MUSIC, MONEY, SUCCESS and FAILURE  – Things I Keep Learning  From My Amazing Yet Weird Career

Part One –  how long did it take you to learn that concerto?

After my most recent concerto concert on October 11, 2017, a bright-eyed student asked me how long it took me to learn the challenging and beautiful Apollo X concerto for bassoon, strings and percussion, written for me by Paul Frehner.

Second performance of Apollo X
photo by Bo Huang photography

I was delighted that he had a question, so I blinked and replied, but really, I had answers for so many more questions. Really specific answers to specific (and unasked) questions.  But how to answer this one innocent question… how long to learn a unique concerto?

I wanted to take the microphone, call for silence and announce that multiple lifetimes go into learning any concerto, that life interjects so many unknowns there is not ever a straight, tidy continuum, and that we are never learning only one concerto, except maybe in school.  Even on this concert, we also gave the Canadian premieres of Patricia Morehead’s poly-modal, ornate Come Dance With Me The Dance Of Life, Bernard Garfield’s beloved Soliloquy arranged for strings and Mathieu Lussier’s painfully lovely Song of Love and Sorrow.

Composer Paul Frehner conducts Apollo X with NMJ and Out Of This World Orchestra
photo by Bo Huang photography


Composer Patricia Moreland after Canadian premiere of Come Dance With Me
photo by Bo Huang photography

This month, I had 9 other concerts and 13 rehearsals (two of which I missed due to FOOD POISONING)and I prepared 50+ other pieces of music, the shortest of which was one minute (Flight of the Bumblebee) and the longest of which was about an hour (Das Lied von der Erde).  So not much time for last-minute preparation.

In my world, planning is always key yet plans usually change.  If the composer delivers a concerto the day before I record it (as in Sicilian Proverbs on our Canadian Concerto Project Vol I CD), then I learn it in one day and record it the next… if I get it one week before the premiere, as in the second movement of Silver Angel, but I know in advance that this concerto is going to go to high F# on the top of the treble clef staff, then I practice my scales to the stratosphere and then I learn the concerto in one week when the music is actually in my hand.  If my Dad has multiple strokes two days before I premiere a concerto, as in the case of my first performance of Apollo X in 2016, then I wonder, have I “learned” this well enough not to be shaken? And when I played the Mozart concerto multiple times as a student and young professional, and changed the cadenzas every time, how long did that concerto take me to learn? Even when the concertos are “learned”, sometimes an opportunity arises to play something that you haven’t rehearsed for a couple of years.  And in any event, the goal is to perform… learning is implicit and ongoing as skills and perception increase. So it takes not only time, but a lifetime of experience to learn any concerto or great work of music.

I would love to be surprised by other questions from students and interested audience members, but maybe they are too polite to ask.  I have to hustle to pack up the merch, music, bassoon and  hall after a show, but we can always talk while I work.  Here are just a few examples in no particular order of importance.  Of course I won’t have or give answers to all of them yet I still hope that these questions and more will get answered.  And anyone who loves classical music might want to think about the practical elements that go into making it happen.

How much does it cost to self-present a concerto concert?
How long does it take to commission a new concerto?
How do you pay for a commission a new concerto?
How do you approach a composer to ask for a piece?
Do composers ever approach you?
Do composers ever just write a piece and give it to you?
How do I get the music for this concerto that you just played?  Would it make sense to ask the composer who is also at the concert and who just conducted his own piece? Could you introduce me? Could I get his autograph?
How do you know how much to pay composers and musicians?
How do you raise the money? Do ticket sales cover your costs? How much does it cost you to give out free tickets?
Do you make your own programs and posters?  How much does it cost?
How do you sell your tickets online?
How do you manage credit card payments?
Do you have grants or sponsors or neither?
How much do you get paid when you play concerti with orchestras?  How much does a flute soloist get paid? Or a violin soloist?  Why are they different? Why are there no bassoon soloists on mainstage concerts?
How many concerti exist for bassoon?
How many complete concerti did Vivaldi alone write? How many unfinished concerti did Vivaldi start?
How many concerti have been written for you? (see list below)
Where will you be playing your next concerto?
Have you recorded these concerti? (see list below)
Who is writing your next concerto?
How do you write contracts?
Can (did) you learn any of this in school?
How do you book rehearsals for large groups with of people who are working in different orchestras?
Where do you rehearse?
How many reeds do you make?
How much does it cost to rent space?
How do you find time to study scores when you are traveling so much?
What are your methods for memorization?
What other concerti do you play?
Why do you do this when you could make more money sitting in a symphony or opera orchestra or teaching in a U. S. university? Why are there no bassoon professorships in Canada?
Do performers need to learn anything special about performing? Or do they just walk on stage and play?
Is a hand-picked group different from an established orchestra?
Where did you get your dress/boots/hair/attitude?
How do you look after a family while being a musician?
How do you learn to play in the extreme high range of the bassoon?
Who was the first woman bassoon soloist?  Who was the first black woman bassoon soloist? And the second?
How do you get people to come to concerts?
Who takes care of the logistics of copying music, correcting parts and getting it to the players?
Who takes care of stage management, lighting and recording?
Who books your  CD tours to take this music to the people?
Do you have to pay people to do those things? Or do you do it yourself?
Do you have any support from your university?
Do you have a website? YouTube channel? Soundcloud?
How do you play when you are sick?
Is it true that you can be a great soloist, chamber musician, teacher and orchestral player?  Or can you only be one of these things?
Is this a lonely life?  Does it take more time than a regular job?
Who else is performing bassoon concerti in Canada? In the US? In the world?
Are there other Canadian bassoonists who have done something like this? What are their names?  Which concerti did they commission?  Where can I get parts and scores for these concerti?
How would I learn to do all this?
Do you need interns to help with rehearsals and concerts?

The goal is to ask a million questions and do a million things and to be curious.

So, in answer to the question, how long did it take me to learn Apollo X…somewhere between a year and a lifetime.

Concerti and works for solo bassoon and orchestra written for Nadina Mackie Jackson
First performance dates and venues

1. SONG OF LOVE AND SORROW (2017) by Mathieu Lussier, for solo bassoon and ?strings, premiere October 11, 2017 at Heliconian Hall

2.  squeezed from wood (2016) by Lucas Oickle for solo bassoon and full orchestra
commissioned by Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra
August 27, 2016, St John’s Anglican, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia with Nova Scotia ?Youth Orchestra led by Dinuk Wijeratne
August 28, 2016, deCoste Centre, Pictou, Nova Scotia with Nova Scotia Youth ?Orchestra led by Dinuk Wijeratne
August 28, 2016, Halifax, St Matthews United Church, Nova Scotia with Nova Scotia ?Youth Orchestra led by Dinuk Wijeratne

3. SILVER ANGEL (2015) by Constantine Caravassilis for solo bassoon and string orchestra, commissioned by Ontario Arts Council and Thirteen Strings (Ottawa) June 12, 2015, St Andrews, led by Kevin Mallon
October 24, 2016, Heliconian Hall, Toronto, led by Constantine Caravassilis

4. APOLLO X (2013)by Paul Frehner, for solo bassoon, string orchestra and percussion, commissioned by Ontario Arts Council & Orchestra London
November 21, 2013, Hyatt Hotel Ballroom, fundraiser gala, first movement only, Orchestra London led by Alain Trudel
February 5, 2016, Centre for Social Innovation, world premiere, group of twenty-seven chamber orchestra led by Eric Paetkau;
October 11, 2017 with NMJ and Out of This World, Heliconian Hall, Toronto

5. SICILIAN PROVERBS (2013)by Michael Occhipinti for trumpet, bassoon & string orchestra ?with percussion and electric guitar, commissioned by Nadina Mackie Jackson
April 25, 2014 , Bloor Street United Church– group of twenty-seven chamber orchestra led by Eric Paetkau

6. THIRTEEN SECONDS by Michael Occhipinti – for trumpet, bassoon & string orchestra with percussion and electric guitar – gift of composer April 25, 2014, Bloor Street United ?Church – group of twenty-seven chamber orchestra led by Eric Paetkau

7. NIGHTFALL, Op. 27(2009) by Mathieu Lussier for trumpet, bassoon, harp and wind ensemble, commissioned  by the American Wind Symphony
?November 23, 2009, Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, WLU Wind Ensemble led by ?Michael Purves-Smith

8. FORT COLIGNY (2014)by Mathieu Lussier for trumpet, bassoon & orchestra
February 16, 2014, Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts– Orchestra Toronto led by Kevin Mallon

9. man will only grieve if he believes the sun stands still (from Bassoon Concerto No. 2)(2010) by Glenn Buhr (also exists in a version for corno da caccia & bassoon)
November 9, 2012, Grace Church on the Hil – group of  twenty-seven led by Eric Paetkau

10. CONCERTO by Adam Scime (2010)for amplified bassoon, electronics and chamber ensemble, January 24, 2011, Walter Hall, University of Toronto New Music Ensemble, led by Constantine Caravassilis

11. ODDBIRD CONCERTO(2011) by Mathieu Lussier for bassoon, string orchestra and percussion November 15, 2013, Trinity St-Paul, Toronto, group of twenty-seven chamber orchestra led by Eric Paetkau

12. CARNETS DE VOYAGES (2007)by Alain Trudel, double concerto for trumpet and bassoon with string orchestra and percussion, commissioned by CBC February 8, 2008, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto Chamber Orchestra led by Alain Trudel

13. LE DERNIER CHANT D’OPHELIE(2008) by Mathieu Lussier for bassoon & string orchestra
February 2008, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto Chamber Orchestra, led by Alain Trudel (repeatperformances May 21, 2016,Toronto, May 23, 2016, Drayton, June 4, 5 and 6, 2016 inEugene, Oregon and September 25, 2016, Toronto)

14. SPRING LULLABY(2007) by Mathieu Lussier for bassoon and string orchestra
2010, Ayr, Ontario, Grand River Baroque Festival Orchestra led by Eric Paetkau
(also exists in a version for corno da caccia & bassoon)

15. BASSANGO by Mathieu Lussier for bassoon & string orchestra
February 2, 2014, Brampton, Rose Orchestra led by David Warrak
Amati Saskatoon at Convocation Hall;
August 27, 2014 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in Marsh Auditorium of the University of Southern Mississippi
August 30, 2014 in Harris Hall at the University of Memphis (Bassoonapalooza); University of Toronto, September, 2016
August, 2009, Just Plain Folks music awards, Wildhorse Saloon, Nashville

16. BACCHANALE by Mathieu Lussier for trumpet and bassoon  with string orchestra
June 16, 2007, Ayr, Ontario, Grand River Baroque Festival
2007, Fredonia, New York, State University of New York at Fredonia 2007
2012 Saskatoon, Amati Strings

17. DOUBLE CONCERTO by Mathieu Lussier for trumpet and bassoon with string orchestra
June 16, 2007, 2010 Grand River Baroque Festival
2014, Okanagan Symphony Orchestra led by Rosemary Thomson
April 4, 2014, Kelowna Community Theatre, Kelowna, B.C.
April 5, 2014, Cleland Community Theatre, Penticton, B. C.
April 6, 2016, Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre, Vernon, B. C.

Nadina Mackie Jackson – Complete Discography 2017
solo recordings
SCARLATTI k545, k213,
k501, adapted for solo bassoon.
Independent (2015)

Lussier Oddbird, Le Dernier
Chant d’Ophélie; Occhipinti
Sicilian Proverbs, Thirteen Seconds;
Buhr man will only grieve
if he believes the sun stands
still. msr Classics 1480 (2012;
Juno nomination 2014)

480, 483, 484, 491, 495, 498, 499.
msr Classics 1451 (2011)

ROMANZA Hummel Concerto;
Weber Andante & Rondo;
Lachner Concertino
msr Classics 1232 (2008)

BACCHANALE Hindemith & Lussier
Double Concerti; Bassango &
Spring Lullaby.
msr Classics 1201 (2007)

AFTER HOURS Shostakovitch,
St Saëns, Rimsky-Korsakov,
Paganini, Boismortier,
Piazzolla. Independent (2010)

24 SOLOS (1740), Jean-Daniel
Braun Independent (2010)
Notes From Abroad Bitsch Concertino,
Schreck Sonata; Lussier,
Schurmer. Independent (2004)

EVER AFTER, Prokofiev Sonata
opus 94; Scarlatti Sonatas, Bach;
Lussier Caprices. Independent(2003)

Flute Fantasias. Oddbird
Studios (2000)

chamber music
THREE with Leslie Newman
and Guy Few, Piazolla, Kuhlau,
Couperin. Independent (2015)

CAMERA Music of David
Occhipinti. lmc Media (2012)

Business of Angels
Baroque PIP1110(2011)

Wind Sextets. atma Classique

MUSICA FRANCA: Michel Corrette
Complete Délices de la Solitude;
Le Phénix; Organ Concerto no.1 in
G Major. msr Classics 1171 (2005)

MUSICA FRANCA: Joseph Bodin de
Boismortier msr Classics 1170

CALIBAN DOES CHRSITMAS Caliban Does Christmas. atma
Classique (2005)
Feast. bis Northern Lights (2003)

BASSOONATICS cbc Records (1997)

baroque and classical
Haydn Symphonies 62, 107 &
108, Toronto Chamber Orchestra.
naxos 8572130 (2008)

Pichel Symphonies, Zakin 8, 11, 14
& 16, Toronto Chamber Orchestra.
naxos 8557761 (2005)

Handel Israel In Egypt, Aradia
Ensemble. naxos 8570966-6

Handel Water Music and Music
for the Royal Fireworks, Aradia
Ensemble. naxos (2006)

Handel Music for the Royal Fireworks
and Concerti a due chori,
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
sony (1997; Juno Award 1998)

orchestre symphonique de
montréal with charles dutoit
thanks to OSM website

Bartók Concerto for Orchestra,
Music for Strings, Percussion
and Celesta. Decca 421-443-2
(recorded 1987; released 1988;
Juno Award 1989)

Berlioz Harold in Italy, Overture
‘Rob Roy’, Overture ‘The Corsair’,
Pinchas Zukerman. Decca 421-193-
2; re-edition #455361 (recorded
1987; released 1988)

Berlioz Roméo et Juliette,
opus 17, Symphonie funèbre
et triomphale, mso Choir. 2-Decca 417-302-2/
(excerpts) 425-001-2 (recorded
1985; released 1986)

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique,
opus 14. Decca 414-203-2
(recorded 1984; released 1985.
Grand Prix du Président de la
République-France, 1986; Prix de
l’Académie du disque du Japon,

Berlioz Le Carnaval Romain.
Decca 028945248028 (recorded
1984, released 1997)

Bizet L’Arlésienne Suites 1 and
2 (arr Guiraud); Carmen Suites
1 and 2. Decca 417-839-2 (recorded
1986 & 1987; released 1988)

Chopin Piano Concertos 1 and
2. Jorge Bolet. Decca 425-859-2
(recorded 1989; released 1990)

Debussy Images, Nocturnes.
Decca 425-502-2 (recorded 1988;
released 1990; Juno Award 1990)

Debussy La Mer, Jeux, Le Martyr
de St-Sébastien, Prélude à l’aprèsmidi
d’un faune. Decca 430-240-2
(recorded 1989; released 1990;
Grand Prix de l’Académie du
disque du Japon, 1991)

Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande,
Didier Henry, Colette Alliot-Lugaz.
2-Decca 430-502-2 (recorded 1990;
released 1991; Prix Félix adisq,
1991; Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik,
1991; Juno Award
1992; Grammy nomination 1992)

Elgar Enigma Variations, Falstaff.
Decca 430-241-2 (recorded 1989;
released 1991; Prix Félix adisq,
1991; Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik,
1991; Juno Award
1992; Grammy nomination 1992)

Falla The Three Cornered Hat
(complete ballet), El Amor brujo.
Decca 71060/Decca 410-008-2/
Three Cornered Hat selections,
Ovation 417-748-2 (recorded 1981;
released 1983; Prix Georges-Auric
de l’Académie du disque français,
1984; High Fidelity International
Record Critics’ Award, 1984)

Fauré Requiem, Pavane, Pelléas
et Mélisande. Kiri Te Kanawa,
Sherrill Milnes, mso Choir. Decca
421-440-2 (recorded 1987; released

Fête à la Française: Bizet, Dukas,
Satie, et al. Decca 421-527-2
(recorded 1987; released 1989)

Franck Symphony – d’Indy Symphonie
sur un chant montagnard
français, Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Decca 430-278-2 (recorded 1989;
released 1991)

Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, Guy
Cowley; An American in Paris,
James Thomson; Cuban Overture;
A Symphonic Portait of Porgy and
Bess. Louis, Lortie. Decca 425-
111-2 (recorded 1988; released
1989; Prix Félix adisq, 1990)

Holst The Planets, Women of
the mso Choir. Decca 417-553-2
(recorded 1986; released 1987;
Juno Award 1987, Grand Prix du
Disque, Canada, 1988; Edison
Award, Amsterdam, 1988; Mumm
Champagne Classical Music
Award, 1988; Grammy Nomination,
1988; Grammy nomination
Vidéo, 1996)

Lalo Symphonie Espagnole;
Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto no.3,
Joshua Bell violin. Decca 425-501-2
(recorded 1988; released 1989)

Mendelssohn A Midsummer
Night’s Dream, opus 61; The
Hebrides; The Fair Melusine;
Ruy Blas. Decca 417-541-2
(recorded 1986; released 1987)

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibitio;
Night on the Bare Mountain;
Khovanshchina; Rimsky-Korsakov
Russian Easter Festival Overture.
Decca 417-299-2 (recorded 1985;
released 1988; Grammy Nomination
Vidéo, 1996)

Noël Noël. Leontyne Price,
Tudor Singers of Montreal.
Decca 410-198-1 (recorded 1983;
released 1983; Grammy nomination,

Offenbach Gaîté parisienne;
Gounod Faust (ballet). Decca
411-708-2 (recorded; released

Prokofiev Roméo and Juliet
excerpts. Decca 430-279-2
(recorded 1989; released 1991)
Prokofiev Symphony no. 1
‘Classical’; Symphony no. 5.
Decca 421-813-2 (recorded
1988; released 1989)

Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky,
Lieutenant Kije, Jard Van Nes.
Decca 430506 (recorded 1990;
released 1992)

Ravel Boléro; Alborada del
gracioso; Rapsodie espagnole;
La Valse. lon 71059/Decca
410-010-2/4-Jubilee 421-458-2/
10-Decca 430-239-2/(Boléro, La
Valse) Decca 414-406-2 (recorded
1981; released 1982; Prix Félix
adisq, 1983; Disque d’Or, Canada,
1983; Disque de Platine, Canada,

Ravel Ma Mère l’Oye complete
ballet, Pavane pour une infante
défunte; Le Tombeau de Couperin;
Valses nobles et sentimentales.
Decca 410-254-2/4-Jubilee 421-
458-2/(Pavane) Decca 414-406-2
(recorded 1982; released 1983)

Ravel Orchestral Works.
4-Jubilee 421-458-2 (1988)
Ravel Piano Concertos; et al.
Pascal Rogé. Decca 410-230-2
(recorded 1982; released 1984;
Prix concerto français de
l’Académie du disque français,
1984; Prix Edisson, Amsterdam,

Respighi Pines of Rome, Feste
Romane, Fountians of Rome.
Decca 71091/Decca 410-145-2
(recorded, 1982; released 1983)
Rimsky-Korsakov Scherazade
suite; Capriccio espagnol.
Richard Roberts. Decca 410-253-2
(recorded 1983; released 1984)

Saint-Saëns Symphony no.3,
Peter Hurford. Decca 71090/Decca
410-201-2 (recorded 1982; released
1983; Prix de la musique française
de l’Académie du disque français,

Stravinsky The Firebird; Scherzo
fantastique; Feu d’artifice. Decca
414-409-2 (recorded 1984; released

Stravinsky Pétrouchka, Le Chant
du Rossignol, Quatre études, Art
Maiste. Decca 417-619-2 (recorded
1986; released 1987; Laser d’or
de l’Académie du disque français,
1988; Grand Prix du disque,
Canada, 1988)

Suppé Overtures. Decca 414-408-2
(recorded 1984; released 1986;
Prix Félix adisq, 1986)

Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture,
Capriccio italien, The Nutracker
Suite, Marche slave. Decca 71058/
Decca 417-300-2 (recorded 1985;
released 1986; Prix Félix adisq,


Ideas On Practicing

Ideas on practicing
Nadina Mackie Jackson
As a result of preparing two particularly challenging pieces this fall (Silver Angel by Constantine Caravassilis & Sonata Concertante by Nikos Skalkottas), I am in the process of compiling & publishing my first comprehensive book on technique.  And thinking a lot of what it means to practise. 
If you have a musical goal and a powerful feeling of how you want it to resound, you will find the path, or rather, the many branching paths.  Astonishingly, they will occasionally link at a point that is not visible from your present perspective.

The Big Picture is created from an ever-flowing fountain of details.  And sometimes it is a bursting firecracker fanning into the night sky that has to be lit over and over.
How many hours to practice is not the question.
Rather, I suggest a certain number of hours so that you can learn how many hours it takes to develop a continuing awareness of your practice, e.g. building on your work from day to day.  If you practice the same thing every day, it will not longer be the same thing.  It will be better, even if you are not (yet) the perfect embodiment of practice perfection. 
Practice is more than blowing into your bassoon though that is important, too.
It is much more than doing what your teacher says. Though that is important, too.
It is about the discovering the depth of detail required by your mind and body to perform music in the way that you crave.
Practice is done by the brain.  The brain is inextricably linked to the body; there is no hierarchy of superiority, only of function. The brain has the capacity to grow and develop based on challenge (at least according to the book I am reading at the moment, The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (Viking Press)), analogous to the way that muscles grow and develop.  Challenge your brain every day, and train your body, and thus it is safe to say that you begin to think of practice as something that transcends a finite number of hours in the day.
Through developing routines and patterns, you develop the route to greater freedoms.  Like a map of a country that is constantly developing, detail is added to the basic structure as your perception becomes increasingly refined.  Repeated gesture eventually becomes part of your instinct and you move to the next challenge.
If you aim to practice four hours (or two or six) in a day, you can find those hours at different times and different places.  Then the luxury of having an equipped studio will be exactly that, a luxury. 
If you practice every day, then the odd phenomenon of relatedness kicks in of its own accord, and when you hear an illuminating thought from an non-bassoon source, it will alchemically shift in your spirit to become “something to try” the next time that your bassoon is in your hands.
If you practice every day, none of the other, non-practicing moments are wasted.  With the constant reference of your practice, you can relate other information to this skill.  Distressing rehearsals can be reframed as a means of concentrating on a specific aspect of your technique (e.g. madly practicing double and flutter-tonguing during an out-of-tune fortissimo brass chord in wind ensemble, don’t tell them and I won’t either); time spent on the bus can be an opportunity to imagine a cadenza in shape and spirit.  Imagination is a huge part of practicing.
Stability lies within yourself.  You are the reference for the reeds, the instrument, the sound, and the goals.  Find the centre in yourself to maintain pitch integrity.  The more you require of yourself, the stronger this feeling will become.
And I do think discovery lies in conscious exploration (some people call that research).  The simplest route is via polarities:  e.g. fast scales and slow scales; jubilant scales and dismal scales… you pick the adjectives.
Practice structure. Be systematic and thorough; the wild imagination must be grounded in a secure foundation.  In this way, you develop mental security and a strong embouchure (mind & body unite).
Practice emboldenment alongside refinement.  Through polarities you will find your style.  Your style will emerge anyway, but the conscious understanding of its existence will allow it to blossom as a real voice rather than a set of limitations.
Practice confidence which, simply put, means consciously attempting musical challenges that frighten you.  Add to that trust, faith and courage. Eventually you will develop grace in moving through obstacles.  There will always be obstacles.  And you will not be stopped by them.
I have to practice now.


GO JUMP IN THE LAKE! Learning to swim in new places

My life is always nuts. Even though I am just a quiet little blue-haired bassoonist, trying to look after my family, students, pay bills, update my website, make art, make reeds, light a fire under my snoozy management and play concerts, other stuff is always happening.  My lawyer doesn’t even say hello when she answers the phone these days, she just laughs and says, “What now!?”

But you get good at whatever you do all the time, and I am getting good at multi-tasking.  And I love connecting with people through playing my bassoon, and I am finding ways to bring music to new places as part of my complex life.

Life involves family… my family is complicated. My parents had extraordinary lives, helping thousands of people learn to build their own homes, self-publishing books, activism and more.  My Dad, B. Allan Mackie, finished his last house six years ago, at the age of 84, then began a truly epic health battle (cancer, Parkinson’s and more), yet he can still motivate and inspire me by the fact that he just doesn’t give up, even when the pain is overwhelming.  My Mom, Mary Mackie, was felled with breast cancer exactly four years and one month ago, but her spirit lives on. And she kept writing in her political blog, the Legislature Raids under the pseudonym of BC Mary (and continued by her friend Robin Matthews) until the moment of her final taxi ride. What I’m trying to say is that I have witnessed the true superheroes of my life being slowly twisted to the ground with mortal injuries that they had never anticipated, and still, despite the exhaustion, confusion and pain, their lives are still worthwhile and immensely valuable.
So, as I fit in the duties of life while playing concerts, commissioning new composers, writing grants for the next Juno-nominated CDs (a girl can dream), developing the new website, finishing large art projects and booking for the upcoming seasons, I am also seeing how many ways I can fit the bassoon into my life in ways that I never have before. Life is never convenient and it is my job to remind it (life) of my priorities.

I have now played regularly for the residents of my father’s hospital, West Parry Sound Health Centre. I make the long drive once per week to check on him, his house, and just make sure all is well, and I book other friends to keep him company every day. I have come to love the other elders who are waiting in the same transitional wing for a long-term care nursing home to become available. Though I wish them to heal, or to find a comfortable new home, my heart also lifts with gladness to see them again. Some of them open their arms for hugs, others tell me of watching over my Dad and bringing him a blanket, or adjusting the window shades… they are all different and they are all generous. One of them, who had lost his voice, was once a square dance caller!  He loves music and still goes dancing with his daughter and is completely interested in whatever I bring.  Another man, Mike, was a guitar player and would like to play again.

And one of them, an elven, bright-eyed man named Art, can no longer walk, and sometimes starts a rhythmic yelling of whatever phrase is in his mind. Two weeks ago, I opted to play for the group in the wide part of the hallways, near the nursing station, since some of them are not permitted to leave the area.  And here is where the experience of adjusting to circumstance is really good for me… I played with full energy and perhaps a touch of anxiety, as I am doing everything from memory as part of the personal growth element. Art (who I affectionately call Yelling Guy when he’s out of earshot) was initially beating time with his hand, but I was playing too forcefully for the space, and he began roaring, “JUMP IN THE LAKE!”, so I packed up and my little team moved with me out into the lobby of the West Parry Sound Health Centre.

I had played the previous week in the lobby and the acoustics are amazingly spacious yet clear… certainly the best hall I have played in Parry Sound, but also the only place that I have played in Parry Sound.   A small girl danced to the slow movement of my Vivaldi, an older volunteer danced, too… Terry, one of the elders in rehab, said that it sounded like a symphony!  Bill asked if I liked playing my machine, then turned to his visiting daughter, and said, “Ya gotta hear what she can do on this thing!”  The staff brought me a glass of water each time.   Alphonse tells me that I am great and I return the comment, because he really does pump out so much positive energy that it is palpable.  Marie, small and beautiful, parks her wheelchair at the end of the hall, far from the group, and listens to every note.

The first week, a few people came to listen, scattered throughout the lobby, the next week, more people gathered, and more people talked to me (I learned that the daughter of one of the surgeons plays the bassoon!). The next week, the nurses called the other wards and brought wheelchair bound patients out to listen and everyone gathered quite naturally into a concert formation, sitting on the welcoming couches and chairs in the lobby.  Racil Land (angel friend) wheeled my Dad out in his reclining chair. And Art, aka Yelling Guy, came too! And this time, the sound moved through a bigger space, I was also careful not to use my spear-throwing tone technique, and I played in ways that encircled my listeners, sometimes approaching them, other times backing off, talking directly to them or fading out so they could relax. I am adding more pieces to my memorized repertoire, and last week, played them a Bach prelude, three Scarlatti sonatas (had a memory blank on the D minor, so more like two sonatas), Vivaldi C Minor RV 480, Flight of the Bumble Bee and ended with Weber’s Andante and Rondo… next week, if I’m ready (or even if I’m not) I will play the solo bassoon part for LeDernier Chant d’Ophélie, composed for me with string orchestra and percussion, premiered at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio and  featured on our Juno-nominated CD; for this event, it will be introduced as a piece of music written for me by a friend.

One of the nurses said this was the first time she had heard the bassoon and she loved it. I said I would like to return with my chamber orchestra and play the concerti with the full sound, since the hospital sounds so good, and Roxanne said she would come in even if it were her day off.  We all know how hard these nurses work, so I cherish that comment.
This same nurse had wheeled Yelling Guy into the concert area, and this time she finally smiled and let him holler, “Fantastic!” along with “Hey, hey, hey!”, all of which meant that he liked it.

I told my group of attentive listeners that I was playing some music that included an orchestra, and that when I am performing these concerti next June in Oregon, I will be strengthened by the memory of playing for them today.

I know that next week might be different, and that Yelling Guy (I love that his real name is Art) might kick my butt again in the future, but if he tells me to jump in the lake again, I am prepared, thanks to him!

First movement of Vivaldi’s Concerto #14 in C Minor, RV 480, video by Racil Land

Flight of the BumbleBee for Bassoon and Orchestra (or piano!), video by Racil Land

Who Do You Think You Are? (Programming and Presenting Classical Concerts in Many Settings) – small thoughts

For classical musicians (and everyone else), this is a question that comes up, but never in those exact words.
For example, when someone asks you to present a concert for them, they both want to know the answer to this question and then, either support or challenge your response.
The important thing is to have a response.  And to like your own response at a fundamental level.  If people are then willing to pay you for your response, even better!  But the order of thought is really bloody important.

Normally, when presenting my response to that existential question (what are you going to play aka who do you think you are?), I am dressed to the hilt and paid a lot of money.   And on very rare occasions, I am asked to give a command performance for someone I respect with all my heart.  Both types of concert and experience are essential in creating the best answer.
Last night, I played a house concert in the home of composer Michael Colgrass and his fiery, activist wife, Ulla surrounded by a fiercely supportive audience.  I invited Dr Cecilia Lee to join me and she instantly said yes even though she has an insanely busy existence (in addition to playing for an endless stream of university students, she insists on attending many concerts to feed her imagination and then stays up ’til dawn helping friends move and then goes running 4 miles…).
Michael and Ulla’s house concerts are legendary and always involve a large group of richly interesting people who have responded with lightning quickness to the Colgrass invitation to gather in their living room, followed by eating Ulla’s delicious meatballs, salads, cheeses and array of things added by talented guests.  The old Steinway is always tuned, the living room rings despite the capacity crowd, and Sonny the cat stretches his long blond frame across the doorway, ever hopeful that a shrimp or meatball will drop his way, completely unfazed by the din of lively conversation amongst 34 people.
Michael introduces us, skipping over the usual blahblahblah of our dazzling accomplishments, and focusing on the things that make us human, e.g. my boast that I have commissioned and recorded more new works for bassoon and orchestra than any other Canadian bassoonist (pretty sure it’s true) and Cecilia’s delightful tag in her bio (all true for sure) “In addition to performing, Dr. Lee is an active recording engineer/producer, working with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto and various freelance projects in the city.  Her hobbies include mid-distance running, surprise-last minute trips to faraway lands and curious wandering in the city, looking for images, mishaps and interesting arts events.”
Michael also takes a minute to reveal truths that the quiet crowd soaks in… here is my clumsy remembrance of one —- he said that that music is often defined as an aural experience, yet it is a profoundly physical one and that there is a tremendous benefit to being close to the vibrations of live musicians.  When he made that analogy that the pleasure drawn from this experience is the healthful version of  the junky’s rush, the crowd laughed, yet he was serenely serious.  He went on to say that he advises orchestras to maintain a “Citizen’s Chair” so that a member of the audience can sit on stage to feel that indescribable rush of combined vibrations from all the different live instruments.   He said more, but really, you have to come to one of the concerts to gain the full benefit of his particular luminous insight.

Then Cecilia and I played our response… a small program of ice and fire.

Thank you, Ulla and Michael, for giving us this gift of life and music combined.  Thank you for wanting to know who I think I am and reflecting my response back to me.  And Cecilia’s.   And honestly, thank you for buying my CD.

Colgrass Christmas on Valentine’s Day
Cecilia Lee, piano
Nadina Mackie Jackson, bassoon
Edvard Grieg
Sonata in F Major, Opus 8
allegro con brio
bassoon & piano
Claude Debussy:
des pas sur le neige
clair de lune
solo piano
Henri Dutilleux
Sarabande et Cortège
bassoon & piano
Joan Tower
“or like a…an engine” (1994)
solo piano
Arnold Schoenberg op. 16
no. 1
no. 2
no. 3
no. 4
no. 5
no. 6
solo piano
Domenico Scarlatti
3 Sonatas
Allegretto K 506
Andante, K 213
Prestissimo K 545
solo bassoon
Arvo Pärt:
für alina
solo piano
Sergei Prokofiev
Sonata in D Major, Op 94
allegro con brio
bassoon & piano


Michael Colgrass Introducing Dr Cecilia Lee
photo by Laura


Nadina playing with Cecilia for incredibly attentive audience in the art-filled living room of Michael and Ulla Colgrass
photo by Laura
One of my favourite photos ever of the brilliant Cecilia… note the statue in centre-photo
photo by Scott R.


Life in Music: the company we keep (colleagues)

I am grateful and amazed to the point of being stunned.  Stunned in the sense of standing motionless, jaw slightly agape, mind racing, body frozen.  No actual injury; quite the contrary.

This month, I have played with some new people and have felt new fires rising… rehearsing this week with the violist David Rose for our recital on December 9…. all who know David know what a supremely gentle and intelligent soul he is.  Those who have played with him know how skilled he is.  And what fire and strength lies in this refined and thoughtful person!  To play with him, I feel how amazingly quickly he learns… each repeat of our fiendishly challenging new work by Gernot Wolfgang is better… if I fumble and stumble, David is momentarily confused by my opacity but never loses his pulse.  Each great player that I work with has some distinct trait beyond the universal markers of beautiful tone, tuning and sensitivity.  Sometimes it is hard to name because I am experiencing these traits for the first time.  But it is amazing to experience.

In October, I got to improvise with the folk guitarist Valdy.  We had just finished eating Jamaican curried goat for breakfast and were waiting for other musicians to arrive for a classical rehearsal at my house.  Valdy looked at me with those impossibly blue eyes and asked, “Do you improvise?”  To which I replied, “Not publicly”  For me, it is right up there with dancing, which I do by myself in my house.  He kept looking at me.  “I’ve talked about it for decades and I really want to.”  “Get out your axe,” said Valdy (he probably said “bassoon” but he is super cool and I remember it as “axe”)  So I whipped out my horn and a responsive reed, and jumped in.  He asked if G were a good key, which it truly is, allowing me to play my favourite high notes and still be in an open key.  So I played and he supported and I had the sensation of improvising.  I know that he was supporting me 101%, finding logic in my gestures, providing harmony on the spot.  Then he changed styles and I stiffly followed, slowly gaining confidence.  It was wonderful!  And I know more than ever that I want to do this, to both support and lead, and that I will need to do more.

Earlier in the fall, I joined Valdy at an event… he did a scheduled encore and brought me on stage with him.  The night before, he wrote out some lovely harmonies for Quand au Soliel, and we played together.  What a beautiful musician, one who connects and surfs on the harmonies.

I will tell you later about playing with bassoonists Lee Goodhew Romm and Laura Koepke… the generosity, eagerness and groove of these two colleagues.  And I will tell you about soloing with group of twenty-seven and Orchestra London and the joy of playing on stage beside extraordinary conductors (Eric Paetkau and Alain Trudel), in front of orchestras that are giving everything their all to allow the new music to live.  And of working with composers who are searching for solutions while stretching the voice of the bassoon.  The incredible generosity of all these musicians.

I have to go practise now.


Life in Music: the company we keep (teachers)

Had breakfast this morning with my first bassoon teacher and the layers of memory, all of the joy of learning to play came flooding back, listening to his familiar, nuanced, animated voice and seeing his dear face, so unchanged after 40 years of knowing each other.  For reasons that are forgotten, we have not seen each other much in the last few years.  Christopher Millard is an international star and I have been busy too.  Yet this morning, in gray rainy Toronto, in the elegant open restaurant at the Intercontinental, we were in non-stop conversation, comparing reed confessions and aspirations, talking about our new generation of talented students, about our aging parents and our own lives…. Spent another hour interviewing Guy Legere about his amazing polymer reeds… Finally reluctantly said goodbye, wanted to stay longer yet left happy and inspired anew.