Michael Harley

Bassoonist and Teacher

Teaching Philosophy  //  ABOUT THE USC BASSOON STUDIO

If you are a bassoon student or fellow teacher, please don't hesitate to contact me directly with questions or comments (see the "contact" link above). Some specifics about my own teaching and the USC bassoon studio and School of Music follow; you can also visit the bassoon studio on Facebook.

I have three main goals as a teacher:  

1)  Help all of my students work to reach their full potential as bassoonists, musicians, teachers, and people

2) Nurture musicians that are kind, hard-working, curious, and open-minded, with a passionate love of music and willingness to explore all musical styles

3) Inspire musicians that are socially engaged, community-minded advocates for their art, dedicated to the idea that music -- what we do -- is truly important, and that the most significant place to make a difference is always "right here" 

 
The University of South Carolina Bassoon Studio

The University of South Carolina Bassoon Studio

Reaching one's full potential

Bassoon study at USC is technically rigorous.  I believe in a structured, step-by-step approach to acquiring bassoon technique, determined initially by each student's individual strengths and weaknesses.  Scales, scale exercises, and long tones: yes. Etudes that build endurance and specific skills: yes.  Journaling to keep practice more organized, reflect, and set goals: yes.  Targeted exercises for tone development, intonation, vibrato, phrasing, tonguing and articulation, etc...: yes, yes, yes.  Above all, a singing, vocal approach to the bassoon is important to me and informs my teaching.

Reed-making is a vital part of playing the bassoon.  In weekly reed classes and private lessons every USC bassoon student learns to make reeds tailored to their own needs.

Of course, applied lessons, individual practice, and reed-making would be lonely enterprises without the support of a community.  Weekly studio classes and activities attended by all bassoonists engaged in private study are one way we come together as bassoonists, and the heart of what makes the USC bassoon studio special.  We play together and for each other, work on special projects (more on this below), host renowned guest artists, and read and discuss "studio books" each year.  

The bassoon studio is a very specific sub-group of a two larger communities, the Double Reed Studios (we partner frequently in events and concerts with our friends the oboes) and the USC School of Music.  The School of Music, one of the Southeast's leading music schools, has become a national catalyst for the discussion of the changing role of musicians in the 21st century, thanks to our world-class faculty and pioneering organizations such as Spark: Carolina's Music Leadership Laboratory.  The SoM also functions as a small, nurturing college with about 550 undergraduate and graduate students (we all know each other, and class sizes are small!) amidst the backdrop of the larger Research One university that is USC. 

All of a student's classes and applied studies at USC -- the "Carolina core" of our general education classes, music theory and ear training, music history and music entrepreneurship, conducting and composition, our superb, nationally acclaimed ensembles, and the multitude of chamber music opportunities that await our students -- work together to create well-rounded musicians, scholars, artist-teachers, and (ultimately) more compassionate people.  This is about much more than "career preparation."  As a former English lit major and graduate of a small liberal arts school, I believe passionately in the humanities, and that college is a place to learn about BIG ideas and grow closer to our true and better selves:  to speculate about the shared human condition, to appreciate the value of great art, literature, and philosophy, and to collide with ideas that are new and perhaps earth-shaking.  This process is not always easy, and takes both an open mind and a lot of hard work.  In the words of the Romantic poet John Keats, it is partly through facing challenges that the world (a microcosm of which is the true University experience) becomes a "vale of soul-making" -- "soul" here meaning our earthly being.  In an 1819 letter to his brother and sister, Keats wrote, "Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?"  

Music is a highly competitive field, and it's not easy to become really good at anything.  Students that carve out meaningful careers in music are those that work the hardest, maintain a positive attitude along the way, and take full advantage of the many opportunities USC has to offer.  Of course, when the payoff is a meaningful career doing what you love and a broadened view of the world, all of the work is well worth it.  And as a bassoon studio, we have fun working -- and playing -- together!

A studio performance for children at the Richland County Public Library

A studio performance for children at the Richland County Public Library

Open minded

Bassoon study at USC is musically omnivorous and engaging.  In private study and in weekly classes with the entire bassoon studio, students study, listen to, and perform works of a wide variety of musical styles, places, and time periods, from works steeped in the classical tradition to pieces influenced by world music or jazz; from the earliest Baroque works for bassoon (or transcriptions of even earlier music) to 21st-century music by composers that are alive and kicking; from traditional sounds to the avant-garde.  In the contemporary music arena, bassoonists play important roles in regular New Voices concerts -- performing works by their peers, USC composition majors -- and the ever-creative, student-run new music organization CICA (Collaborations in Contemporary Art).  Students are not required to love every musical style and tradition ... but they are required to give numerous styles a chance, and hopefully learn what makes each unique and appealing.

Part of remaining open-minded, curious, and current includes welcoming as many performers to campus as possible and learning all we can from them. Fortunately, there are an abundance of opportunities to work with and hear some of the world's greatest artists at USC.  This year the acclaimed Imani Winds -- the world's leading woodwind quintet -- and Grammy-winning Parker String Quartet are both in residence, working directly with our students.  The Southern Exposure New Music Series, a series I direct, curates groundbreaking performances of contemporary music and features some of the world's great ensembles and soloists (eighth blackbird, Brooklyn Rider, Matt Haimovitz, Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, International Contemporary Ensemble, the Calder and JACK string quartets) as well as USC's outstanding students and faculty.  Distinguished bassoonists who have visited campus recently and done masterclasses with the bassoon studio include William Ludwig (Indiana University), Peter Kolkay (Vanderbilt University, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), Lecolion Washington (University of Memphis, Prism), Brad Balliett (DeCoda, Marlboro Festival), and Christopher Weait (Toronto Symphony, The Ohio State University).

One of the great things about bringing well-known artists into the Columbia and USC community is that the exchange is mutually beneficial.  We learn a tremendous amount from these accomplished musicians and people; and our guests take away a new appreciation for our culturally vibrant city and university.

After our 2016 concert "Thriller: A Halloween Spooktacular"

After our 2016 concert "Thriller: A Halloween Spooktacular"

Community centered

I'm lucky, as a performer, to be able to travel a lot and play in some really cool places.  That's one of the best parts of being a musician, in my opinion: the opportunities it provides to travel and meet interesting people all over the world. However, to me, the work I do that's most important is right here in Columbia, South Carolina.  

This "local first" attitude, helping make one's own region a vital center of music-making, is something I want my students to take on as well, and one facet that makes bassoon study at USC special.  To that end, we prioritize projects and events each year that either take us into the community or bring the community to us.  Double Reed Days and All-State Double Reed Workshops, alternating yearly, bring students to USC from throughout the state and region.  Events like Sounds Around Town take chamber music to the streets.  The newly-formed Carolina Double Reed Collective, a USC student organization, applies for funding to support travel, guest artist visits, and other events.

The bassoon studio's biggest recent project involved commissioning and arranging new bassoon music to accompany readings of children's books at the Richland County Public Library.  As a part of the concert we brought in a special guest artist and composer, bassoonist Christopher Weait, for a fully-costumed, staged performance of his theatrical piece "Ralph's Secret Weapon." To support all of this, we raised more than $1,000 in a GoFundMe campaign.  The event was a lot of work, but we came together so much as a studio in the process -- and the delight on the kids' faces in the concert (and maybe the inspiration of some future bassoonists!) was worth every hour and penny spent.

This year, one project brought the community to us:  our "Thriller: Halloween Spooktacular" concert with the oboe studio filled the recital hall with both kids and adults. Maybe they came mostly for the free candy, I'm not sure; but they were entertained by the all of the double reeds in full costumed regalia, characters introducing each Halloweenish work on the program (which included a composition by bassoonist and theory major London Horton, and brand-new arrangements by bassoonists Liam Montiel and Reed Hanna, a recent DMA graduate). Whatever the project, USC bassoon students are at the forefront.  

Maybe you have an idea for a community-centered  project we could take on!  If so, don't hesitate to contact us.

Enjoy some pics from USC double reed days, bassoon studio events, and such below (click to scroll through).  Note: mobile devices must be oriented horizontally to see captions.