Living a musical life: Ben Glossop on a mission to make magic with his bassoon

Ben Glossop and his bassoon.

The music of Ottawa’s Ben Glossop will get a chance to shine at Dominion Chalmers United Church on Oct. 13 as part of a weekly noon-hour music series. Glossop is also the principal bassoonist with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and the Kingston, Ontario, Symphony and a regular guest with the NAC Orchestra. In addition to entertaining the audience on Oct. 13, the performance will be recorded with an eye to the recording of a future CD of Glossop’s compositions. Before his show, he answered some questions from ARTSFILE about his music and himself.

Q. Who are you and when does music begin in your life? 

A. I started my musical journey in 1977 as a six year old playing on a cardboard piano for a year before my dad sold his motor cycle to buy the family a real piano that my mother was able to enjoy as well. I always received a lot of support whether it was at the Etobicoke School for the Arts letting me play Air on the G String with a string quartet, writing the music for the school play or my grandfather buying me my very fancy and very old bassoon.

Q. The bassoon is an instrument that does’t get to shine that much, is that why you play it and write for it?

A. I often tell people that one of the most important things in music is choosing an instrument that resonates with your personality and the bassoon is one that really chugs away in the woodwork while wearing many hats (oy three metaphors). It can sound deep and resonant, or light and sweet, but is often called upon to play the clown as it produces the best raspberries in the band. These are all things I enjoy in life and in music. I write for it because I need the work.

Q. What do you like about it?

A. It’s always giving you little challenges, so when you get it working it’s very satisfying. It’s also a very visceral instrument, with the reed buzzing away in your mouth, and you use your whole body to play it, much like a singer does.

Q. You are very determined to live a musical life in Ottawa. What compels you and why?

A. I feel very lucky to live and work in Ottawa. It is such a beautiful city with an exciting and vibrant arts and culture scene. It is tough to make a living though,so I also travel a lot, playing principal bassoon in the Kingston Symphony as well. There is something exciting though about working in the capital. It’s really cool to get to play with the Ontario Philharmonic in Toronto, but playing in Ottawa you almost feel like you’re playing for a country as well as for a city.

Q. Tell me about the concert you are playing on Oct. 13.

A. Over the last 15 years I have written four works for reeds (bassoon, oboe, clarinet) and strings (violin, viola, cello) that constitute the most significant aspect of my compositional output, and so I felt it was a good idea to put those pieces on a CD. This is the first half of that project and so I will be recording the concert.

Q. Tell me about the compositions you are performing.

A. The first piece, a septet written last year, is called Meandering Mind Songs and each movement uses a song I have written as a stepping off point and so combines very tonal styles with more avant garde techniques.

The second piece is a short string quartet called Requiem written by my guitar teacher Kevin Knelman, to whom I’ve always been very close. That appeared in my inbox right around the time I was organizing this concert.  Its sombre theme seemed oddly appropriate to my other two pieces on the program.

Breathing, for reed trio, was written in 1993 and is my most often performed piece. I wrote it for the unborn daughter of my closest friend growing up who at the time was expecting her second child. Unfortunately the baby was still-born so the irony of the title is a little haunting especially at the end of the piece.

The last work, called Fever Lines written for clarinet, bassoon, violin and cello, is in four short movements and was written at a time when my oldest daughter, who has passed away due to complications related to cerebral palsy, was spending a lot of time in the hospital. Its frenetic, schizophrenic character and often oddly independent lines are what characterize this piece. Think of a hospital monitor with all it’s oddly unrelated lines moving from left to right.

Q. Who are you playing with? Are they regular partners?

A. I am honoured to be playing with Ensemble Prisme of Gatineau. I have performed with them these past 10 years. They are a joy to work with and I am very lucky that they have all found time in their hectic schedules to come play with me outside of our usual series at Salle Jean-Despréz, at the Maison du Citoyen in the Hull sector. Meandering Mind Songs in fact uses the whole group except for our flutist.

Q. Are these performances hard to organize?

A. These projects are a great challenge, especially with so many schedules to juggle.I am very lucky though to have had the support of the City of Ottawa for their help in funding the creation of Meandering Mind Songs and for Claudia Hubbes’ generous support in helping to pay some of the musicians, as well as Dominion-Chalmers United Church for putting on this concert.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I just performed an all Mozart program with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra at the Shenkman Arts Centre, then I get to start a nice long run of Phantom of the Opera which will help pay the rest of the musicians. Before that though my reed trio will be performed at 2 p.m. on Oct. 15  at the School House in McDonalds Corners.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.