A Bassoonist in Europe
Alison Wormell, 2018 Music Scholar
My BBM Youth Support Award trip to Europe in November and December of 2018 was primarily a trip for auditions and lessons, although I found myself doing lots of other things besides. I was away from home for five weeks, visited five countries, had eleven lessons, three auditions for Masters programs in London, watched eight concerts and fifteen hours of lessons, and visited three bassoon shops. And then there’s also the infinite cups of coffee, nine flights, and three international trains! My BBM trip was the trip of a lifetime – I learnt so much about myself, my playing, and bassoon in general – and I will be using it as a yardstick for many years to come.
I went over with several pieces well prepared, but not yet polished, and it was a great place to be in for all the lessons I had. I learnt about a variety of aspects of bassoon playing such as embouchure, sound, breath control, articulation, mental approach, style, and intention. What was wonderful about the trip was that after attending these lessons, I then had the space in my life, away from all the things that need doing at home, to really start to nut out and address the ideas and concepts raised in my lessons. Of course, this process is going to take months as I sort through all of my lesson notes but having the mental time and space to start that process was invaluable.
My lessons also aided me in choosing where I would like to study a Masters of Music Performance in 2019. By having lessons with teachers in England, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, I could learn lots of things about what it would be like to study with them. Most importantly it gave me insight into what each teacher was like, but I also saw the institutions I could study at, and heard about what it would be like to study there. I even got to meet some of the current students and watch their lessons, which was really a key to understanding each teacher and institution. Another advantage that the BBM Award gave me was having all these lessons in close proximity. In Australia, bassoon teachers visit once now, once presently, and so it’s hard to directly compare their styles and approaches. This problem doesn’t exist if you take yourself over to Europe!
Aside from learning from varied teachers, this trip was extremely useful as it has provided me with experiences I can use to gauge for the future and as a foundation for career planning. By hearing so many players (professional and students), experiencing so many concerts, and meeting so many people, I really have a better idea of what the landscape of bassoon playing outside of Australia looks like, and where I fit into it. It can be really challenging to get an idea of where you stand when you’re in Australia because the bassoon community is so much smaller and more isolated. Now when I am at home, I know much more clearly what I’m practicing for and how many really amazing players there are out there to be inspired by and work to emulate.
I think this idea of being inspired and tangibly knowing who and what is really out there making wonderful music, is really changing my approach to bassoon day-to-day. When I think of the fantastic people I have met and the brilliant listening and learning experiences I’ve had, I just get really excited! Some days practice is really a slog, but it is like I have a little bit of extra inspiration on tap at all times, or at least a little push because I know how hard I need to work to make it. The BBM Award is the reason I have this.
Finally, the contacts that I’ve made this trip are not just a one-time thing. I now know many more people overseas and that pays its own dividends. Even since coming back to Australia, I have connected with a teacher who I wasn’t able to meet during my BBM trip, when he came to Adelaide. I was very fortunate to listen to the Mahler Chamber Orchestra rehearse and have a lesson, all because I’d originally contacted Guilhaume about having a lesson in November.
I’d like to thank my teachers in Sydney and my colleagues in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for encouraging me to pursue educational opportunities overseas, and who put me in contact with many of these players. Thank you to the bassoonists who made time to teach me; Joost Bosdijk (London), Julie Price (London), Dan Jemison (London), Audun Halvorsen (Oslo), Gustavo Núñez (Amsterdam), Dag Jensen (Munich), Andrea de Flammineis (London), Miriam Gussek (London), Bram van Sambeek (Cologne), Matthias Racz (Zurich), and Guilhaume Santana (Saarbrucken). Thank you to my friends and colleagues who put me up and made time to talk to me about their schools and lives, both before and during the trip. Thank you to my family for being patient with my practise and helping facilitate some of the more ridiculous turnarounds in my trip (a visit to Amsterdam just to see a bassoon concerto). And finally, thank you to BBM for supporting me financially so I could undertake this journey. I have consequently been offered places at all three schools I auditioned for, and I am so grateful for the opportunities my trip has created for me.