A quiet word about dynamics

Dynamics. Great word. Comes from the Greek (as all good words do) “dynamikos” which means “powerful”.

Physicists use the word “dynamics” to describe the force that produces movement. Musicians, on the other hand, use it to describe how loudly or softly we play. So does the word “dynamics” mean two completely different things?


Frankly, I’ve played too many gigs where the volume, to quote Spinal Tap, is permanently up to 11. The ebb and flow of the music gets lost in a static, tedious mush and playing becomes a form of competitive sport in which the quietest instrument in the orchestra – yeah you’ve guessed it – is on the losing team.

I’m not going to go on about it. This is just a quiet reminder to all those musicians and conductors out there who don’t understand the law of dynamics.


Hymn to the list of 5 reasons

While waiting at the bar for a post-concert beer the other day, one of the bar stool regulars peered suspiciously at my instrument case and then asked the question that most bassoonists dread:

“Wassat then?”

“It’s a bassoon” may have come out more wearily than I intended. But instead of the usual “Wassa bassoon?” he looked at me, looked at the case and then said “Bloody ‘ell, why the f**k do you play the bassoon?” Well it’s a fair question isn’t it.

Why the f**k do I play the bassoon? Here are 5 reasons:

  1. Reeds – In short, we’re not oboists. We do not spend hours fiddling with a reed and most bassoonists will not, under any circumstances, discuss them. OK, I have occasionally stamped on one in extremis. But most of us will avoid wittering on about our reeds. We just put up with them and get on with it.
  2. Tunes – We get the best ones. OK, the cellos get some truly stonking tunes with the added advantage of being able to sing along. But they have to play in a flock, as do the violins and violas. Oboists (them again) and flutes have lots of tunes but they have to play them ALL THE TIME and familiarity breeds contempt in my book. A melody on the bassoon is a rare and special thing of beauty.  I’m not going to mention clarinets. Or the brass. They’re just loud.
  3. Bass lines – Obviously… I just like them, that’s all.
  4. The contra bassoon – How do I begin to describe the joy that is the contra bassoon? Unlike the bassoon, which is the quietest instrument in the orchestra, the contra bassoon creates such a ground-shaking, bone-tremblingly delicious noise it could fell an oak tree 10 miles away. I go all gooey just thinking about it.
  5. Other bassoonists – See number 3.

Anyway, I didn’t say any of this to the bloke at the bar. I just smiled politely and replied:

“Because I can”.