I've had great bassoon teachers, including Bernard Garfield, Sol Schoenbach, Christopher Millard and Gerald Corey. All of them were hugely successful and gifted performers. And fathers. And as teachers, they all gave their best and remained friends with me.
Yesterday, for the first time in years, I pulled out a letter that I have kept in my bassoon case since early in my career. Every time I buy a new bassoon, this old letter comes with me. I have included both the original and a typewritten version for those who can't easily read Sol's rapid cursive. I have tried to maintain his poetic capitalizations of certain nouns.
Back in the days of pen-and-paper, I wrote regularly to all my teachers and while I have kept all of their replies, this missive from Sol is the only letter that has traveled with me. Seeing it in my case grounds me and makes me feel at home wherever I am in the world. He opens with a review of a recital recording that I had sent him (cassette tape) and adds a suggestion for how to plan my career in Canada, and ends with a glimpse into his own busy life with career and family. I went on to make commercial recordings of all the works that were on that long-ago recital. And I did my best to follow his career recommendations in the shallow soil of the Canadian garden. He wasn't right about everything, but he kept me moving forward.
As a teacher, Sol was always utterly candid. He even let me drag a giant cassette recorder into a lesson at a time when that was not common. Though I needed his insight and support, I felt like an equal. He and his beloved wife (a visual artist) Bertha welcomed me into their home though Bertha would always leave us to have our intense bassoon-rich conversations that would turn into duets and dinner. Luckily for them, I lived far away, so these were annual or semi-annual events.
Be good to your teachers if they have been good to you. Mine were all good to me and celebrated both bassoon and the joys of being alive. Happy Father's Day.
Sol's letter to Nadina Mackie - June 15, 1989
Chere Nadina: Bravissimo! I’m in shock from such a great tape. Can’t find any fault and wanted more. Your Telemann was a tour de force, your Boismortier was in style and taste. Your harpsichord resonated beautifully + the player was superb (Why not give it to the country that nurtured you. CIM has lots of worldly possessions) [reference to an earlier letter where I thought of donating my little harpsichord to Curtis]. The Hétu fascinated me. Your ascending legatos were as Shakespeare writes in his sonnet --- “Like as the waves make to the pebbled shore, Each giving way to the one that went before!” But it was the Bitsch that took me over completely. Beginning with a sensuous, almost erotic sound and climaxing on the thrilling “E’s”. The last mv’t. with an inevitability that swept me along to a breathless ending. Never heard anything to equal that. Thanks + send more.
Your tone is much better and smooth and round as a baby’s Backside. Tone, Tongue, Technique, Phrasing all super.
So what happened in Toronto on June 9?? [reference to whichever principal bassoon audition happened on June 9, 1989] Hopefully they were as impressed as I was. Returned from hot Sarasota June 13th. Great class of 10 Bassoonists and chamber music. Very pleasant to renew old friendships. The Festival is most successful.
You are heavily recorded and must make lots of $$$’s. Save them for the big escape: Hoenich [principal bassoon of MSO at the time] is promoted up [to assistant conductor] and you have a great garden to cultivate right there. All our loving best and thanks for thrilling an “old man.”
Heart much improved. Preparing for our 50th on July 2nd sponsored by our son Peter + Anne