MU Bassoon Ensemble experiences growth, challenges stereotypes

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 | 12:57 p.m. CDT; updated 6:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 1, 2012


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COLUMBIA — It all began in the St. Louis area when Rodney Ackmann, director of MU's first bassoon ensemble, discovered the bassoon.

He began instrumental music in fourth grade as a clarinet player, and he stuck with the instrument for about three years. When he started junior high, Ackmann wanted to do something different, and it wasn’t long before his band director gave him the chance.

The director asked the band if anyone wanted to play bassoon. Ackmann’s desire to do something unique compelled him to raise his hand, and he’s been playing bassoon ever since.

Ackmann arrived at MU in 2005, when there were only 4 people studying bassoon. The next year, they recruited more. In 2007, the MU Bassoon Ensemble was officially formed. Since then, the group has grown. As of December, the group had 14 members — the largest number it's ever had.  

Every person studying bassoon is a part of the ensemble — no auditions are necessary.

The group received the honor of performing at the Missouri Music Educators Association Conference in January 2011. It performed a 30-minute program in front of the state’s leading educators.

After the performance, the ensemble received praise and was encouraged to apply to the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic. The clinic is a premier conference held each year in Chicago that attracts 15,000 people annually from all 50 states, as well as 30 countries. 

Sixty-two chamber music groups applied, and only seven were accepted. The MU Bassoon Ensemble was one of those seven. 

The ensemble was the first university-based bassoon ensemble invited in the history of the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic and the first group from MU  to be invited.

When it comes to playing the bassoon, Ackmann said it's a much more versatile instrument than many people realize. 

As the bass voice of the woodwind family, the bassoon has a 3 1/2 octave range. With the added low voice of the contrabassoon, another octave is added. With a wide range of notes, the bassoon can reach the high register voice, middle tenor voice and low contra voice.

“It’s not just a low, bass voice, " Ackmann said. "We have certain stereotypes: 'Peter and the Wolf,' perhaps a lot of youngsters have heard that, or perhaps the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Walt Disney’s 'Fantasia.' Those kind of things are kind of stereotypes; that’s fine, but there’s so much more we can do with the ensemble.”

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Kevin Gamble May 1, 2012 | 4:55 p.m.

I think the bassoon is a marvelous, rich, expressive instrument. I may be biased as a long-time bass guitarist, but I think there's a wonderful texture in an ensemble that explores the range the bassoon family does (with due respect to the delightful instruments at the high end of the family). Like other less-heralded ensembles, such as tuba ensembles, they can provide a fascinatingly different way to experience music, and sound itself.

Kudos to these musicians, long may they play!

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