What is the sound of one bassoon blowing? Dr. Maya Stone, who grew up with the frequent experience of being the only bassoonist in the room, has thought about this question a lot. The world of this complex and versatile double-reed woodwind is becoming less lonely, with more high school band directors now placing multiple bassoons in their ensembles, but Dr. Stone says the instrument’s historical stature has created a uniquely eccentric and competitive community of players.
The experience of mastering her instrument in this environment has made Dr. Stone the accomplished musician and educator she is today, and she’ll be sharing her insights with orchestra students beginning July 10 at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute (OSAI). She first experienced the magic of Oklahoma’s Official School of the Arts as the bassoon instructor during OSAI 2019, and again during OSAI at Home 2020. Now she’s eager to return for OSAI 2021 at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha.
Dividing her time between Nashville and upstate New York, Dr. Stone travels the country as a freelance performer and teacher. She is an advocate for new music and actively commissions and premieres new works by American composers. Her work has led to collaborations and projects such as Black Gospel Music and the Bassoon with composers Raymond Wise, Mark Lomax and William Menefield, and performances as a member of the Nashville alternative classical ensemble, Chatterbird, and the internationally toured bassoon group, Rushes Ensemble.
We talked to Dr. Stone about her diverse musical upbringing, her instrument and its quirkiness, and her goals for the orchestra bassoonists of OSAI 2021.
Can you introduce yourself a little bit to readers and talk about your background and music practice?
Sure. My name is Maya Stone. I have a Doctorate of Music in Bassoon and I have studied musical instruments for the large part of my lifetime — woodwinds, specifically. My background is also in gospel music. I grew up in the Black Baptist Church where my mom is a pianist and minister of music. She took my sister and me to a lot of workshops and music festivals and things like that. Growing up, we always sang in choir, so I was always surrounded by music. It was a part of my life from the very beginning.
When I got into school and started [in band class], I started off mainly on the clarinet. Then I started taking private lessons with a music teacher, a woodwind specialist and a really fine harpsichordist and pianist. She had me adding all these instruments. I have a bachelor’s in music education and performance certificates in bassoon and clarinet, a master's in woodwind specialty and bassoon performance, and then a doctorate in bassoon performance. Right now, I'm freelancing and private teaching with the main objective of being a recitalist and masterclass clinician, traveling within the country and abroad to teach and perform with orchestras and chamber music groups.
You sound busy!
What are some of your pivotal memories or breakthrough moments in music education?
Oh, that's a really good question. That's hard to answer because I feel like there's been a good amount of those, but they come in different forms. Sometimes it might be an extremely spiritual experience in church where the Holy Spirit is moving really strongly, or we just sang a song that was really close to my heart. Then it could have been me sitting in an orchestra playing a piece that was pivotal to my development as a classical musician. It's very hard to say. I've had moments, extremely spiritual moments, and then really strong orchestral moments where it was very clear that I really wanted to pursue a career in that direction. It could have also been sitting and talking with my private teacher in high school, and her asking a certain question that steered me in a certain direction.
What drew you to the bassoon, specifically?
I played the clarinet and I was getting better at that in middle school and early high school, [and] my private teacher one day brought out the bassoon. She was like, “You should play this instrument,” and I was like, “What is it? Why?” [laughs]. And she said, “Well, because not a lot of people play this instrument, so you can get some good scholarships.” So I started playing it, and playing something after knowing [another instrument] helped, but especially when you're young, you feel like a fish out of water because you’re back in that position where you're completely learning something new.
I was familiar with all the other woodwinds. They have really similar fingerings, and the bassoon has similar fingerings in one register, but everything else is really awkward and weird. And you can get, like, 10 billion sounds with one fingering on the bassoon. So, it was very — I don't want to say frustrating — but it felt really new, and so I practiced. It was really good that I felt that way. I never really felt like I had gotten there before. I always felt like I was behind a bit.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like [OSAI] ... There is a passion, a fire, within all of the students. The experience of being immersed in their own discipline is invaluable, and so is being surrounded by others with that same focus, passion and fire.”
- Maya Stone, OSAI 2021 Bassoon Instructor
When I got to college, I double-majored in bassoon and clarinet, and I always felt like I was a clarinetist first. And you're talking about those pivotal moments in your musical career or life: I remember after one concert or something, my teacher said, “You know, you’re really a bassoonist.” So essentially, it wasn't until the first year of my master’s that I felt like the bassoon had chosen me, like it was my instrument.
I’ve heard bassoonists described as underdogs. Does that ring true to you?
[Laughs.] That’s really funny. It's interesting because after being in the bassoon world for a while, it doesn't seem so small, you know what I mean? It’s small, but it doesn’t seem so small because there's a considerable vibe you're talking about. There's been a lot of competition for jobs. I like to think about being competitive with myself. I feel like you have to be a little bit quirky and different to play the bassoon. You have to be OK with being lonely.
There is often only one bassoon instrument per music program. Although, some schools have got two or five bassoons and they’ve got a student on every one, and that’s really special. I think we're getting a little bit better with that now, but a lot of times — in the past — when the band director decided you were going to play the bassoon, or you could play the bassoon, he brought it out with a book and was like, “OK, have fun!” [Laughs.] Now, it’s very common for band directors to seek out private instruction for their bassoonists when they first begin to learn the instrument. So, in some ways, yeah, definitely, we get to be a little eccentric, a little quirky, and that’s OK with me.
Can you talk a little about your previous OSAI experience, and what you think the value of this kind of immersive arts education is for orchestra students?
I've never seen anything quite like it. I was really, really impressed — first of all, with how tightly run it is, how well organized it is, but also by the students. Everybody's really invested and desires growth, from what I've seen. There is a passion, a fire, within all of the students. The experience of being immersed in their own discipline is invaluable, and so is being surrounded by others with that same focus, passion and fire. It’s condensed. It's like physics, you know?
In addition to that, getting to work with these students, being able to sit down with them and work as a class multiple times a day, and work with them individually on what they're working on in that moment, they can see a lot of exponential growth within a short period of time. That's really encouraging.
The nightly talks with visiting guest artists and faculty are also really magical, with all of the disciplines getting together in one room. It's like a TED Talk. I think a combination of all these things students are doing with their peers and colleagues, in addition to the teachers and the guest artists, is just really powerful.
What is your philosophy as an educator, and what do you hope your students walk away with after the Summer Institute is over?
My goal is to try to help [each] student as much as possible. If I'm teaching bassoon, or whatever instrument, I want to help them become a better musician in some way, shape or form. So, it's not necessarily [about being] the best bassoonist, but the best they can be in that moment — what they're ready to be in that moment. I also want to help them get closer to figuring out how they want to fit into the world, and whether or not their instrument will have anything to do with that. I don't expect to have all the answers at any particular point in time, but to help them start to think about that and be on the way to figuring that out. That would be my goal.
As far as what my bassoon students get out of OSAI, I'm hoping it will be an enjoyment in what they do in that atmosphere, and in the work. As far as the orchestra, there's so much focus on orchestral work there, I really desire for students to learn how to blend in with an ensemble. It’s like teamwork, basically. They're working to achieve one specific goal. They're no longer just one person. There’s a give and take, a push and a pull. It’s about being able to be flexible and learning to work together.
For a complete list of OSAI 2021 faculty, click here.
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