The Words of Our Teachers Echo Forever

This week, I heard the world premiere of Paul Hanson’s new concerto, Transitions, for electric bassoon and full orchestra, played at the Taube Atrium Theatre in San Francisco. I am writing this while awaiting my flight home. The premiere was beautifully performed by the composer (already an unusual and wonderful thing) and Symphony Parnassus led by conductor Stephen Paulson, the principal bassoonist of the San Francisco Symphony and Paul Hanson’s former teacher. Though Paul did not follow in the classical footsteps of his renowned teacher, it was beautiful to witness the deep collaborative understanding between them in the performance. And Paul dedicated his concerto to his former teacher and lifelong colleague.

And witnessing this event reminded me of the strength that comes from having truly good teachers. The words of my bassoon teachers (and a couple of others) have resonated with me all my life. Yes, it does matter that they were positive, but they were also honest. I knew I could trust them when they said kind things. More than that, their comments were detailed, precise, and often showed me that my former teachers were aware that significant growth had transpired. My teachers also wrote to me regularly after graduation, and I have saved every letter. I have even carried some of them in my bassoon case, moving the precious documents each time I acquire a new bassoon.

Letter from Sol Schoenbach
In chronological order, here are some samples, mostly from beloved and revered former teachers and one from my least-favourite-yet-nonetheless-respected woodwind teacher,

Christopher Millard, former principal bassoon, National Arts Centre Orchestra 2021 An excerpt from a review from my very first real bassoon teacher, Christopher Millard, written after receiving a copy of my first book Solitary Refinement, Concepts for the Committed Bassoonist. While not a letter per se, his words gave me courage.

“This is a serious book for any bassoonist aspiring to achieve a complete technique. There are many publications that provide localized road maps to developing technical facility. Nadina’s book is the Google Earth of technical methods- extraordinarily comprehensive and thorough in range. Every page is an opportunity for challenge. Solitary Refinement is going to be my companion as I look to maintain and nurture my own playing.”

Garry Hartley, my high school band teacher and a renowned educator in northern B.C., Feb 17, 2021 An excerpt from a handwritten letter from my first band teacher, someone whose opinion I’ve cherished all my bassoon life, written after reading my first book, Solitary Refinement, Concepts for the Committed Bassoonist:

Dear Nadina, Finally, after receiving your wonderful Solitary Refinement 3 weeks ago, I have read and re-read from cover to page 19 and beyond. It has been a stop-start style of reading that I have carefully preserved from myself when I have time to fully immerse myself in placing my mind into each of the ideas, concepts, insights, personal observations, etc that you have shared in this truly marvellous work.

Sol Schoenbach, former principal bassoonist Philadelphia Orchestra, bassoon teacher Curtis Intsitute. June 15, 1989 An excerpt from a handwritten letter from my last bassoon teacher, after I sent him a cassette tape of one of my solo recitals in Montréal:

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 and the paying was superb. The Hétu fascinates me. Your ascending legatos were as Shakespeare writes in his sonnet – “Like the waves make to the pebbled shore, E 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 movement with an inevitability that swept me to an almost breathless ending. Never heard anything to equal that. Thanks, and send more.”

Bernard Garfield, former principal bassoonist, Philadelphia Orchestra, Curtis Institute of Music, June 15, 2004 Excerpts from a letter from Bernard Garfield, my first teacher at the Curtis Institute, and a tremendous ally and friend to this day. He wrote me a frank and detailed response after I sent him three of my solo albums (Notes from Abroad, and double album Musica Franca; Boismortier and Corrette:

Dear Nadina: I played both CDs and had a good time. The Corrette is perfect for my morning breakfast music since I like cheerful music and it fills the bill; light and happy sounds. Fraser’s tone in #2, 9 and 15 is full and attractive with an even sound. Your own playing in #5, the Sarabande, is my favourite. I like the fanfare in #13, articulation in #14, and trills in #18. All are a real tour-de-force for anyone and you know how to practice to perfection, even without a bear looking in your window! Now the solo record is sensational. I’ve never heard anyone articulate the final movement of the Tansman like you. Your technique is flawless too. In the fall, I must purchase 4 copies for my Curtis students to study, listen and salivate!!! Before discussing the other pieces, I want to congratulate you on the packaging of this album. The entire concept is beautiful, from the provocative title, the photos, the color scheme, and the program notes. […] I enjoyed Lussier’s Love Songs, which showed the bassoon’s remarkable human-like voice.[…] Lussier’s music should be spread around the globe as he has a soft inner voice that we all admire. […] As to the Bitsch, you just won the Gillet competition… 

John de Lancie (former director Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia), May 1, 1981 A letter from the director of my school to my teacher, Bernard Garfield, following my performance of the Mozart Concerto K191 and just before I started my first job with Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal on May 9, 1981. Mr Garfield sent the original letter to me for my amusement:

“Dear Bernie, I hope you were pleased with Nadina’s performance. I thought she played beautifully. I was amazed by all the “body English” – who gets credit for that?”

Each of these men represent a type of teacher. . . all leaders, all respected, all representing ideals for their younger colleagues. Yet, their examples differ immensely. Four of them write with noble generosity and detailed perspicacity (in my opinion), and one of them gives a rare yet generic compliment, then pulls it back with an off-colour comment. Which kind of teacher do you want to be?