Bassoon script
Saturday, March 26, 2005

Garrison Keillor: I began playing the bassoon at the age of 6 because Grandpa was a bassoonist and he taught me how to play. Unfortunately, he didn't speak English (TR SWEDISH, EXPLAINING HOW TO PLAY), so I never got clear on some things, like reeds — I used waxed paper instead, or a blade of grass— and my hands were too small to reach all the keys so I basically played just four of them — and my tone wasn't good because Grandpa was hearing impaired (TR SWEDISH, DEAFNESS), but I was the best bassoonist in my hometown and that was something.

Sue Scott: What's that?

GK: A bassoon.

SS: Oh. I never saw one before.

GK: Well, you have now. I was the only bassoon in the High School Marching Band.

Tim Russell: You stand with the clarinets.

GK: It's kind of heavy to carry. Could I just play clarinet?

TR: No, you're the bassoonist.

GK: Please—

TR: We don't have any more clarinets.

GK: Trumpet?

TR: I don't think you've got the self-esteem for it.

GK: How about trombone?

TR: Your arms aren't long enough.

GK: So I was the bassoonist. Because I had my own bassoon and the school district couldn't buy musical instruments because the football team needed an indoor practice facility.

I wanted to play guitar. Bassoon is a tricky instrument and some notes on it sound great and others it sounds like a cartoon. Bassoon is not a great social ticket in high school. Guitar is. Buddy Holly did not play a bassoon. On the other hand, if he had, he'd probably still be alive.
And then one Christmas my mother gave me a big present.

SS: I hope you like it.

GK: Is it a guitar?

SS: Why would I give you a guitar?

GK: Wow. A bassoon.

SS: It's a really good one. That's what the salesman said. The best.

GK: It looks beautiful.

SS: It's from Germany. It cost $10,000.

GK: Mom—

SS: I know it's expensive. But for you, honey— nothing is too good. Nothing.

GK: O Mom—

SS: For you and your career as a bassoonist, I would make any sacrifice.

GK: Thank you, Mom. I guess.

SS: I got a job scrubbing toilets. It's nights and weekends so I won't see much of you for the next couple of years—

GK: Couple of years!

SS: At 35 cents an hour — it takes time to pay for a bassoon. Plus there's the lessons.

GK: I studied with a man named Ulrich.

TR (NAZI): You will not clack the keys when you press the levers.

GK: It's hard not to clack the keys.

TR (NAZI): You will not clack the keys. If you clack the keys, I will smack you so you never clack again.

GK: I'll do my best.

TR (NAZI): You will do more than your best. You will not clack the keys.

GK: Yes, sir.

TR (NAZI): Pay attention to embouchure! Work the corners of your mouth. Let your lips relax.

GK: I'm trying to do that.

TR (NAZI): Let your wrists be natural. Keep your head up. Don't lean toward the bassoon. Bring the bassoon to you.

GK: Yes.

TR (NAZI): No key clacking will we hear.

GK: I felt so guilty because my mother was scrubbing toilets while I practiced. (BASSOON: HAPPY TRAILS) But I worked at it. And I started to think maybe I'd like to play in an orchestra. Growing up in Minnesota, I was naturally modest and afraid of failure, so it made sense to get a job where everybody was dressed like me and doing the same thing I was. Orchestra, in other words. And since you wear black, you'd never need to do laundry.
So I decided to audition for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. It would mean so much to Grandpa (SWEDISH) and to my mom.

SS (MOM): The orchestra concerts start at eight o'clock, honey. That's when I take my lunch break from cleaning toilets. I could come over and stand in the lobby and if somebody opened a door, I could hear you play.

GK: When you play in an orchestra, Mom, you're not supposed to stand out from the others, okay?

SS (MOM): I'm your mom, honey. I would recognize you even if you were playing soft.

GK: So in the stage door I went. I was so nervous, I couldn't bear it.

TR: You a musician?

GK: I think so.

TR: What instrument is that?

GK: Bassoon.

TR: Bassoon?

GK: Yes, sir.

TR: How come you carry it around in a golf bag?

GK: That's the only bag it seems to fit in.

TR: You see right over there— that's a bassoon case.

GK: How would it fit in there?

TR: You take it apart.

GK: It comes apart?

TR: Yeah, you take it apart and put it in a little case.

GK: Oh. I didn't know that. (BRIDGE) I'd been using the golf bag to carry my bassoon for years. In Anoka, nobody noticed. — I walked backstage (CROWD AMBIENCE, VOICES OFF) and there were a lot of people warming up for their auditions. A clarinetist (CAPRICCIO ESPAGNOL), the instrument I always wanted to play. And a trombonist. (BOLERO). Playing part of Ravel's Bolero. I took out my bassoon and I tried to remember what my teachers had told me.

TR (NAZI): Good breath control. Relax the neck. Let the larynx drop. Don't constrict your throat.

GK: And suddenly I couldn't breathe at all. (STRANGLING) Near me, a horn player was working on his audition piece. (TILL EULENSPIEGEL) And suddenly I thought that maybe I should've worked up a classical piece for my audition. That maybe "Love Me Tender" was not the best idea. (LOVE ME TENDER) Everybody else was doing classical stuff. Over in the corner was a harpist. (WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS). Tchaikovsky. And even the percussionist had a piece of "Porgy and Bess" he was working on. (PORGY AND BESS) What did I know that I could pull out at the last minute? Maybe that thing from the Sorcerer's Apprentice. And then I saw this other bassoonist playing it. (SORCERER'S APPRENTICE) Playing it twice as well as I could ever dream of doing it.
Maybe I should switch to bass. Not that hard an instrument. Such low notes, nobody knows if you hit them or not. And then this whole bunch of basses started practicing Beethoven. (BEETHOVEN 5TH) And then it was my turn to take that long walk out to the stage.

TR: Mr. Kyler?

GK: Yes, sir.

TR: You're on.

GK: Me?

TR: You. You want me to tie a blindfold on you?

GK: No, I guess not.

TR: Any last requests?

GK: I'd like to be remembered as a guy who— As somebody who, no matter what the— I'd like to be remembered— as somebody once said, "a man who—"

TR: How about a last meal?

GK: I'd like a steak, medium rare, mashed potatoes, creamed peas—

TR: Too late. You're on. That way.
TR (REVERB): Mr. Kyler?

GK: Yes, sir.

TR (REVERB): Tell me about your background?

GK: Yes, sir. I, uh, I— I subbed with the Berlin Philharmonic.

TR (REVERB): Berlin, Germany?

GK: No.

TR (REVERB): Berlin, Wisconsin?

GK: Yes. Did I forget to mention that? I, uh, took a master class with Sol Schoenbach. I sort of did. I wasn't in the class, I was out in the hall. But I heard most of it. I went to Curtis.

TR (REVERB): The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia?

GK: No, the Curtis Candy Company, makers of Baby Ruth and Butterfingers.

TR (REVERB): Speaking of butterfingers, what piece are you going to play?

GK: Well, sir — I was going to play part of the "Rite of Spring" but I left my special reed at home.

TR (REVERB): I see.

GK: And I was going to do a passage from the Tchaikovsky 4th but I knocked my instrument off a chair and my low notes are leaking.

TR (REVERB): Mr. Kyler—

GK: Yes, sir.

TR (REVERB): Were you aware that that's a vacuum cleaner you brought out on stage?

GK: No, sir. No, I wasn't. I guess I thought it was a bassoon, sir.

TR (REVERB): Would you like to play something on it?

GK: No, I don't think so. But thank you for asking. (BRIDGE) And that's how I became a stagehand. A little known career in the arts that's actually as much fun as being an artist. You get to winch in the battens and flies (WINCH) and you get to test the fire alarm (ALARM). You can operate a fork lift. (FORK LIFT) and run that around on stage. There's always a game of cribbage. (DEALING CARDS) And there are spitting contests. (HAWK, SPIT, PAUSE, DING OF SPITTOON). You get to stand on the empty stage after everybody's gone home and sing. (TK: O DANNY BOY, THE PIPES THE PIPES ARE CALLING, ETC.).

You get to mop the floor (SPLOSH, AND MOP). There's all sorts of percussion stuff you can play with. (PERCUSSION RIFFS, ARNIE). You can get drums and cymbals out of the closets and play to your heart's content. (MORE ELABORATE PERCUSSION RIFFS). You know, sometimes I think that with better guidance counseling, I could've become a drummer. (DRUM RIFFS) There's also important work to be done— you've got to coddle the guest artists and try to settle them down when they get excited — (TR EXCITED FRENCH) — Yes, sir, I have the water on stage for you and it is Evian. (TR EXCITED ITALIAN) Don't your worry about that, sir— I have an extra black tie. I made it out of a black sock. There. (TR EXCITED RUSSIAN) Yes, sir, I will take care of that, sir. (TR EXCITED SWEDISH) No, I will make sure nobody touches your herring. (TR ANGRY GERMAN) Absolutely, sir. Right away, sir.
Every concert it seems, there's some little emergency that you never dealt with before. Maybe the tenor needs me.

TR (TENOR): During my solo, could you give me a little backlighting and maybe some pinks to bring out the coloring, and maybe drop some glitter from the ceiling? Just a little?

GK: I'll do my best

TR (TENOR): And a follow spot—

GK: I'll try. —Or maybe the soprano needs something—

SS: Could you come in here for a moment?


SS: My strap broke.

GK: Your strap.

SS: My shoulder strap. The one that holds my dress up. It broke.

GK: Oh, that strap. Yes.

SS: I don't know what to do.

GK: Well, the other strap is doing a pretty good job. So far.

SS: I'm afraid that if I take big breaths, I may lose it—

GK: If you take— oh, right. Sure. Well, I could pin it with a safety pin.

SS: But if the pin came loose and stuck me, I might hit the high C early.

GK: I could sew it, if I'd have to take your dress off.

SS: Would you mind?

GK: Would I mind taking your dress off?

SS: I don't want to offend you.

GK: Well, I — I'm a professional, ma'am. I'm a stagehand. Nudity is my middle name.

SS: Okay. (BRIDGE)

GK: I do what I can for everybody — I arrange the music stands so people can share one stand but they don't stick their bow in somebody's eye. I adjust the chairs (RATCHET) so they're the exact height that each person likes it. And for bassoonists, I do anything.

CHRIS: Would you mind cleaning my jacket during intermission? It's got trumpet spit on the shoulders.

GK: I'll get right to it.

CHRIS: And could you possibly bring us the score of the Juilliard/North Carolina basketball game?

GK: You want me to bring that out onstage?

CHRIS: Please.

GK: You got it.


JF: Excuse me— Mr. Kyler — I'm afraid I've gone and done a foolish thing.

GK: Yes, Miss Fleezanis—

JF: I've lost my violin — —

GK: Oh my gosh—

JF: The concert starts in 30 minutes—

GK: Twenty-five!

JF: I'm playing the Prokofiev Concerto—

GK: Oh boy. Where'd you leave it?

JF: In front of my house. At the curb. In a box for the Salvation Army.

CHRIS: Hey, Carson—

GK: Yeah. Chris. My man.

CHRIS: I just want to say thanks for the woodwind lobby. All of us bassoonists really appreciate it. It's great to be able to duck downstairs during a concert and take care of our e-mail and make phone calls and have coffee.
GK: You're welcome. I'd do anything for you guys. I used to be a bassoonist myself.

CHRIS: I knew there was something about you.

GK: (BRIDGE) It's the first woodwind lobby in any American orchestra. I got out my power tools one week and cut a hole in the stage floor (POWER SAW) and I put in a trap door and a stairway (HAMMERING) and I built them a room down there where they can go during long passages when they don't play. There's an espresso machine down there (ESPRESSO) and there's TV of course (TV AUDIO) and some of the woodwinds have dogs (WOOFS) and they're down there during concerts and the guys can relax, watch TV, there's a periscope (PERISCOPE RISING) where they can observe the conductor— (ORCHESTRA PLAYING, VAMPING ON WM TELL)

TR: He's got twenty bars to go, relax. Lots of time.

GK: Or look at members of the audience—

TR: Oh boy. Get a load of this one. Where'd she get that hairdo? At the dog pound?

GK: And they can play ping-pong (PING PONG VOLLEY) and wile away those aimless hours when the string section is playing—

TR: Put the periscope back up (ORCHESTRA VAMPING….) What's he playing?
SS: It's the William Tell overture.

TR: Are you sure?

SS: Yeah, this is the viola section.

TR: Oh. No wonder I didn't recognize it.

GK: Say, just a reminder, you guys — I gave you the trumpet parts—

TR: You did?

TK: Cool!

SS: So we get to play the main theme??

TK: Fantastic.

TR: We never got to play the theme before.

SS: We just sat there and tooted a little.

TK: Great.

GK: You sure you can handle it?

TR: Hey, we're woodwinds. We can handle it.

GK: Okay. Here comes the theme.

TK: Time for one more coffee?

GK: Nope, you better go topside. What you want for after the show?

TR: Pizza. Sausage for me.

SS: Vegetarian, no onions.

TK: Pepperoni. Extra cheese. No mushrooms.

GK: Okay, it'll be waiting. Break a reed.

TR: Thanks.

SS: Okay. So long, Rex. See you in a few minutes. (WOOFS)

GK: Watch your step. Up you go.

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

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