For the Love of the Bassoon [Watch]

 

Very few people find their life’s calling at age 7. Sarah Vogts is one of them.

When Sarah Vogts was a second-grader in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, she watched a group of older classmates perform in a band concert in the school gym. While other kids fidgeted and daydreamed, Vogts was riveted. “There was this huge wooden instrument that didn’t look or sound anything like the others,” she remembers. “I didn’t know what it was called, but I just knew—I want to play that.”

The object of Vogts’ longing was a bassoon, the odd duck of the woodwind family. A standard bassoon includes 8 feet of bent-back wooden tubing and weighs 7.5 pounds. Because it is so heavy and cumbersome, the bassoon cannot be held by the musician’s hands alone; a strap, harness, or crutch often helps bear its weight.

This was a problem for 7-year-old Vogts, who knew with a laser-like certainty that she was destined to play the bassoon. But the instrument was bigger than her. “They said I was too small,” Vogts remembers, “so for the next few years, I played the clarinet instead. But I didn’t like it at all. I was just waiting until I could play the bassoon.”

Finally, on her 12th birthday, Vogts’ parents relented and gave their daughter a bassoon. She’s scarcely put it down since.

Today, Vogts is a Forty Acres Scholar and a first-year music performance major in UT’s Butler School of Music. Moving across the country from her native South Dakota was no big deal for this award-winning musician. Vogts spent her last year of high school at the world’s most elite music boarding school, the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. “I already knew how to do my own laundry,” she says, “so college wasn’t a big adjustment.”

When she’s not in class, Vogt is making music. She spends up to 30 hours a week practicing, plus additional time crafting her own wooden reeds. Since even a millimeter’s difference can make or break the instrument’s tone, bassoonists must spend hours whittling bamboo reeds in search of the perfect sound. “If you play the bassoon, you’re also essentially taking up a wood-working hobby,” she explains. “The people in my dorm are like, ‘What are you doing with a hot glue gun and a box of 100 razor blades?’”

It’s a labor of love for Vogts, who is aiming for a career balancing classical music performance and teaching. When acquaintances find out she’s a music major, Vogts says, the most common reaction is an overly chirpy, “That must be fun!” She’s a little tired of that response. “It is fun,” she says, “but it’s also an incredible amount of hard work. And that’s exactly what makes it so fun. I can’t imagine loving anything else as much as I love music.”

Sarah Vogts is a recipient of the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation Forty Acres Scholarship.

Photo by Anna Donlan.

 

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