At AYO National Music Camp this year, five intrepid writers took part in the Words About Music course. This passionate group got to work capturing the flurry of activity at camp with a range of interviews, articles, and opinion pieces. We are happy to present a collection of these works in our WAM Wrap-Up series!
Read the other pieces in the series here:
Meet the Campers: AYO National Music Camp 2022 by Lily Begg
Musical Memories by Molly Jenkins
Emily Dodd talks to André Oberleuter, bassoonist at AYO National Music Camp 2022, on balancing two instrumental passions.
André does not come from a particularly musical family; his mum claims he receives his musicality from a distant uncle who is a DJ. André’s musical journey was initially rather haphazard. He initially wanted to play the violin but was put in piano lessons to learn the music basics. He did not initially warm to the teaching style and only lasted three months in formal lessons.
Queensland’s state school instrumental program was the catalyst for Andre’s decision to swap to wind instruments. He joined the school band because all of his friends were participating, starting on the clarinet in grade five in the Coorparoo State School. Joining the band sparked André’s interest in classical music, but it wasn’t until he heard Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique that he heard a bassoon for the first time. And he fell in love. But as in most primary schools, there wasn’t a bassoon available to him, so the band teacher advised him to learn as much about music as possible while on the clarinet, so he could prepare to take on the bassoon at high school. Without free music education, André would not have the life he leads today.
André only began bassoon lessons in 2016, at the age of 12; that’s relatively early for a double reed player. He was in safe hands from the very beginning, first learning from Associate Principal bassoon of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, David Mitchell. By 2018, André was second bassoon in the Queensland Youth Symphony and became Principal in 2019. Also in that year, André won the Australian Double Reed Society’s National Competition and in 2021, won the QSO’s Young Instrumentalist Prize, recording Carl Maria von Weber’s Bassoon Concerto with the orchestra.
As André became more and more involved in the world of classical music, he began listening to piano music, and fell in love once again. During Brisbane’s 2020 lockdowns, André took up the piano, just teaching himself. Last year, he began taking lessons with Reuben Johnson. By the end of 2021, when he was graduating from high school, André found himself in a sticky situation. There was no question that music was his destiny; it was more a question of which path to take.
There are certain in-built advantages for bassoon players. Many orchestral pieces feature outstanding bassoon parts; André’s favourites are Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies. Being an ‘endangered instrument,’ there is a demand for bassoon players that often affords opportunities in a wide variety of music-making contexts. The double reed community, particularly in Brisbane, is small but strong, and André valued the opportunity to develop great connections with other bassoonists.
However, the concerto and solo repertoire for piano is almost second to none. There are literally hundreds of great works for the instrument. The breadth and depth of piano compositions attracted André, who is particularly fond of Romantic music. Additionally, the piano is an incredibly versatile instrument, frequently used across a wide variety of genres. As my fellow WAM-er Lily Begg wrote in her piece Useful Pianists: ‘The piano is incredibly useful. In fact, I would argue, the most useful of instruments.’
André auditioned for tertiary institutions on both piano and bassoon. He received offers for piano from several Australian conservatoriums. Ultimately, however, an offer straight out of high school for the Australian National Academy of Music on bassoon was too good to pass up.
André’s decision brings up a bigger question on the specialisation of music degrees in Australia. Should we be boxed into a specific instrument (and a specific way of playing that instrument) once we choose it at a conservatorium? For now, André has chosen bassoon but hopes one day to come back to the piano. He believes that pursuing a career as a bassoonist is perhaps more realistic, financially and artistically. But the usefulness and beauty of piano playing is something he wishes he could also develop at a tertiary level, though it might be a few more years of scraping bassoon reeds before that becomes a priority.
Emily Dodd is an alumni of the 2022 AYO National Music Camp Words About Music Program.