There are two really annoying things about being a bassoonist. The first one happens when people ask what I play. “Ooh, that’s very unusual”, they say. “There can’t be many of those around”. The second one involves choirs.
My face sometimes has an unfortunate knack of revealing exactly what I’m thinking. And when someone expresses amazement that there are actually bassoons in an orchestra, well, I’m thinking “idiot”. It’s embarrassing, but I can’t help it.
I usually explain nicely that there are 2 of us in most orchestras, the same as the clarinet section and the oboe section. And the flute section. Actually, I sometimes wish I played the flute. No one ever says to flautists, “What’s a flute?” or “What does a flute sound like?” or “Is that like a clarinet?”
But getting back to the point, there are quite a lot of us out there. There are at least 2 bassoons in pretty much every piece of classical music you know. It’s just that it’s not a famous instrument, or glamorous, and Nicola Benedetti doesn’t play it. And you have to listen properly. First 8 bars of the Mozart Requiem. (Idiot.)
Anyway, choirs. The life of a freelance musician involves a lot of choral gigs. I did one in Arundel a couple of weeks ago – Haydn, The Creation. Nice tunes, great words (“rolling in foaming billows” – sounds rather comfortable). Lack of space means the choir has to stand quite close to the orchestra, the sopranos often immediately behind the bassoon section.
Imagine a lady of a certain age, smart florals with an elasticated waist, husband at home with the Telegraph, secret passion for the conductor, ensemble tittering. That’s a soprano. I call them Giggling Glorias.
Occasionally there’s a tenor nearby but tenors are a bit hard to come by so they’re called Billy Bellow – because they compensate by coming in over-enthusiastically and slightly too early on every entry. But look, this is the point about choirs…
They rest their music on my head.
On my head! While I’m trying to play. Words cannot describe how maddeningly irritating this is. I AM NOT A MUSIC STAND!
Next time you go to a choral gig, check out the back row of the orchestra. There’s a war going on. (We call the altos Whooping Wilmas, in case you were wondering. Especially in anything by Brahms).