Performer / Teacher Blog

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish 

Things have been quiet on my website for a while, but there is a good reason. Big life changes are happening! My Air Force enlistment was up in January, and I decided not to re-enlist. Instead, we have decided to move back to Ohio for at least a few years. So what have I been up to? Well, I auditioned for the DMA program at Ohio State and was offered the Teaching Associateship. Becky also has a great job waiting for her at the OSU Medical Center and will be in grad school as well. So, we’ve been getting this house ready to sell and trying to plan when and where to move. It’s been stressful, but we are very excited about this next step in our lives. We’ll be leaving Virginia soon, so thank you to everyone that has supported us as mentors and friends. 

What kind of Pre-gouger? 

Hello all, I recently acquired this pre-gouger and know nothing about it. Do any of you know the make/brand of it? It’s a nice dual system: one side with flat blade takes the cane down, then the other side with curved blade refines the pre-gouge further. The current blades are in bad shape, so I was hoping to track down some replacements. Any information is appreciated! 

What kind of music do you play? 

Both kinds, country AND western. Whoever can guess that movie quote gets a free reed. No cheating! But seriously, when you play the bassoon, you kind of get pigeon-holed into the “classical” music world. There is really no reason any of us HAVE to play a certain style of music. There are many artists that either dip their toes into another swimming pool of music and others that jump right in! As for me, I’ve gone wading a bit in some other pools and look forward to going deeper. 

When I listen to music, there are A LOT of different styles I enjoy and I bet most of us are like that. But when I play bassoon, I’m somewhat trapped by the job. For instance, a good comparison to the Air Force concert band is a pops orchestra. There is a lot of variety there, but still really within the confines of a “classical” setting. The same goes with the woodwind quintet, although a smaller ensemble certainly has much more flexibility. I also play saxophone (not great!) and have had opportunities to perform with the jazz band. Jazz is a setting that I was exposed to through high school and college, so I’ve never been too afraid to bridge that gap with my bassoon. That’s usually happened in informal settings where I’m just playing music with friends. But you never know when a new opportunity may arise...

A good friend of mine, Jason Cale, (an amazing guitarist and singer/songwriter) asked me a couple of years ago to collaborate with him on an original song that would feature bassoon. Once we had finished the song, Jason was ready for us to perform this at his local gigs as part of his set. We’re talking bars and brewpubs. He also wanted me to play other songs with him on bassoon and sax. Some were original, some covers. I was nervous... I’d never played with a rock band on sax or bassoon and had to figure it out. Well.... I jumped in! Some things I did well and some things were terrible. I was lucky that Jason was always positive and encouraging. I’m still not great in this setting and have a lot to learn, but I’m not afraid to explore this now. 

Fast-forward to today, and the Jason Cale Band’s new album ends with our collaboration. We played last Saturday night at the St. George Brewing Company for their CD release party and had a blast. Here are a couple of links that you can check out on YouTube. Also be sure to visit Jason’s website. His blues fusion band is the real deal, and you can download his album at

Hope you enjoy! ...J

Greetings from Oklahoma 

It’s been a special week! I have been in my hometown of Grove, Oklahoma for the last few days. The high school band was selected to perform at the Oklahoma Music Educators Association annual conference, and my old band director (Joe Wilhelm) asked me to be a guest soloist. I was honored that he thought of me for this occasion and was happy to be a part of this event. Originally, we were also going to do a concert at Grove’s new performing arts center, but alas a bad snow/ice storm kept that from happening. The conference in Tulsa is happening tonight though, and I had a chance to work with the band yesterday and this morning. The band is sounding great! Here’s an ARTICLE about it.

It’s also been a special visit since I’ve been able to spend time with family and also catch up with some old friends. Here are a few pictures from our rehearsal yesterday... these are in the new arts center I mentioned earlier. What an awesome facility. I hope these kids realize how lucky they are! Haha!

P.S. The solo piece is the Rondo movement from Weber’s “Andante and Hungarian Rondo”. 


Dog Breath Variations + Uncle Meat 

Played a little contrabassoon with the Christopher Newport University Wind Ensemble tonight. I often help out the CNU band or orchestra when my schedule permits. It’s fun to interact with the students there, and they usually perform some interesting music. Tonight was no exception, as one of the pieces with a lot of contra was Frank Zappa’s “Dog Breath Variations + Uncle Meat”. Be sure to search this piece out on the internet and give it a listen. Here’s a picture after the concert of a few students that were excited to see and hear a contrabassoon. L-R: Logan Tesca, Me, Katrina Napora, Brigid Donahue, Joseph Brown. Thanks for a fun concert students!!! 

NYC Metro Area - HoAB Concert Band Tour 

Today is Day 7 of a nine-day tour of the NYC Metro Area. If you’ve looked at my “Events” page, you probably notice there are only five concerts listed for this tour. Well, I have a secret that I’m going to share with you. I also play saxophone with our ceremonial band that has been working a lot on this tour for various Veterans Day events.

A few of those interesting events... Last Sunday the ceremonial band performed all the service songs and the national anthem at the NY Giants football game. Then Tuesday we were up bright and early to perform on Fox News morning show at Times Square with the Secretary of the Air Force, and tomorrow we’ll be marching in the NYC Veterans Day parade. Also tomorrow, my quintet will be performing at the NYC Mayor’s Veterans Day Breakfast to start off all the festivities for that day.

As for Concert Band, we’ve had some great audiences and have gotten to perform in some beautiful venues. Last night we were at the historic State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. Here is a picture of me and my colleague Chris Stahl during soundcheck. 

Goodbye Maine 

Flying back to Virginia today after a ten-day tour in Maine. My previous post was about our first concert on this tour at Snow Pond Arts Academy. Our final concert of the tour was last night in Bar Harbor. We were all glad we got to start and end the tour with great venues and enthusiastic audiences! Since our concert was in the evening in Bar Harbor, the quintet decided to get up early and spend some time at Acadia National Park. Here are a few photos from Cadillac Mountain and the coastline near Thunder Hole. Overall, this was a fun tour of the beautiful state of Maine! 

Thank you Snow Pond Arts Academy!  

Yesterday, the quintet performed for the 150+ students at Snow Pond Arts Academy in Sidney, Maine. What a great group of students! We treated this gig as a performance and masterclass. This involved performing a wide variety of music, talking about the pieces we performed, and even demonstrating our instruments individually. We also had some fun playing our “auxiliary” instruments... Ukulele, Concertina, Penny Whistle, and hand percussion. The students also asked a lot of great questions about music, our Air Force jobs, and how we work together and prepare for tours. 

Oh, and the setting of this school is beautiful. It is somewhat secluded in a rural area that is very scenic. Here’s a picture of the quintet after the performance. Thanks again to everyone at Snow Pond! ...Jesse

First Lesson 

This evening I gave a lesson to a new student that is just now starting bassoon. The student has played saxophone since 6th grade, and is now in high school. I have found that most young bassoon players start out on a different instrument and usually start learning bassoon a few years later. So, this got me thinking.... What do I try to emphasize on the very first lesson? Here is what I focused on tonight...

1. How to put the instrument together - This starts with the names of each piece of the bassoon (boot, wing joint, long joint, bell, bocal) and then putting it all together. I demonstrate on my bassoon how each piece should line up, and then let the student do the same with their bassoon. 

2. The Reed - I talk about soaking the reed for a few minutes in clean water before use. We then talk about embouchure and how the reed should sound. There are a lot of different ways to describe the bassoon embouchure, so I usually begin with how the lips are shaped while whistling. I also emphasize the sound of the crow, which means both blades are vibrating and creating sound. If the embouchure is incorrect, the reed will not crow. Last I talk about articulation, or what part of the tongue should contact the reed. Generally, I encourage just above the tip of the tongue coming in contact with the tip of the bottom blade of the reed.

3. How to hold the bassoon - I start students with using a seat strap. I like the strap to be towards the front edge of the chair. This forward pivot point ensures as little weight of the bassoon as possible is felt in the left hand. The height of the bassoon is adjusted by pulling the seat strap either to the left or right. Bassoonists should sit up comfortably (not rigid) and the bassoon reed should naturally be at the height of the mouth. I tell students NOT to adjust their body to the bassoon, rather adjust the bassoon to the body. Finger placement is also discussed at this point in a very general sense.

4. Reading bass clef - The majority of new students aren't very familiar with bass clef. So, I give them a cheat sheet that has the lines and spaces labeled. I explain that the two dots in the bass clef sign enclose "F". This is always a good point of reference to remember. Now I show them the fingering chart. We look up "F" and I explain how the fingering chart works, and which symbol corresponds with each finger. This is of course on a basic level... tone holes, whisper key, pancake key type stuff. 

5. Play some notes - I start on the easiest note, which is the "F" that involves the whisper key. Once they get a decent sound I play my "F" and have them match the pitch. Again, I reinforce the embouchure and how much it can effect the pitch. We slowly add one finger at a time to go down the scale, so "F", then "E", "D", etc down to low "F", referring to the fingering chart for each new note. Once the student can comfortably go up and down this scale, I introduce "Bb", instead of "B natural" so that the scale is now "F Major". 

6. Swab the instrument - Last is taking the bassoon apart, swabbing it out, and fitting all the joints back into the case correctly. Also ask student to blow excess moisture out of the reed, and store it in a reed case or a reed tube with vent holes. 

7. What to practice - After this first lesson, I encourage students to ask their band director for an intermediate level bass clef band method book such as "essential elements" (or whatever band book the school uses). This will let the student practice very easy melodies while trying to learn bass clef and learn new fingerings. I remind the student to use the fingering chart that I provide. 

You'd be surprised how quickly the lesson is over after trying to get through these topics. It really is a lot to take in for a student taking on such a challenging instrument. I do feel that if you get these basic concepts down though, the student has just enough knowledge to start experimenting with the instrument and learning new fingerings on their own. After a few lessons of working out of a band method book, it will be time to push the student more and start working out of a real bassoon method book and learning scales. Of course these topics are for a later post. I'm curious for the teachers reading my blog are these the same concepts you try to emphasize initially as well? Any other bassoonists experience similar initial lessons or was it completely different? Please feel free to comment with your experiences. Thanks for reading! ...Jesse

Quintet tour to Maine 

One aspect of my Air Force job that I really enjoy is performing in a woodwind quintet. A traditional woodwind quintet includes Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Horn (aka French Horn). Of course a lot of people ask why a horn, which is a BRASS instrument, is in a WOODWIND quintet. I usually reply that is none of their business. But in all seriousness, small ensembles became standard largely in relation to the evolution of the orchestra. Without getting into too much detailed history, there was a time when orchestras were much smaller and consisted of a string section, woodwinds, and the only brass were horns. Naturally, composers also wrote music for these sections and the horn plus woodwinds was the WIND section. This is when we began to see the standardization of the string quartet and the woodwind quintet. 

My quintet at work is called “Heritage Winds”. We are going on tour next week to Maine. Normally it takes us a few weeks to prepare for a tour. This involves picking out our music and then rehearsing it. We typically rehearse a few days a week, and each rehearsal is two hours long. One of the pieces we are working on is called “Quintet No. 2” by Alec Wilder. There is a really good recording on YouTube of this work performed by the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet.

Thanks for reading everyone, if we get some decent recordings on our tour, I’ll be sure to post them. ...Jesse