Bassoonists are rare birds and band directors don’t start just any kid on the bassoon. At the very least they look for someone smart and determined.
I got interested in music the way a lot of kids did in the 1960’s through the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles. I joined our junior high school’s guitar and drum club in the spring 1966 and it is lucky that it met in the band room where I could see the sharp burgundy blazers the band wore, which filled my heart with a passion to get in the band, and that the band director, Pasquale “Pat” Cornacchione, was losing his bassoonist to the high school in June.
We had moved to Bel Air from Los Angeles in December 1964 — the anniversary was yesterday, 12/18 — when I was in the sixth grade. I don’t recall Los Angeles elementary schools having bands or music instruction, but Harford county, in Maryland, started children in the band in fourth grade. So normally I’d have been too late. But, you don’t usually start a child on the bassoon until the seventh grade when their hands are big enough to hold the instrument, so for that instrument I was in the right place at the right time.
Mr. Cornacchione asked me if I would like to be in the band and I said, “Yes!” I didn’t really like playing the guitar or drums, so he asked me if I had an instrument in mind. I was haunted by the flute solo in a Mamas and the Papas song, “California Dreamin’,” but before I managed to bring in the album so he could tell me the name of the instrument, he had the graduating eighth grader give me a lesson on the bassoon. It fit perfectly in my hands and I fell in love with it immediately. I tried the flute after, just to be sure, but I didn’t care for it and cleaved to my Linton bassoon.
Now, there was a serendipity that made my starting the bassoon in Bel Air, Maryland, which was like Mayberry, only smaller back then, much easier than it would have been pretty much anywhere else in the world except possibly for the progeny of professional bassoonists. And that is that the foremost preceptor of how to make bassoon reeds of the twentieth century, Louis Skinner, retired contrabassoonist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, presided over the music department of Beshore’s Furniture on Main Street and all I had to do to obtain a reed that professionals would envy was to walk a mile or so from my junior high school, pay $5.00, and say, “Mr. Skinner, I need a reed, please.”
The downside of this is that I never had to learn how to make my own bassoon reeds, but it is still one of my goals to learn.