An unconventional orchestra

I'm a strong supporter of new music. After all, as they say on Composers Datebook, "all music was once new." For me, a thing I feel we have lost in "classical" music is the art of improvisation. Baroque masters frequently improvised, but it seemed to become unimportant for classical players. Jazz musicians frequently speak of the freedom they feel while improvising, a way of expressing themselves that can't exist when playing what is strictly written on the page. As a senior at Lawrence University a student composer wrote a piece for me in a modern classical style that included extended improvisational sections. The desire to improvise more increased through grad school when I eventually was turned on to the music of Paul Hanson. Paul, for those of you that don't know, is an improvising jazz bassoonist that uses a lot of interesting effects on the bassoon to transform it into something different: an electrified bassoon. Mind blown, as they say.

So I started to emulate his ideas, started practicing jazz music, and developed my own electric bassoon pickup that I now use with a wealth of effects, or "stompboxes" that are all primarily designed for guitarists. I even made the focus of my doctoral dissertation about elements of jazz in more standard bassoon literature.

This week I have the wonderful opportunity to play as one of the original members of a new improvising, new-music, ensemble in Minneapolis called The Cherry Spoon Collective. The "orchestra" consists of mostly traditional band and orchestra instruments: violin, cello, clarinet, bass, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, but also guitar, drum set, spoken word artist ("rapper" isn't quite the right term in this context), and I play not just bassoon, but electrified bassoon. The members of the group are modular, with no set instrumentation for every performance, and everyone is an improviser at some level. We perform all new music, most of it commissioned for this ensemble. Many of the works are incredibly loose in structure, requiring the musicians to play in contemporary styles of rock, R&B, and hip hop, follow unusual road maps, unusual harmonic structures, solo over chord changes (or over no chord changes). It's a far cry from Tchaikovsky, but just as listenable!

Cherry Spoon Collective, in rehearsal at Studio Z in St. Paul, MN

You can't see it in this photo, but I'm using a series of effects pedals to create some extra sounds, as well as provide some basic sound support for my instrument in order to be heard while a drum set is playing. In order to access the effects easier I stand to play.

The Cherry Spoon Collective is performing this Friday, April 26, at Studio Z in St. Paul, MN. We're performing the same set of music twice, at 7pm and at 9pm. It's free, and all-ages.

For more information on my electric bassoon, and on my other improvised and jazz related projects, visit my website.

Subscribe to our Newsletter