Live Concerts, Concerto Recording, Airplanes

The good stuff!

It’s both familiar and exciting to return to travelling and performing, connecting with audiences and colleagues, plus the never-ending surprises of dealing with travel and unexpected circumstances in the post-pandemic return to the concert stage. And the extended debut of Blue Bell, my beautiful new custom-made Bell bassoon.

World Premiere Concert and Recording — paid for by someone who is not me!

Very happy to return to the US with the world premiere and recording of Augusta Read Thomas’ magnificent and challenging concerto CARNIVAL with the Fredonia Wind Ensemble (conductor Dr. Paula Holcomb). This mind-bendingly virtuosic-in-new-ways work was commissioned for me by SUNY Fredonia and funded by SUNY Fredonia with support from a Sorel Medallion in Recording grant and the Carnahan Jackson Fund for the Humanities, both through the Fredonia College Foundation, as well as a Sigma Alpha Iota Project Grant. We also had student bassoonist, Wolfgang Scheitinger, present a segment of the concerto to honour the connection to the University. Wolf stepped up from the contra chair, played the excerpt from the concerto, and then returned to his chair…. amazing. Wonderful composer, dedicated and virtuosic conductor, energized and laser-focused student musicians, supportive community, transformative concert. The day following the world premiere, we went into the recording studio for six hours, led by engineer Bernd Gottinger and recorded the concerto for a collection of new concerti for soloists and wind ensemble commissioned for SUNY Fredonia. And I got covid 😂 (ultimate booster). I’m fine.

World premiere of CARNIVAL for solo bassoon and wind ensemble by Augusta Read Thomas, soloist Nadina Mackie Jackson, director Dr Paula Holcomb

Photo from the world premiere of CARNIVAL, Nadina, Augusta Read Thomas (aka Gusty), Dr. Paula Holcomb… I dare say the first time in the history of the classical world that three women (soloist, composer, and director) take the stage for bows after a world premiere of a bassoon concerto with wind ensemble. (screenshot capture by Cassandra Bendickson)

Beloved Lussier Concerto – repeat performances of new concerti are RARE and wonderful

Also gave three performances of ODDBIRD CONCERTO by Mathieu Lussier, twice with the very well-prepared Peterborough Symphony Orchestra (conductor Michael Newnham) and again with my hometown band, the Prince George Symphony Orchestra (conductor Michael Hall). Fabulous review here (actually, it is a letter to the editor from an audience member, even more fabulous).

I left Prince George with souvenir Boulet cowboy boots (I am a diva after all), one of which had to be expertly stretched by Steve and Sons (local boot whisperer) and a walkie-talkie programmed with northern channels for my next trip back to the out-of-cell-range mountain roads of my birthplace. When I tried to drive back to the ranch on Maurice River Forestry Road, my fragile little Honda first got a flat tire, then the next day had a problem with the gas… I will rent a Hummer next time.

And I enjoyed the paycheques, press conferences, interviews and even a TV spot where I played snippets of 8 concerti in 3 minutes in support of the Prince George concerts, all fun.

Hillbilly Golden Boulet boots

Hillbilly Golden Boulet boots

Stuff they don’t tell you much about in music school…

Less fun were the epic airport lineups while carrying a loaded bassoon case, and wearing an unnecessary leather jacket (my own fault, I know), delayed flights, delayed luggage, catching covid in NY (we already talked about that), being told that payment would arrive in the indefinite future (I stood in the university office and was paid within the hour, why don’t people read their own university-issued contracts???), rental car mix-ups, a gas station that contaminated its regular gas tanks with diesel and stranded me in a town with no rental cars (I got a nice compensation cheque for that mishap tho it meant I couldn’t visit my home province as planned), and an awkward hosting situation with a newly-acquired boyfriend of a normally wonderful host that was resolved and will never ever happen again to another visiting musician.

I survived all of these little mishaps and it is a reminder of what travelling musicians sometimes endure when going on the road to connect with the world and make a living. My long-ago professional training certainly never addressed the real things that can happen on the road and despite my decades of experience, it still happens. But for real, always demand a hotel when you are the featured artist for an orchestra! Can’t believe I didn’t remember that. And if someone is mean or bizarre, sexist or downright vulgar with you, or doesn’t pay you on time, kick them in the shins and report it immediately to management. Sheesh.

underestimate me that will be fun

underestimate me. that will be fun.

Favourite Restaurants from my recent travels

Excellent affordable restaurants during my travels…

superb Indian menu at Windjammer Restaurant in Clarion Hotel in Dunkirk, New York (limited hours but worth adjusting your schedule to go); in Prince George, B.C., Spicy Greens (I loved the lamb palak dosa),  the homey Madras Maple Cafe along with Wasabi Sushi & Wonton and great coffee at Ristretto  …heaven)

Also really enjoyed Burns Lake’s Dragon Palace restaurant  / for comforting Chinese food and the Boer Mountain Coffee house for excellent coffee etc. And in the formerly sleepy tiny mill town of Houston, BC, near our former ranch, there is another fine expresso joint, The Pallisades Cafe.

And while in Portland, Oregon, I really enjoyed the Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Division Street (and am still enjoying a bag of “El Puente” Honduras coffee beans) and when I visited nearby Mount Hood, the Mount Hood Roasters time stopped for me with a finely-textured latte and a childhood-memory-inducing huckleberry cheesecake “pillow”, a gluten-free pastry (I think).

Madras Maple Cafe

Butter Chicken from Madras Maple Cafe

OUT OF THIS WORLD – new music

Last Wednesday night, October 11, 2017, I played four new works for bassoon and strings and percussion with my Out of This World Orchestra.   Two of the works were written for me and I am connected to all of the composers. 
The intense main concerto, Apollo X, composed by Paul Frehner for me and Orchestra London in 2013, has three movements inspired by various popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s that were, in turn, inspired by the Apollo space program and the race to put a man on the moon. Extended virtuosic passages of rhythmic precision and complexity, contrasted with some harmonics and Berio trills along with mysterious floating textures from the strings and percussion.  It is a very absorbing piece to play and it is surprising and beautiful to hear.
The contrapuntal layering of Patricia Morehead’s Come Dance With Me the Dance of Life was inspired both by the composer’s love of dance and by Nina Corwin’s dark, mad-scene poem, Salome Gives Seven Explanations for a Kiss. With rehearsal, clarity emerged from the complex lines and this piece really grew on me.
These energetic, really new-sounding works contrasted with two short, very lyrical works, which were a new arrangement of BernardGarfield’s Soliloquy… the much-loved brief tone poem originally for piano & bassoon, sounding kind of like an upscale gymnopedie with lots of emotive and harmonic variety in the brief minute that it takes to play, and the premiere of Mathieu Lussier’sfloating, soaring, humane Song of Love and Sorrow, a piece that he created and sent to me the day after my father died in February 2017.
Paul Frehner, composer of Apollo X, also was our conductor and we had two rehearsals for this program.  The first rehearsal was at Bloor Street United Church as it was impossible for me to get rehearsal space at either the University of Toronto or the Royal Conservatory of Music, the two places I teach in Toronto.  I rented the airy, chapel-like room on the top floor of the seen-better-days-grande-dame church, and we hauled up 12 stands and a vibraphone, marimba, 2 triangles: high, slightly lower sistrum, 2 gongs, medium tam tam, medium orchestral bass drum. My former student, Megan Morris, came to help and Paul Frehner also helped carry instruments, saying quietly that only now did he realize fully just how many instruments he had written for! I carried up my bassoon, amplifier, and all the attendant electrical equipment.  The genial caretaker of the church found an extension cord for me.  As this group performs standing, the setup is quite simple.  The first 90 minutes were devoted to Apollo X, then the percussion equipment was packed up, hauled downstairs by more musicians this time, then we had another hour to start sorting out the multi-modal Come Dance With Me.
All of the musicians in our group have busy lives.  I was in the midst of John Williams week with the Toronto Symphony, playing four sold-out shows of all the famous film scores, from Jaws to Harry Potter, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and much more… the superb conductor (Steven Reinecke) channelled the energy of the crowds, and the echoes of their cries (over 10,000 people roared their approval of those 4 shows) echoed later in my mind as I poured my energy into presenting new music for bassoon, strings and percussion.  I also thought about it when I had to decline the invitation to play second bassoon in the Harry Potter extravaganza because it conflicted with my self-presented concerto night.
Our second rehearsal was on October 10 and in Heliconian Hall where we would be performing.  Our group is too big to fit on the small stage, so we set it up in the middle of the hall.  I arrived two hours before the rehearsal began so that I could set up stands and meet the delivery company that was bringing the percussion equipment.  Our second rehearsal began to take shape. The string players are excellent and are effective at floating useful ideas; we are all used to working very quickly under less than ideal conditions.
The players are young, resourceful professionals with a ton of energy and focus… Bijan Sepanji, Jennifer Murphy, Jeremy Potts, Sang Kyun(Steve) Koh, Alex McLeod, Laila Zakzook, Brian Lu, Brian Holt, Joe Phillips and Mark Duggan.  All have established their own chamber groups and are intensely aware of the work that goes into self-presented projects.  I can count on them.  Composer and conductor Paul Frehner is a respected professor at the University of Western Ontario and was truly supportive of this effort.  Despite all the experience and skill that we possess, if a genie jumped out of a bottle, one of my first requests would be for funding for more rehearsal time.
I was fighting a cold, and spent the evening in my hotel room, working on the concert program.  To save money, I am now doing all the graphics and advertising for my project which is a fairly steep learning curve. Trial and error, plus Canva and Create Booklet are all helping, but the night before the show, I set the program up on full-sized pages, uploaded to DropBox and went to bed.


On the concert day, I packed all my gear and spent the morning printing the programs, then got lunch and went to the hall three hours early to set up the music stands (Joe Phillips helped me), move the percussion instruments into place (Paul Frehner and Joe Phillips helped), get makeup slathered on (because Rob DiVito was filming the concert and photographers Bo and Yan Huang were coming to capture a publicity photo) and into my new silver and black leather T-shirt, shiny black leather pants and my blue faux cowboy boots (it is a show, after all) because our soundcheck went 

from 5:00 to 6:30 and the show started at 7:00.  We covered all the pieces in a 90-minute sound check.  My merch volunteers, Reshawn Walcott and James St Fleur, arrived straight from school while we were rehearsing and setting up the CD table; my ticket person Kristin Day arrived just before the show started… all of this part is very important and it helps so much to have people who know how to run the business end of the event.  This is an area where I could use much more help in the days leading up to the shows and is an aspect that needs to be rehearsed to run smoothly.
Right before the concert started, something went mysteriously wrong with my equipment (Apollo X is meant to be amplified)… after testing every component (batteries, microphones, amp and preamp), I decided to pretend it was fine but we suspected the preamp was shot. I remained hooked up to everything and maybe that gave me the confidence to be totally audible, at least, while playing the bassoon.  My speaking voice was reduced to a husky squeak by laryngitis so the audience had to really lean in to hear me.  Joe Phillips offered to lip-read and try to anticipate/guess my next comment. Bijan stood beside me, ready to take over, but I croaked on.

We opened the concert with Bernard Garfield’s Soliloquy, in Kevin Harris’ arrangement for strings and bassoon.  A compact, musically spacious work that goes from suspended, languid beauty to agitated passion and back to floating in eternity, all in a very short time span, it has long been a favourite of bassoonists in the piano/bassoon version.  When I studied with Mr. Garfield at the Curtis Institute, he always passed on new music by other composers, and rarely pushed his own music to us.  He was a wonderful teacher and I sent two of my former students to study with him at Curtis (Julia Lockhart & Alex Eastley)  He still writes to me at the age of 91, full of interest in life and music.
Composer Patricia Moreland spoke a little before we played her vertiginous, single-movement work, Come Dance With Me the Dance of Life.  Patricia studied dance for a decade with Royal Winnipeg Ballet before her heavy-duty career as an oboist, composer and professor. She talked about her love of counterpoint and how grateful she was for a second performance of this work (it had premiered in New York with one rehearsal) and grateful to Paul Frehner for continuing to help edit.  It twists my heart when composers speak of this particular gratitude… broader recognition of the value of original creative work takes a long time.
Then we played the propulsive, energetic Apollo X albeit with a lot of intently focused gazes and, in my case, furrowed brow.  I love the vast shifts in textures in this piece, and the titles of the movements (Ten, Nine, Eight…, Secret Oh Secret and Giant Steps).  This will be the main work on my next Canadian Concerto Project and I want to play it many more times.  It is an out-of-this-world experience to play original pieces with the composer conducting and this was the third time that I’ve had that privilege (previously, Silver Angel with Constantine Caravassilis conducting; Double Concerto & Bacchanale with Mathieu Lussier conducting).
Before the last work, I had each of the performers tell the audience about their next concerts, and I felt so proud to hear of the range of concerts, from violin and viola duets at the library to quartet concerts, to the massive Vivier extravaganza with Esprit.
We ended with Mathieu Lussier’s exquisite Song of Love and Sorrow.
After the show, we visited with the audience.  There were remarkable people in our small audience, including composer Michael Colgrass and his lovely wife Ulla.  And composer Adam Scime.  Adam wrote a concerto for me in 2011 and Michael is being commissioned by SUNY Fredonia to write a concerto for me with wind ensemble.  Because of my obvious cold, Michael told me an amazing story about touring Spain with American Ballet Theatre and watching Erich Barn dance the Black Swan pas de deux night after night with a cold and no sleep. Michael said that I should feel confident I could do anything, and I tried to avoid hugging him too much.
Steve Koh packed up all the stands, and James and Reshawn packed merchandise, signs, equipment and the tiny stack of dollars. I barked (well, croaked and waved) at anyone who approached my gear (still learning to trust). We waited for the cartage company to arrive to pack and haul the percussion equipment, then I did a last sweep of the hall, turning out all the lights, closing doors and activating the alarm system.  My faithful friend Hye Won Cecilia Lee stayed by my side, and composer Patricia Morehead and her amazing husband Phillip Morehead gave us firm instructions to meet them at the Duke of York which we did, and they generously treated us, a wonderful way to end the day.  Luckily I still had my hotel and didn’t have to face the two-hour drive home.
Musically, this concert felt momentous despite my personal sense of complete insignificance (that could be the cold talking).  I have done eight of these self-presented concerts in Toronto in the last year, presenting 25 artists and  41 works (or 53 if you count each of the Telemann Fantasias separately) for bassoon with strings, guitar, voice and piano, along with more works by other soloists.  I also presented 4 other concerts in my church/studio/home in the small town of Drayton to MUCH larger audiences and at lower costs (which makes me think).  I am totally putting my money where my heart is and am carrying a significant debt in the service of these concerts.
One of the students (not one of mine) at the concert asked me how long it took to learn the concerto as it is full of obvious extreme technical and musical challenges. I was very glad that the student had the initiative to ask any questions, and before answering, I said that I first received this concerto in a year when I was premiering 8 concerti and dealing with the long final illness of my father… I had to learn the music in rushed moments between gigs, teaching, tours and hospital visits, yet all that aside, it is a safe rule of thumb to allow one year to learn ANY concerto. 
I wished they had also asked how long it took to plan, to organize, and how much it cost…and how I could play such hard concerti while doing all of the other things, just so that they would understand exactly how rare an event it was and how they could best take advantage of the many opportunities they have as students.  This concerto cost about $12,000 and was paid for by a commissioning grant from the Ontario Arts Council; Bianca Chambul and I split the copying costs.  Canadian concerti can be had for around $12,000… the going rate for a bassoon concerto in the U. S. A. is between $20,000 and $30,000, just for the commission. 
To prepare and present the actual music, to rent rehearsal space, concert hall, and percussion equipment, to pay fees to the musicians along with filing contracts with pension/work dues, plus the costs of marketing and advertising… not to mention parking, travelling, eating, hotels.  Not to mention the exigencies of life.  So many students of our universities want free tickets to arts events and I work hard to make sure that we can pay their way (Michael Sweeney sponsored four students for this concert) yet how many have any real idea of the work and planning that goes into developing new music? Or any music.  I wish they would ask if we get support in significant ways and how that can be improved.  Do they know that all orchestras in Canada and the U.S. are run as charities with massive administrative staff?  Do they know that it is impossible to present classical music without sponsorship?  And do they know that musicians can all help one another if they understand what actually goes into these productions?  Volunteers who understand the infrastructure and the nature of work can actually be part of the survival of classical music.  This is something that I taught my students through our annual Vivaldi concerts and through assisting at my many solo shows when possible. Some of the students really understood the value of these challenging experiences.
Ambitious, independent classical bassoonists are still anomalies yet now is the time for all musicians to put their best work forward and be part of the solution. I cannot do it alone but I am going to keep on this journey and I will share any insights that might help others.  I know that my efforts will reach across boundaries and that other people will relate to my work. I will post video links when I get the material next week.  And I look forward to seeing you at my next concert.

GENDER & CLASSICAL MUSIC – some interesting questions from a university student

Once or twice every year, I get interviewed by high school or university students and I find that they ask very relevant questions.  I have decided to post the questions and my hasty answers as they cause me to reflect on areas that I have chosen to forget or ignore.

In the past, these are the kind of questions that we (women and musicians generally) would answer in neutral and veiled terms, and while I hope that I’ve honestly avoided that, it becomes second nature as we try to protect ourselves from being seen as troublesome.  It is time for classical musicians to be more candid, if only to make our stories more interesting.  And also to explain some of the weirdness and occasional inability of classical groups to thrive.  Even the effort to share our experiences candidly gives us experience in expressing our uniqueness.

And at my solo concerts, I always encourage audience members and students to ask me questions and these candid questions offer some examples of what might be really interesting to know about based on my long and varied career in classical music.

I have another interview to post, with more general questions about my life, from a high school student, which I will post in the coming days.

Meanwhile, here are some good questions that might give rise to others.

First, my preamble to the interviewer before I get to the questions:

Dear University Bassoon Student-whose-identity-I-wish-to-protect-though-it-might-not-be-strictly-necessary,

Your questions are very good, yet somehow I cannot give you the answers that you are looking for and that, in fact, I would like to give.  When we talk about straight numbers (comparing numbers of men and women) and circumstance, these are elements that were part of the air I breathed during the early days of my orchestral career… it never occurred to me to assess and compare them at the time. It never occurred to me to dig deep and find out exactly how my pay related to the pay of the men around me. It never occurred to me to carefully and appraisingly read the terms of my contract and to understand that sometimes conditions are worth more than dollars. So, my answers reflect my strong, personal attitude of equal opportunity, given to me partly by my outdoor upbringing with amazing parents, but I think the reality was, and still is, stacked against women.  It is part of a deep cultural problem that we are barely beginning to acknowledge.

Thank you very much for making me think again about these things,

March 22, 2016


What time frame were you at Curtis Institute of Music?

September 1978 to May 1981

What would you say the numbers of women and men were at Curtis, in the bassoon studio, in faculty, in the general student body? Generally more men than women, or about equal?

It seemed equal to me, but of course it wasn’t.  In the teaching faculty, there was a female piano teacher for the hotshots and of course the brilliant harp teacher…. and another female smart piano teacher one for the super lame beginner piano students (i.e. me…we all had to take piano if we didn’t come with skills) and she suffered trying to teach kids who wanted to be elsewhere!  Otherwise, all teachers and conductors were men (seemed normal at the time, but of course, we know now that it indicates that few women had a shot in the generation before ours)… in the bassoon studio, there were 3 women and 4 men over the four year period (only one year where the two women were in class at the same time —all of the students got orchestral jobs in orchestras of varying sizes).  The student body at large seemed to have many female string players and woodwind players, no brass except horn; of the administrative staff, the scheduling coordinator and head librarian were women; directors were always men as far as I know.

What was your experience like as a woman at Curtis? Positive, negative? Any specific moments come to mind?

Positive, though I confess that I had a headache for 4 years.  It was a huge jump, going from the forests of BC to the heart of Philadelphia.  My bassoon teachers were the souls of equality even though they were from another time in history… Bernard Garfield did encourage me to go with one of his sons to a baseball game but it was pleasant and only slightly awkward and I never saw him again after that (I don’t care for spectator sports and had little to say to the nerdy boy who went on to become a doctor!).  Sol Schoenbach became a lifelong friend and was a great source of wisdom and egalitarian exchanges.  I invited him to teach with me one summer at Domain Forget and it was wonderful.  One of the most lasting pieces of advice that Sol gave me was to not get caught up in the drama of relationships, instead, to devote myself to my work, and let the other stuff follow.  I still think this was superb advice to give an ambitious young woman and I wish I had completely followed it.  He also completely believed in me, which was powerfully motivating.  I still carry one of his letters in my bassoon case.

Did you experience any negative feedback as a musician and performer because you were a woman?

I felt that I was treated like an equal at Curtis, meaning that we all had our butts whipped all the time, particularly and memorably by the oboe teacher/director John deLancie; the general standard was very high and we all pushed for the best with sometimes elevated levels of tension, but I never marginalized for being a girl.

In the professional world, I am not sure what to say… when I was young, I had to spend a lot of time fielding amorous advances that seem like a great waste of time now when I look back, particularly when I would become so attached a boy that I would decline to take auditions for fear of leaving the town where the boyfriend was located… imagine so stupid!  As I got older, my outspokenness and propensity for solo work made me less popular… these things are also virtues and give me a body of work that is valuable and lasting.  It does seem that women still have to choose career or family and that is the subject for a longer discussion, particularly one that would include a discussion of children and division of household labour in connection with a performing career.

When you were applying for your first orchestral position, how many jobs did you apply to (approximately)? Did you feel at all intimidated to apply for jobs in more male dominated orchestras?

I absolutely didn’t feel any intimidation about male-dominated orchestras… it simply didn’t enter my mind.  I had the usual young-person insecurities about my potential as a player but that didn’t stop me from auditioning… I have always been ambitious and brave despite any fears or anxieties, and completely confident that I could grow into any job.

When I was in my last year of school, I auditioned for co-principal in Mexico (got it but didn’t go); principal somewhere-in-Ohio (went to second round); principal in Jerusalem (went to second round); second in Philadelphia (went to second round); second in Montreal (got it).  I was definitely uncomfortable during the audition for Mexico as the conductor walked around me while I was playing.  Those were the old days!  Overall in my career, I have taken only about 20 orchestral auditions and have advanced in 11 and won 3 (principal of Canadian Opera Company 1990, second in Montreal Symphony 1981 and associate principal in Mexico State Orchestra 1981) and I am the appointed principal of group of 27.

Did you hear back from all of these orchestras you applied to? If not, how many, approximately? If you didn’t hear back from all, did you feel like this was simply because you were a woman?

I went to the auditions, either placed, won or didn’t and left.  It was only later in my career that I sometimes had a hard time to get an audition, which meant that sometimes an application for an audition went unanswered.  There was a period when Canadian musicians had a harder time getting auditions in the States, or when second players (which I was in Montreal) were not invited to audition for principal positions (ridiculous).
Once I advanced in Atlanta, and was told that the personnel manager would call, and he never did… that was in the late ‘80’s so who knows; I cared at the time but I don’t now.

In one of my resources, I read that Judith Leclair was able to audition for the New York Philharmonic because she had been recommended by her male teacher, David Van Hoesen, at Eastman. Did you ever have any type of similar experiences?

You should ask Judy directly.  That was common practice in the last century for both men and women until about the time of Judy’s audition and I remember my old teacher, Sol Schoenbach, being very proud to have also been part of the team of supporters who managed to get her an audition.   In the generations before mine, that was how most people got auditions.  While I never had a similar experience (that I know of!), I must point out that it still exists today; the recent Toronto Symphony associate principal auditions were by invitation only… the fabulous young woman and great bassoonist who won the job must have been recommended by her teachers since she is 23 and this is her first job; you should ask her!

Were blind auditions common when you were auditioning for orchestras?

Yes.  The exceptions were the finals in Philadelphia, Mexico, Jerusalem (first rounds were always screened).

What was the male/female ratio like when you joined Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal?

I dunno, maybe one third women, or  more.  They would have that statistic in the archives.  There were lots of women because all levels of the auditions were screened.

Did you ever feel uncomfortable working in the orchestra because you were a woman?

Nope. Not at all.  Not even when I was wearing full, custom-tailored tails. But I may have been held back from advancing because of it.  This is all stuff that is hidden in plain view… as a hardworking young woman, it didn’t occur to me then, but it would now.  There are patronizing assumptions made about women when they want to advance in the profession (will they stay, will they have kids etc).  Just before I left Montreal, I auditioned repeatedly for the principal position, and amusingly was granted the “acting principal” (or was it associate principal?) chair right at the time I got injured and took disability leave.

I read those early concert halls didn’t have separate dressing rooms for men and women since most orchestras were made of men. Did you ever face an awkward situation because of this?

The women’s dressing room in the Montreal Symphony of my decade was smaller and quite crowded… we laughed about it and many of us came dressed to the hall, choosing to change at home because of lack of space… that was probably fixed in the years since I left! And usually, when touring, if we had any awkward situations with a lack of space, the men would always defer to the women, but I cannot think of an example at the moment.

The male-to-female ratio in orchestras have improved over time. Do you feel like there is still room to grow?

It’s not about numbers but it is very much about opportunity.  Women need opportunities… I was not invited to audition for the recent Toronto Symphony associate principal, and while I LOVE the woman that they hired and completely support her, I would have appreciated the opportunity to audition… this is how we grow!

If a man had a position in an orchestra that a woman later took over (or vice versa), do you think there would be any change in pay or any sort of wage gap? Was there a time when this was normal?

No idea!  This information is rarely shared.  I certainly was the lowest paid member of the bassoon section when I was in the Montreal Symphony AND I was the only wind player who did not have an associate (i.e. fourth player) to spell me off on occasion.  The management had the power to impose conditions on me that I could have fought if I had realized soon enough (always read your contracts!)

Again, I had my head down, was practicing and making reeds and not really thinking about how to get a fair deal since I felt that I had the strength of 10 and could handle anything!

Do you think Canada/US is ahead of Europe in the equality of women and men musicians? What was it like during your time in Montreal? Or earlier?

Don’t really know since I never think about orchestras these days, except as collaborators!  I think that North America is definitely ahead of orchestras like Vienna and other bands that didn’t hire women until recently. There are many good books these days on the subject… one that comes to mind is Women Performing Music by Beth Abelson Macleod … she has some of the player statistics you are looking for!

I’ve answered your questions in a way that will make you think that I believe men and women are treated equally in the symphonic world; but in fact, I don’t think they were when I was young. I have blocked that out of my mind these days, and have moved onto the bigger question of how to keep our music alive and available to audiences. I will keep thinking about your questions and I encourage you to send more questions if you think of other things to ask about!


Photo of NMJ as a young orchestral bassoonist (1986, Montreal)
This was my second pro photo shoot and what a docile gentle creature I appear to be!  dressed in the clothes of a stylist (shudder).
This is a placeholder until I can dig out the photo of Nigel Kennedy, pointing at me with my full set of custom-tailored tails.


Playing Music Is Easy

Tonight was our first concert with Jonathan Cohen, playing Handel, Bach, Mozart & Haydn with Violons du Roy.
It is now late I am too tired to write a lot, but I have to say something about this experience.
It is always a revelation of some kind to play with Violons du Roy.  They are so serious, so loving, so fun.  Since Bernard has been ill and now recovering, there have been many guest conductors and I have met a few when I come as guest principal bassoonist.
I love playing with VdeR, but whenever I return to any orchestra after an extended run of solo playing (just finished a Maritime tour with my chamber group THREE), I always worry about the transition from speaking in a solo voice to singing in the chorus. 
And sometimes, as my friend Valdy, says, playing classical orchestral music makes me feel like I’m being shot at. 
But not this week.
Tonight, as we all left the stage, I was surrounded by musicians talking, laughing, walking with buoyant steps.  More than one musician said they would like to play the concert again, i.e. tonight!  And then our excellent second horn, Louis-Pierre Bergeron, said something like, “ wow, it’s easy to play music!” and we laughed, because, despite the very high standards and the striving, it WAS easy tonight. 
Jonathan Cohen sat at the keyboard, supplying continuo and gesturing fluidly and alertly and transmitting, listening, floating and guiding the musicians in a way that I am at a loss to describe yet which each and every musician recognizes as the real thing, immediate, and absolutely natural.  The kind of natural that is born of an alert mind and exquisite craft, honing of skills and thoughts.
I could say more but I really have to go to sleep as we are going to play the same concert in Montreal tomorrow at the Salle Bourgie (October 16, 2015).  If you can come, you will be very happy that you did.  I know that I am.

Solitary Refinement – Hotel Room Practising

All traveling musicians have to practice in hotel rooms.

Mid-June, 2015, I was just returning from Ottawa where I had premiered my newest concerto commission with 13 Strings & Kevin Mallon (Silver Angel by Constantine Caravassilis) and played Vivaldi G Minor RV 495.  I was between houses, so I booked into the Holiday Inn near the Royal Conservatory and near my son’s school.  On June 16, I said good-bye to my son and then practiced for an hour before driving to Waterloo for another rehearsal.
I was in the midst of my current chromatic interval routine, my Major Third Chromatic Up-Down Fill-Ins and Up-Down intervals and in the fastest and highest phase of the slurred intervals.
When I paused to draw breath, I heard a quiet knock at my door.  Sighing, I thought it was someone who would be complaining, even though it was 10 a.m. and therefore not early.
I put my bassoon carefully in the corner and answered the door. There was a white-haired, fit man standing there with a ball cap on, looking intently at me… he said that I sounded amazing and then exclaimed when he saw the bassoon… he said that he played sax and was in Toronto for a conference.  He exclaimed again at my staggering fluency and left.
I returned happily to practicing, moving on now to the very fast tonguing portion of the Major Third Chromatic Up-Down Fill-Ins.
Moments later, another tap at the door.  This time, I bounced confidently to the door with my bassoon in my hands, fearless, awaiting my next round of accolades…
The small cleaning lady stood there and she was very startled when I opened the door.  “OH!” she said, “I thought maintenance was in your room!”
One person thought I had transcendent abilities, and another thought I was operating a pneumatic drill.  Each person’s comments had the effect of lifting my spirits and grounding me.  In a life of solitary refinement, we most certainly need both.
Happy hotel practicing and concert trails to all,