I was taken aback when a young woman bassoonist told me that I was a role model for her — am I that old? But really, she was giving me a gift.
The young are often inspired and motivated by the efforts of older performers, yet just as often, they are limited by the vision and experiences of their elders. I think it very important that the young ‘uns also look at all of the performers in the world now, and imagine them holding a bassoon!
The young are also limited by fear of failure, despair about the hopelessness of ever attaining their goals.
If I could wave a magic wand, it would be one that lifted this fear forever while preserving the ambition that is sometimes sparked by raw fear. And I would make an extra wand-flourish that would make the young bassoonists lift their eyes and imagine themselves as any kind of musician that was really inspiring. And I would rap their hard little heads with the wand handle if any of them whined about “getting a job” and remind them that their first mission is to get a vision and to practise their little hearts out!
When I was young, the only goal that was really visible to me in terms of great bassoonists was orchestral performance. I somehow wasn’t deterred by the fact that you also needed to be a man (in those days)… ever comfortable with the self-styled norms of transvestite heterosexuality, I commissioned a full set of Italian-tailored tails in my early days with the Montreal Symphony. But I digress.
I pursued the orchestral goal intensely and to my utter surprise, won orchestral positions early in my career. Somehow, I thought that having these positions would give me the virtuosic agility that I dreamed about. While orchestras helped to train my sensibilities, they did not free my skills. Instead, they solidified certain things at the peril of soaring musicality.
So I began to practise even longer hours and develop my recital repertoire. I found other performers who would play with me and began building that side of my playing.
As I continued in my professional life, I learned about more and more fantastic ways to make music. Of course orchestral playing is the foundation and for me, so much branched out from that — I explored opera and historical instruments ( and early opera on historical instruments) and concerti, historical, modern and now with processed electronics included.
I found that I felt the most absolutely alive when playing as a soloist in the company of equally passionate players. And this passion could come from great instrumentalists or dedicated community orchestras… the basic drive and desire are the attractive things for me.
As I look back on my career, I now see that there were and are many many more paths open to me including and beyond the “job in an orchestra” one. I have had so many experiences yet still feel like an absolute beginner. Yet I also know some things for sure now. I know that it always feels difficult yet sometimes the results are good. I know that the only way to hope to be good is to tackle it every day in every way, even for a brief period. I know that it seems like a crazy life, but I also know that I experience exhilaration every time I step onto a stage to play as a soloist… I set the bar each time I go out, either alone, with Guy or with an orchestra. Sometimes I flop, but I always feel alive. I have been called Lady Gaga with a bassoon — I wish!! But I applaud her and any others who work so hard at play.
This has to be what it is about.