Generosity strikes a chord: UH Mānoa celebrates new contrabassoon with concert

Taken from UH News

A contrabassoon is a double-reed woodwind instrument that has a unique presence in a band and orchestra. It plays an octave lower than a bassoon and has a distinctive deep and resonant sound. While it provides a rich and powerful bass line to the woodwind section, the availability of the instrument had been absent at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. That is until now.

Thanks to the generosity of UH Mānoa alumnus Christopher Ventura, the Department of Music is now the owner of a contrabassoon.

person playing a large contrabassoon
Michael Martin playing the contrabassoon

“It brings me great satisfaction to know my gift will enhance the educational experience of bassoon students, as well as enrich the ensembles it’s used in,” Ventura said.

The quest to raise funds to purchase a contrabassoon for the program began in summer 2023. Marsha Schweitzer, UH Mānoa lecturer in bassoon, learned from UH Mānoa’s Symphony Orchestra Director Joseph Stepec of the desire to perform a movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony. Schweitzer knew that the piece wouldn’t be the same without a contrabassoon.

Early in the fall, Schweitzer enlisted the support of the music department and UH Foundation to start a $40,000 fundraising campaign, the price required for a new contrabassoon. Shortly after the campaign was announced, Ventura, who had been a student of Schweitzer’s several years ago returned to Hawaiʻi after a career in the U.S. Army bands. He mentioned that he had a contrabassoon, but he didn’t play it anymore.

“Why don’t you take it?” he said.

For a small fraction of its market value, Ventura sold the instrument to the university. The money already raised in the fundraising campaign was more than enough to cover the cost.

“The contrabassoon is an essential member of the woodwind family, performing the same role in the woodwinds as the string bass in the string section and the tuba in the brass section. Now that we have an excellent contrabassoon available, the UH Symphony Orchestra and UH Bands can field a complete woodwind section, and bassoon students can gain an important part of their education getting to know the bassoon’s deeper-toned relative,” Schweitzer said.

Concert celebration

To celebrate this newest addition to the UH Mānoa instrument collection, five bassoon students, plus guest artists, including Philip Gottling, contrabassoonist of the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra, presented “A Contra Christmas” concert in December 2023, in UH Mānoa’s Orvis Auditorium. It is the first performance like this in the department’s history.

UH Mānoa student bassoonist Michael Martin was one of the performers and organizers of the concert. He had wanted to play the contrabassoon even before the university had one.

“By being given the opportunity to play a new instrument in the double reed family, I now have to think of how to play these notes as a contrabassoonist instead of a bassoonist,” Martin said. “The contra makes me have to think of different ways to make music since it can have its own part that’s separate from the bassoon. I believe it can make me a more rounded musician since now I get to play a wider variety of parts.”

To support the purchase and preservation of musical instruments for the UH Mānoa music department, visit this website.