Topic: Moennig and Cork Grease - from the IDRS OnLine Archive

Moennig and Cork Grease (February 1, 2005)

By Norman Herzberg | Interview
The discussions about different kinds of cork grease remind me of my experience with Hans Moennig in 1952 when I was in his shop on my annual visit having my bassoon adjusted.  When he was working on instruments I always watched him and there were many valuable experiences and lessons that stayed with me all during my professional life. I still recall them and I have been able to impart some of his knowledge to many repair people.
Regarding the occasion of which I am writing Hans put some cork grease on one of the bassoon joints. It came from a typical small circular container of commercial white cork grease. I decided to ask him what cork grease he recommended. He said he did not have any special one, but when he was repairing instruments in Europe he liked the cork grease they made from deer tallow.  He added that it not only worked very well, but that it had a wonderful odor. He obviously had fond memories of the deer tallow they used.

That summer I was teaching in Aspen Colorado and at that time it was a small undeveloped village. There was a lot of deer hunting in the Fall and Winter and there was a small packing house where people took the deer to be stored in their freezer until they called for it. Remembering the way Hans spoke about deer tallow, I went to the packing house and asked the proprietor if he kept the deer tallow when he stored the deer parts. He said he did not keep it. I asked him if he would send me some during the coming winter and he was very obliging and said he would. In November or December when I was back in the St. Louis Symphony, I received a large package from the packing house in Aspen. It contained some large pieces of deer fat well preserved because of the cold weather.

I decided to render them and I put them in a large vessel and heated them until they melted. I had prepared some large empty containers and poured the rendered liquid into them. By the way, the odor was not very attractive! Then I placed them in the refrigerator. I used some and it seemed to be OK.

When I went to Philadelphia for my annual visit to Moennig, I took one of the containers of rendered deer tallow. I handed a jar of the tallow to him. It was pure white. Hans opened it and smelled it. Then he turned to me and “curled” up his nose and said,  “What is it?” I told him the jar contained deer tallow that I had sent from Aspen last winter. “Well, the German deer tallow does not smell like that!” I was disappointed in his reaction and I suggested that I take it back. “Oh no”, he said, “I can use it”.

With that he put it on a shelf and I did not hear about it from then on. As for the deer tallow I had kept for myself, I used it for over 35 years. It never became rancid, and it did not get  gummy. It did not “pile up” on string or cork. I used it sparingly and I still have some.

Yoshi Ishikawa
Professor of Bassoon, U of Colorado at Boulder
Editor, IDRS OnLine Publications
Administrator, IDRS Forum