Now’s the time! – Donovan Tong

Now’s the time! – Donovan Tong

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!


Philip Morehead – I picked up the bassoon at age 75

Philip Morehead – I picked up the bassoon at age 75

Philip Morehead - Council of Canadian Bassoonists

I picked up the bassoon at age 75

By Philip Morehead

My route back to the bassoon was somewhat circuitous.

I picked up the bassoon for the second time at the age of 75.

After a long career as a pianist, coach and conductor, both as a freelancer, then at the Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1981 until 2015, I “retired” and moved with my wife, oboist and composer Patricia Morehead, to Canada. Without consulting me, Pat decided to rent a bassoon as my Christmas present. She felt it would secure my upper respiratory health and overall longevity.

After the initial shock, I dutifully accepted the well-intended gift and was pleased to rediscover this remarkable instrument.

I did have some background to fall back from my student years, including studying the bassoon briefly with the great John Miller in Boston in the early 1970’s while at the New England Conservatory. I was studying piano and accompaniment and my goal was to better understand how wind instruments work. With John’s expert help, I learned to circular breathe and joined some ensembles. Prior to that, at the time I met my wife Patricia in France at Fontainebleau, we were both studying with the famous French teacher Nadia Boulanger. While in France, I took some lessons on the oboe with Pat’s teacher at the time, Myrtil Morel, and maybe this was the tinder for my interest in the bassoon.

After that, life intervened, our family grew as did my core musical responsibilities, and I had to sell my bassoon.

Now, all these years later, after raising our family, starting new music groups, playing and conducting around the world, and moving to Canada, I have been playing with two orchestras (interrupted alas by COVID-19), playing chamber music, and enjoying rediscovering the pleasures of the bassoon. Instrumental (pun intended) in this process was my friend Nadina Mackie Jackson, who gave me a few reeds and found a good bassoon for me to purchase. And who kicked my butt to join the Board of the Council of Canadian Bassoonists.

Now’s the time! – Donovan Tong

Donovan Tong – I started playing the bassoon in Grade Six

donovan tong - bassoon

I started playing the bassoon in Grade Six

By Donovan Tong

Hi, my name is Donovan Tong. I started playing the bassoon, the most wonderful instrument I have ever seen, in 6th grade.

It all happened by chance.

In the summer of 5th grade, my dad went on a business trip to Chicago. It was nothing out of the ordinary: 3 days and 3 nights, plus a few dinners out with co-workers. On the plane ride home, my dad just happened to sit next to a music teacher. For some very special reason, they started to chat with each other. Throughout the flight, the music teacher told my dad all about the bassoon. He explained how it was one of the highest in-demand instruments that no one really knew about, and that I should check it out. When my dad came home that night, we watched videos for hours on the bassoon and marveled at its beautiful yet unique sound. Shortly after, we rented my first bassoon and I played my first note. This was the start of my bassoon journey.

In today’s modern world, interest in classical music is fading. Important instruments for symphonic music are being played less than ever by younger musicians. Some of these instruments are on the verge of becoming extinct. The bassoon is one of these instruments at the top of the list.

I am a high school student living in California (just finished 9th grade), and I am working on a new project to try and raise awareness for the bassoon to young musicians worldwide! I created a simple website that hopefully will help young musicians who may not know about it or starting off on it to be excited about the bassoon. The reason I want to do this is that over the years many teachers and conductors have been telling me there are not enough young musicians playing the bassoon.

I’ve been thinking about this problem a lot. Currently, young musicians who know about the bassoon are often intimidated by the complexity of the instrument or don’t have the right resources to begin. However, I feel the more prominent problem is that many of the materials and websites do not really make the bassoon seem appealing to younger musicians, which goes hand in hand with not enough younger musicians knowing about it.

B.O.S.S. started in Spring 2020 based on two simple but important goals:

1) Create resources to help young musicians become more aware and excited about the bassoon.

2) Increase the number of musicians advocating for this unique instrument, gaining the help of groups within the youth music community to help inspire and overcome the challenges the bassoon is currently facing.

The resources on B.O.S.S. would not be possible without the help of the global bassoon community and really talented musicians who support us. Many of our supporters represent countries around the world including UK, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Holland, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

If you are passionate about the bassoon, a bassoon teacher, or anyone in the bassoon community who may be concerned about these challenges and interested in spreading awareness about the bassoon to younger musicians, please contact us at

Together with everyone’s support, we hope to make a difference for the next generation of bassoonists.

Thanks and take care,