Now’s the time!

by Donovan Tong

Starting the bassoon at any age

Recently I have been working on a blog that shows some famous bassoonists and when they switched to bassoon. My hope is that students considering the bassoon won’t be scared off because they think it is too late to switch! And in this time of uncertainty, when we wonder what the future holds, it’s important to remember that all kinds of orchestras and ensembles will always need us.

I have put together a version focused on famous Canadian bassoonists for the COCB site. Please visit my website, to read more stories about  wonderful players of all ages and levels  from around the globe.

So…you’re interested in learning more about the bassoon! That’s great!!

But let’s say you have already been playing another instrument for many years. Are you wondering if you should give up your old instrument and “Is it too late for me to make the switch?”

Well, you might be relieved to hear that many of the famous Canadian bassoonists in the world actually started quite late, often either in middle school and high school…when they were somewhere between 12 and 16 years old! Not to mention those who start much much later. Given the large size of the bassoon, it is really common for players to come to it later in life, either as students or as adults.

Here are some of the top bassoonists in Canada and when they switched to bassoon:

donovan tong - bassoon

Christopher Millard first started playing the bassoon when he was 15, after years as a pianist and saxophonist. Today he is one of Canada’s best-known woodwind artists, where he has been Principal Bassoon for the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) since 2004, and before that, Principal for the Vancouver Symphony and the CBC Radio Orchestra for 29 seasons. He is currently a faculty member at the University of Ottawa.

Stéphane Lévesque first started playing the bassoon when he was in 11th grade. He has held the position of Principal bassoon with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) since 1998, and is a professor at McGill University where he was awarded the Schulich School of Music Teaching Award in 2011-12. He has given master classes in numerous music institutions throughout the world, including the Curtis Institute of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the Oberlin Conservatory, the New World Symphony, the Glenn Gould School, the National School of Music (UNAM) in Mexico City, the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Lyon, and the Conservatoire de Lausanne (Switzerland).

Nadina Mackie Jackson first started playing the bassoon when she was 14, and formally with a bassoon instructor at 16. She went on to win her first first job with the Montreal Symphony at the age of 22. Today she is the most widely recorded Canadian bassoonist in history with 13 solo albums and 8 chamber music recordings.

Julia Lockhart first started playing the bassoon near the end of Grade 7 when she was 12 years old. She had played the clarinet all year, but wanted to switch to bassoon because she thought it was such a unique instrument. The band teacher let her take home a plastic Linton bassoon for the summer, and she learned a few of the basics from a Yamaha band book! She began playing in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra at age sixteen. Today she is Principal Bassoon for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Adjunct Professor of bassoon at UBC.

Mathieu Lussier first started playing the bassoon when he was 12 when he started high school. Today, he is known for promoting he modern and baroque bassoon as a solo instrument. He is a member of the woodwind ensemble Pentaèdre de Montréal and is a professor at the University of Montreal. He is also an accomplished composer, with a catalogue of over 50 titles heard regularly in the concert halls of North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

If you’d like to see even more profiles and backgrounds for these famous bassoonists as well as many others from around the world, please feel free to check out the Famous Bassoonists section on the B.O.S.S. site. 

To see stories of young aspiring bassoonists and how switching to the bassoon changed their lives, please check the Supporter Spotlight section on the main B.O.S.S. homepage.

There are also many wonderful organizations that help bassoonists start their journeys. The Council of Canadian Bassoonists (COCB) is a nationally registered charitable education organization comprised of Canadian bassoonists of all levels and their supporters. It  is an amazing organization that has helped to inspire bassoonists of all ages. If you are a young musician in Canada looking for support regarding the bassoon, I would definitely recommend reaching out to them for advice. Also be sure to check out the International Double Reed Society.

And finally, here are some videos of today’s Canada’s late-starting bassoonists!

Christopher Millard making bread!

Julia Lockhart playing and talking about when she started the bassoon

A tutorial created by the renowned Canadian bassoonist Stéphane Lévesque, giving instructions on one of the famous classical pieces for the bassoon, Maurice Ravel’s Bolero!–2

And two for one, Mathieu Lussier conducting one of his compositions with Nadina Mackie Jackson as soloist

Please let us know your own stories of starting the bassoon at any age and remember, now’s the time to play bassoon!