As a young bassoonist about a week before any big concert I’d loose sleep over “will I have a reed.” As I became proficient as a reed maker and felt I had control, these sleepless nights diminished. A few months ago I noticed that I no longer lost sleep at 2am over reed fears, I figured this meant I am now a reed genius. But last night at 2am I found myself once again awake, panicked.
On Saturday I’m playing a solo with the St Norbert College Wind Ensemble. I’m really looking forward to it. I have enjoyed watching the students grow in rehearsals and am excited to perform with them. Yesterday was my dress rehearsal. The band sounded the best they have to date. But I did not. I kept cracking notes. !!!! What? I don’t crack! But here I am playing a mini-cadenza and the E above the staff cracks. WT? An E, cracked??!?!?!!? Any time I took a finger off a vent key the tenor note of choice would crack. So my dress rehearsal turned into a dexterity etude with over concerned venting.
I was perplexed by this cracking. But knew the reed I was playing on was old-ish so figured it was dying and letting me know. Last night at 2am I was awake with the “OMG what am I going to do if my reeds keep cracking. What if it isn’t the reeds but my bassoon is broken? I can’t possibly drive to Toronto tomorrow to get it fixed and be back in time for the concert. OMG” Panic 101. Totally crazy thoughts about bassoon breaking in 1/2 while playing. Trying to play bassoon on a reed splinter. Really, my mind can be totally crazy and creative at 2am!
So in the practice room I go this morning. I MUST FIND A MAGIC REED. First reed I play on, cracks in the tenor register. I can’t even play a C without the vent key down. OMG. PANIC. Second reed does the same thing. OMG WORSE PANIC. Have I forgotten how to support the tenor register over night? Then I hear this little voice of reason way in the back of my brain. “Paula, how likely is it that ALL of your 9 current reeds all are afflicted with the same cracking illness at the exact same time?” Wait a second, there is something to that question. That does seem very unlikely. So I start to think about ways my bassoon can be broken. I’m wondering which tone holes could be a problem. Again, PANIC because I can’t make it Toronto to Shane and Frank (Marcus Wheeler Bassoon Repair) in the next 36 hours. And again, voice of reason, “what is the easiest solution.” Hmmm, well the notes that are cracking are all vented notes (well, and that random E that is truly unhappy at the moment) and the thing they have in common is the whisper key not being on, so maybe I should start there.
I look at the whisper key hole. It kinda looks like there is something in there. I grab a piece of reed wire and poke around. I use my bocal swab and clean out the bocal. I repeat this process twice more. I then put on the bocal and play. What do you know. My reed now works! And so does the other one! And the one from the dress rehearsal works too.
Moral of the story. Don’t panic. Look for the easiest solution. It is probably correct. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap!