Useless Information: Interview Edition

10 Questions with Tuple

(ok maybe more like 11)

Tuple is the dynamic bassoon duo Rachel Elliott and Lynn Hileman

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1. What brought you together? (it's not every day you meet another bassoonist and form a homo-sectional duet! Or is it?)

LH—We met as graduate students at Yale University, but we didn’t start playing together as a duo until a few years later when I was living in Rochester, NY and Rachael was still in New Haven. I think it was a simple conversation like, “Hey, do you want to play some duos?” and we’ve been playing together ever since. Later we joined up with some other bassoonists to form a bassoon quintet (Dark in the Song) and then a septet (Rushes Ensemble). Bassoonists seem to like hanging out in gaggles (as a violinist once described our septet), so I guess there is a predisposition toward homo-sectionality. And Dave Schall, our recording engineer, is also bassoonist! So I guess it’s true!

RE—I don’t remember why we thought it was a good idea, but I know we both loved Sofia Gubaidulina’s Duo Sonata for two bassoons, and Lynn was doing an in-depth study of Gubaidulina’s music as part of her DMA research, so it was fascinating to learn more about the piece and her approach through Lynn’s work. We had each previously played the piece with other bassoonists, yet we still labored over it for at least a couple of years before it felt like it belonged to us. It’s akin to our calling card since it was central to our early identity as we worked to establish Tuple as a bassoon duo devoted to new music.

We have a great deal of respect for each other as musicians, as bassoonists, as people. I learn so much from Lynn every time we work together, and credit her with most of what I’ve learned about the bassoon since graduate school (not to mention coffee, Kombucha, pressure cookers, vegan black bean soup, slow-cooked Kahlua pig...you gather that we do enjoy food, which is another key to a group’s longevity!).

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2. What is your favorite thing about this album Darker Things?

RE—Oddly enough, I’ve really enjoyed listening to Meijering’s “Nocturnal Residents” which I love for its silliness and playful rhetoric, and especially, Louis Andriessen’s “Lacrimosa,” which to me is an unspeakably poignant, painful, yearning, transcendental duet, much greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t get over those descending quarter tone perfect fifths and the stream of suspensions and resolutions. It’s a beautiful fusion of ancient and modern, and I love the climactic ending when the two bassoons finally join together for a moment of powerful unison melody before splitting into somewhat more familiar harmonies, right up until that wacky last note. I think it’s brilliant writing, and also am amazed that this is the same composer who wrote “Workers Union” (1975). What a contrast!

I also love the artwork, Mappamundi 5, by Heidi Whitman. I happened upon it completely by chance one day this spring while visiting the Boston Public Library and her piece really struck me. So fine and delicate, so colorful, so much depth. I was entranced. (It was displayed as part of an exhibit called “Crossing Boundaries: Art // Maps.”) We loved that it was a new piece by a female artist, and fortunately, Heidi was kind enough to allow us to include her work as the album cover for Darker Things.

3. What is your favorite thing about Tuple?

LH—My favorite thing is that we somehow have simultaneously similar and divergent approaches, and so I think there’s a really interesting mix of homogeneity and variety when we play together. We definitely have distinct musical personalities but the contrast is always in the context of a really compatible blend.

RE—The coffee, as previously mentioned! Seriously, I enjoy rehearsing and performing with Lynn, and I also really like hanging out and geeking out about the bassoon in all its glory. Lynn is very smart, honest, fair, a great teacher, and always developing interesting new projects and ideas. Compatible is a good word to describe us!

4. What is the impetus behind this album and why do you feel compelled to release this into the universe?

RE—We wanted to put together a collection of our favorite modern bassoon duos since we’re not aware of something like this for bassoons. The bass clarinets have done it, saxophones have done it, violin duos, check.

5. Where did you get the idea for this album?

RE—We had just played at the University of Michigan where Dave Schall (who does a lot of recording for the School of Music) recorded our show and encouraged us to get our music out there. He was enthusiastic and supportive, and willing to travel to North Carolina for the recording. He made it seem, if not easy, at least like something that we could and should strive to achieve, so I give Dave a lot of credit for getting this project off the ground.

6. What was the biggest challenge in recording this album?

LH—I had a total tongue meltdown when we were recording the Meijering. I thought I might have broken myself.

RE—Listening back to takes and figuring out what to edit versus what we could live with. It’s so painful!

7. Did you work with any of the composers directly on this album? If so what was your most memorable experience?

RE—While we didn’t work directly with any of the composers during the recording, we had the pleasure of meeting Marc Mellits in upstate NY during one of our tours there. Lynn was the first person to adapt “Black,” originally written for the superb bass clarinet duo, Sqwonk, for two bassoons. (It has since been taken on by dozens of other duet combinations.) It was a hoot to meet Marc and to play for him a bit, and to seek his approval for this unorthodox instrumentation. We also performed “Bounce” for Michael Daugherty, who was in the audience at our University of Michigan show. (No pressure!) He seemed pleased with our interpretation, and was also encouraging when we said we were thinking of recording the piece.

8. I went to school at CCM and Bill Winstead was said to have some really old reeds that sounded great. And what’s the oldest reed you’ve ever played on?

LH—Old reeds vs. new reeds is a very personal thing, and some bassoonists define themselves by whether they prefer to play on one or the other. The oldest reed I’ve ever played a concert on was probably a year old, but that’s not my norm. (It was probably out of desperation!) Under normal playing conditions I probably rotate them out every month or two depending on how many reeds I’m working with at a given time.

RE—I’m actually a connoisseur (a connoisseuse?!) of old reeds. No joke. Rotation is the key, as Lynn mentions. Also laziness, procrastination, or a lack of time. Reeds are seasonal, and if you can identify and keep track of your spring reeds versus your winter reeds and pull them out at the correct time of year, it’s amazing how long some reeds will last. (Actually, no reed is a winter reed; they’re all dreadful in the winter.) On rare occasions when I’m disciplined enough to do so, I’ll sometimes set aside a great concert reed to save for another special occasion. I’ve been known to pull a year-old reed out of retirement when the newer, younger reeds aren’t working properly. Beyond about a year, I have not had so much luck, but it won’t preclude me from trying, on occasion!

9. Just curious- how many reeds were used to make this album? And I just want to know if either of you have used a Russian cane gouger before?

LH—Shouldn’t the question be “How many reeds were harmed in the making of this album?” It’s hard to say. For me, maybe 3-5? Used, not harmed. Harmed would probably be a much bigger number…

RE—I have no idea. Five sounds about right, over the course of the three or four days of recording. Basically a working reed per piece, and I would typically swap reeds each time we moved on to a new piece. Never used a Russian cane gouger.

10. If you could cover ANY song with bassoon duet, what would it be?

LH—I don’t know that this could be accomplished with just two bassoons without technological assistance, but I’ve always wanted to arrange some of William Duckworth’s Time Curve Preludes for bassoons. That’s probably not the kind of song you meant, though.

RE—Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”!

11. What’s the next thing for Tuple? (tours, collaborations, a vacation to Hawaii?)

LH—We’re planning a west coast tour for spring 2020.