Studying Reed-Making with Louis Skinner, Part 1

Bassoon Reeds

Like many bassoonists of my generation, I studied with Louis Skinner. His ideas and techniques were, for the time, a revelation for us young bassoonists. It is now somewhat ancient history, and I will be undertaking several articles about my experiences and thoughts on how to use his ideas. He helped me immensely with improving my reed making, and it helped me become a better bassoonist because of it. Although I still use his ideas, my take on it may differ from others. I didn’t just follow blindly what he told me, but developed what I was shown and developed my own style.

When I first encountered Mr. Skinner, I was already an experienced reed maker, and after he looked at what I produced, he exclaimed that I knew how to scrape and adjust a reed well. What I didn’t know was how to help stabilize the reed, and keep it from collapsing. This was my first big breakthrough. The use of 21 gauge wire helps keep the opening open, and with a firm first wire, the reed stays vibrant and responsive. What a difference that made!!

After all the theoretical information he gave me, we went on to learn several different styles of reeds, and this was where I started to have problems. I remember a conversation I had with Stephen Paulsen a few years later when he said he went to Skinner, and he could never get Skinner’s ideas to work. I was there now. I would use the scrapers to alter the gouge, and make my blanks. The problem was that the sound would change as expected, but the reeds became less vibrant and flexible as well. I was at cross-roads, and I needed to find a way that worked better. I didn’t want to forgo the colour change for my older reeds that weren’t as complex, and not as potentially great reeds.

What I was finding was my reeds were stiff, no matter what, and I felt it was due to the gouge alteration that I was making. I was taking off as much as .15 millimetres from sections of the cane and the cane was extremely hard, too hard in fact compared to what was around it, so flexibility was sacrificed for a wonderful depth of sound.  There had to be a compromise.

I started trying to find how far I could go with gouge alteration where I could get the depth of sound, but without sacrificing response, and flexibility. The techniques I found, would be part of what I continue to do to this day.

End of Part 1…….

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