An enthusiastic amateur bassoonist, Russell Oates tells about his life with his favourite instrument.

I studied saxophone at the University of Western Ontario with George Van Ostrand and Douglas Pullen, along with focussing on Music Education. As a Mus.Ed. student, instrument electives were the norm, and it was the late and wonderful David Haward who first put a bassoon into my hands. At the time, it was the only woodwind I hadn’t learn to play, so it was an obvious choice. David’s calm instruction with us in that class gave me a new-found respect for the bassoon, and the people who played it.

Once I started teaching in 1989, I was very busy establishing myself with the program I’d been thrust into.  It was tough finding time outside of that.

In 1996, having played in my share of bands on saxophone, I was longing for the orchestral experience, so I decided to pull out my school’s [you guessed it] Fox 41. Much of what David taught me came back very quickly, and I now had some time to work on it. Within a few weeks, I was playing with the Burlington Concert Band, which was a great way to get technique under my fingers.

Once people hear that there is a community bassoonist in their midst, you start getting calls. The first call from an orchestra came from the Oakville Symphony, and I was hooked. I got to play a few concerts with them, and soon realized what a great vantage point the bassoon had within the orchestra, not to mention its importance. I wasn’t ignorant to that fact, but to be able to sit within the group, and be that player was special, indeed.

Jeannie Martire, another bassoon mentor who sadly passed far too soon, contacted me to play 2nd Bassoon for a couple of Symphony Hamilton (now The Burlington Symphony) concerts. She was wonderful; a great coach, with tremendous patience, along with piquing my interest in Püchner bassoons. Knowing and getting to play with her was, and still is a highlight of my musical life. She was also a great buffer between myself and Jim MacKay, who was conducting the group at that time. Jim and I had the Western connection, but still, there was a bit of intimidation playing under a bassoonist/conductor. I must have been doing something right as I played the next full season with them.

In 2003, I moved to Barrie and right into a bassoon chair in The Huronia Symphony, at the time, under John Barnum. Did I say I was still playing that same Fox 41? Once I got settled at my new school, I started using its ’41’. However, I started to get interested students to play bassoon, so I soon knew it was time to jump into bassoon ownership.





How Not To Buy A Bassoon 101

eBay. Iowa. Attic. Blind Faith. But I got lucky.


Through Jeannie, I had studied the key work of Püchner bassoons, so when this one came up on eBay [though the seller gave just a few hints as to its manufacturerI couldn’t be certain], but I was pretty sure by the look of the boot mechanisms that it was authentic. So thankfully, with the dollar pretty much at par at that time, he got $2000, and I got a Mid-1950s-era Püchner that likely hadn’t been played in 15 years with what appeared to be saxophone pads on it, here and there. Though I was expecting nothing different, it was unplayable. It had also been refinished which is why some of the marques were at best faint, or gone entirely. Upon further inspection, the Püchner “JPG” monograms were clearly visible on each joint. Whew!

Enter Marcus-Wieler, where Shane put it on his pressure reader, I believe for a good laugh, and for quite a few weeks, with silver tubes, new pads, etc., he put life back into this lovely old instrument I proudly still play today. Shane still looks after it continually, has added a key or two, and comments on its Heckel-ish tone. I couldn’t be happier.

I can’t imagine life without it. I’ve never been one to say, “I wish I’d done it sooner.” This is why it’s a journey, and the bassoon came into my life when it did indeed, for the better, and that’s all I can ask for.

I have now been associated with the Huronia Symphony for 20 years, trading first-chair parts with fellow community bassoonist Veronica Laval, and playing with other great players which form our musical family, up in Barrie. I am so thankful to always be challenged by our repertoire, and over the years, to have gotten to play with some other great bassoonists, namely, Christian Sharpe, Jerry Robinson, Shane Wieler, Jeannie, and the aforementioned Heather Gibson. 

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