Taming the Beast -Advanced Orchestration for Contrabassoon – Part 5 – The Solo Contrabassoon

The solo Contrabassoon is the rarest sound in the orchestra.  You can point to great solos for every single instrument that are lyrical and beautiful, but it’s nearly impossible to find for the Contra.  Even the rare visitors to the orchestra, like Alto Flute, Oboe d’Amore, Bass Oboe and even Flügelhorn have more extensive orchestral solos than the regular Contrabassoon.  So, when the solo Contra does appear, it’s a rare treat. Continue reading “Taming the Beast -Advanced Orchestration for Contrabassoon – Part 5 – The Solo Contrabassoon”

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Taming the Beast -Advanced Orchestration for Contrabassoon – Part 4 – Orchestral Combinations

Today, I will look at some common and not so common orchestral combinations involving the Contrabassoon.

Contra and Basses

This is by far the most common orchestration device for the Contrabassoonist.  Assuming a large section of Basses (6 or more), the Contra’s sound, in unison, will blend in and not make much of an impact.  The real reason for this is to add solidity to the bottom of the orchestra.

To best illustrate how this works, I will use a personal experience.   Continue reading “Taming the Beast -Advanced Orchestration for Contrabassoon – Part 4 – Orchestral Combinations”

Taming the Beast – Advanced Orchestrating for Contrabassoon – Part 3 – Dynamics

One of the biggest complains I’ve heard from fellow Contrabassoonists is about the extremes of dynamics.  While the Contra is an instrument of extreme depth, it is not an instrument of extreme dynamics.

Imagine if we will a simple volume continuum from 1 to 10.  One being the softest and 10 being the loudest. At the soft end, we have the near nothingness of a clarinet’s niente.  I will call this a 1 dynamic.  At the loud end, we have any of the heavy brass playing at their absolute fortissimo. We will call this a 10.  There is no Spinal Tap 11.  The Contrabassoon cannot play at either of these extremes. Continue reading “Taming the Beast – Advanced Orchestrating for Contrabassoon – Part 3 – Dynamics”

Taming the Beast – Advanced Orchestrating for Contrabassoon – Part 2 – Technique

Technique on the Contrabassoon, because of its different fingering scheme, is different than that of the Bassoon, but not radically so.  In fact, some things are easier on the Contra than on the Bassoon.

All that said, the technique of the Contrabassoon is the least refined of all the instruments in the orchestra.  The good news is, the Contra does not need to be as agile as any of the other instruments.  As the lowest instrument in whatever ensemble its presence graces, the notes must necessarily be slower. Continue reading “Taming the Beast – Advanced Orchestrating for Contrabassoon – Part 2 – Technique”

Taming the Beast – Advanced Orchestrating for Contrabassoon – Part 1 – Fingerings

I’ve said previously that the Contrabassoon is the most misunderstood and misused of all the woodwind instrument.  Strike that – the most misunderstood of all orchestral or band instruments.  As a Contrabassoonist, I’d like to offer my advice on how best to score for the instrument, the technique, and an all-around guide to everything Contra.

I will only be addressing the standard Contrabassoon, not the redesigned Contraforte or the Fast-System Contrabassoon.

Key System

Unlike all other auxiliary woodwinds, the Contra’s fingering system differs significantly from the primary instrument.

Continue reading “Taming the Beast – Advanced Orchestrating for Contrabassoon – Part 1 – Fingerings”

The most misunderstood instrument in the band

I’ve just completed the initial composition for a new work for band (more on that later), and in the process, I made a realization.  The piece is one of the most colorful I’ve written with huge parts for every instrument.  What I came to realize is that most people think of the Baritone Saxophone in the wrong light.

As I was scoring, I kept keeping the Baritone Sax in the mid to upper range of the instrument.  And that’s when it hit me, the Baritone Sax isn’t a bass instrument as it is normally treated.  This should have been apparent from the beginning – it’s in the name of the instrument.  It’s a baritone. Continue reading “The most misunderstood instrument in the band”