You don't decide to be an artist, you discover that you are one. – James Baldwin
|October 3rd, 2019
On a crisp, rainy Saturday morning, September 21st, the Fon-Revutzky Studio held a masterclass with Scott Pool. Scott was kind enough to come give this masterclass during his Illinois recital tour. Scott is the bassoon professor at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, as well as being the Academy Director of the Talis Music Festival and Academy, and is a Moosmann Artist. Scott’s bassoon is distinctive and beautiful in look and sound, being a nice yellow and having a warm, full, soloistic tone color. Once all had found the room we began. After Scott introduced himself Andrew was first in the ‘hot seat’ with the first movement of the Mozart Concerto. Andrew recently won the Stevenson High School Concerto Competition with this piece, and performed it there with the orchestra five days later. After listening through until the recapitulation of the movement, Scott began work. First was questions and commentary about Mozart, the era, and the style of the piece. Scott explained that the Classical era is all about refinement and elegance, thus the music should be played with elegant refinement. This brought us into the tempo … Andrew was starting with a tempo of ~135 before settling in to ~120. Thus ensued commentary that elegant refinement should have music that is not tripping over itself, and not too excited; it should be a bit calmer, quick, but comfortable … this is not a race. When Mozart wrote this piece he was 17 years old, working as a court musician, a servant, and so followed the rules generally, and the rules of classicism in his music. Later on in his life he would flaunt those rules, and write opera making fun of the people for whom he had previously worked. (Don Giovanni) Andrew played through the opening bars at 120, with a more refined and calmer feel to the passage. Next we delved more into the arpeggio passage, aiming to hold back and not rush forward here. When we play with a beat/metronome, there are three ways to do this – play exactly with the beat, lean on the forward edge, pushing ahead, and lean back, driving along calmly (a Sunday drive). So, Scott played the beats, playing the role of the orchestra, with Andrew playing as written, with the goal of making the orchestra follow you, making the orchestra drag, and NOT pushing the orchestra. This is not the easiest thing to do, but Andrew began to get a feel for this after a couple of rounds. To help this along, Scott discussed aiming the groups, and holding the downbeat just a hair longer to help in this process (thus outlining the true melody in the passage as well). We then moved on back to the opening bassoon lines. Scott discussed what elements define Bb Major, what notes tell us that we are in Bb Major and not in another key. These notes are the Bb Major triad, Bb, D & F; and these make up the first 9 notes played by the bassoon! The first note NOT defining Bb Major is the Eb, in the tenor register, jumped to from the low F. Following this we have the high G which is a non-chord tone followed by the high F which is in the chord. This G is what gives this motive it’s sparkle, it’s flavor. Thus, with Andrew leaning more on these pitches, it opened up the phrase and gave it more direction. This concluded the time with Andrew on the Mozart, and brought us to the next person. Next up was Ethan, playing the ILMEA music, specifically the slow etude, Weissenborn #35. A discussion of etudes ensued, explaining that they are study pieces and exist to help us work on, and demonstrate, basic skills. Next Scott discussed why the Weissenborn is chosen for all-state auditions all over, and that it is considered the ‘bassoonists bible’, and has not yet been surpassed as an etude book for bassoonists. Scott made clear that there are MANY other exceptional etude books, but the Weissenborn is still the ‘gold standard’, and what everyone works through first, before moving on to others. After Ethan did a fine job playing through a large part of the etude we paused to discuss. So, what is Weissenborn trying to teach the player in #35? – steady rhythm, a sense of tone and line. The tempo marking is Andante maestoso; we generally say that Andante is ‘walking’, but Scott proceeded to explain that in speaking with an Italian friend, that the definition is more nuanced than that. Andante is more following, not just walking, but following, whereas Adagio is flowing, implying a bit more forward momentum. This etude has numerous large jumps, but our job here is to hide this fact, and not give the audience the sense of large jumps existing. Scott explained that it is useful to think of ourselves not as bassoonists, but rather as cellists here for passages like this. We often double celli in orchestra, so this is not an unusual thing for a bassoonist to need to be able to emulate. Ethan was changing timbre on the big shifts up, and so Scott began work to try to make the timbre of the notes match, thus helping to ‘hide’ the large leap upward. After a couple of times trying this, Ethan made this leap smoother, with good effect. This, as is so often the case, brought up a discussion of reeds, and how important they are in helping us get our point across, or how much they can get in our way. Scott discussed how after harvesting, cane is allowed to fully dry, which means that the ‘sap’ in the cane dries out completely; but, this means that making certain the reed is wet is a must, as the water is what fills up the empty spaces previously taken up by the sap! After a minor adjustment of opening up the first wire, the jump was able to be smoothed out even further, and Ethan was able to match the timbre better on the two notes even with the large interval. Scott then discussed that we do not change our embouchure to play higher notes, rather we simply use more AIR! We play a woodwind instrument, which is also called an aerophone, meaning air … we make sound by vibrating a column of air. Higher notes require more, and faster, air! For higher notes it is helpful to think of this analogy: as we play higher notes, we are opening more fingers/toneholes, so our 8 foot tube is leaking air, necessitating us to blow more/faster air to get it all the way to the end of our 8 foot tube! After all this work and discussion Ethan sounded more open and more confident in his playing. Scott concluded by stating that we must never mistake piano for puny! Now it was Mukund’s turn with the Rachmaninoff Vocalise. Scott was quite happy to see this piece, as he recorded it on an album along with other originally vocal pieces. Scott discussed what a vocalise is – essentially a vocal etude, used to focus on the music as there are no words, and thus no need to worry about diction, language, etc. This piece is well-loved and has been transcribed for most every instrument, as well as a version for orchestra. So, when playing this piece we need to think like a vocalist rather than as a bassoonist. Mukund then played through the first half of the Vocalise, showing his work and improvement on the tenor range of the bassoon. A discussion of dynamics ensued, and that they are fluid, not ‘set in stone’. The opening Eb … f vs pp … it is being played softly, and with less air, so the sound isn’t full. Scott discussed the see-saw for dynamics – air on one side and embouchure on the other. Lots of air equals little/loose embouchure, while little air equals more embouchure and biting. So, how do we play softer??? Scott had Mukund play the opening passage forte, then, using the same amount of air, had him play it softly. This is a difficult concept, but Mukund was able to get some of the effect happening. We should use the same air, push more and contract. Then Scott discussed projection, and playing ‘for ourselves’ vs playing for a room full of people; the sound must carry to all of them! Often when we play piano we mumble rather than project a soft sound. So, the goal is to then make your piano into what had been your mezzo-forte; adjust your level of volume based on changes in your reed, your audience, etc. Mukund then played the opening once more, at a dynamic Scott told only him about; while Mukund was clearly surprised to be asked to play the opening at what turned out to be mezzo-forte rather than piano, it did not feel over-bearing to those of us listening. So, dynamics are fluid, and piano is what you make of it in that moment, for that piece, for that performance, rather than an absolute. Scott then asked Mukund if he had the ability to play a CD, since this is no longer a given in todays world. Then Scott gifted Mukund his album of originally vocal works, which includes the Rachmaninoff. Last, but not least, up was Susan, playing the first movement of Galliard Sonata 1. Before a note was played Scott talked about perhaps putting your hair back in a tie when playing for those with long hair, as a strand or two of hair can get under a pad and mess up your playing. Scott then explained two issues he had, one within the past weeks, when the tiniest piece of something completely messed up his instrument and how it felt to play it. In both cases it took Scott roughly a week to find the problem, and in both cases it was the tiniest of things that one would not typically think could cause an issue. Susan then proceeded to play through the Galliard and did a fine job performing this music. Scott discussed bassoon embouchure, and that our goal is to just ‘stick it in your mouth and play’. This was followed by a discussion of bocal angle; you can play with the bocal coming downward towards your mouth, straight on, or upwards. When the bocal comes at a downward angle you get a closed off sound, while having it coming upwards gives a more open sound. The bocal should be anchored on the bottom lip, this allows you to be freer, and have a fuller sound; Susan is doing this well. Scott discussed his own unofficial ‘survey’, having watched numerous players playing … he has found that many European players play with a downward angle, and he can hear it in their tone color. Back to the music … the opening should be played with a fuller sound, and the air should be sped up; start with your mf being fuller/louder and not so soft. Again a discussion of keeping the timbre the same on notes in different registers, in this case on tenor E and C in the staff. Next Scott discussed voicing, i.e. coloring, notes. This involves tongue placement while playing, changing vowels, giving you different tone colors from the bassoon. As an exercise, with your teeth closed, say ‘ee’, then say ‘ah’ – on ‘ee’ the tip of your tongue is down, while the back is up, on ‘ah’ the tip of the tongue is down, and the back of the tongue is down as well. It was fun watching Scott & Susan do this in front of all! The opening of the Galliard should be on ‘ah’, with the tongue more open, giving you more projection and a rounder sound. Susan played through the opening again, with a significantly more open sound, freer, and with more projection. In conclusion we talked about being a relaxed player, sitting back in our seat, embouchure relaxed, etc. Scott showed how playing a scale, from low C up through high C, should be done with zero embouchure change, and ideally the timbre should remain the same throughout. He then took Susan’s bassoon and played the same thing (using his own bocal and reed), showing how the same scale is significantly less even. The ‘last piece of magic’ for Scott is his bassoon; the instrument helps make his job easier by being more even throughout all registers. We concluded with Scott asking for questions. Gerik asked him to play something for the group, which Scott joked was the most difficult question! After a bit of thought, Scott played a dance etude from a wonderful collection of Dance Etudes by Robert Stevenson. He explained that it is a set of dance etudes, with each providing an explanation of what that dance is and how it was performed. Scott explained again that etudes are important, and that he has a large shelf of a bookshelf full of etudes that he has played over the years, and continues to work on and replay. Scott then answered a few questions from the group. Finally, the Fon-Revutzky Studio gifted Scott a new reed case, custom ordered from Roger Garrett to match his bassoon. Scott loved it and was amazed by how well it matched his bassoon, stating that it literally looked like it was taken from the same piece of wood! He then explained how the grain pattern matched, as both had chatoyancy. He went into an explanation of the term, and how Bernd (Moosmann) only used pieces of wood with chatoyancy for his top of the line bassoons. All told, a very informative and fun morning. Thank you to all who put themselves up in front of everyone gathered, and to Scott Pool, for their time and talents!