Vol. 2, No. 5


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Today's Topics:

Date: Mon, 24 Mar 1997 12:03:34 -0800
From: Grant Green <gdgreen@contrabass.com>
To: contrabass-list@contrabass.com
Subject: Concert


Had my debut on contrabass clarinet with the San Jose Wind Symphony last Saturday (Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts). The concert featured guest conductor Gregory Van Sudmeier, two vocalists, and a program of Broadway show tunes (West Side Story, Les Miserable, Man of La Mancha, and a few more medleys). Went over pretty well. My wife thoroughly enjoyed it (and this is not a foregone conclusion!), and my kids even stayed awake through it.

Of course, not all of the pieces have contra parts, and some of the pieces with contra parts had parts only in EEb. I played anyway, transposing where necessary, playing up an octave on some of the bass clarinet parts (to play unison with the basses), playing an octave below the basses sometimes (or laying out where appropriate). My "bass clarinet" parts ended up covered with up and down arrows where I've indicated parts to take up an octave and parts to play "as written" (when the bass clarinet is not doubling the bass line, I generally take it up: it sounds odd to double an internal voice down an octave).

I end up sitting at the left end of the second row, my left profile to the audience, so the horn was easily visible. A number of people asked me, during intermission and after the concert, what the horn was. One woman asked if it was a saxophone. I guess its just a measure of how much education the general public (even the concert-going public) needs with regard to contrabass instruments ;-)


24 Mar 1997 22:44:17 +0100
From: Hans Mons <Hans.Mons@iaehv.nl>
To: contrabass-list@contrabass.com
Subject: Re: Racketts

A few remarks from my side on racketts.

Besides the size of the instrument for a given lowest note, a baroque rackett is also louder then a renaissance rackett. This is one more consequence of a conical (baroque) bore versus a narrow cylindrical (renaissance) bore.

A baroque rackett has 10 bores, while the renaisance instrument has 9.

With the baroque rackett, the bocal and the bell both are at the top of the instrument. While the renaissance rackett has a crumhorn style bocal at the top, and the sound leaves the instrument at the bottom (no bell here).

As far as I know the only baroque racketts available now, are made by Moeck.

My guess is that racketts died out for mainly two reasons: (1) very difficult to play, and (2) not loud enough.

I love playing the renaissance rackett. It sounds well as a contrabass to recorders and gambas. In contrast with recorders and capped reed instruments like crumhorn, cornamuse and kortholt, dynamic playing is possible on the rackett.

Chromatic playing on the renaissance rackett is possible (if the player is in good shape), but requires quite some cross fingerings. This means that halftones can be quite weak, some will need help from the embouchure, and quick chromatic playing requires some exercise.

The EMS rackets, both kits and ready made instruments, use a synthetic body. Although not my preference, this has the advantage that there is no wood that can rot. What is not unimportant for this kind of an instrument.

The name for the instrument is not standardized, Praetorius calles it Rackett, but you also find ranket, racket and a few more variations on the same word.

Hans Mons

Who loves to play curtal, rackett, shawm, crumhorn and recorder

Date: Mon, 24 Mar 1997 17:25:39 -0800
From: Grant Green <gdgreen@contrabass.com>
To: contrabass-list@contrabass.com
Subject: Thanks!

Just thought I'd take a minute to thank everyone for subscribing/re-subscribing, and for keeping this list going. We have quite a bit of diversity, with subscribers ranging from elementary school to seasoned professionals, from listeners to ocassional dabblers to instrument builders, from Alaska to New Zealand. Even the simple questions often lead to interesting answers. Now that we run on "full automatic", I hope we can actually have a few threads, since we won't have to wait on the vagaries of my office workload.



Date: Tue, 25 Mar 1997 08:07:04 -0500
From: John Gauger <jgauger@sojourn.com>
To: "'Contrabass List'" <contrabass-list@contrabass.com>
Subject: Regarding Racketts

As a baroque rackett player, let me add a few comments to the current discussion:


>Vol. 1, No. 92
>24 March 1997
>From: Grant Green <gdgreen@contrabass.com>

>The baroque ranket (also spelled rackett or rankett) is very similar to the
>variety, but has a conical bore rather than a cylindrical bore. The
>consequences of that are (a) that the baroque instrument sounds an octave
>higher than a renaissance instrument of the same size, and (b) that it
>sounds much more like a bassoon. In fact, the baroque ranket is often
>referred to (when it is referred to at all) as a "pocket bassoon." The
>timbre is "rounder", and less hollow and buzzy. Frankly, I like both
>timbres. Unfortunately, baroque ranketts seem to cost much more than the
>renaissance variety, possibly because it is more difficult to drill a bunch
>of parallel conical bores.

Add (c) - that it can be quite a bit louder than the renaissance rackett, and is also capable of (some) dynamics. I actually would (as others have) characterize the rr's tone as more smooth or "buttery" (whatever that means) than the br's.

The br's tone is more like a bassoon (but more 'raw'). Whether that's a good thing is an individual opinion. I usually introduce the br in performances as "a lot like a bassoon, but even more difficult to take seriously", or that the advantage of the br over the bassoon is that "it's a weapon more easily concealed". When I bought my br, it came with two reeds made by Keith Loraine (one I save for special occasions, the other met a tragic end), but now I use off-the-shelf contrabassoon reeds (with some scraping and fiddling). Keith's reeds were about as wide as the contrabassoon reeds, but shorter. With Keith's reeds the tone was lighter, but the commercial reeds work reasonably well. When playing in consort with a small number of recorders or krummhorns, I often use a 'mute' - a piece of foam rubber or a cork with a 1/4 inch hole stuffed in the bell. This makes it both quieter and changes the tone to a bit more like that of a rr. It also makes it impossible to play the low Bb, but that's usually not necessary. Whether the mute is historically accurate is something I don't concern myself with much. There is very little historical information at all about the br. Apparently it was thought of as a 'substitute' cheap instrument for those who could not afford a gamba or a real bassoon or perhaps curtal.


>Author: "Stephen Del Rea" <srea@uaex.edu>

>I was intrigued by the mention of Racketts. Here is some information
>I found during an internet search for "rackett". What do you think
>about it as a serious musical instrument? Can it do a full chromatic
>scale? Is it worth the investment? [...]

I've heard the baroque rackett being played very well (i.e. not by me) as the bass (continuo) in baroque music, where a viola da gamba might otherwise have been. I took it quite seriously. It also works quite well as a bass instrument in renaissance consort music. The lowest renaissance racketts (great bass, contrabass, depending on nomenclature) were, I think, often used to add depth and color to vocal bass lines. The br is pretty much fully chromatic, but there are some sharps/flats that are difficult/out-of-tune/bad-of-tone. I'd say my br was a good investment as I bought it used for $500, but prices for new ones are quite high.


>The only wind instrument to ever defeat me was the
>rackett. With two tone holes for the forefingers and the most
>illogical fingering system I've ever seen, [...]

My baroque rackett has a pretty normal fingering system. The renaissance contrabass rackett also. I don't know about other renaissance racketts. I will post a fingering chart for baroque rackett here if requested, or ask me by e-mail. I've been told the material in Trevor Robinson's book about rackett fingerings is just plain wrong.

>I thought the shawm also had a nice sound to it.

Er, umm, yeah.

>If you try a cornamuse, just remember to blow until your brain comes out your

Actually, it gets squished up into a tiny ball in the back of your head. Your only option then is to become a conductor.

>Forget the rackett. It's fun and a great sight gag, but the curtal's
>the serious instrument.

Somewhat true. Anybody got a curtal they want to give away?

>to the Baroque rackett and it did not disappoint. It gave wonderful
>bottom support. The playing position was very uncomfortable looking.
>He had his left foot on top of his sideways right shoe to lift up his
>left knee high enough to balance the rackett on top. I thought he
>would have been better off with one of the little foot stools that
>classical guitarists use. [I still cannot appreciate crumhorns]

My baroque rackett came with a case which I use to rest my foot on to elevate the knee enough to support the rackett. It's not uncomfortable at all. But it's not an instrument for the marching band (and might be deadly played on horseback).


John Gauger

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