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Putting the "Know" in "Innovation"

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Will I need to learn new fingerings?

No, this is the most common misconception with the Weisberg System. However, you do need to adhere to the correct standard fingerings. For example, the correct standard fingering for the F above the bass clef staff requires the use of the left hand low E flat or “resonance” key. This key, the E flat or “resonance” key, has an attachment which cancels out the Weisberg System vents in order for that particular F to respond cleanly. The option of playing both the E flat and the E natural above the staff without the use of the little finger E flat or “resonance” key remains in

place. The right hand third finger (G key) has a link that cancels out the Weisberg System. You will need to keep the whisper key down for the A natural, B flat, B natural, C natural, C sharp, D natural, E flat, E natural, and F natural that are in the primary range, or written bass clef staff range, of the bassoon. You should already be doing this regardless. A little finger whisper key is now a standard feature included on every Weisberg System that we install. This left hand little

finger whisper key is helpful for some passages where it may be difficult to keep the whisper key down, or the whisper key lock on. Mr. Weisberg did invent another key mechanism for operating the closure of the whisper key with the left hand little finger, but this is not a standard configuration on the Weisberg System.

2) Can you still use the flick keys?

Yes, you can still use flick keys, but it defeats the purpose of the system. However, if you do use the flick keys those notes will be slightly higher in pitch than normal if those said keys are left open. This is not much different than what usually occurs on a bassoon without the Weisberg System, only to a slightly greater degree. At the same time, it is very comforting to know that you can continue to use the flick keys as you wean yourself off of them. Many bassoonists still have the misconception that the Weisberg System completely negates the use of vent keys. That is simply not the case. It’s pointless to continue their use, but it does not negate them.

Furthermore, if for any reason, you would like to disengage the Weisberg System, it can be done simply by covering the new vents with tape, and you have your old bassoon back.

3) Will it improve my high register?

If you consider the bassoon high register to be the notes in the opening of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or the bassoon solo in Ravel’s Bolero, then the answer is no. The Weisberg System has no effect on those notes. The Weisberg System does improve the six notes, A natural through D natural, just above the bass clef staff. If you consider the six notes above the bass clef to be in the high register of the bassoon, then the answer is yes. There is a key system also invented by

Arthur Weisberg that does greatly simplify the high range, but that is another innovation


4) Will I lose any alternate fingering?

No, is the short answer with some exceptions. If you run across a non standard alternate fingering that is not responding then you simply need to add the whisper key, the left hand little finger whisper key, the E-flat “resonance” key, the third finger of the right hand, or otherwise close the newly created vents by some other means to get that particular alternate fingering back. Any of these maneuvers will close the newly created vent holes on the Weisberg System. The book Hugh Cooper co-authored with Howard Toplansky, Essentials of Bassoon Technique, is considered by many to be the very best source for alternate bassoon fingerings. I can tell you that any lost alternate fingering that the Weisberg System might interfere with as described in Essentials of Bassoon Technique, can be restored by one of the methods described earlier in this paragraph. One might find an alternate fingering that does not work well with the system, but again, it can easily be recovered by one of the means described above. If you needed to temporarily shut down the Weisberg System vents for a particular passage, then by all means do so.

5) Will I lose any multi-phonic fingering?

To the best of my knowledge the answer is no. Arthur Weisberg wrote one of the definitive books on the interpretation of 20th Century music, Performing 20th Century Music, a Handbook for Conductors and Instrumentalists. Certainly, he would have noticed that the system he created detracted from a technique that is such an integral part in performing some 20th Century music.

6) Who is using the system now?

There are now well over twenty people performing on bassoons with this system. They range from members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, former members of the New York Philharmonic, university professors, and amateur bassoonists. This system has something to offer bassoonists at every level of playing ability.

7) How long will it take me to adjust to the system?

The answer varies with the individual. I picked up a bassoon with the system two weeks prior to

my performance at the 2009 IDRS Conference. I had prepared for this performance prior to that point on a bassoon without the system. Other people may want to have a month or longer to get used to it. If you are in a high profile position, principal bassoon in a major orchestra for example, you may want to live with a Weisberg System bassoon for a little while. That’s exactly what we did with Dennis Michel of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Dennis did get to the

point where he felt that he had to have the system on both his Fox bassoon and his Heckel bassoon. He now performs exclusively on a Weisberg System bassoon. We are working through a similar situation with David McGill. David McGill has told me that he intends to record all 50 of Ludwig Milde’s Concert Studies for Bassoon with his newly written piano accompaniment, and that he believes several of them cannot be played cleanly without the Weisberg System.

8) How long does it take to install? Why?

Currently, I do not schedule completion of the installation for less than six weeks. It can be completed in four weeks, sometimes less, if you do not want the new keys to be plated. You can schedule a separate time for the plating to be done if that is more convenient for you. Outsourcing of metal plating is the industry standard and typically takes two weeks to

accomplish. It is what both the Fox bassoon company and what the Schilke trumpet company does. Metal plating is an art in and of itself. My father worked as a metal finisher and I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is something best left to specialists in that line of work. Overall, it is a very labor-intensive job to make and fit new keys for a specific bassoon. Although the end product may not look particularly complicated, there are well over fifty parts that are fitted together that go into the making of a Weisberg System. So far, all of the bassoons completed were retro-fitted, which is to say they left the factory without the system on them. This makes it especially difficult, because great care is taken to perfectly match what already exists on the instrument. Another time consuming factor is that until very recently, only one person was qualified to do the work. We now have a second person and former student of mine, Sara Garing, trained and assisting in the process. Sara just graduated from Indiana University with a Master’s degree in bassoon performance. She also studied violin making with Thomas G. Sparks at Indiana. She has apprenticed with James Keyes for the last two summers, and all of her free time in between. She made and fitted most of the keys on the new bassoon that I played at the 2009 IDRS Conference.

We have installed the system on many makes and models of bassoons, and we have kept meticulous records and blueprints for each one. Every bassoon is different and those differences often mean that the key placements need to be altered. This necessitates the making of special tools to work on each instrument. We now have specific tools and plans saved from previous installations for use on future installations of the Weisberg System. Unfortunately, there is no “standard” bassoon. Even in a particular bassoon company, changes are made from model to model, and oftentimes within the same model from one serial number to the next. Fortunately we are at the point where we have done enough different bassoons that the process is much more under control and predictable than it was at the beginning. Still, there are glitches that occur

when a manufacturer has made a change in design, or if an existing trill key is in the way. E flat trill keys and the right hand first finger G sharp trill ring key are particularly difficult, but not impossible, to work around. Problems do occur, and those problems sometimes require extra time to solve.

9) Are there any manufacturers interested in the system?

Yes, we have negotiated a licensing agreement with Stephan Leitzinger of Leitzinger bassoons. He has had Weisberg Systems available on his bassoons since 2010. Additionally, the owner of the American Bassoon Company, Barry Trent, offers the Weisberg System on select models of new Fox bassoons.

10) Why does it cost so much?

Refer back to question eight for most of the answer on this one. The other reason for the seemingly high cost is that a little finger whisper key is included in the price. The price of the system was grossly underestimated when this adventure began. When I took over from Arthur Weisberg the first thing I did was to look at the time, material, and level of expertise that was involved to install this system. By the way, it is still very much under priced from what a leading expert in the bassoon industry recommended that we charge. Another fairly good comparison can be made between the Weisberg System and the Fast System for contra bassoon. Acoustically they do very similar things, and they are both labor intensive to complete. The price difference between a Fox contra and a Fox Fast System contra is over ten thousand dollars. The Weisberg System is less than half as much. Again, they are two different instruments, but the concept and result, acoustically, are very similar.

11) Is it really worth it? Why?

Of course my answer is going to be yes, but that depends only if you want to play the bassoon better. It not only simplifies the bassoon technically, it improves it acoustically. Consequently, in my opinion, it gives us the opportunity to play more musically. To better understand its value, let’s make some simple equations to see what physically happens

in a passage of notes that require a vent key. Then we will compare them to what happens when we use a different way to solve the same equations. In each of these equations 0 will represent either the starting position of the left thumb pressing down the whisper key, or the neutral position of our left thumb. Positive numbers will represent actual movement of our left thumb. When we flick or vent a two note grouping from a position of being on a note with the whisper key down, for example, the first space A of the bass clef, to a note where a flick key or vent is needed, such as the bass clef top line A, our left thumb moves to several different positions. Here is what physically happens with our left thumb in this particular two note grouping:

0 left thumb is in starting position pressing the whisper key down

1 left thumb releases the whisper key

2 left thumb moves or lunges toward an appropriate vent key

3 left thumb presses down an appropriate vent key

4 left thumb releases said vent key

Let’s now suppose that we had a different two note combination moving from a note where the

left thumb is already off of the whisper key, and we are moving to a note that requires a vent key

to be pressed down. A good example of this is the downward perfect fifth slur between the F

above the bass clef to the B flat on top of the bass clef.

Here is what physically happens with our left thumb in this particular two note grouping:

0 left thumb is in neutral position off of the whisper key

1 left thumb moves or lunges toward an appropriate vent key

2 left thumb presses down an appropriate vent key

3 left thumb releases said vent key

If either of these maneuvers happened perfectly we should indeed be commended. It was a physical act of Olympian proportions, especially if that particular two note combination was a

fast one.

Now let’s look at the same equations if we were to use a bassoon with the Weisberg System which automatically does the venting for us.

In moving in octaves upwards from the bass clef first space A to the bass clef top line A, here is

what happens physically with the left thumb:

0 left thumb is in starting position pressing the whisper key down

1 left thumb releases the whisper key

In moving downward by a perfect fifth, as in the case of the F above the bass clef staff to the B

flat on top of the bass clef staff, here is what happens physically with the left thumb:

0 left thumb is in neutral position off of the whisper key

0 left thumb is still in neutral position off of the whisper key - no movement necessary

When we compare the first equations of upward octaves, we save three steps thereby reducing the number of steps from 4 to 1, which is a 75% increase in efficiency. When we compare the second equation of a downward fifth we reduce the number of steps from 3 to 0, which is a 300% increase in efficiency. At the same time we, hopefully, have been able divert our attention away from something totally technical, flicking or venting, on to something totally musical - interpreting a musical line.

12) Here’s my own FAQ to the bassoon world: What is good?

This is a question borrowed from my friend, teacher, and mentor, James Keyes. I find it really helpful in quantifying music, craftsmanship, and excellence in all that we do or attempt to do.

When we, as bassoonists, produce any of the six notes, A through D, located just above the bass clef staff without cracking, the usual and appropriate response from our teachers or fellow musicians is “That’s good.” Now, let’s listen, look, and think about what just happened. The chances are very good that we used a flick or vent key to make this achievement happen. We may have even truly flicked or tapped the appropriate and carefully selected vent key to let that key close quickly enough to hide the noise or flaw in the sound that is sometimes produced when we use a vent key. We may have left that key open and adjusted our embouchure, throat position,or air pressure to force an otherwise problematic note into a position of fitting, or almost fitting, into the notes around it. If we are lucky, we will have had in our possession a bocal, a reed, or a bassoon that made all of this just a little bit easier. It’s equally likely that we are very proud of what we just did. After all, we spent years, sometimes decades trying to master this difficult maneuver. What we failed to realize, because we have probably never heard it, is the particular flicked note did not resonate like it should. Acoustically speaking, it is impossible for the note to resonate properly without an appropriate vent hole on the bassoon. It also may not have blended very well into the notes around it, but it was close. It was, as we all too often say. “Good enough.” Now, I would challenge anyone to compare that same little passage that involved a flicked note to do the same thing with a bassoon equipped with the Weisberg System. Then ask yourself, “What is good?”