Ever wonder what kind of wood a bassoon is made from? Here is our 2nd bassoonist, Carole Mason Smith, to answer some questions about her instrument.

 What kind of wood is a bassoon made from?CMS professional photo 

Maple is the preferred wood for making a bassoon, and it has to be aged and processed before it is ready to be made into a finished instrument.   A bassoon can be stained different colors such as mahogany, black, brown or even light brown, but maple is the material. However, student model bassoons are often made of polypropylene, a sturdy plastic more advantageous to durability than tone.


What are reeds made from?

Bassoon reeds are made from the same material as other woodwind reeds, a variety of cane known as arundo donax.   Many professional bassoonists make their own reeds, tailoring the reed to their own specific ensemble, repertoire, concert hall, and even the requirements of a particular piece of music.


How long does it take to makeIMG_20140228_103452_605 a reed?

To transform a tube of arundo donax into a bassoon reed can take several months since there are several procedures and the cane benefits from some rest between the procedures. If one does not want to undertake the entire process, there are double reed making companies which will do the rough work of splitting the tube, sizing the cane, pre-gouging, gouging, and profiling, leaving only the shaping, tubing, wrapping and finishing to the player. Even these last steps can take weeks as a reed benefits by several hours of ‘playing in’ accomplished over several days.


Why did you choose the bassoon as an instrument?

I was fortunate that my fourth grade band director, Carl Karoub, played horn in the Toledo Symphony Orchestra with my bassoon playing brother, James L. Mason. Carl realized our band did not really need me as thirteenth saxophonist, plus the school had a bassoon going unused, and most importantly, my brother might be coerced into providing me with lessons and reeds. I began studying with Jim that summer, and eventually even played two seasons with him in the Toledo Symphony!


What is your favorite repertoire to play in the SPCO and why?

Usually whatever we’re playing in the orchestra is my favorite. Melodies, harmonies and rhythms of that week’s repertoire stay with me; they stick with me until the next week’s music takes over. Of course it is a special pleasure when the wind section is featured in a Mozart, Strauss or Dvorak wind serenade, but almost every piece the SPCO plays has something exciting or beautiful which I enjoy.

What do four musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra have in common? They all play on instruments made by the Brooklyn-based luthier, Sam Zygmuntowicz.

It is rare to have so many musicians in one orchestra own instruments by the same maker, but violinists, Steven Copes, Ruggero Allifranchini, Nina Fan, and cellist, Joshua Koestenbaum are all proud owners of Zygmuntowicz instruments.

Click on this link to see a video of Sam Zygmuntowicz at work.


Nina –

I remember reading about Sam in Strings magazine a long time ago. It seems that David Finckel, the cellist of the Emerson Quartet, had brought into rehearsal a cello by some young New York maker, and it shocked the other members with its quality. Soon they were converts, as were many of the top players around, including Isaac Stern and Cho-Liang Lin. Nowadays it’s hard to get your hands on a “Sam.” (I’ve heard that there’s a bumper sticker around that says, “My other instrument is a Strad”!)

Mine is not brand-new; it was made in 1994 (still a baby, by violin standards). It is made on a Guarneri del Gesu model, though not a copy of a particular instrument. I love how responsive it is, and how “healthy” and powerful the sound. It’s also nice to know it’s in perfect condition, with no hidden cracks or repairs–and if something happens to it, I can go back to the maker and have him fix it!

Sam is a brilliant man. He is very interested in the science of acoustics, and he’s constantly experimenting. His craftsmanship is impeccable. I’m on the wait list for another one, and I can’t wait to work with him and see what he comes up with.


I first heard about Sam Zygmuntowicz from violinist, Daniel Phillips, in the early 90s. He’s a very fine , accomplished and knowledgeable violinist and I trusted his opinion as I was getting a little tired of borrowing instruments.

My current violin was made late in 2012 and it is patterned after  the Heifetz 1741 Guarneri del Gesu.

What makes Sam’s instruments so popular is that they are both easy to play and they “functions” and behave like a great instrument .

I enjoy playing on Sam’s violins in part because, like playing a piece of contemporary music of a living composer, you can ask questions and develop a relationship ,make a connection that can last a lifetime in which you can learn and improve from this interaction .


I heard about SZ through cellist David Finckel, who was in St. Paul on a few years ago.  We had dinner and talked about our musical hero, Mstislav Rostropovich, whom David knew very well. Afterwards he showed me his cello, not having told me anything about it.  It was gorgeous.  I assumed that it was—somehow– Rostropovich’s Strad.  David then told me about Sam Z. and his remarkable instruments.

My cello was made in 2006.  It’s Sam’s modification of the “Duport” Stradivarius form.  It’s one of the two cello patterns that Sam uses—the other one being an Amati-style. I’d put my name on Sam’s waiting list about three years beforehand.  In the interim, I bought one his Amati-style cellos, which I then traded in for my current cello.

It has a big, beautiful, clear sound.  It’s brilliant without being harsh.  If I had to describe the sound in terms of color, I think I’d call it “orange-silver.”  It has lots of reserve power—the cello sends out whatever I can put into it.  It responds quickly.  Some cellos have a forgiving delay; this cello speaks immediately.

My cello is an “antiqued” model.  Sam gives clients the choice of “new” or “antiqued.”  He is a famous for his skill and artistry at this processs.

His work is beautiful, nuanced—the antiquing doesn’t subtract from the appearance or integrity—it augments it.  It’s an honoring of history and tradition, I think.

Steve –

I heard about Sam through Ruggero, and I now own his old violin, which was made in 1997. It was modeled after a Guarneri, the  “Pannette”, made in 1737.

Sam’s instruments are designed to project well in modern concert halls. They operate like great, old Italian instruments. IMG_9081I enjoy playing on this violin because it is dependable, has a consistent sound, and does everything that I need it to do.





SPCO musicians ratify contract; concerts to resume May 9–Pam Espeland, MinnPost

On Monday, the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra accepted management’s latest proposal and its conditions, which include a significant salary cut and the downsizing of the orchestra from 34 players to 28. After a lockout that began Oct. 1 and lasted 191 days, they will play their first official concert on May 9 at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, a program of music by Schoenberg, Robert Schumann and Mozart featuring cellist Steven Isserlis and conducted by Thomas Zehetmair.

The lockout is over, but all is far from copacetic. Along with signing a three-year agreement, the musicians called for “the immediate commencement of a search for a new SPCO leader with proven orchestra management experience, and the vision and skill to substantially increase revenues.”

“We’re eager and excited to return to the stage and play music again for our loyal audiences,” said Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, in a press release sent yesterday afternoon. “But we remain deeply concerned about the artistic quality of the SPCO for future generations.”

We spoke with Mason Smith later that day.

MinnPost: How are you feeling, now that the lockout has ended?

Carole Mason Smith: It’s a relief to know that we’ll be getting back to work, that we’re going to have revenue coming in to every household. But it’s a regressive agreement, and there’s no improvement over the course of the agreement. Besides being personally difficult on musicians and their families, it makes it more of a challenge to remain competitive musically. So that’s something we’re going to have to work out.

There are going to be a lot of changes. We’re really going to have to scramble to be competitive. With all the openings we’re going to have, because of people leaving and taking incentivized retirements, it’s a real concern. We won’t know until June [how many people will stay].

MP: The musicians have called for the SPCO to immediately start searching for a new leader. Dobson West is interim president; he wasn’t supposed to be there permanently. Was there any effort to find a new leader during the lockout?

CMS: They started it, then suspended it. Now it’s time to start again. I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone.

MP: Will the musicians have a say in choosing the new leader?

CMS: That’s yet to be determined.

MP: Did the orchestra, in fact, come close to not having a 2013-14 season?

CMS: You’ll have to ask the management. They said it was a real possibility the orchestra would cease to exist.

MP: Was that a turning point for the musicians?

CMS: We took notice of it, for sure. It’s not a matter of cost, it’s a matter of being able to find the revenue. To do that, we need new management, new leadership who will understand the idea of not sacrificing the product.

MP: What is the general mood of the musicians?

CMS: What we’re going to do right now is concentrate on making music. The sooner we can get back to that, the sooner we will find our own center and figure out where to go from there.

A lot of musicians have taken other guaranteed work, not knowing what would happen. You can’t blame them. But you won’t see everybody you’re expecting to see at our concerts. A lot of musicians – regular, core members – won’t be there. I’m glad we have our artistic partners coming in. It will make a difference to see Thomas [Zehetmair] and Dawn [Upshaw] and Edo [de Waart].

MP: When will the new season be announced?

CMS: I don’t know. I would assume as soon as possible. We’re behind. There was difficulty lining up a season because of uncertainty.

MP: Who planned the new season?

CMS: We have not been allowed inside the building [the SPCO offices] for seven months. I don’t know who planned the next season. I would assume the artistic director, Patrick Castillo, planned it, but he resigned last week. I hope he completed the season, but I haven’t seen it.

MP: When do you start rehearsals for your May 9 concert?

CMS: May 7. We were not allowed to have music until after the lockout was declared over – that’s at midnight tonight. Having music has been a big concern for a lot of our musicians, but management would not hand out music. We like to be prepared. This has not made it any easier.

It’s good to get back to work, but this is going to be really challenging. It really is.


Musicians of the SPCO ratify agreement and call for new Orchestra leadership – Musicians remain deeply concerned about ensemble’s future


ST. PAUL, MN (April 29, 2013) – Today the Musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) ratified a 3-year agreement with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society, and they called for the immediate commencement of a search for a new SPCO leader with proven orchestra management experience, and the vision and skill to substantially increase revenues and to maintain and enhance the SPCO’s status as one of the world’s leading chamber orchestras.

If revenues are not significantly increased in the next three years, the artistic quality of this Orchestra will not be preserved, according to Carole Mason Smith, Chair of the Musicians Negotiating Committee.

“We’re eager and excited to return to the stage and play music again for our loyal audiences,” Mason Smith said. “We’ve keenly missed performing for our community, but we remain deeply concerned about the artistic quality of the SPCO for future generations.”

Mason Smith said the Society’s proposal of April 18 was considerably improved in negotiations on Sunday, April 22 and Monday, April 23, and the Musicians Negotiating Committee, in the best interests of the SPCO, then “strongly” recommended ratification.

“It was necessary to play some concerts at the end of this season in order to assure that there will be a 2013-14 season,” Mason Smith said.  “If that season did not take place, the institution could have been seriously impaired.”

Mason Smith said that one thing the Musicians discovered during the lockout is their audience’s unbelievable loyalty and support. The audience group, Save Our SPCO, was formed during the lockout, and Mason Smith said the Musicians want to thank the group in particular for its “unflagging support and encouragement during this very difficult time.”

The new contract requires a more than 22% reduction in annual salary of Musicians and an up to 20% reduction in their overscale. Overscale is the additional compensation some musicians receive for their special skills on their instrument and their leadership roles within instrumental sections.  The Musicians accepted a lower salary in order to assure that new Musicians would be paid the same salary as present Musicians, said Mason Smith.

She added that this sacrifice was made to support the attraction of the very best musicians to audition for the significant number of openings which already exist, and which will be increased by retirements incentivized by the Society, in an orchestra, which has been reduced from 34 to 28 Musicians.

“The vast difference between the new SPCO annual salary of $60,000 and the salaries of other major American orchestras, many of which exceed $100,000, will make attracting such musicians very difficult,” Mason Smith said.

The savings during the lockout and the reductions in compensation to Musicians will reduce the Society’s costs by over $5 million by the end of the contract in 2016.

The Musicians of the SPCO will have been locked out for 191 days. Their contract expired September 30, 2012. Management imposed the lockout on October 21, 2012 and it will not end until tomorrow, April 30, 2013.


Negotiating Committee email to SPCO Musicians and the list of changes negotiated on April 21 and April 22

Dear Colleagues,

The Negotiations Committee is pleased to announce that thanks to the efforts of Brad Eggen and Mel Schwarzwald we now have complete documents.  Based on the improvements that have been made, and because the Negotiation Committee believes that it is important to have some remainder of a 12-13 SPCO season, we strongly recommend this proposal for ratification.

The following documents are attached.
1  Changes in Society’s Proposals Negotiated on 4-21 and 4-22-13 and
2  2013-4-22 Society’s Proposal
Return to Work Agreement and Mutual Release Pages 1-4

Collective Bargaining Agreement with Appendices A-D    Pages 7-70

Appendix E Special Retirement Package and Separation Agreement, Waiver and         Release relating to the Special Retirement Package    Pages  1-7

Exhibit C to Return to Work agreement and Mutual Release


Return to Work Schedule

Exhibit D

In order to resume performances, we approved several scheduling waivers, including rehearsals on days previously labeled as free days.
Please review the schedules carefully and contact Kelly if you need to.

The documents you have now received from the Committee are what you should vote on, as those received from any other source cannot be considered accurate or complete.

Ballots were mailed to you today, Tuesday April 23, 2013.

The instructions for completing mailed ballots were included with the ballots. Please read the instructions and follow them carefully, so your vote will count.  The deadline for the Union to receive the ballots is Monday, April 29, 2013 at 2PM.  Ballots received after 2PM will not be counted.  All ballots were mailed by express mail and included a prepaid express mail return envelope.

If you prefer to hand deliver your ballot, the Twin Cities Musicians’ Union is located in the Itasca Building, 708 1st Street North, Suite 243, Minneapolis, MN 55401.  If you need more specific directions, call 612-338-5013.  Hand delivered ballots must be also received at the TCMU offices before 2PM on Monday, April 29, 2013.

Management has indicated to our audience members that concerts will resume on May 9, so rehearsals are still set to begin on May 7.  Upon confirmation of ratification by April 29, the Society will begin paying us starting April 30, with insurance benefits beginning May 1.

Carole, Lynn, Leslie, Fred and Julie



This document lists and explains changes that were made in the Society’s proposals before this package would be submitted for ratification. The Union and the Committee insisted on many of these changes because contract language was changed by the Society even though the involved sections of the Collective Bargaining Agreement were not mentioned in the Outline which the Negotiating Committee and the Union agreed to recommend for ratification. Other changes that are noted are the result of negotiations related to the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) conducted by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The AFM insisted that Management adhere to the requirements of the IMA that certain actions cannot be taken without the prior approval of the Orchestra Committee.

At the end of each item a reference appears in parenthesis. In most cases that reference is to Exhibit A of the materials accompanying this document which is the new 2013-2016 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The reference in parenthesis includes the Section and the page number at which the relevant language may be found.

  1. Seniority Pay – Seniority Pay was increased from forty percent (40%) to fifty-five percent (55%) of the total amount of Seniority Pay due for the 2012-13 season. The amount of Seniority Pay due each eligible Musician is listed on Appendix D to the CBA. (CBA, B.2.9, p. 8 and p. 70)
  2. Continuation of CBA During Summer at End of Contract – Management had removed the language assuring that your contract would continue through the summer of 2016 while negotiations might be continuing for a new CBA. This language assured that your benefits would continue during that period of time as well as your weekly pay which is to be made in twenty-six (26) weekly payments. (CBA, B.1.1, p.5)
  3. No Discipline Based on Media Activities – Management had agreed, but then failed to place in the CBA, a provision that guarantees that there will be no discipline because of what occurs during a media recording or appears in a finished product . (CBA, E.3, p.58)
  4. AFM Media Capture Protections – The AFM insisted that there would be no audio or audio-visual capture of any Orchestra activities without prior notice to and/or approval of the Orchestra Committee.
  5. Holiday Vacations – Management had removed the language which guaranteed that there would be no services during the weeks in which Christmas and New Year occur. As in the 2007-12 Agreement there is an exception at one point during the contract but such services cannot begin then until December 29, just as provided in the 2007-12 Agreement. (CBA, B.2.12, p. 9)
  6. Concert Season Within Forty (40) Consecutive Weeks – Management had also removed the language from the 2007-12 Agreement which guaranteed that the concert season would cover a forty (40) consecutive week period between August 15 and June 15. There is also one occasion during the CBA when Management may schedule differently, just as provided in the 2007-12 Agreement. (CBA, B.1.2, p. 5)
  1. Individual Contracts – Management attempted to make a number of changes in the language related to and the text of these agreements. Each of the following changes from what Management proposed were negotiated.
    1. Termination of Contract When CBA Terminated – Even though a number of Musicians have individual contracts which cover multiple years, and sometimes extend beyond the term of a collective bargaining agreement, Management attempted to have all individual contracts terminate when the CBA terminated. That language was deleted. (CBA, B.3.2, p. 10)
    2. Provision of Large Percussion Instruments – Individual contracts had a sentence requiring the Society to provide large percussion instruments when required. Management had removed that sentence but it has now been returned to the individual contracts. (CBA, Appendix A, Para. 4, p. 66)
  2. Notice Requirement for Resignation – Management had added language placing extensive obligations on Musicians when they were considering a change to another Orchestra. All of that language has been removed. The language from the 2007-12 Agreement has been continued. (CBA, B.3.3, p. 11)
  3. Calculation of Per-Service Rate – There was no language providing that the per-service rate would include overscale. Such language has been added in the contract. (CBA, B.2.6, pp. 6-7)
  4. Use of Extras – Management had changed language governing the use of extras from what is “required” to what Management “deemed appropriate.” That language has been returned to using extras as “required.” (CBA, B.4.1, p. 51)
  5. Return to Work Agreement and Mutual Release (RTW)
    1. Requirement of AFM – IMA Approval – Management insisted on including a paragraph which referred to the approval of the IMA. That was paragraph 2 of the prior draft which has been removed.
    2. Open Enrollment for Insurance Coverages – Management had included such a paragraph in its Outline but not in the RTW document presented on April 18. That paragraph has been added. (RTW, Para. 6, p. 2)
  6. Special Retirement Package Payment to Estates – A provision has been added to the Special Retirement Package requiring that if a Musician dies during the payment period the remaining payments will be made to his or her estate. (Appendix E, Para. XIV, p. 7)



Saint Paul, Minnesota (April 20, 2013) –

The Musicians of the Saint Paul 
Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) said today they have voted to use a U.S. mail
 option to decide whether to ratify the Society’s latest proposal. This will 
enable further clarification of language in that proposal and would also
 provide the opportunity for all Musicians to vote.

Musicians ratified the American Federation of Musicians Integrated Media Agreement and its Addendum on April 20, 2013.  The Society agreed to join sixty-four other orchestras that have signed the international union’s Integrated Media Agreement.  The Society and the international union last week concluded negotiations for an Addendum to the media agreement that responded to certain local issues.

The Musicians of the SPCO have been locked out for more than 24 weeks. Their 
contract expired September 30, 2012. Management imposed the lockout on 
October 21, 2012 following three weeks where the Musicians continued to
”play and talk.”


Update from Journal of the House, appropriation for Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

One of the most FAQ’s we get submitted to us here on our site – how is the
lockout impacting public funding on the renovation plans for the
Ordway…and until now that has been a difficult question to respond to or
even try to quantify.  The cut and pasted document that was released and
shared with us today confirms that until a new contract is ratified and
signed by SPCO musicians – the public financing dollars are on hold for the
Ordway.  The stakes and incentive to finalize a new contract now has city
hall anxious too.  Stay tuned!

http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/journals/2013-14/J0415035.htmJournal of the House – 35th Day – Monday, April 15,

2013 – Top of Page 2376
(b) Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

This appropriation is added to the appropriation in Laws 2010, chapter 189, section 21, subdivision 16, paragraph (b), and is for the same purposes.  This appropriation is not available until the commissioner of management and budget determines that the labor contract dispute between the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the musicians has been settled.

MPR News – SPCO reaches tentative deal; concerts could resume

by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
April 9, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The two sides in the long-running labor dispute at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Tuesday reached a tentative deal.

Musician negotiator Carole Mason Smith said her committee now will recommend musicians accept a proposal made by SPCO management last week.

The tentative deal between the musicians and SPCO management will require a vote. If approved the musicians’ annual pay will be cut by $15,000, and the orchestra will be reduced by six players to 28. However the musicians will have greater artistic control over the SPCO’s performances and repertoire.

The agreement will put an end to the six-month lock out.

“There are logistics that need to be worked through but the goal is to get back to bringing great music to the community as soon as possible.” Mason Smith said.

The agreement came even as the orchestra’s board gathered to discuss cancelling the rest of the SPCO season, said Interim SPCO President Dobson West. He said the deal will allow management time to negotiate an agreement with the national American Federation of Musicians on Internet and broadcast use of SPCO material.

“We have reached a mutual agreement with the musicians negotiating committee that they will take our proposal to the musicians for a ratification vote as soon as we get an approval from the AFM,” West said.

West expects the national deal will come together quickly, after which arrangements can begin to resume concerts. No dates have yet been set but both sides expect the orchestra will play concerts before the end of the current season.

A statement from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman following the SPCO’s announcement read, “I want to offer my most sincere thanks to both the Society and the Musicians. Both sides have been working tirelessly in pursuit of this agreement for many months… At the end of the day, this treasured institution is larger than any individual board member, musician, staff member, or mayor. Today’s agreement means that the world’s best chamber orchestra – our Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra – will be enjoyed for generations to come.”