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Ever wonder what kind of wood a bassoon is made from? Here is our 2nd bassoonist, Carole Mason Smith, to answer some questions about her instrument.

 What kind of wood is a bassoon made from?CMS professional photo 

Maple is the preferred wood for making a bassoon, and it has to be aged and processed before it is ready to be made into a finished instrument.   A bassoon can be stained different colors such as mahogany, black, brown or even light brown, but maple is the material. However, student model bassoons are often made of polypropylene, a sturdy plastic more advantageous to durability than tone.


What are reeds made from?

Bassoon reeds are made from the same material as other woodwind reeds, a variety of cane known as arundo donax.   Many professional bassoonists make their own reeds, tailoring the reed to their own specific ensemble, repertoire, concert hall, and even the requirements of a particular piece of music.


How long does it take to makeIMG_20140228_103452_605 a reed?

To transform a tube of arundo donax into a bassoon reed can take several months since there are several procedures and the cane benefits from some rest between the procedures. If one does not want to undertake the entire process, there are double reed making companies which will do the rough work of splitting the tube, sizing the cane, pre-gouging, gouging, and profiling, leaving only the shaping, tubing, wrapping and finishing to the player. Even these last steps can take weeks as a reed benefits by several hours of ‘playing in’ accomplished over several days.


Why did you choose the bassoon as an instrument?

I was fortunate that my fourth grade band director, Carl Karoub, played horn in the Toledo Symphony Orchestra with my bassoon playing brother, James L. Mason. Carl realized our band did not really need me as thirteenth saxophonist, plus the school had a bassoon going unused, and most importantly, my brother might be coerced into providing me with lessons and reeds. I began studying with Jim that summer, and eventually even played two seasons with him in the Toledo Symphony!


What is your favorite repertoire to play in the SPCO and why?

Usually whatever we’re playing in the orchestra is my favorite. Melodies, harmonies and rhythms of that week’s repertoire stay with me; they stick with me until the next week’s music takes over. Of course it is a special pleasure when the wind section is featured in a Mozart, Strauss or Dvorak wind serenade, but almost every piece the SPCO plays has something exciting or beautiful which I enjoy.

SPCO Flutist, Alicia McQuerrey, talks about her experience as a Suzuki student, one of the first flutists to be taught in this method in the US.

Alicia, how old were you when you started the flute?

I was 7. I started piano at 5 and was better at piano until I was about 13 or so.  Now the only thing I can play on the piano is The Hokey Pokey!

How did you decide on the flute as your instrument?

At 7 my dad asked me what instrument I wanted to play in addition to the piano.  He was a high school band director and had a majorette in his high school band that was very nice to me.  She played the flute so I said, “flute, like her!”

When did you learn to play the piccolo?

I didn’t add piccolo until I was 15.  Our high school band didn’t have many at the time and every marching band needs a piccolo, although really, one is plenty!  My mom took me to the National Flute Association Convention in DC the summer before 10th grade and we found a used piccolo that did the trick.  My first was a wood Emerson.

Is it very different from playing the flute?  

The principles are the same but the embouchure aperture is much smaller.  The fingering system is the same however, piccolo players use “fake” fingerings.  These are special fingerings that don’t always work or aren’t needed on flute but that make intonation much better.  I didn’t have a piccolo teacher until Jack Wellbaum, former piccolo player of the Cincinnati Symphony, while attending UC-CCM for undergrad.  I enjoyed piccolo before but he helped me love it.  We had weekly studio classes and I had private lessons with him.  Mr. Wellbaum had a little black cat named Bob that sat on the music stand legs during lessons.  I never asked if he was born deaf or if he became that way from sitting through piccolo lessons.  Poor Bob!  A lone piccolo can play as loud as a full symphony orchestra so it is a powerful position to be in.  I like to think I use my power for good!

We always think of violin when it comes to Suzuki training.  Tell us something about the Suzuki method for flute.

Suzuki flute method was created with Mr. Suzuki by Toshoio Takahashi, who was a student of Marcel Moyese, the famous French flutist.  Moyese’s influence is seen in the Suzuki method from beginning articulation practice to the repertoire in every book. Suzuki flutists first learn to spit rice.  You literally put a piece of rice on your bottom lip and spit it off using your air and tongue.  This is called French tonguing.

How did your parents decide to start you in the Suzuki program?

My dad played 2nd horn in the West Virginia Symphony for 22 seasons and when I was ready to start flute, there was no question with whom I would study.  I was fortunate enough to start flute with June Warhoftig, then principal flutist of the West Virginia Symphony.  June was one of the first flute teachers to bring the Suzuki method to the US.  I believe there were only 3 certified teachers in the US at the time.  I feel so lucky to have started and graduated from the Suzuki method.  I really feel like it gave me the ear that musicians use their whole lives.  Suzuki’s methods are built on the idea that children learn their mother tongue by hearing it, repeating and being encouraged.  Suzuki students practice pieces at home, listen to and play along with recordings repeatedly, play together at monthly group classes and attend master classes throughout the year. Suzuki also uses triangle teaching-teacher, parent and child.  My parents had to come to each lesson and take notes.  They also had to learn to play a little so they could be my teachers during the week, between lessons.

What repertoire do you most enjoy playing with the SPCO?001A-crop

I have so many favorites!  I love playing the Beethoven Symphonies on flute and piccolo.  Mendelssohn always writes really beautiful flute duets within his works, so that’s fun, too.  I love doing really hard modern pieces that require me to play flute, piccolo and alto flute.  I have to totally focus allowing me to escape the daily life (shoveling snow, toddler melt downs from time to time, a dog who decides it’s too cold to go potty outside, etc.).  Recently I got to play a piece by Paul Schoenfield called Slovakian Children’s Songs with Stephen Gosling on the SPCO chamber music series.  It was so satisfying-beautiful lines, jazzy feel plus being very technically challenging, which for me equals a good pay off!  I’m looking forward to the chamber music week in March.  I’m playing Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 for Flute and Bassoon with Carole Mason Smith, and Jet Whistle with cellist Sarah Lewis, both compositions by Villa-Lobos.

( Alicia at age 10 )

Did you know that SPCO violinist, Daria Adams, and her husband, Minnesota Orchestra violist, Michael Adams, are co-directors of a summer chamber music festival in Napa Valley?


How many years has the chamber music festival existed?

This summer will be our 20th season.

What made you want to start your own chamber music festival?

Michael and I love to play chamber music, and have played in many festivals over the years, but decided it was time to create our own festival.  This was an easy idea to come up with, but not so easy to accomplish!

Why did you pick Napa Valley?

Actually, our first idea was to start a festival in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but that didn’t work out.  We have family in the Napa Valley area, and have visited the area often, so we thought it would be a great place to start a festival.

Where do you perform?

We perform in different wineries every year, although some are regular venues.  We play at Clos Pegase Winery every year.   The daughter of Walt Disney, who recently passed away, was the owner of the Silverado Winery, one of our biggest supporters.  Other regular venues are Hess, Beringer, Frog’s Leap, Markham, and Merryvale.

What are the dates?   M & D at Tonella's

This summer we are expanding to four weeks.  The dates will be July 29 – August 24.  We will be performing four different programs, and also open rehearsals.

For more information, visit:



How many trumpets does Lynn Erickson play? Our Second trumpet, Lynn Erickson, answers questions about her trumpets and talks about what it feels like to work with a therapy dog.

How many trumpets do you play?

Two of each of the following trumpets:  Bb, C, D, Piccolo.

One of each of the following:  Eb trumpet, Flugelhorn, Bb Cornet.Lynn wiht trumpets

The SPCO owns the rotary trumpets that we use, as well as the set of natural trumpets.

In addition to having a variety of trumpets, I also have to have a large number of mutes.  Each mute has a different timbre, and it’s nice to have a large selection so you can get the exact sound that you want.

I also use a number of different mouthpieces:  slightly smaller and shallower mouthpiece for the high piccolo trumpet, and a larger, deeper mouthpiece for most of the playing I do in the orchestra.

Trumpets, mouthpieces and mutes are tools, and as players, we need to determine which tools are best for the piece of music at hand.

How are they different?

The repertoire we play in the SPCO requires the trumpet players to be able to play on a number of different trumpets pitched in different keys.  In addition to modern piston trumpets, we also play rotary trumpets and natural trumpets (trumpets that have no valves at all).

The largest trumpet we play in the orchestra is the Bb trumpet, which is also the instrument that most trumpet players learn to play on.  The trumpet we play most often in the orchestra is pitched in C.  The higher the key of the trumpet is, the shorter the length of the instrument. We also use trumpets pitched in D, Eb, F, G, and the piccolo trumpet which can be pitched in A , Bb or C.  The Bb/A piccolo is half the length of the large Bb trumpet, and we use this instrument mainly in Baroque music (Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, etc.)

In addition to these trumpets, we also play cornets pitched in Bb or C, and the flugelhorn.  One question that is often asked is ‘what is the difference between a trumpet and a cornet?’  The cornet (and flugelhorn) has tubing that is more conical, the trumpet has tubing that is more cylindrical.  The cornet/ flugelhorn uses a more V-shaped cup mouthpiece, the trumpet a C-shaped cup.  The cornet/flugelhorn are coiled in a slightly different way from the trumpet, and look a little more compact.  Due to the different design of the instruments and mouthpieces, the sound of conical instruments is mellow and darker; the sound of cylindrical instruments is brighter, and can be more brilliant.

The rotary trumpet has rotary valves like a French horn, and has a darker sound that blends well.  The natural trumpet with no valves is the most challenging to play, is not as loud as a modern trumpet, and also has a unique sound.


Why did I choose to play the trumpet rather than the viola?

I started playing the trumpet when I was in the fourth grade, and chose this instrument because I liked the trumpet sound and thought it would be a fun instrument to play.  My parents enjoyed listening to classical music, and I regularly heard orchestral music that featured brass instruments.  The first classical recording I bought was one of the 1812 Overture-brassy stuff!


What is your favorite repertoire to play in the chamber orchestra?

Baroque!  I really enjoy playing the piccolo trumpet.


What steps did you go through to train your dog to be a therapy dog? 

My golden retriever Lacey and I are a therapy dog team, and do volunteer work at Methodist Hospital each week.  In order to become a therapy dog team, you have to first pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test.  We went to classes at the Humane Society in Golden Valley, and worked hard to master all of the obedience training required of this test.  Once we passed this level, we were able to register for the ten-week therapy dog training class.  When we had both passed the test for the therapy dog team certification, I explored volunteer options for a therapy dog team in my community.  We now volunteer on a weekly basis at the Melrose Institute, a part of the Methodist Hospital system.  Lacey brings a lot of joy to people with her visits, and also loves the attention that she gets.  It’s an enjoyable and unusual way for me to make a difference in my community.







Musicians of the SPCO honor retirees

We would like to acknowledge and thank those musicians who are leaving the orchestra for their musical and personal contributions that have helped to make the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra a world renowned ensemble.  Over the course of their tenure, the SPCO has done twelve international tours of Europe, Asia, and South America, many domestic tours, including Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and the Ravinia Festival. They have also performed in 49 recordings with artists such as Pinchas Zukerman, Hugh Wolff, Christopher Hogwood, Mstislav Rostropovich, Douglas Boyd, and Bobby McFerrin.  We are very grateful to them for their talents and friendship over the years.

The following is a list of the musicians who have elected to retire, along with the number of seasons performed with the SPCO:

Gary Bordner, Principal Trumpet – 31

Fred Bretschger, Assistant Principal Bass – 32

Christopher Brown, Principal Bass – 34

Evelina Chao, Assistant Principal Viola – 33

Thomas Kornacker, Co-principal Second Violin – 36

Brenda Manuel Mickens, Violin – 33

Michal Sobieski, Violin – 34

Paul Straka, Horn – 31

Tamás Strasser, Viola – 38

Thomas Tempel, Oboe – 44


Music Is The Mission, Not Money – by Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival, July 8

Each summer I like to say something hopeful and encouraging to all who gather here: ready to work, ready to be part of something wonderful, ready to create something beautiful and meaningful. And this summer is no different. I have so much confidence in you, and confidence in what we are doing. I believe in you, in your gifts, and especially in your ability to use very hard, purposeful work to make something of lasting value from those gifts. I believe what we do is important and that our society values it, as it should.

How management’s self-inflicted wounds are killing Minnesota’s two world-class orchestras—and what to do about it–Jonathan Eisenberg, MinnPost

Classical-music lovers need to continue to pull together, stand up and loudly say “Stop! Don’t do it!”

What’s left of an orchestra after a lock-out?– Norman Lebrecht, Slipped Disc

Click here to read Norman Lebrecht’s blog on

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra after the storm–Letter to Pioneer Press from Brad Eggen

The musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra reluctantly accepted a shorter season and a 19 percent wage cut, the contract their employer insisted was the only chance to restore them to the stage.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman described the move as adopting “major concessions,” and the musicians’ committee representative called this a contract needed “to assure that there will be a 2013-2014 season.” It is now time to digest the impact of management’s dissonant six-month lock-out of artists recognized by many as the finest chamber musicians in America.

Let there be no doubt about the severity of this uncommon attack on our Minnesota cultural heritage. This lock-out was a course that no orchestra board should aspire to follow. While SPCO management will remind you of the challenges faced a few years ago in Detroit and Philadelphia following the banking industry fiasco and our nation’s economic setback, great orchestras that we in Minnesota would compare ourselves to, including the orchestras of Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, have in the last year proven their financial resilience and uncompromising commitment to artistic quality with healthy contracts and modest salary increases. In the past two decades, the only two noteworthy orchestras outside our community that have been locked out by their employer are found in Indianapolis and Atlanta. Here in Minnesota, where we find the incredible Legacy Amendment and an engrained commitment

to exhilarating music as a foundation of our quality of life, the recent priority of brick and mortar structures over the artistic viability of their tenant organizations is mindboggling. Literally thousands of orchestra fans in Minnesota and beyond, and nearly all of the artistic partners hired by the SPCO to lead its artistic image, have screamed that diluting this cultivated SPCO product is not a pathway to health.
In the last half year, principal chairs in the SPCO have gone vacant as gifted performers picked up their families and left for more secure employment elsewhere. Management’s “cost-saving” contract induces a further reduction of the orchestra by incentivizing retirements, and consequently four more musicians will leave the orchestra in the next few weeks. Targeting the more experienced musicians, the Society’s retirement plan is designed to assure that several others will also leave by the end of this season. Historically, brilliant musicians throughout the world have been drawn to the SPCO as a destination site, but the pay scale ravaged by the Society’s austere bargaining is now far below the top tier orchestras in this country. As explained by a member of the orchestra committee, Carole Mason Smith, “the vast difference between the new SPCO annual salary of $60,000 and the salaries of other major American orchestras, many of which exceed $100,000, will make attracting such musicians very difficult.” Previously touted as “America’s only full time chamber orchestra,” the SPCO is now clearly a part-time organization with four months each year when no concerts are scheduled.

So what comfort can we have in the future of the orchestra that carries this city’s name? The forecast for the SPCO rests on the ability of the Society to reverse its cost-saving mentality and tap community and music industry resources to nourish the talent of the core group of world class musicians who remain:

1. Management will change. The SPCO Society has not had a chief administrator with prior experience operating a symphonic orchestra in the past six years, and its negotiation table featured an interim director with no executive experience leading a non-profit arts organization and no intention to stay. The appointment of a new president with a music background has now been announced and allows a chance for a renewed emphasis on artistic quality.

2. The current donor base is dedicated and must remain. Major long-term benefactors, uncomfortably drawn into the politics and details of the negotiations over the past many months, have consistently demonstrated their heartfelt commitment to the SPCO. It is to their credit that this organization has survived this traumatic challenge, and their stalwart support will remain for years to come.

3. The lock-out has identified a huge base of patron support which must grow. As the musicians sponsored their own concerts, and the Minnesota Legislature contemplated funding the orchestra musicians directly, the nation witnessed this community’s incredible loyalty and support for our unique ensemble. The pride for this orchestra has increased during the stress it has faced, and organizations like Save Our SPCO will draw further attention to the value of this artistic product and press for organizational reform and the growth of patronage.

4. Internationally renowned conductors and guest artists must return. One stunning dynamic of this embittering lock-out has been the consistent vocal support and commendation of the musicians by those who have served as featured conductors and guest artists over the past decades, including all artistic partners who have led this orchestra in the 21st century and its visionary leader Pinchas Zukerman who returned to direct the orchestra during the lock-out. These relationships have been challenged by concert cancellations, and the Society’s commitment to the opinions of their artistic leaders must be reinforced.

5. With new leadership, revenue must increase. It is axiomatic that a music organization cannot cut expenses, particularly the product it is dedicated to present, as a means to health. The Society must restore its revenue sources to attract and retain world-class talent. New management should have the passion and appeal to stretch the scope of the donor pool and target the government funds and private grant sources essential to sustain artistic viability. The excitement of returning to the stage and the forthcoming new concert hall will draw new crowds. Virtually unnoticeable price increases as small as $2 per ticket are inevitable. Patrons currently pay more for their appetizer beforehand than they do for the world-class orchestra performance, and revenue has markedly declined since ticket prices were sliced. It should be easy to sell one of the finest artistic products in the world if the staff is given the tools and guidance to promote exciting and innovative projects.

6. A healthy operational structure must appear. The role of a Board of Directors of a non-profit arts organization is to hire gifted experienced administrators and provide them with the opportunity to do their job, not to micromanage their chosen personnel or step into the shoes of administration. Certainly those who have attempted the conflicting roles of simultaneously serving on the Board and the administration will now recognize this error and move out of the day-to-day artistic operation and back to the business world occupied by attorneys, merger and acquisition specialists, and financial leaders.

7. Many gifted musicians held the course and will play inspiring music. The lock-out of musicians by the current management left exemplary Minnesota citizens without income, health insurance or other benefits for over six months, but their families were sustained by local donations, the emergency support of organized labor, and the remarkable generosity of union orchestras throughout America which sent sizable donations to the SPCO musicians. Those who remain are still the finest group of chamber orchestra musicians this nation has seen. They remain here out of dedication to this art and the high quality of life found in Minnesota. Despite the hurdles imposed on them, and the loss of many of their colleagues, they will pursue a path of artistic excellence that honors the music and this community.

Brad C. Eggen is an attorney and president of the Twin Cities Musicians Union.

Ray Hair, President of the American Federation of Musicians, speaks at the concert given by the Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony in support of locked-out musicians–YouTube Video

Click here to view Ray Hair’s speech at the Solidarity Concert for the locked out Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO.


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