William Short

William Short was appointed Principal Bassoon of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 2012. He previously served in the same capacity with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and has also performed with the Houston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. William has performed as soloist with the Vermont and Delaware Symphonies, as well as the New York Classical Players. He is the bassoonist in the Gotham Wind Quintet.

A dedicated teacher, William serves on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, and Temple University, as well as the Verbier Festival and Interlochen Arts Camp. He has presented classes at colleges and conservatories around the country and at conferences of the International Double Reed Society, for which he serves as an officer.

William has also performed and taught at the Lake Champlain, Lake Tahoe, Mostly Mozart, Stellenbosch (South Africa), Strings, and Twickenham Festivals. An occasional editor and composer, his works have been published by the Theodore Presser Company and TrevCo-Varner Music.

Committed to forging connections between audiences and performers, William's articles on the subject can be found on the MET Orchestra Musicians' website, which has been lauded not only by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, but also by noted arts consultant Drew McManus and prolific cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht.

William received his Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Daniel Matsukawa and Bernard Garfield, and his Master of Music at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he studied with Benjamin Kamins. He attended festivals including the Music Academy of the West, Pacific Music Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and the Verbier Festival. Additional major teachers have included Jeanine Attaway, Kristin Wolfe Jensen, and William Lewis.

Let it Sound Bad

I’ve noticed something when I work with students: I often sound worse than they do when I play on their reeds. Is it because I’m not used to playing on them? To a certain extent, maybe, but I can usually adjust pretty well after playing a few notes. Is it because our instruments are that different? Not usually. No, the primary reason is that I’m willing to let the reed sound bad when I’m sitting at the reed desk.

To be clear, I never, under any circumstances, try to sound bad. But when I’m working on a reed, I want to find its limitations, and that requires the willingness to go beyond them. Very often, people place relatively few demands on their reeds when working on them: Does it have a palatable sound? Sure. Does it play basically in tune at a mezzo-something dynamic? More or less. (Is the tuner on? Not always…)*

I’m certainly not discounting the importance of those qualities, but the fact is, most reeds can be made to meet those criteria. Here’s what I want to know: Does a reed respond at the extreme soft end of the dynamic range? Does the tenor register tend to be flat? Does the sound spread at the loud end of the dynamic range? Can it taper a note in tune?

To be fair, we can usually force an OK reed to do these things to some degree. But that’s not good enough. The reed has to meet us halfway, to play well enough that we don’t have to sweat through every moderately-uncomfortable entrance. When we’re in the clutches of performance anxiety and we might crash and burn, we often don’t have the physical or mental capacity to coax a so-so reed into doing a better than so-so job.

So, if a reed wants to stop responding, I let it stop responding. If it wants to play sharp, I let it play sharp. (This, incidentally, is very difficult to do, since we’re so conditioned to make the needle on the tuner go dead center.) Then, having ascertained the reed’s shortcomings, I work on it until either it improves or I conclude that I want that reed out of my life.

In spite of all this, the perfect reed remains elusive (or, more likely, illusive). No reed will easily do everything we want it to do. Every reed has limitations. Therefore, on a day-to-day basis, we choose the reed that is best-suited to the specific demands of what we're playing. Having done that, it becomes our duty to play right up to its limits, but no further, when we’re playing with and for others. Put another way, when others are depending on us to play well, we have the help the reed sound good by hiding its limitations.

To do this, we must cultivate not just the ability to assess what a reed will do on a particular day, but the experience and presence of mind to adjust our playing accordingly. Ideally, in the sometimes-terrifying moments littered throughout the repertoire, there must be an overlap between what we can do to help the reed and what the reed can do to help us. We have to be able to trust in both our practice and in our unrelentingly honest work at the reed desk to help carry us through.

*I always turn my tuner on before I start working on a reed. Sometimes I’ll like the way a reed feels and would rather stay ignorant than find out that it plays out of tune. We have to know if a reed is objectively out of tune, and if it is, we have to address it. It’s a small mind game that I play with myself, but an important one.