Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Wrong Inspiration?

For too long, there has been much on my mind. Since the new year I have been in a rather unstable place when it comes to paid work. While the last quarter of 2016 was the busiest it's ever been for me,  I had a huge empty space in my calendar which lasted for months. Though a few opportunities popped up here and there, it was hard to deal with especially when most of my peers remained in school. While daylight was at its rarest, all I could do was wish for things to change.

In a twist of fate, I met a woman who changed my life and gave me, at least temporarily, relief from my fears that all of the troubles that came with moving to Switzerland were worth it. Sadly, circumstances were against us and I was once drawn back again to my professional situation when she left me.

However low I may have been feeling, I didn't let it stop me entirely: I set up my reed making business, I prepared for competitions, I deepend connections with friends. What I really felt I needed was a win: A long-awaited reed making machine needed to arrive; I wanted to compete in a Canadian competition; maybe an audition would come up... Unfortunately, even once the reed machine arrived I didn't feel like much had changed. The Canadian competition didn't select me and it turned out there was a major audition which I had not been made aware of until it was too late. 

As I began to advertise my reed business I got in touch with Thomas Oltheten, a Dutch bassoonist who invited me to show my wares at the annual bassoon society conference in Groningen. While the cost of the whole endeavour was high, I felt I had to do something radical if I was to get out of this months-long rut. Coincidentally, at the conference was a professional bassoon competition which declared that it accepted entrants who performed on historical instruments. Seeing the potential for the chance at winning my expenses back, I accepted. 

Once I had arrived and set up my table at the conference, I had the chance to take a look at the conference program booklet. Flipping through the pages, I found that I was the only baroque bassoonist performing in the professional competition. From past experiences in Ottawa, I had developed the idea that there were simply too many differences, both aesthetically and technically, between the modern and baroque bassoons for some to be able to appreciate the historical instrument. So lowly regarded were my aspirations to be an Early Music Performer that I was once awarded 9th place in a scholarship competition when only three students applied. "The baroque bassoon was broken," reasoned the scholarship committee, "and the modern bassoon fixed what was broken." Naturally, I was very skeptical of my chances. 

Part of the first round included the performance of four miniature pieces written by Dutch composers for the modern bassoon. Each of them had interesting technical challenges, especially for a 300 year old instrument. With weeks of practice, a special reed, some adjustments to my bocal, as well as some made up fingerings, I felt I could take those pieces as far as they could go. I think it surprised everyone in the room when, in the second bar of my performance, I hit a high C#, a major third beyond what we would generally agree was possible today for my instrument (actually, fingering charts show that this was at least theoretically possible by mid century. In Antoine Dard's Op.2 of 1752 you can find high C's and D's in the slower movements). From that point forward I had their attention. 

The Podium at Groningen
I ended up winning the competition and I was relieved to know that I was going to be in the black for the trip. What I found funny about the whole event was that it was the first time in years that I had not gone to perform with the intention to blow people away. I wanted to show my reeds, make some contacts, and get my expenses back, but winning the competition wasn't my primary focus - not at all. Of course, I prepared well - I wasn't going to make a fool of myself - but I only really began to want to win the night before the final round (I was forced to change hotels at the last minute due to a huge party taking place and my new accommodation wasn't cheap).

While it was certainly the wrong inspiration for a competition, it got the job done.

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