do you play?
The Bassoon
Confused look, lots of miming back and forth, adjectives that are not accurate.
He arrives at the baffling conclusion so many before him have come to.
"Oh, it's like the bass clarinet!"
"I think it's cool we have a's important...and, like, aren't they taking all that stuff out of schools now?"
Great question!  I'm so tired I want to cry but I am going to have this conversation because at the core of my being I know I have to share with you - with everyone - how important these community based organizations are and how crucial arts education is.


Like I said, he was a very nice guy.  I invited him to come to the performances, he couldn't, but maybe someday he will.  I got to talk about how important arts education is, how music is a lifelong skill, etc etc etc.  I know this is important...nay...crucial for my entire profession.

...but sometimes I dread it...

...I mean, really, really, dread it...

...allow me to explain why.

  • because I have been on the road for 2 weeks and I'm so tired I want to cry, because it hurts to think, I feel guilty as a mom and wife, and I simply doubt my ability to be articulate.
  • because I hate explaining what a bassoon is which is why I often pull out my phone and show a picture.
  • because as incredible as my work is, it is also a job.  Like working for the sanitation company or Burger King, it's my vocation.  There are days when I don't like my job.  Yup,. that's the truth.  I do this AMAZING THING and I am SO FORTUNATE, and some days, just like every other person in humanity, some days, I just don't want to go to work.
  • because I know that no matter how many times I have this conversation, I will still need to keep having it.  I worry that I'm the only one having it.  I wonder if every musician is as committed to educating the public as I am.  Are we all doing our part?  When you, fellow musician, are on the third plane ride this week and want to sleep but your row companion sees that strangely shaped case, are you giving them the time, despite your exhaustion, to have the conversation?
  • because I'm still refining my delivery.  As a trained performer, I'm still working out this particular performance.  Why?  Because of all the amazing, expensive training I have had, no one ever teaches you to talk like this, to talk about this - but they should!
  • because I'm afraid that one day, even though it has never happened, someone will laugh and say, "What a waste!  Everything you do, what you believe in, what you fight for; it's a total waste of people's time and money."
The fact that this has never happened is a good sign.  It shows me that we must all be doing something right, something positive, because everyone always agrees.  No matter how afraid, tired or frustrated I am, people always smile and say the nicest things and they always agree that what I/we do is important.

So, even when I dread it, I will keep having this conversation as many times as I need to.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Légère Synthetic Bassoon Reed - a new review

I am so excited to see that my posts on the Légère bassoon reed are getting thousands of hits!

Not because I'm a bassoon narcissist (can such a thing even exist?) but because I believe deeply in these reeds.  I will share more about why I am promoting these reeds with such vigor but I want to immediately share the proof of how awesome these reeds sound, play, perform, and respond.

The Chinook Winds were invited to film an episode of 11th & Grant with Erik Funk, a Montana PBS show.  We spent 9 hours filming an episode meant to bring a live show into the homes of residents of Montana.  We filmed the Maslanka Quintet in 1 take.  By the end of the day, we weren't so...accurate.  It was an amazing experience and we are truly grateful to Erik Funk and team for inviting us to be a part of such an incredible experience.  Here is the episode and this is what a Légère reed sounds like:

Brief History of my experience with the Légère:

I purchased a Légère reed after Paul Hanson toured through Montana playing a Légère.  A group of Montana bassoonists got together and bought them from Miller Marketing.  You can read my earlier reviews by following the Légère tag.  I used a Legere reed exclusively for the 2014-2015 concert season.  Playing the reed in all elevations and climates, even toted it to the Baltimore Symphony audition though I didn't end up using it for that.  

I now have 3 Légère reeds including the very first one I purchased and have been playing on since June 2014.  Yes, it still plays!  I have purchased two more.  One which I am currently using and another one that is, in reality, probably many months from being used.  

The Légère bassoon reeds are very consistent and easy to adjust as needed.  

Video on adjusting here:

Taking an entire season off from reed making was amazing and a much needed respite for me.  It also highlights one of the reasons I am such a huge advocate for these reeds.  I am constantly amazed at how often I meet adults who played bassoon in high school and college.  All of them share how much they love the instrument and how much they loved playing it.  They also share that, because they never learned/couldn't master reed making (and despised manufactured cane reeds), they were forced to give it up.

This always breaks my heart to hear!

Reed making, though a necessary right of passage for a professional bassoonist, should never be a barrier to a passionate amateur or hobbyist.  They are innumerable community based ensembles that always need a bassoonist and it's a tragedy to realize that something so tiny stands in the way of bringing dedicated bassoonists into these ensembles.

I spent a portion of last week auditioning/interviewing for a university position and played a portion of my recital on the Legere in order to demonstrate its abilities.  I was very purposeful in doing this because of what I understood about the program and the students in it.  There are many music programs across the country that have bassoonists with great talent and desire to play.  They will likely not go on to be full-time professional bassoonists but will endeavor to play while managing careers, families, church and community service, and the various demands of life.  For these students, I feel like, the best news I can give them is that the struggle of reeds doesn't have to be the "death-knell" of their time with bassoon.

The Légère reeds will provide countless hours of stress-free playing for bassoonists across the whole spectrum of amateur - professional playing!

For the 2015-16 season I am back to making and teaching reeds but having the Légère in my case has proven to be a powerful tool and an amazing Plan B - which I have used in rehearsals and performances as needed.  I will continue to make and play on cane reeds but I will always have a Légère as well!


Wanted to share the following correspondence regarding a Légère reed that I purchased and didn't like because of a change that was made to the manufacturing process - but then corrected.  Not only a great product but a great company with excellent customer service.  IMPORTANT TO NOTE IF YOU HAVE RECEIVED A REED 

Greetings!  I wanted to contact you regarding the new style bassoon reed you are making.  I have been using the Legere bassoon reed since June 2014 and have absolutely loved it.  I have recommended it to my colleagues around the country who have since purchased them and students.  However, when Justin Miller sent me my latest Legere with the silver end and with the blades separated I was profoundly disappointed.  The reed does not vibrate!  It doesn't hold adjustment, it doesn't project with power, I can't lower the pitch, the sound is dead and very thud-y.  It functions like a read with weak corners.  I am writing to implore you to return to the previous style with the sides sealed the entire length of the blade.  If not possible, then please allow me to purchase whatever stock you may still have of the older style.  I have a few students ready to buy but I have told them to wait in hopes that you will either switch back or make the other style available in addition to the new style. I have been working with this new style for 6 weeks and simply cannot make it function for me in any setting: chamber music, symphony, teaching, solo work, not even just to practice on.

Please let me know your thoughts about this.

Many Thanks,
Elizabeth Crawford


They have the recently received reeds where the sides are now sealed and this is the only version that they have so rest assure this is the reed that you will receive. If you have any concerns or hesitation about the reeds performance you are more than welcome to contact Bocal Majority and they would be glad to discuss them with you.

Elizabeth, if you could please send your reed back to;
Légère Reeds Ltd.
121 Welham Rd.
Unit# 4
Barrie, ON
Canada L4N 8Y3

I would be happy to replace it for you. Can you please address it to my attention so that there is no delay as we don't typically offer an exchange on Bassoon reeds. If you could also include a short note (even a copy of this discussion) to refresh my memory when it arrives, as to why we are replacing the reed for you it would be greatly appreciated. Make sure to include a copy of your receipt and the address that you would like your replacement reed shipped to.

Thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter. We hope to renew your appreciation for our reeds. Please keep me posted.

Kind Regards,

Julie Vardy


This is wonderful news to receive!  I will let all my students know they should forge ahead with purchasing.  I will send you the reed ASAP.  THANK YOU so much for your response and care in making this product.  Looking forward to many more years of Légère bassoon reeds.
Best wishes,
Hi Julie,

Wanted to thank you for the replacement reed - it plays great!  I also wanted to share with you that my quintet, The Chinook Winds, is being featured on a PBS show here in Montana:11th & Grant.  Our 60-minute episode premiers on Thursday January 28, 2016.  I filmed the entire episode using a Legere bassoon reed.  People often respond to my blog reviews and Facebook posts and the question I hear a most often is: what does it sound like?  I'm really excited that they will now have the chance to hear (and see) the reed in this context.  

You can watch a preview of our episode here:

After the episode airs, it will be available to stream on-line at any time.

Best wishes,

***IMPORTANT NOTICE: Our Exchange Policy process has been improved and was implemented on January 6th, 2016. You will still have the same great opportunities as before but the submission process will require you to secure an RMA# (Return Merchandise Authorization) prior to shipping us your reed. This RMA# will be obtainable through our website

Kind Regards,

Julie Vardy