There are a number of things bassoonists chronically cope with - maintaining a cache of good reeds, temperature/humidity variations, pitch stability and forgetting a seat strap - but for students, nothing compares to the difficulties of finding and purchasing a good instrument. As the most expensive woodwind instrument, many school districts simply do not own a bassoon and, if they do, it is usually in need of repair and often a struggle to play on. In addition, most musical instrument rental companies don't carry bassoons due to the rate of cost vs. demand.
Should you even find a decent student model, it's pretty much out of the question to ask many students (or their families) to lay down +/- $6,000.
So what do you do when a high school student, with limited options, but who wants to pursue music as a career, is still using a honky school instrument? Well, this was the dilemma my student and I faced this past spring.
Last fall I was most fortunate to be given a new student through the Eastman Community Music School. She successfully self-taught herself how to play bassoon and during our first lesson, when I asked her which scales she could play, her immediate response was - "All of them." Uh, okay, and what's your range? She responded casually, "I can go up to a high Eb." And, true to her word, she could. Obviously, I was impressed.
Over the course of the following months we delved into all things bassoon and I quickly discovered that this girl had a lot of potential. She was diligent, smart, observant, persistent and always had the best attitude - basically a dream student. Then she started talking to me about getting a bassoon of her own, a decent bassoon that would allow her to audition for colleges and hopefully obtain scholarships. My heart fell. As a student with limited financial options who already was dependent upon a scholarship to cover her lesson costs, the question remained - how could she manage to pull together the thousands of dollars needed to purchase an instrument of her own? I was certain we could find one in the $3,000 range, however, even that was a stretch financially. And what about quality? How long would an instrument like that be useful to this talented and focused young musician? Would it be enough to help her get into college? So began the search for an answer.
With persistence, and a little bit of dumb luck, a potential solution came to light and we jumped on it immediately.
The Solution?? Maybe?:
In the spring I heard of and had an interview with, a member of the Rochester Education Foundation (REF). This independent, not-for-profit organization is dedicated to raising resources and offering programs to support the success of Rochester's city schoolchildren. The Foundation has four main programs that have developed over the years:
1.) Give Back, Give Books - provides reading material for students to either bring home or to be given to the city library,
2.) College Access - supports college access through communication, coalition, and advocacy for Rochester students
3.) Last Dollar Grants - providing a few college freshmen with some last minute funds - enough to buy a computer
4.) Spring for Music - collecting donated instruments to purchase an instrument for students in the musical field
After meeting with the REF representative and discussing my student's potential, interests and needs, the organization seemed incredibly interested in supporting her - (JACKPOT!) - then I mentioned the price of a bassoon. When I provided approximate costs, the representative hesitated - "We've never spent that much money on one student." Maybe this was all too good to be true. But we kept the discussion going. As my student was one of many applicants, I realized the chances of them picking her, with the most expensive instrument need, was going to be a huge challenge.
However, and happily, the REF representative and I didn't want to give up. So we kept working, researching instruments, prices, and sponsorships. I began to think that possibly I could, with the help of my own support system, alleviate some of the costs. I reached out to teachers, musicians, mentors, and repairmen and was incredibly (and pleasantly) surprised by the feedback, generosity and willingness to help. It was fantastic. Following a few phone calls, I was able to garner financial support, find a terrific instrument and get a great price.
Following a lot of back and forth correspondence with the REF, I received a call in mid-May - they had raised the rest of the funds - my student was selected as a recipient and within a few weeks, she was presented with the 2016 REF Musical Instrument Award - a beautiful Moosmann bassoon.
Over the summer it has been wonderful watching my student become familiar with her very own bassoon. To this day she still looks at it in awe and thanks me profusely for helping her pursue her dreams. Now she can audition for colleges with confidence in herself and her instrument. None of this would have been possible if it weren't for REF and their tremendous city school programs, and the donors - I can't begin to thank them enough!
On October 19, 2016, the REF is hosting their 3rd Annual Toast as a tribute to their sponsors and partners. It is the only community-wide Rochester event that honors the individuals, programs, and partners who provide resources to city school students. The event will be hosted at the Memorial Art Gallery. The night will include a silent auction, music entertainment, and wine and hors d'oeuvres.
To support the Rochester Education Foundation and students like mine, please check out their website.