Nadina Mackie Jackson and the Council of Canadian Bassoonists

Nadina Mackie Jackson and the Council of Canadian Bassoonists

Bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson co-founded the Council of Canadian Bassoonists in 2006.

Read the full story here.

“Bassoon players have always tended to be innately philanthropic, giving reeds, lessons, music and sometimes even bassoons to those who want to learn. Ever since I was a student, I wanted to create something permanent that captures the charitable instinct of great bassoon teachers and eager students, somewhere people could turn when they needed help and answers, and where the influence of my mentors and noble colleagues could be emulated and passed on to others.  In creating the COCB, I wanted to give myself and other Canadian bassoonists a lasting context, something that can grow over time and with contributions from many gifted people. We have so much to offer as teachers, mentors, and performers. I believe that creating an enduring charity sustains general bassoon education and gives me and others an inclusive teaching forum that we can return to and develop throughout our careers. And because this is an official, government-recognized charity, it can exist for many generations for the benefit of musicians and the people who love to listen to music. ” 

—-excerpt from Council of Canadian Bassoonists – now that’s a good idea!  

bassoon, movement
A Living Legend

A Living Legend

A Living Legend

There were several iconic bassoonists of the 20th century whose presence still remains through their students.  All of you are musical descendants of these gentlemen.  Thankfully, one of them remains with us.  Bernard Garfield celebrated his 98th birthday on May 27, 2022. He succeeded Sol Schoenbach as Principal Bassoon in the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1957 and remained in that position until 2000.  In addition to over 50 years on the faculty of Temple University, Mr. Garfield taught at the Curtis Institute from 1976 to 2008. His students, grand-students and great-grand-students populate much of the modern American and Canadian bassoon worlds.

Subtle and elegant in his phrasing, remarkably facile in all his technique and remarkable intonation were his hallmarks. Listen to the Andante ma adagio from K.191 [begins 7:05] from this 1961 recording and marvel.

My Uncle Had a Radio

My Uncle Had a Radio

Your Great Grand-Teacher!

Sol Schoenbach [1915-1999] was one of the legends of modern bassoon playing.

When Schoenbach joiined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1939 it was considered the greatest orchestra in North America. He was part of a legendary wind section, which included oboist Marcel Tabuteau and flutist William Kincaid.  These three were stalwarts at the Curtis Institute where for decades they nurtured an astounding number of successful flutists, oboists and bassoonists. It is all but certain that your own Canadian teachers fall into the category of students or ‘grand-students’ or even ‘great-grand-students’ of these master teachers.

Here are two wonderful links to the Philadelphians.  The first is a video recorded at Domaine Forget in 1995, featuring Schoenbach [aged 80] reminiscing about his youth.  The second is one of several vintage videos featuring Schoenbach and his colleagues performing Samuel Barber’s Summer Music, with a fascinating discussion with the composer.

NEW CANADIAN BASSOON RECORDING!

NEW CANADIAN BASSOON RECORDING!

Home Suite Home

A longtime member of the Toronto Symphony, Fraser Jackson, has just released his first solo CD: Home Suite Home, recorded during the last year with his wife, the pianist Monique de Margerie, and special guests Marie Bérard (violin) Winona Zelenka (cello) and Dominic Desautels (clarinet). It’s a collection of short pieces chosen from repertoire they’ve been performing for neighbours on their front porch: mostly for bassoon and piano but with some contrabassoon, some solo piano, solo bassoon, and those wonderful guests. The music ranges from CPE Bach to Schumann to Poulenc and Bill Douglas.

Fraser says:

“After spending the first few months of the 2020 Covid lockdown cleaning out the basement and learning to bake sourdough bread, Monique and I  decided to give ourselves a musical outlet by performing on our porch in Toronto’s west end. I brought my bassoon and sometimes my contrabassoon and Monique played on a Roland digital piano. Sometimes friends or students joined us on “stage” and sometimes it was just the two of us. As long as it wasn’t raining, we played every Thursday at 5:30 and several times we even toured other people’s porches or backyards. It kept us occupied and it was a great way to meet the neighbours; we liked it so much that after taking a break for the cold months, we continued playing concerts right through the summer of 2021. And we decided to record some of our porch repertoire as a CD.

Porch repertoire is pretty straightforward: pieces are easy on the ears, relatively short, not too tough to rehearse, and they come from all over the musical map. Usually, we start with the more serious pieces and end with the jazzier material but sometimes it felt right to end with something a bit more sombre. The goal was always to distract, to comfort, to reassure, and above all to get out of the darn house.

All the recording sessions took place in our backyard studio that sits where most people would have a garage. Despite having to stop for the occasional barking dog or power tool, things went relatively smoothly although it took almost a year to record everything. Because of the changing government regulations, it was not always possible to have our engineer, Ron Searles, present in the room with us. Sessions began in December 2020 and ended in September 2021: the first piece we recorded was Automne by Jean-Michel Damase and the last was Gabriel Fauré’s Pièce. Many thanks to Ron for making it all sound as beautiful and integrated as possible.”

Album available here: homesuitehome.cc

© The Council of Canadian Bassoonists. Website by Mighty Sparrow Design.

Bassoon Wizard in the Woods

Bassoon Wizard in the Woods

Benson Bell

Bassoon Wizard in the Woods

by Darren Hicks

Part One

After being asked to write this post about Benson Bell I thought “How well do I really know him”?! I don’t think I have ever had an in depth discussion about anything other than the bassoon (and specifically MY bassoon), its assorted accoutrements, and how to get an attractive and beautiful sound out of it. And now that business is booming and hunting season is in full swing I don’t think I’ll be able to get him on the phone for said in depth discussion any time soon. So until I can pin down the elusive bassoon maker extraordinaire let me tell you about my introduction to the man, the myth, and the legend that is Benson Bell and B.H. Bell Bassoons.

My first encounter with Benson Bell came out of a mildly traumatic experience.

In my second year of university, my teacher and lifelong mentor, Christopher Millard, loaned me a bassoon to play. I was beginning to outgrow the Takeda bassoon my parents had purchased through Gerald Corey and Chris was kind enough to give me the opportunity to play a professional-level instrument (i.e. break in his new bassoon). At the culmination of the loan period, I pulled my old Takeda out of the closet and, to my horror, the cork on the tenons had warped and the joints wouldn’t fit together. Word of warning: make sure the bassoon in your closet gets pulled out and played with regular frequency, especially if the closet is not insulated properly.

Oh, what surprises were in store for naïve Darren! As it turned out, not only was the cork on the tenons warped but the tenons themselves had warped. Additionally, and perhaps most crucially, the entire bore of my bassoon was out of whack.

Eek.

Needless to say the search for my new instrument began immediately. Cut to the phrase “Ben Bell has a bassoon he is selling” coming out of Chris’ mouth at one of my lessons a few weeks later. I nodded and said “Oh yes, of course: Ben Bell” knowing full well I hadn’t the foggiest what that name meant. I grew up fairly ignorant of the bassoon world outside of my high school band and provincial youth orchestra. Such is life in rural Nova Scotia for a physics-obsessed teenager. After that lesson I walked home, immediately googled “Benson + Bell + Bassoon”, and, lo and behold, a website appeared about a Canadian bassoon company owned and run by a man named Benson Bell. “Huh! How had I not heard about this?” I said to myself. “Wow, it looks like some people really like his bassoons!”

At my next lesson I asked Chris for more information about this bassoon for sale and he said, “It’s number 50 and a bassoonist in the States is selling it through Ben.” I took a deep breath and asked the scary question:

“How much is it?”

“It’s under 30 thousand” Chris replied, as if that was a bargain for a sophomore in college. I blinked, gulped, and quickly reminded myself how to breathe. “I’ll need to have a chat with my parents” is all I managed to squeak out. [By the way, Chris was right: under 30 thousand is a bargain for a professional level instrument!]

Thank heavens my parents were on board and understood how important getting a quality instrument was for my success in bassoon-playing. After trying out the bassoon and listening to Chris play it for me in my lessons, money was moved around and Bell #50 was in my hands. To say the adjustment period was fast is an understatement. I was playing the bassoon in ensembles within a week, and with a much higher success rate in projection and tuning to boot! On my former bassoon, intonation and tone required an in-depth discussion between me and the instrument, one that often devolved into a stalemate. On this Bell it all just happened.

A little while after purchasing the instrument I had to take a trip to his “factory” and have a new key put on. I rented a car for the very first time and drove down from Ottawa to the forests outside of Peterborough. I remember specifically having to rent a GPS unit from the car rental place because I did not have a smartphone yet and the drive to the workshop is, shall we say, a little off the beaten path.

In a clearing in the woods stood a house and behind it what looked like a large garage. That garage turned out to be the workshop where the bassoon magic happens. I opened the front door and took in the space where the life of my bassoon started. Benson took me on a tour of the facility, showing me where the wood for his bassoons sat and aged, where his lathes and machines were, and his smaller workshop space where so much of the fine-tuning and adjustments were done on each bassoon. Once the tour was done and introductions to his staff were made, he took the wing joint of my bassoon in for surgery. I was having a French whisper key put on and although I had told him I didn’t want to watch, curiosity got the better of me. I was in this workshop of wonders and thought that I would regret not seeing the magic happen.

What I witnessed still haunts me to this day.

I’m just kidding. But it was pretty frightening seeing my brand-new-to-me bassoon under a drill press! Had it been anyone else I would have been much more nervous, but if I can’t trust the guy who built the thing who could I trust!? Under his expert hands many repairs and tweaks to my bassoon over the years have helped me get to where I am today.

My admiration of Benson and his encyclopedic knowledge of the bassoon has only grown over the last decade of owning a Bell bassoon. Every time I send an email, call, or visit the shop he has a solution to every problem I bring with me. It’s akin to alchemy the way he works on a bassoon, knowing precisely what adjustments need to be made by listening to the sounds coming out of the bell in tandem with his masterful skillset. His never-ending curiosity about the bassoon and sound in general is an inspiration to all bassoonists who meet him. I know he has been a catalyst for me to think more deeply about how to get the best out of my bassoon and for that I am eternally grateful. The head start he gave me with an incredible horn has informed and shaped my musical identity and career. In my continuous journey to develop as a bassoonist and as a musician having Ben in my corner undoubtedly fuels my success.

In my next installment I will delve into Benson Bell’s personal history, exploring how he got his start playing the bassoon, fixing bassoons, and building his bassoons. Stay tuned!

Read more about today’s guest blogger,  Darren Hicks, Associate Principal Bassoonist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra