Robert (Captain Bob) Naglee is the senior member of the Bassoon Brothers and is in charge of the Complaint Department. He is known for his work on the bottom, and fishing for notes in general which he perpetrates with his 7100 series Heckel bassoon. He provides us with a new Top Ten Reasons Why You Should (or Shouldn’t) Play the Bassoon with each concert.
Click on the questions below to see Bob’s answers.
What was your first memory of hearing a bassoon?
My first memory of hearing a bassoon was in 1951 at Franklin High School in Portland. It wasn’t Peter and the Wolf, Fantasia, et al like normal folks. It was me playing an open F after the band teacher put it together for me. Prior to that, I had never heard the word ” bassoon”. I was a freshman at the time. I had to sit for a long time before hearing that first note though, because I couldn’t figure out how to put the bundle of sticks together the first time until the band director came back an hour later to show me how to do it.
When was the first time you saw a picture of a bassoon?
A picture of me in the high school band photo.
Did that have any impact?
I was very proud of myself.
What was the first musical instrument that you played?
What was your first woodwind instrument?
How did you come to play the bassoon?
I signed up for band as a freshman and wanted to play the drums. They got all the chicks in those days. Come to think of it , I think they still do. But the band teacher needed someone to play the bassoon, since there was little interest in it, and since I had taken private piano lessons and sort of read bass clef, I agreed to play it.
Were you happy initially, or did you have problems with it?
I instantly enjoyed playing it even though I wasn’t “nuts” about the parts written for bassoon, and concertos???…fagetaboutit! You bet I had problems, especially with reeds cracking…until I realized that you shouldn’t put the reeds blade first on wire mandrels. (OH MY, NOT A GOOD IDEA!)
What was the first recording of a bassoon that you played at home?
Never bought one, but I did get a recording of the Allstate Band that I played in. I couldn’t hear myself, though.
Did you have any favorite bassoonists on recordings?
No, and I still don’t. Actually, I must say that I loved Bernard Garfield, solos on the Philadelphia version of Shostakovich Symphony #4.
What was it like being a teenage bassoonist?
Embarrassing. When people would ask what was in the case I was carrying, I would invariably get a blank stare from them when I answered, a bassoon. To this day I have difficulty explaining what a bassoon is to people who don’t know.
What were some of your best bassoon moments as a teenage bassoonist?
When I was a high school sophomore, I played a music festival Conducted by the UCLA band director ad he said he would give me a scholarship to that University upon completion of high school….That was very cool…I also enjoyed playing in the Portland Junior Symphony (Now known as the PYP) the year they auditioned guest conductors, then I quit.
What were some of your worst moments as a teenage bassoonist?
I mentioned the embarrassment and , oh yeah, my parents got called to school because I smeared limburger cheese on the steam radiator in the band room. Actually everyone pretty much got a kick out of it, but since class had to be cancelled something had to be on the record, I guess.
What solo pieces did you play starting out?
Never played a solo.
What method books did you use?
As I recall, since I didn’t have many lessons, part of a book by someone named Milde.
What were your solo competition pieces?
As you can probably tell by now, I didn’t ever play any solo pieces, which was probably a good thing, otherwise I would have been the only teenager to get gout attacks. (GOUT IS USUALLY A PAINFUL SWELLING OF THE BIG TOE THAT HAPPENS TO OLD GUYS)
Where did you study bassoon in college?
I didn’t study bassoon in college. I was an elementary ed major at Portland State University. But I did play there.
Who were your teachers?
Margery Smith, former Principal Bassoon with the Portland Symphony. She thought I was both talented and lazy. Hour lessons were $5.00 in those days. I think my parents were only out about fifty bucks total over the course of my private lessons.
Did you expect to become a professional bassoonist upon college graduation?
I already was. I auditioned for the Portland (Oregon) Symphony while substituting for the second bassoonist who was filling in as Principal while on a week’s tour of the state. The conductor had me play for him in a hotel lobby. I remember to this day having to sight read the last movement of Tchaik #4 for him. It was pretty ugly but he was a very nice man and must have seen some potential. He lasted two years with the orchestra and went back to Italy, so he never found out if he made the right decision, hiring me, that is.
What happened to you in the years that followed graduation?
I was in the Army in Germany, where I learned about the beer gardens and other dangers, like on the streets of Paris. I bought my Heckel bassoon (that I still play today) for 500 bucks off a guy on the street. When I got back, I spent 22 years teaching grades 5, 6, and 7 in an elementary school during the day, and rehearsing and playing with the Oregon Symphony at night. When the orchestra went to daytime rehearsals, I quit my day job, but but not before I had taught many classes of students how to dissect cow eyeballs, raise chickens in the classroom and things of that nature.
What orchestras have you performed with?
Vancouver BC, Oregon Symphony, Portland Opera Orchestra West Coast Chamber Orchestra.
What festivals have you played with?
Anchorage, Chamber Music Northwest, Bloch, Tetons, among others.
What honors have you received as a bassoonist?
Someone liked my Principal Bassoon playing a few years back with the Bloch Festival Orchestra (but not the current conductor) and mentioned it in a music review. There may have been others…
What is your worst nightmare as a bassoonist?
My worst nightmare is when the %$#@# guy on my right calls in sick at the last minute and I have to move over and play the Principal part…Shostakovich 9th ( including cadenza) , and Beethoven 4…remember those examples, partner, ole SDG ? (OTHERS MAY WANT TO TAKE NOTE OF THAT!)
What are your favorite solos?
I don’t like concertos for bassoon, but I love the orchestral writing of Tchaiik, Shost, Sibelius, Beethoven and many others.
What are the most important points to relate to a young player?
Good reeds and a bassoon that doesn’t leak and to resist the temptation to whack people with it when they call it names…burping, bedpost…and others.
Is there anything else about the bassoon that needs to be mentioned?
Sure, young players need to learn that trick that Leon (our new Brother) showed us. Have inquiries directed to him. I have been playing since I was 15 and have never seen that one before. WE’LL HAVE TO POST THAT ON THE WEBSITE SOME WAY.
Has the bassoon ever caused a problem with a personal relationship or your marriage?
No, but I recall a true story where a young bassoonist lost his or her temper in band here in Portland, removed the bell and let a trumpet player have it on the head. Rumor has it that the low B flat left an lasting impression on the trumpet player.
Have you had therapy because of being a bassoonist, or performer?
For me, the following conditions and/or feelings over the years are a direct result of my playing this wonderful instrument. Great joy, great pain (gout attacks) great pride, oversize shoes (gout attacks) Mother’s pride, trips to the doctor (gout attacks) Rapid heartbeat, elation, embarrassment, trips to other states for festivals, and trips to the doctor (rapid heartbeat) dressing funny for bassoon brother extravaganzas (more gout attacks) Come to think of it, all of the above excepting gout attacks occurred while teaching… Hmmmm?