Once more into the breech...
This spring, it's a lash-up production of Seussical, with lots of baritone, a heap of bassoon, some very poignant clarinet solos (very, very exposed) and enough flute to keep me pissed off as I try to hack the part (They've got a very nice flute lady who does all of the flute and piccolo heavy lifting from all three woodwind books.)
Aside from the absurd metrics used in the part (like alternating bars of 3/4 and 4/4 - apparently they never heard of 7/4 time) and the incessant modulation (one two page "tune" goes through no less than seven key changes), the arrangers have combined their effort to make the various bassoon parts as impossible to play as they could.
It's not that the music is that hard per se - other than a pair of broken chromatic runs, it all lies under the hands well. It's just that, in a "through-sung" work such as this, the music comes at you fast and furious, and bassoon playing, at least the way that I attempt to do it, is not suited to a "grab the horn off of the stand and start playing RIGHT NOW" approach.
I have my carefully prepared binder with the parts for this year's musicals all carefully assembled. (As this particular show is only performed six times, I've not gone all out and assembled "fold out charts" for the bad spots, which would ease some of my troubles.) In three or four places, the arranger has me moving from baritone to bassoon with only a brief applause interval or a couple of bars rest to make the change.
Now, in a show, some horn changes are problematic. Flipping a heavy tenor or baritone on and off of the stand is a risky maneuver, and not all horn stands are up to the challenge. But, even with my massive H-bar arrangement, throwing a bassoon into the mix makes for an evening of horror rather than of paid enjoyment.
Over the past five years, over half of the shows that I have done use the faggotte, and I approach every one with a sense of trepidation. From the cornball Pajama Game through a rearrangement of The Music Man and now to this (Seusical, it's almost as if people are trying to get to me.
So far, I've dealt with a dried out reed (forgot to put it in the pot after the last horn change), one reed stab next to my nose (with slight skin penetration, caused by a too quick hoisting of the horn with the reed in place - it's hard to believe that Napoleonic military bandsmen marched with these stupid things), nearly had the whole bassoon roll off my lap (dropped it there to play clarinet, and shifted in my seat a bit too much to get a good view of the conductor), and drank my reed bottle water by mistake (I dumped it into an almost empty water bottle during teardown, and then picked up the wrong water bottle for a quick drink). And, that's just over two nights - who knows what tonight will bring?
And, one time, with my "perfect" reed carefully placed on the bocal and a deep exhale and inhale to make ready, I waited for the "off the beat" entry point, made an embouchure, and - nothing! It was if someone had super-glued the reed shut. Two bars of panic later, the same reed performed flawlessly. Go figure...
Don't get me wrong - the bassoon is a wonderful instrument, with a lovely, varied tone and a rich history. It's just that it's not like a flute where you lift it to your lips and let fly.
I'm not much on the mechanics of the thing. The little reed work that I know I learned from my son when he played the bassoon over five years back in the 1990's, plus what I picked up from books on the subject. So, I take care to buy decent reeds in bulk, and go easy with the pliers and reed knife. And, the amount of extra junk that you have to tote around is a real pain - a minimal kit just barely can be jammed into the small compartment in the case. (Most dedicated bassoonists - like a friend of mine (and his brother, who married my wife's daughter) - carry around a fishing tackle box to manage it all.)
Still, there is that look of admiration in the eyes of others when you pick it up after a hundred bars of "hot" saxophone playing and start in on ornamented parts that are 180° out of phase with what you just played. It makes it all worthwhile.
I paid $333.33 (the net tax deduction worth for the horn - the owner got a new bassoon and was going to donate it to a school when I made him the cash now offer) for my horn, and put another seven hundred or so into it for overhaul and improvement costs (whisper key lock, rigging the boot for a ring, and fixing a long neglected crack in the long joint). All in all, it was money well spent, although I avoid playing it unless I have something in the offing. And, I should have had the keywork silver plated when I had the chance.
I just wish that the horn changes from baritone to bassoon, or bassoon to baritone, didn't always come up with a page turn as a bonus...