Stephanie Patterson, Principal Bassoon

Tune In with the CSO Interview

September Musician of the Month Interview:

For how long have you been playing the bassoon?Stephanie

I started when I was in the 9th grade, so about 17 years ago. Before that I played piano, then flute, saxophone, and finally bassoon.

What made you choose to play the bassoon?

My band director in high school asked me to switch from saxophone. I was a saxophone player and he said I could play in orchestra, and I would get more solo parts. He also said if I didn’t like the bassoon it would be fine if I wanted to switch back. Obviously he didn’t need to worry about that. I remember the first week I had the instrument, over Christmas break, I was playing out of a beginning band book and I read the Brahms lullaby melody. It sounded so beautiful on the bassoon and I think that was when I decided I could never play another instrument. Now when I got to high schools and switch students from saxophone, clarinet, or flute, I tell them about my experience and I hope they fall in love with it like I did.

What is your favorite part about performing in front of a live audience?

I love the excitement of live performance. There is a feeling of spontaneity, like something could happen that has never happened before (in rehearsals or other concerts). I can feel when the musicians around me are inspired because they play with great passion, which in turn inspires everybody, including the audience, and we keep building on each other’s energy. When somebody takes a musical risk, you can feel more life in the music and that makes live performance so amazing.

If you could play any other instrument, what would you play?

Mandolin. I love bluegrass and whenever I see a bluegrass band I think they must be having so much fun, and I just want to be part of that.

When you aren’t playing music, what are some of your other hobbies?

I love to be outside, hiking, running, biking, swimming. I love doing those things with my family, and now I get to share those experiences with my daughter.

What is the most bizarre performing experience you have had?

I once played a solo piece in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, from the top of a wooden gallows that was part of the art installation. The audience stood below me, like an audience would watching somebody on the gallows.

What is your favorite music genre to listen to?

I love folk music and bluegrass.

What is on your latest playlist?

I’ve been listening to the music that my students in music appreciation want to hear, so it’s a lot of hip hop and some world music. I’m learning a lot about different kinds of music.

What musician or group of musicians inspires you the most?

I love music students. They are so excited to be playing music, and they approach every piece with a sense of wonder because it is new to them. I wish I could be like that all the time.

Are you excited for the upcoming performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, and why?

I am very excited for Beethoven’s Fifth, because the last time I played it I played the contrabassoon part. The contra player rests for the first three movements, and then plays the Fourth movement: loud, fast, and raucous. It’s the perfect way to end such an iconic piece of music.

Which three people (famous or otherwise) would you most like to invite to a dinner party, and why?

I want to have dinner with John Cage, Frank Zappa, and John Lennon. I think they all have very interesting views of art and music and we could have a really interesting conversation.

What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

I started college as an undecided freshman, and I was going to study biology or history at Oberlin College. My first year I realized I couldn’t live without playing music, so I decided to try to get into the music department, which happened to be no small task. My teacher told me it would be possible, but only if I worked really hard. I practiced until the building closed every night and then went home to do my homework for my college classes, and in the Spring I auditioned for and was admitted to the Oberlin Conservatory. My teacher made it very clear that my hard work was not over, and ever since then I have dedicated myself to being the best bassoonist I can be. I am proud of getting into a renowned music program, but also that I have been able to have a career in music even though I got a late start.

Do you have a nickname? How did you get it?

In college my email address shortened my name to Spatters. Everybody thought it was hilarious, so some people started calling me that.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an artist, or a teacher. I was terrible at drawing, though, so music is my art form.

If you could attend any live performance (musical or otherwise) what would it be and why?

I want to be at the performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 7th symphony, which was partially written during the siege of Leningrad during WWII. It was performed during the siege by the surviving members of the Leningrad radio orchestra, and represented the resistance of the Russian people to the invasion by Nazi forces, even when they were suffering through a harsh winter with few resources.

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