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Penobscot Woman Makes Historic Bassoons By Hand 

Leslie Ross has been building musical instruments for more than three decades.

She specializes in baroque bassoons.

Joy Hollowell paid a visit to Ross’ workshop in Penobscot to see how this unique Made in Maine product in created.

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“The instruments I make are replicas of historical instruments.”

Leslie Ross moved to Penobscot in 2014. Before that, she had a studio in New York City. Ross builds copies of centuries old bassoons.

“A 300 year old bassoon isn’t in playing condition,” Ross explains. “And you don’t want to tweak an original.”

Instead, Ross uses measurements from the original instruments to create a prototype. From there, she drills, sands, welds and more to create an instrument that replicates and resonates from the Renaissance period. No surprise, Ross also plays the bassoon.

“When I was in high school, the first thing I did was strip the instrument of all its keys when I brought it home for the first time, literally.”

Ross also worked at a music repair show while in high school. Later, while attending music school, she became involved in early music. After graduating, Ross was hired to build bassoons. She eventually went on to open her own shop in the Big Apple. But commercial buildings in New York City aren’t rent controlled and it became financially unsustainable for Ross to stay. Drawn to the ocean, she moved to Maine.

“When people say they are playing on a period instrument and they’re playing Bach or Renaissance music classical music, they’re actually playing on copies of original instruments.”

To make those instruments, Ross starts with blocks of wood.

“Mostly curly maple, and I use both hard and soft woods,” she says. “I also use fruit woods- cherry is the most common but I also use pear wood and on occasion apple wood when I can find it. And what I would really love to use but have never found, is plum wood.”

She drills a hole into each block, then lets it sit for several years to cure. After that, it’s a painstaking and meticulous process that takes at least 100 hours to complete. That’s because everything on the instrument, from the reeds to the metal fittings, pins and keys, was all made by Ross. She even constructs the reamers, 10 of them, to widen the deeper holes. Ross says it is a labor of love and therefore hard to narrow down which part of the process is her favorite.

“I can tell you the least exciting part is,” she says, laughing, “When I’m on day two of sanding.”

And just like works of art, no two of Ross’ instruments are alike. She is, however, obligated to one thing, it has to work.

“Even if it’s got this fantastic sound and I love the way this note centers and there’s all these harmonies,” she says,smiling, “if it’s out of tune, it doesn’t matter, right?”

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Ross will be speaking at the Southwest Harbor Public Library next Tuesday, March 21st. From 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

The event is part of Women’s History Month.

For more information on that, you can call the library at 244-7065.

For more information on Leslie Ross, you can log onto http://leslieross.net/