Name: Carolyn Beck
Instrument: Bassoon (Principal)
Years with the Redlands Symphony: 22
Hometown: Originally from Ventura
Current Residence: Los Angeles
What other groups do you play with?
San Bernardino Symphony, contract Principal Bassoon, freelance with other groups in the Los Angeles area; Chamber music with University of Redlands faculty and Pomona College faculty
Where did you study music?
Manhattan School of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, Master of Music at Yale University School of Music, BA at California State University Northridge, all in bassoon performance.
I also wintered twice at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, which is the only artists’ colony on the continent that harbors performers. The superb musicians that I had a chance to perform and/or coach with in each of those residencies were very important influences. The time to practice and devote myself to my instrument, even more than in school and working, etc., was an extraordinary gift to me.
Who are some of your favorite composers?
Stravinsky, Bach, Mozart for the operas and late piano concertos, Beethoven for the late string quartets (and for playing his symphonies). I have other favorites, some of them less usual, like Hindemith.
What are some of your favorite pieces to play/and or hear?
Favorite to Play: Stravinsky Octet for Winds
Favorite Woodwind Quintets: those by Nielsen, Hindemith, Villa-Lobos, Harbison, and Fine
Favorite to Hear: Petrushka by Stravinsky
These days, I am loving playing bassoon duets with an adult former student outside and 12 feet apart when weather conditions and pandemic rules allow, but especially the two sets of duets by Boismortier, a French baroque composer.
My listening list would also include:
- Lots of baroque music at this point in my life, Bach, Telemann, Hendel, Rameau, and more, plus earlier music, like that of Monteverdi and Gabrieli.
- L’Histoire du Soldat by Stravinsky (the Stravinsky Conducts performance)
- Late piano concertos of Mozart (check out the recordings of Anne-Marie McDermott!)
- Bartok String Quartets, Beethoven String Quartets. (The Emerson quartet has been my favorite string quartet for 40 years!)
- Kronos Quartet: Pieces of Africa (great for free form dancing); Black Angels (not only for the George Crumb, but for the Thomas Tallis, and the piece “They are There” with a guest audio of Charles Ives singing!!!! and also the Shostakovich string quartet.)
- Handel oratorios (I never get sick of the Messiah, or other pieces that I love.)
- Bach: Pretty much anything. I love the Christmas Oratorio, and somehow it seldom gets programmed here. The Passion oratorios are wonderful too, and all of his keyboard music. And I have not even begun to mention the fabulous Cantatas!!!! Bach is the composer that I want when I am in pain, or if I were stranded on the proverbial desert island, though I used to say the late Beethoven quartets would fill that bill.
- Haydn Symphonies: I know I am weird, but I love listening to and also playing Haydn symphonies from any part of his life. I favor listing historical instrument groups for these for sure, mostly for the life that these groups tend to bring to them. I also enjoy playing period instruments.
(I will think of 2000 more as soon as I turn in this questionnaire!)
What’s one thing you think people don’t know (but should!) about your instrument?
We must make our reeds (the vibrating source for the sound) and the reeds make a huge difference in every way: intonation, articulation, sound quality, overall ability to make music AND they vary from place to place, time to time, especially being affected by;
These things are true for all reed players, but especially for double reed players: bassoonists and oboists. I figured out once that I averaged 10 hours per week making reeds over the course of a year. I regret to say that it is more like 5 hours per week these days, due to less performing etc.
What was your most memorable performance?
Actually three (or more). For sure my concerto performances with the RSO have been two of them, playing John Williams’ Five Sacred Trees in 2004 (thrilling), and Mozart (pure joy) in 2017. The third actually involves the RSO, but I wasn’t playing. See the next question.
What was your proudest moment as a musician?
The last concert of the International Double Reed Society Conference of June 2013, held at UR, and co-hosted by my dear colleague Francisco/Chisco Castillo and me. The whole week was a triumph in many ways, but the last piece on that ultimate concert was a very complex piece for which I had lobbied heavily to get programmed.
It was a bassoon concerto by a Russian composer, Kasparov, featuring the two most recorded and arguably most famous and respected bassoonists of the previous 55 years: Valeri Popov playing the solo bassoon part, and Milan Turkovic, who is also an internationally celebrated conductor, directing the RSO.
When I sent the score to Mr. Turkovic, he replied to me that it could not be done well at one of these conferences given the orchestra typically used and the minimal rehearsal time (for financial reasons, of course). I asked him to trust me, and when he texted me after the first rehearsal telling me how pleased he was with our orchestra, I felt incredibly happy and fulfilled. when I heard the concert, I felt very proud to be a part of this orchestra, the RSO.
What was the most interesting or bizarre performance experience you’ve had?
When I was living in NYC I was a member of a woodwind quintet, the Transatlantic Winds, and we had a curious experience when we were playing a concert on the noon series at the Lincoln Center Library. The audience that attended these series often included not only local business people on lunch and fellow musicians, but also homeless people who would come in to listen to the free concerts.
On this day, during one of the pieces, a large bag lady came down and insisted on taking a seat in the middle of the second to front isle, causing a substantial distraction while we were playing and she was negotiating her way to a seat along with the plastic bags of her belongings. The oboist in my group was particularly put off, and when she exclaimed about it afterwards I had to tell her that this was in some way “my” bag lady.
She was a woman who I saw a few times a week at the pool that I swam at every day during that period, the old underground Columbia Teachers’ College pool that was close to Manhattan School of Music where I was pursuing my Doctor of Musical Arts degree. It seemed like an only in NYC moment. I have no idea if the woman recognized me though!
What are your non-musical hobbies or talents?
- I swim.
- Other things including reading, yoga, sewing, baking, and some that I rarely make time to do. I was a math and science talent as a young person, but being very idealistic, and I followed my heart in college. When I was not yet two, my family couldn’t keep me out of the backyard (shallow plastic) wading pool. When I was in first grade I wrote an essay saying I wanted to be a veterinarian or a composer when I grew up. Not that much has changed. Never discount what ideas or choices your children express! Please!
Please share a bit about your family.
My husband Bill Peterson is significantly older than I am, a retired trumpet player who practices every day and plays jazz regularly with a nonet still, or did so until mid-March 2020. He also likes to write and is working on a youth audience novel. We have two wire haired fox terriers because, when he was a young boy Bill fell in love with the top canine actor of the 1930s, and that dog was a wire haired fox terrier. My sister and brother-in-law moved to southern California two years ago, from Washington DC, and that has been a source of joy for me.
Outside of your role at Redlands Symphony, do you work any other jobs?
My other job, besides playing bassoon and making reeds, is teaching bassoon and music to bassoon students. I am very invested in my teaching and my students, and during the pandemic, they are my central focus outside of taking care of my husband and fur babies.
I also play the contra bassoon and baroque bassoon, both instruments that I truly love.
For those of you who don’t know what a “baroque bassoon” is, it is a copy of an 18th century instrument. Unlike string players, we woodwind players almost never can play very old instruments because they cracked and/or were damaged by insects or other creatures after they were (usually abruptly on death of their owner) retired.
The most noticeable difference between the modern bassoon and that of 250-300 years ago to a non-musician would be that the modern instrument has about 26-28 keys for opening and closing holes, where as the 17th -18th century instrument had only 3-5 keys, more like 8 keys by the turn of the century (1800). There are huge differences in fingerings (clearly, if you ponder it for a while) but also in the bore of the instrument and the reeds.
The baroque bassoon was a well-developed instrument, and not only Bach and other baroque composers wrote for it all of the time, but also Vivaldi, who wrote 37+ concertos for this excellent instrument (only 37 survive). These concertos/concerti are wonderfully suited to the baroque bassoon. I have been playing this instrument since 1989, but it has been hard ever since then to live, work, and still log in my 10,000 hours on the baroque instrument that are needed because it is so different from the modern bassoon.
One might claim that the years from c 1780-c 1900 were transformation years from the baroque instrument to the modern one. These changes were in line of other instruments, mostly to facilitate:
- Better chromatic performance as harmonies and key signatures used became more distant from “white key” C major, thus the adding of holes and keys, with the acoustical complications that that brought.
- The move from a small, intimate performance spaces to larger performance halls (and larger, louder orchestras and bands) which necessitated more changes in the bore and reed style to allow the player to project.