Sunday, March 27, 2016

Gumption 101 (Summertime for Bassoon Students)

Teachers and performers who really make the world a better place are a rare breed, and Jo Ann Simpson is one of these people.

A fine professional bassoonist, she is an exceptional individual who actively, calmly, and insightfully nurtures the talents of young players and those of the many professionals she invites to her camp. 

For those bassoonists who attend, from beginner to worldly professional, it’s a rare glimpse into a totally successful life as a musician, bassoonist and teacher, far from the support systems of traditional orchestras and university positions.

I receive many requests each year from different music camps and universities, all wanting me to promote their schools to my students.  I forward some of the links but usually feel a bit weird about it. As a performer and teacher myself, I tend to be familiar with places that have included me in some capacity, which means that there are many that I don’t know anything about.  But I know something about Brooke Valley Bassoon Days, and this is the one that I would recommend first.  

When I taught and performed there in 2014, I saw a camp that allowed easy interaction between students and teachers, one that was professional, structured and musically disciplined with lessons, rehearsals and concerts, but also respected the whole person by offering yoga classes, recreation time, collective meals, and reed-making events. 

As a teacher and performer, I had the opportunity to teach and to play exactly the repertoire I wanted, plus do a workshop that incorporated discovery and experimentation for both the students and me.   

The country setting kept everything in close connection to the natural world, and there was a sense of familial safety; rooms were identified by the names of great bassoon performers, thus directing our thoughts to players beyond the borders of our experience, and reminding us that we are part of a larger community of bassoonists.  Members of the class were encouraged to perform, participate, talk, swim, and exercise… to live life to the full, while at the same time being encouraged to care for each other.  At least, that is how it seemed to me.

The whole atmosphere breathed of resourcefulness, of a life fully lived in music, with discipline and open-mindedness.  Jo Ann runs Brooke Valley Bassoon Days in collaboration with my former orchestra colleague and dear friend, Richard Hoenich.  A genuinely gifted musician, conductor and wonderful former principal bassoonist of the Montreal Symphony, Richard brings wisdom and truly beautiful musicianship to the camp. Each season, they invite other guest professional bassoonists, along with bassoon makers and repairmen, to widen everyone’s horizons. 
This season’s featured teacher and performer Christopher Millard, beloved principal bassoonist of NACO, along with bassoon makers and repairmen.  Go to the website to check out the details  and get an idea of the impressive offerings.  But mostly, go to this camp to absorb some of the gumption that the founders, Jo Ann Simpson and Richard Hoenich have shown during their rich and successful careers in music.  ALL ages and skill levels are welcomed and incorporated into the musical fabric.
(August 20-26, 2016)

And speaking of gumption and initiative, a young professional, Mike Harley wrote to me recently about a weekend workshop on NewBassoon Workshop – multiphonics, circular breathing, electronics, live-looping, commissioning, !@#!@#$ BERIO), that is being run out of Eastman by the Dark  in the Song collective.  Here are players who are fearlessly exploring the newer techniques and repertoire for our fabulous instrument and it’s essential learning for all of us.  The tuition covers 30 hours of instruction and I think is enormously worthwhile for bassoonists of every age.  Go! I might go too.  (July 6-9)

There are, of course, other many music camps for bassoonists in Canada. Here is an incomplete list, based on the letters written to me recently by the directors. I have no direct experience with any of them, but I always respect initiative and I promised the writers that I would mention their camps. I may have forgotten some because filing is not my strong point, but in any case, here are three:

VSO Institute   (June 26 – July 5), Scotia Festival Young Artists Program  (May 22 to June 5) and PRISMA   (June 12-25).

GUMPTION ALERT – ALL these schools need bassoonists!  If you have the moxie (aka gumption), ask for a scholarship and be prepared to be a stellar candidate if they grant you one!

Parting thought (GUMPTION 101) ----You can do all of these camps, and/or, DIY! Consider asking a great teacher if you can have private lessons. You can tailor an individualized program of study and practice that will boost your playing enormously. There are many great bassoonists in Canada and beyond… think of one whom you admire and ask for a lesson!  Or start a fund raising campaign and raise the money for 10 lessons, and book a recital in your hometown to finish the summer.  There is a world out there that needs your creativity and ideas too.

Gumption and summertime… an unbeatable combination.  I'll stop saying gumption now.

Love to all,


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