A Bassoon Extravaganza

The bassoon is an endangered species! Various factors, such as the high cost of instruments and scarcity of teachers, mean that fewer and fewer young people are taking up an instrument which is a vital component of orchestras and other ensembles.

Working alongside the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and York Music Hub, the NCEM has been helping to redress the balance in a project celebrating the bassoon, its history and its unique and beautiful sound. The project took place from January - July 2017 and brought together: 165 pupils of St Aelred's RC Primary School across all year groups; 8 new bassoon learners in Year 5 at St Aelred's RC Primary School; 16 members of the Minster Minstrels (NCEM and York Music Centre's youth early music ensemble); 3 additional young bassoonists from across York. Activity began on 6 January 2017 at St Aelred's RC Primary School, when young people from across all year groups took part in a series of workshops led by OAE bassoonist Andrew Watts, local bassoon teacher Isabel Dowell and NCEM's Cathryn Dew. Children learned about the bassoon's history and found out about its role as a solo and ensemble instrument. Eight children from Year 5 were then given the opportunity to learn to play the mini bassoon (a smaller, higher-pitched version of the instrument). Thanks to funding from the Mark Williams Foundation and York Music Hub, these children received lessons and the loan of an instrument free of charge. They learnt with Isabel Dowell over the Spring and Summer Terms, not only getting to grips with their new instruments, but also working towards their first performance, which included the premiere of a specially-commissioned piece of music! As part of the preparation for this performance, which took place as part of York Early Music Festival 2017, a special workshop day was held at the NCEM on Saturday 27 May 2017. This day saw a vast ensemble join together at NCEM, comprising players from the OAE oboe band, the Minster Minstrels youth early music ensemble, and an array of bassoonists (from the 8 beginner players from St Aelred's through to a young musician only a few months away from attending music college). A particular highlight of this workshop was rehearsing the newly commissioned work, Mosaic for Minstrels, which was created by composer Anthony Bailey, especially for the unique forces gathered together in this project. All the young people's hard work paid off in a spectacular performance on Sunday 9 July 2017 at York Unitarian Chapel and photographs and video of this performance will be available online shortly. Young people said of the project: "I found out how to play the bassoon and read all the notes and play in an orchestra" "It was interesting to play in a larger group and learn how to communicate with each other whilst playing" "I learnt what bassoons sound like and how early music sounds" "I enjoyed playing in front of a large audience and learning how to communicate when performing" "It was so good to be able to play my bassoon for people listening" "I enjoyed listening to other musicians play" "I liked learning different notes on the bassoon and just having fun" "It was fun working with the OAE and meeting other bassoon players" "I loved the thrill of when everyone is clapping you!" St Aelred's Headteacher, Mrs Feehan, added: "It was a wonderful opportunity and I'm so grateful that it was St Aelred's that had the opportunity to take part! I know the Year 5 class teacher said how much more confident the players had become, and not just on their instruments". Many of the new bassoon players were keen to continue their 'bassoon journeys' after the project finished, and NCEM is working with St Aelred's RC Primary and York Music Hub to help support their continued learning. For more stories from this project, please see the Youth Music Network blog . A Bassoon Extravaganza is run in partnership with OAE Education and made possible thanks to generous support from the Mark Williams Foundation, York Music Hub and the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust.