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Bassoon Reeds in a Tropical Climate

By Chris Schaub


I was asked to put together a reed guide for those who have never played in a tropical climate such as Bangkok. 

Location — Bangkok is located in Southeast Asia at the coordinates of 13° 44' 12.1812'' N and 100° 31' 23.4696'' E and is at near sea level.


Climate — Bangkok is in a “tropical Savana climate.” Temperatures here are fairly hot year-round. There are three seasons: the cool season, the hot season, and the rainy season. The conference will take place during the middle of the rainy season. On most days it gets cloudy in the afternoon and will often rain, sometimes heavily, in the late afternoon. It will not get cool in the evening. 

Humidity — Bangkok is very humid year round (65%-100%) and my reeds rarely fully dry out. I think this allows my reeds to last longer, because they don’t cycle through extreme wet-dry-wet-dry like they did when I lived in the USA (of course a humidifier in our reed cases would combat this). Anyway, my reeds don’t grow any mold, so long as I keep them in a ventilated reed case. 

Air Conditioning — all conference facilities are well air conditioned. Along with lowering the temperature, this also lowers the humidity by a substantial amount (can be as much as 30%). The temperature changes don’t affect my reeds as much as the humidity changes. In our large hall (2000+ seats), when the air conditioning is turned on the temperature will drop to a comfortable level in about an hour. However, the humidity will continue to drop for another several hours. I’ve had many cases where my reeds behaved very differently on the second half of a concert due to lowering humidity. As the humidity lowers my reeds will dry out and get weaker and sometimes usually be a bit brighter in sound. Yet another consideration is the regular afternoon showers. This will quickly lower the temperature and raise the humidity, whether or not I am in air conditioning or not. 


Tuning — in Thailand we use A442 tuning. All pianos are tuned to this. Coming from the US, where tuning is A440, it took many months to adjust to A442 because I was also combating the high humidity and low altitude, which tends to weaken reeds. 


Recommendations — I think it’s important to have a variety of different reeds to combat the different and changing environments you may experience here. Reeds in high humidity environments tend to vibrate more easily, so a thicker, more resonant reed may work well here. Reeds that were assembled in dry environments will probably swell and be choked by the wires here.


Experimentation — at the conference you will probably experience wide swings in temperature and humidity. I think this provides a good opportunity to experiment with how these factors affect our reeds. I carry a small battery-powered temperature/humidity meter in my bassoon case. Having lived in Thailand now for 17 years, I’m quite accustomed to the weather and air conditioning, however, if I find a reed is acting strangely, the first thing I will do is check the humidity. It took me a year to get accustomed to making reeds here, so quick experiments may be useful for you. 

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