Uta Messerhuber

My First Encounter

by Uta Messerhuber  

About 20 years ago my world was shaken by a devastating loss. As a result, my perception of the world shifted. Many memories became very precious. And many unexpected wondrous moments presented themselves.

One of these magical moments was my first encounter with a bassoon – actually, a bassoonist and her bassoon.

It happened while heading to the Indigo/Chapters bookstore in Eaton Centre, Toronto with my new dear friend, H. In order to avoid some of the traffic noise and sidewalk hustle, we chose to pass through the Trinity Square park tucked behind the Bell Canada head office, where years ago I used to work. Wedged into this tiny park is a simple but pleasant water feature that splashes and trickles across the square and between office towers and a hotel. To the eastward side of the grassy area stands a small elegant structure, the Holy Trinity Church, a gothic revival built in 1870. Though modest in scale, it makes up for it with an emphasis on height and architectural techniques which draw the eyes heavenward.

I’ve always loved this little church and on work days would occasionally partake in the odd canteen lunch served by the parishioners who used the proceeds to help the needy. But on this particular Saturday, a sandwich board positioned on its steps announced a free concert including a bassoonist.

So, with my life having abruptly opened different paths, this one seemed to be leading me directly up the church steps towards the music. But not any music. This was a sound that was new to me. A reed woodwind that sounded like no other. Timidly but determinedly, we found seats facing beautiful 5-storey tall stained glass windows shimmering with light from the afternoon sun. Once we quietly settled, the music took our full attention. A bassoonist was playing accompanied by a few other musicians. Up to that day, my knowledge or awareness of the bassoon was embarrassingly paltry. I knew of the bassoon, and naively thought that it simply and squarely played a minor supporting role in formal orchestras, relegated mostly to pompous concert-hall scaled symphonic events.

Yet here it was, taking centre stage, raising its own voice heavenward in the hands of a highly skilled and passionate musician. A woman with short spikey blue hair embraced this unwieldy looking contraption of highly polished black wood and silver keys, taking short strong breaths to produce the most amazing music. I sat there transfixed, listening. For the first time, encountering the power, grace and singular voice of the bassoon. Not just any bassoon. It was clear that this woman was a skilled master at creating the most sublime music. Don’t ask me what the names of the pieces were. Something classical. It wasn’t that critical that I remembered the names of the pieces. But what I did realize was that this would be one of those precious memories. Of pure release from the pressures of the everyday, lifting my spirits and penetrating my inner swirl of emotions. This mini-concert seemed to remind me that to struggle, to wrestle, to collaborate and breathe deeply (in life or into a bassoon!) in order to release expressions of pure beauty was what this life is all about.

Since then, I have followed the bassoon and her blue-haired muse on her own journeys, listening raptly,  fascinated by the beauty they bring into the world. I am so grateful for that first encounter. Little did I know that it would bring so much pleasure and joy into my life.