I was recently sitting in the audience watching a wind quintet concert on stage. As the music began, I found my mind wandering back through my own experiences and there I was back in college playing bassoon in the honors wind quintet. We were enjoying our performance, communicating expertly with a nod here and there, a movement of the body to reach the next emphasis in unison, and connecting to the audience as if we were one instrument.
We were in the final movement of the Anton Reicha Wind Quintet in Eb—a 26 minute work—with only about two minutes to go, skillfully building momentum to bring the piece to a close. It was an incredibly exciting performance and everyone in the room was on the edge of their seats when suddenly out of the blue there was a loud squawk that sounded very much like the quack of a startled duck. We were all taken aback. We looked at each other startled and confused. The music had stopped. What happened? Although it seemed like hours, it took only seconds to assess the situation and we all realized the squawk had come from me!
My reed was in my mouth but not connected to the bassoon! The reed had slipped off of the instrument as I was playing the Eb arpeggios that led to the clarinet entrance and the finale of the entire piece. No one could continue without my arpeggios setting up the ending. There are no apps for a situation like this. There are no touchscreens or interactive elements, just the deafening sound of blood rushing to my face in embarrassment. The very quick and joyful Allegro molto of the movement had been stopped in its tracks, paralyzed by the squawk that came from me.
Within seconds and without any conscious thought that I remember, I placed the reed back on the instrument and performed the arpeggios in a quick and joyful style, the clarinetist entered at exactly the right time, and everyone joined in to end the piece with great enthusiasm. I heard the end of the piece and was instantly transported back to the current concert hall.
As I joined in the applause I smiled with a strange mix of amusement and joy. I realized from my musings that I had learned a lot from that performance experience—in fact we all did—and it has stuck with me all these years. I stood and applauded as I remembered the end of that previous concert, now nearly 25 years ago. It wasn’t only the challenge of finding myself in that situation, but the joy of discovering that while the art you create may not change the world, quality experiences of creating or performing art can very well shape your life well into the future.