Meet the bassoonist: Nicole Buetti, second bassoon and contrabassoon of the Portland Columbia Symphony.
But first, meet the bassoon: a large, quirky instrument with an impressive three-and-a-half-octave range, lots of pesky keys (the two thumbs alone operate about 13 of them), eight feet of wooden tubing, and a double reed that prompts people to associate the bassoon (and sometimes mix it up) with its more familiar cousin, the oboe. Unforgiving to most beginners, the bassoon isn’t commonly handed down from generation to generation like, say, the violin. The bassoon isn’t particularly flashy, it doesn’t cross over into jazz or rock, and it certainly doesn’t boast the exhilarating decibel range of a trumpet, trombone, or even clarinet. Most public schools own between zero to two bassoons, creating an image of rarity, a certain mystique, that prompts the curious to wonder, “What makes a person pick the bassoon?”
In truth, most kids haven’t even heard of – let alone heard – the bassoon by the time they’re choosing an instrument to play in band. No, more often than not, the bassoon is stumbled upon rather than chosen, as much (or more) a happy accident than free will. For Nicole, who began her musical career by playing flute, it was a waning patience with her stand partner’s inability to keep their flute from hitting Nicole across the head that led Nicole to switch from a horizontal instrument to a vertical one, and from the front row of the band to the back.
Since those early days, Nicole has established herself not only as a bassoonist and contrabassoonist – she’s always been drawn to the low notes – but as a music educator and composer with a special knack for creating catchy music. In addition to her “serious” repertoire, like her Odyssey-Overture for Orchestra which PCSO performs in November, Nicole is a versatile, all-around creative who makes YouTube videos for kids using puppets, music, and lyrics to teach all kinds of lessons, from shapes (“All you need is angles and lines to make your shapes all different kinds!”) to planets, steam engines, and more. Musically speaking, Nicole’s influences include titans of the film scoring industry such as John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Rachel Portman; her command and understanding of how music complements a story, and vice-versa, make it easy to see why her YouTube channel has garnered more than 14,000 followers and 13 million views.
Between that, teaching bassoon privately, playing in chamber ensembles, and holding down positions in three orchestras (“Music pretty much consumes my life,” she says, while being quick to add: “In a good way.”), Nicole still finds time to pursue hobbies like cooking, which she says helps her unwind. “I grew up around my Italian grandparents, big family meals, and incredible food! Cooking is calming for me.” She also tap dances, and admits to combining her love for tap with her love for contrabassoon in a past performance. She assures us, however, that we won’t be able to find it on YouTube.