Ways in which to blend with other instruments: vibrato, timbre, and articulation. Terry B. Ewell and Quintigre (Towson University’s faculty quintet). Bassoon Digital Professor # 82.

<music: Nielsen Quintet, first movement>

Hello, welcome to this video on playing bassoon in a wind quintet. I am Terry Ewell and I welcome you to the second video in this series. In this video we will be discussing the unique role the bassoon has in the wind quintet. First, of course, the bassoon is the lowest sounding of the five instruments and therefore usually carries the bass line in the quintet. That is a very important functional role. But in addition to that, and this is what I want to concentrate most on in this video, the bassoon is a bit of a chameleon. It has this ability to blend with the other instruments in unique ways that the other instruments don’t have. I will talk to you in this video about how to enhance that ability, that ability blend in terms of vibrato, in terms of timbre, and in terms of articulation.

You might say that the bassoon and oboe comprise the majority instrumentation in the wind quintet. There are two double reed instruments in the wind quintet, one single reed instrument, one flute that doesn’t have a reed at all, and there is one brass instrument. There is a sense in which the bassoon is part of the majority. But the oboe itself has such a unique sound that it doesn’t necessarily blend with the other instruments. However, the bassoon can blend with the oboe. There are things you can do on the bassoon to blend with the flute, actually both upper winds. There are things you can do to blend with the clarinet; things you can do to blend with the horn.

Now most important for blending with the clarinet and the horn is the fact that typically they are played without vibrato.  So if you as a player want to match them more closely, then you need also to play without vibrato or hold your vibrato to a minimum. Take for instance, the start of the second movement with the clarinet. In this case I am background to the clarinet, the clarinet takes the lead. I purposely play with very little vibrato, if at all, so that I am matching the clarinet sound.

<music: Nielsen Quintet, II.>

Now you can probably observe even more, in Variation 1 with the horn, how I am trying to match the horn. I minimize my vibrato so I match the sound quality of the horn. Here is Variation 1

<music: Nielsen Quintet, III, Variation 1>

But I go beyond matching the horn by not using vibrato; I try to match the horn in timbre. By doing so, I am trying to get as dark a sound on the bassoon as I can—without a lot of reediness to it—but with a full, rich, sound. The way in which we can adjust to the other instruments is by adjusting the vowel in our mouth. With the horn I use the darker vowel, “ah;” to get a lighter sound I would use the “ee” vowel. I am not voicing it in my mouth, but I am changing the tongue position. I use the “ee” vowel when I want to blend with the upper winds—flute and oboe.
In addition I make adjustments in the embouchure. I want to bring to your attention an article I wrote that goes into far more detail. First off, the book is Celebrating Double Reeds. This was published by the International Double Reed Society. I highly recommend the book. I was editor of the book as well as an author of a couple of articles. The article I want to refer you to deals with the embouchure on the bassoon.  This for instance, is one of the figures in the presents the bassoon reed and the embouchure positions on the bassoon reed. I don’t have time to go into full detail here, but let me demonstrate here. If we have your bassoon reed and let’s pretend that this is your embouchure. The further your embouchure is towards the wire, the more reed material you will have in your mouth, and consequently the more vibration will come from the reed. If you want as reedy, as rich, as shawm-like a sound as possible, then you want to have your lips more toward the wire. As you bring your lips back, it tends to damped the blade more. As a consequence this gives a little bit darker sound: not quite so vibrant in particular. Varying your embouchure is very helpful for playing in different dynamic ranges. But I use it a lot for adjusting to the other instruments. For instance, the oboist in our group has a very sonorous, very vibrant sound and for that reason when I want to blend with the oboe I am putting a little bit more reed in my mouth to blend with her. When I want to blend with the horn I want it to be a little less reedy, so I am pulling my embouchure back a little bit and I am changing the vowel in my mouth to more of the “ah” vowel to darken my sound to try to match the horn as best I can. I do all that to try to match the horn.

Now in addition to the timbre differences on the bassoon reed, I also adjust my articulation. It is very easy on the bassoon to articulate rapidly with quite a start to the note, with quite a point to the note. When I am performing with the horn, however, I have to adjust my articulation. I want to thank my colleagues in the quintet for helping me re-discover this and work on this further in the context of the Nielsen Quintet. So let me an example of where we as a quintet discussed this, they helped me better match the articulation in the horn. This is in the opening of the third movement.

If you take the bassoon reed and you tongue right in the middle—the center—you will get a very sharp start to the note. It will be very, well, it will sound like a double reed. What I found is that by tonguing off to a corner, off to the side a little bit, I was able to have a softer, more rounded release to the note. It is better able to match the horn. So let’s see if I was able to match the horn in the opening of the third movement in terms of the quality of the tone and the start of the release.

<music: Nielsen Quintet, III, opening>

I hope that you could hear that I was really trying to round out the tone and make for the adjustments there. If you want to have very percussive tonguing on the bassoon then you can tongue right in the center. Sometimes this is very effective in the low register, a way to pop out notes and to have that percussive tonguing.

Here is an example of a change in timbre where I lighten my tone, in variation 6, to match the flute.

<music: Nielsen Quintet, III, Variation 6>

<music: Nielsen Quintet, first movement>