The most popular question we bassoonists get (after being asked if we play the oboe multiple times) revolves around money.
"I've heard the bassoon is expensive. How much does it cost?!"
Now, I could answer this question in a few ways. I could of course take my earliest route, which was basically trying to explain in too many words how expensive it is by saying numbers and trying to defend all my creative life decisions.... OR I could casually dodge the question and say, "How much do you WANT it to cost?"
Okay, I admit, both of those are pretty horrible options. But there is some truth to the second option. What if the costs of the bassoon were actually analyzed compared to other woodwinds in band? For this purpose specifically, I've gathered information from multiple trusted stores which offer musical instrument rental and sales, including Midwest Musical Imports in Minneapolis, and Schmitt Music. This data includes analysis of the most popular foundation instruments of people who choose to switch to the bassoon, clarinet and saxophone. I have not included auxiliary instruments like bass clarinet, E-flat Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, or Baritone Saxophone in the average costs of rental or reeds (which tend to be more expensive!), but I have included the most likely options for a beginning to intermediate player who pursues lessons as either a serious player or just an enthusiast, as lessons are recommended for all instruments by band directors!
Let's take a look at the numbers, shall we?
Wait a minute. This says the bassoon can actually be LESS MONEY than a clarinet?!
In the past 10 years, I have bought intermediate to professional level accessories for each woodwind and have studied them all with professional musicians. Even when renting a single reed instrument, it's recommended to upgrade the small accessories for a better tone quality. With a free school bassoon, you get whatever they give you, but when they are regularly maintained they can be in very good condition without any upgrades, and usually repairs are not your responsibility. Bocals are unnecessary to buy unless you have your own instrument, so it's really just reeds you'll want to buy. Reed tools are only necessary for those interested in adjusting and making reeds-- there are plenty of amateur bassoonists who do neither, but all professional bassoonists will need their own set of reed tools to be successful.
I am definitely NOT discouraging the study of the clarinet and saxophone. These are wonderful instruments that can be seriously beautiful, fun and challenging for any musician. As a bassoonist, I'm jealous of some of the abilities of these instruments-- the extreme dynamic range of the clarinet, and the incredible diversity of the tone quality you can get with ONE saxophone. My goal here was to give a clear visual of the myth surrounding the INCREDIBLE COST of the "unattainable" bassoon. It's important to know the facts, and now you have them!
With that, I'll leave you with a few perks of playing the bassoon that you may not get with other, more popular instruments:
As always, HAPPY BASSOONING!
Ariel Detwiler is an active freelancer and teacher in the Twin Cities. Ariel has a DMA in Bassoon Performance with an emphasis on music education, and actively works with band directors in Minnesota and Iowa to create a positive image surrounding the bassoon.