Thursday, December 28, 2017

Audition Thoughts Part 21: Keep moving forward

It's that season again: AUDITIONS!

I am currently preparing for an audition and have applied for several other positions.  When my contract ends July 2018 with BYU-Idaho I will have enjoyed 8 truly spectacular semesters in higher education at two different universities.  There is no way for me to adequately summarize how much I have learned as an adjunct (University of Montana) and now full-time faculty member.  My current position is Visiting Faculty = 1-year contract, renewable (up to) 2 times.  I am in my second year and the position has gone permanent.  I am currently in the application process for the new permanent position.

At this point in describing the current state of my employment to people, they say things like,

"Oh, I'm sure you'll get it!"
"You're a total shoe-in!"
"Who else would they hire?"
"You've already been working here, they won't choose someone new."

These are all well intended comments but, let's be honest, anyone who has spent a few years in this field knows that we are ALL replaceable.  No matter how awesome you *think* you are in your little niche - bassoon - there is always someone else out there who can do what you do.  ALWAYS.

Because I know this very well, I'm not leaving anything to chance.  Thus, I find myself back on the market cruising the audition websites (checking these at least once a week), sending out resumes, CV's, cover letters, emails, working the network and hoping for the best.

Here are my go-to places to look for jobs:
Chronicle Vitae - search "bassoon"

Please comment to share your favorites!

This is also a GREAT opportunity to return to my ongoing series in which I document the process of preparing, taking, and hopefully winning auditions.  (Click on the "audition" label in the left side bar to read the entire series.)

I gave some AWESOME advice in Part 20 of my series - read it!

Because I really do want this to be an authentic and educational portrayal of what we do as musicians, the ups and downs of being a professional bassoonist, I will disclose specifically what I am currently working towards.

Since "winning" my job at BYU-Idaho I have sent in materials for the following live auditions 2016 - present:
Jacksonville - denied
Las Vegas - denied
Royal Scottish National Orchestra - denied
Lyric Opera of Chicago - going to prelims in January 2018

I have applied for the following positions in higher education:
University of Miami - Ohio: Visiting artist, no response, position filled
U Central Florida: Visiting Artist, no response, but I believe it is currently on-going
U of Florida: Tenure Track, submitted and waiting
The Tianjan Juilliard School: submitted and waiting
BYU-Idaho: Tenure track, submitted, first round interview completed

Here's my dilemma and a self-assessment of how my resume is probably received:
I don't have a terminal degree.  I have had a career as a performer but not in a top-tier orchestra (military bands, free-lance, chamber music, regional salaried orchestra).  I would say I have had a solid career but not wildly impressive.  Honestly, I'm impressed every day that I get to make a living with my bassoon but it's a wide spectrum when it comes to defining success in a very competitive field.

Applying for jobs in higher education is a gamble because applicants without a terminal degree are typically placed behind those who have finished their education.  However, I am now in my third year teaching in higher education which may be compelling to some committees.

Then there are the orchestra gigs. 

A salaried orchestra is going to get an excellent turn out for a bassoon audition.  Based on my own experience, this can result in a pool of bassoon candidates 50+ strong with or without eliminating applicants based on their resume.  The average applicant pool can be divided into three main categories of players:

  1. in school
  2. out of school and free-lancing
  3. out of school and currently employed as a full time performer/educator
Having sat on audition committees, I am always more interested in hearing musicians who are currently employed to play/teach their instrument full time. But, as I shared in Part 20, every panel has their own parameters - don't take it personally...don't take it personally...don't take it personally...keep repeating...

In Part 18 I discuss the single greatest challenge to taking auditions while in a full-time position: scheduling conflicts.

It is impossible to attend every audition when you have to maintain the job you are in.  When the stars align and you can feasibly attend an audition but then get denied from a live audition, well, that's a tough email to receive.  Especially if you know that you are in a limited contract and really need to keep moving forward.  Don't take it personally, don't take it personally, don't take it personally...

I will admit that I took a rejection email personally in the spring of 2016 and sent off a less than friendly email to a PM/audition coordinator.  That was the wrong move and I had to humble myself and apologize.  We are now social media friends, so I think "we're good" but it was a really dumb thing to do - not professional behavior.  Don't do it!


Here begins the topic of my next several posts: preparing for the Lyric Opera of Chicago audition and hopefully more interviews/recitals for a higher ed job.  

They don't teach you all this in school, my friends!  

Reedmaking: Back to Basics

Full disclosure: the last time I made reeds from tube cane was c. 1998. 


Why so long? 


Neither Manhattan School of Music nor the University of Utah provided a reed-making room or machines.  With copious amounts of moves, job changes, instrument purchases, LIFE, dropping several thousand dollars on a gouger and profiler was not a reality for me.  I started using GSP cane full-time in 1999 and never seriously pursued going back to tube cane.

I occasionally peruse EBSCO for the latest bassoon doctoral dissertations, curious to see what academia is producing for our field.  I found Dr. Schillinger's doctoral dissertation about the history of reed-making pedagogy and then learned it had been published as a book.

Click pic to order your copy!

This book is a PAGE-TURNER! 

I know, I KNOW!  You're thinking, 

"It's about the history of teaching reed-making...sounds dry."  Well, it's not!  

Winter semester 2017 if I was talking, it was about this book (please forgive me students and colleagues).  If I was reading, it was this book.  If I was day-dreaming, it was about bassoonists from hundreds of years ago...and their tools...and probably their fashion, too.  

Seriously, if you are a bassoonist, you have to own and read this book.  It is truly fascinating, well written, and full of detailed historical examples, diagrams, etc. 

I was also fortunate to hear Dr. Schillinger's lecture/presentation at IDRS 2017 about her unique process of cane selection, or perhaps better described as systematic cane discarding.  As she explains much better than I, (listen to her interview on Double Reed Dish) discarding cane at each step of the process is an essential part of a successful reed-making discipline.

By the start of Fall semester 2017 I was extremely inspired to return to reed-making starting from tube cane.

It also helped that my proposal and design plans for rebuilding our reed room had been accepted and BYU-Idaho now holds one of the FINEST reed-making rooms I have yet seen at a university!  

Having not worked with "machines" for almost 20 years, it was definitely a re-learning curve for me.  Further complicated by machines that have been a bit neglected due to faculty turnover in my position at the university.  You are looking at a Fox 1 straight shaper, Rieger folding shaper, a   profiler, and an RDG gouger.  

Working from left to right, you can see the *fun* I was having getting everything sorted out. My greatest challenge was simply being so many years out of practice with gouging, profiling, and shaping cane myself.

I will freely admit that by the end of this particular day pictured above, I was ready to say: Barton Cane or BUST!  Damaging so many pieces of cane because of my own incompetence was sobering and reminded me that I was perfectly happy paying someone else to absorb all that loss.  

HOWEVER, with Dr. Schillinger's wisdom ringing in my reeds and many wonderful finished reeds from my Barton Cane (I am really loving the Kristin Wolfe Jensen and Darrel Hale cane which I have reordered and continue to have great success) protecting me against any crises, I continued my odyssey!

Proceed from right to left in seeing the effects of adjusting the gouger to better pair with the profiler.  I did NOT spend any more time on the far right piece.

I got the whole bassoon studio involved and it was an absolute JOY to see my students working hard in the reed room and having fun in weekly masterclass working the machines together!  

Getting the gouger and profiled adjusted to work well with each other was not nearly as complicated as I thought it would be which boosted my confidence and the output of quality pieces.  Shaping a TON of cane also honed my dusty skills very quickly!  

Was there BLOOD?  Yes!  

Was there sweat?  Yes!  

Were there tears?  NO!  Really, it was a lot of fun this semeseter!

I'm happy to say, once everything got dialed in, the reeds I have been making are actually pretty great!  I have one in my box right now that has made me a believer in this whole work-from-tube-cane adventure.  

Am I going to abandon GSP? least, not yet. 

When I work from GSP my success rate is easily 90% or higher.  Only when/if I can get tube cane from blank to finished at that rate will I walk away from GSP.    

However, I am now willing to's possible. 


Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Reflection: Jenni Brandon, Going to the Sun: Snapshots from Glacier National Park

Prior to my position at BYU-Idaho, I was given the incredible opportunity to enter academia as the adjunct bassoon professor for the University of Montana School of Music.  This opportunity was spearheaded by Dr. Jennifer Gookin Cavanaugh, oboe professor and woodwind area chair.  Once a week I traversed the Rocky Mountains to teach the bassoonists at UM - approximately 5 hours round-trip just in travel time.  It was a long day but it was such a pleasure to work with college students on a weekly basis in addition to rehearsing and performing with the UM School of Music faculty members.

I will forever be grateful to Dr. Cavanaugh for inviting me to join the faculty and for all the music faculty who warmly welcomed me.  I was only there for two semesters - cut short by accepting my position in Idaho - but I learned a lot.  Dr. Cavanaugh was a fantastic mentor and watching her navigate the many roles she has in the school of music was an education for me.  One project in particular was her commissioning a new work for oboe and bassoon by California based composer, Jenni Brandon.

Originally funded by a grant from the University of Montana and then with additional funding from the Great Falls Symphony/Chinook Winds Quintet and other co-commisioners (Laura Medisky, Nermis Mieses, Bowling Green State University, Susan Nelson, Bowling Green State University, Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition Chair), Jenni Brandon composed an evocative piece, an hommage to the jewel of Montana: Glacier National Park.  

I have participated in commission projects before as a performer.  It's always...interesting.  You're never quite sure what you will end up playing - which is both risky and very exciting.  You receive music and typically program notes/compositional ideas from the composer.  You are then given the great task of taking an idea and making it a reality, breathing life into something which has not yet been heard, creating the sound which will often set the precedent for how the piece is played in perpetuity.

Being a part of this creative process within a larger ensemble means that, mostly, your job is to show up, play the right notes, find the musical lines and help determine if/when they are errors in the parts.  Several editions of the parts may go back and forth between the composer and the performers.  Recordings of rehearsals can sometimes aid in this process depending on how "finished" the composer feels the work is.

My first involvement in a commission was in 1997.  Frank Tichelli's wondrous piece for wind ensemble, Blue Shades.  It has become standard rep for all the best wind ensembles but, for me, it will remain in my heart as a piece newly created and realized by several ensemble around the country.  Including the Interlochen Arts Academy Wind Ensemble, where I was playing my senior year of high school.  

After that, commission projects seem to come more quickly especially during my time as an undergrad at Manhattan School of Music.  MSM, a proponent of new music in general, seemed to always have new works premiering within the many different ensembles.  Two in particular stick out in my memory: Scott Eyerly's opera, The House of Seven Gables, which we recorded with Albany Records.  The second was a piece by Lucia Dlugoszewski who passed away soon after we premiered her piece for two chamber orchestras in different meters.  Sadly, the name of the composition escapes me and very little about her work can be found on the Great InterWeb.

Both of the experiences stick out in my mind because they were so wildly different from each other.  Eyerly's opera was tonal, dark, accessible, with a story line well known by listeners.  We spent many hours in rehearsal with the composer who actively made changes.  The performances were well publicized and the recording project an obvious priority for the composer and the school.  I was playing the second bassoon/contra part which required many fast changes between the instruments.  In one rehearsal with the composer, my haste to grab the contra resulted in my bassoon falling out of the stand, sliding across the rehearsal room floor and separating into its many joints.  There were some unpleasant words that issued forth from my mouth, a panicked retrieval of all the splayed parts, a few tears, and then a strong and awkward exchange with the composer about adequate rests for instrument changes.

In stark contrast, Dlugoszewki's peice was tackled by the New Music Ensemble under the unrelenting precision of Claire Heldrich - percussionist and master of all mind-boggling contemporary rhythms.  I recall the great challenge we faced and, honestly, never conquered in preparing and performing the piece.  Lucia joined us for one rehearsal wherein I would describe her response to us as...disappointed.  I don't remember the performance going particularly well and likely skulked off stage myself feeling completed incapable of managing the task at hand.

Both experiences had an element of unpleasantness attached to them.  When Dr. Cavanaugh told me of her desire to commission a new work, I was apprehensive.

Fortunately, Jenni Brandon is an absolutely lovely human being, a beautiful musician, as well as a gifted and collaborative composer.  We presented the piece for premier at the 2016 International Double Reed Society Conference in Columbus, GA along with Brandon's The Sequoia Trio for oboe, clarinet, bassoon.  I think we (all musicians) put quite a bit of pressure on ourselves when premiering new pieces (especially at our respective conferences) in front of respected colleagues and composers.  Unfortunately, I think the pressure of the premier clouded my personal interaction with the piece - more worried about the product and its reception by our peers than Jenni's musical intention.

At the end of this semester my oboe colleague at BYU-I, Kristen Bull and I decided to have a double reed studio recital.  To round out the recital I asked if we could perform Going to the Sun... for our students.  We rehearsed the piece four times and I was amazed at how easily it came together.  How all the sections made sense and, with Kristen's wonderful musical intuition, I felt like we were able to execute the segues organically.   Totally void of concern for the performance in front of our students, I found myself joyfully practicing  my part, listening to our rehearsal recordings, humming the themes and thinking of my four years in Montana.

Suddenly, the piece became an entirely new, beautiful, celebration and reminiscence of a magical time and place in my life.  

I created a video of all my favorite pictures from our family trips to Glacier National Park to play along with our performance.  As I chose pictures and continued listening to our rehearsal recordings, I was overwhelmed with the beauty masterfully depicted by Jenni.  I fondly remembered my weekly drives over the majesty of the mountains, my time at the university and all the many lessons I learned and memories I now cherish.

After Kristen and I performed it, I knew I had to put together my images with the live recording from our double reed studio recital - not perfect, of course - to truly capture what I believe was Jenni Brandon's true intention for the work.  The end result is below and I am unabashedly in love with it!  I have watched this video numerous times and with each viewing, I'm amazed at the truly incredible creation of music I was permitted to take part in.

I'm so grateful to Dr. Cavanaugh and Jenni Brandon for being visionaries, using their formidable talents and resources to push projects just like these forward.  I'm especially grateful to have made a new and positive memory with a commissioned work and truly look forward to taking part in these projects more in the future.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Marion Reinhard and the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet: BYU-Provo

During my undergraduate study at the Manhattan School of Music (1999-2002) I became obsessed with the Berlin Philharmonic bassoon sound.  To me, it was the most beautiful, musical, dark, luscious sounding bassoon section of any major orchestra in the world.  I described it to my sister just yesterday like this,

"Imagine you have curled up in front of a fire on a cold and dreary day with a book you know you love.  The book itself has that unmistakable musk found in used bookstores - old leather and brittle pages. You curl up with this book, in front of the fire, under a blanket, on a day when you have absolutely nothing else you need to do - in fact all that you needed to do, has been done.  You have nothing but this wonderful book and the luxury of the day.  This is the sound of the bassoon section of the Berlin Philharmonic: warm, dark, luxury."

I was an undergrad during a time when you purchased CD's.  Almost all somewhere in the $12 - $20 price range unless you dug deep in the clearance bins and found a treasure.  Once a week I would head down to Tower Records at Lincoln Center (because Virgin Records at Times Square was always too expensive and didn't have nearly the immense classical section), travel up to the second floor and pass through the doors into the classical section.  I had to choose my recordings very carefully: cost, label, orchestra.  Could I afford it, was it recorded under a reputable label, was it an orchestra with a section I loved? 

I don't know how much I spent on CD's during that era but I do know that almost all of them ended up being the Berlin Philharmonic.  

The first time I heard the BPO Wind Quintet in person was during my masters degree.  Their tour included a performance in Utah at Weber State - it was everything!   October 9, 2010.

Marion Reinhard joined the BPO Wind Quintet in 2009 after the retirement of her BPO colleague Henning Trog.  It's important to note that Marion was the first female to ever received appointment to the Berlin Philharmonic bassoon section.  She achieved this in 1999.  You can read more about this in the NYTimes article Berlin in Lights: The Woman Question.  Lesser known fact about Marion that we discovered this weekend was that she now plays with the Opera Orchestra in Milan  La Scala.  On their roster it states she is the contrabassoonist.  She shared that after 13 years of playing with Berlin, she made the decision to move to Milan, where her boyfriend is from.  I believe that's what we call amore!  Marion also shared that she began playing the bassoon at the age of 16 after many years of violin study.

This weekend my flute colleague, Dr. Nadine Luke and I took BYU-I students to Provo to hear the BPO Wind Quintet and sit in on masterclasses with its members.   They performed a similar program to what I heard in 2010: Anton Reicha, Quintet, op. 88, no. 5; Pavel Haas, Quintet, op. 10; Samuel Barber, "Summer Music," op. 31; and Carl Nielsen's Wind Quintet.

On Friday night we enjoyed hearing: 
Danzi: Quintet in F-Major, Op. 56, No. 3
Reicha: Andante arioso for English Horn and wind quartet
Hindemith: Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2
Ligeti: Six Bagatelles
Nielsen: Quintet for Winds, Op. 43

It was simply wonderful!  It made me love the Hindemith, a quintet I haven't much been interested in, and confirmed why the Nielsen is part of our standard canon.  It's impossible to count how many times I have listened to and played the Nielsen.  Yet, in the hands of the BPO Wind Quintet, the piece is as fresh and exciting as ever!  

Attending the masterclass with Marion rendered me absolutely star struck and I didn't ask everything I wanted to about her life, career, sound and reed-making.  I'm so grateful for Dr. Smith who, with many years of hosting incredible musicians under his belt, finds it very easy to ask questions and engage in light conversation within the parameters of the masterclass setting.  

I took away so much from her wisdom as she listened, played, and interacted with the student bassoonists.  Much I will keep for myself in my notebook but some I wanted to share here for others to enjoy.  I won't get into the repertoire specific feedback she gave but instead share some of her more precious sound bites.

"You have to change the system.  Don't go back to what you are used to."

Good Air + Controlled Breath = Better Intonation

Regarding the pacing of dynamics, "You have to fight for all these things!
It's hard work but it's more interesting  and more fun for you to play."

"Singing helps us get back to natural music making.  We lose this
because we struggle with technical things."

"Always control yourself when practicing."

"Always look for the most natural, relaxed way to play."

Anyone who has seen Marion perform has likely observed that she sits with a harness.  She shared that it is actually a guitar strap to which she has added an O-ring and hook and wears on the right shoulder instead of the left.  As a student she always stood in her lessons and, to this day, feels that playing with a harness is the most freeing posture for her.  

I still need to make it a #lifegoal to sit down and chat with Marion about her career and dissect her reeds.  However, seeing her perform again and listening to her up close in the masterclass was absolutely inspiring.  After the masterclass I found myself smiling really wide and thanking her when in reality I wanted to hug her - which I learned from our German exchange student is not acceptable (Americans...).

I would now like to rebuild my playing from the ground up!