By Rebecca Wechter
Playing any instrument has its challenges. The bassoon, however, is particularly challenging. This contributes to the uniqueness of the instrument and simultaneously increases the opportunity for success. The College is home to an entire group of bassoonists.
Because bassoons are some of the rarest instruments to appear in bands and orchestras, there are very few collegiate bassoon ensembles in the state of New Jersey. Since the bassoon is such a rare instrument, there are few opportunities to connect with other players as well.
“We’re really cultivating a family here,” said junior English secondary education major Alexis Cherby, a bassoon player in the ensemble.
The College is lucky to own 14 bassoon instruments for students to use. There are currently nine members of the ensemble at the College, seven of which have actively performed this past semester. Next semester the ensemble is expected to include either eight or nine active players.
Adjunct Professor and Ensemble Director Dennis MacMullin describes the group as “committed and devoted.”
According to MacMullin, 10 to 15 minutes of every hour with the bassoon is spent working on reeds. Every bassoonist must spend time to understand how to craft their reed to work for them.
“You have to be a craftsman,” said MacMullin in regard to the skill required for playing a double reed instrument.
The bassoon is a very tall instrument which makes for additional struggles when learning to play. According to both Cherby and MacMullin, they played clarinet before beginning to learn bassoon. Margolis said that she first played the oboe.
“Most people don’t start playing bassoon because it’s usually way too big and complicated for an elementary or middle schooler,” Cherby said.
Cherby said that being a part of the ensemble is a “really unique experience especially because there are not many bassoonists at the highschool level.”
“For lack of better words, it can be a really stupid instrument sometimes,” Cherby added in reference to the amount of keys and buttons found on a bassoon.
Another difficulty in learning the instrument is that there are few instructors available. Cherby said that when she began to learn the bassoon, she did so on her own, as most highschool music directors know little, if anything, about the bassoon. This made unlearning bad habits difficult once she began learning from MacMullin.
The ensemble meets at 8 a.m. every Thursday and plays through several repertoires. There is currently no other school in the area with as many bassoonists as the College.
CJ Margolis, a sophomore music education major, described the ensemble as a “unique experience,” especially considering that four members of the group are her housemates. Margolis explained that she enjoys playing a double-reeded instrument like the bassoon because it “has a lot of kinks to get used to.”
Their last performance took place on Nov. 8, and they plan to perform again for the New Jersey Music Educators Association sometime between Feb. 23 and Feb. 25 of next year.
The pieces that the ensemble plays vary greatly. They are currently working on the first movement of Motzart’s 40th symphony which is a big classical piece. They have also learned “Break my Stride'' by Matthew Wilder. The ensemble even performed the Muppets Show theme song.
In order to join the ensemble, students must already have some knowledge of the bassoon — this is the only prerequisite. MacMullin stressed the sentiment that everyone is welcome. The ensemble ranges from beginners to students who are attending the College on scholarship for music. Students of all majors are welcome to join. A few of the majors of ensemble members listed by MacMullin include chemistry, biology and nursing.
“I teach to the student’s level,” said MacMullin in reference to the fact that he can alter the music to the level of the student in order to make them feel comfortable.
“It’s just like hanging out and making music with people you love to be around,” said Margolis.
Although being a member of the ensemble takes diligence and dedication, the efforts pay off.