Q&A with Amanda Pierce, Founder of Blue Moon Bassoon
Updated: Jan 20
"Most people overstate how "challenging" the bassoon is to young people. After teaching hundreds of bassoon beginners, I'd like to offer that the bassoon is pretty easy to learn with the proper support."
- Amanda Pierce
Amanda Pierce is a professional bassoonist and former private lesson teacher focused on creating educational resources and online content for bassoon students, parents, and teachers.
Amanda received her Bachelor of Music in Bassoon Performance from Oberlin Conservatory studying with George Sakakeeny and Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Florida State University studying with Dr. Anne Hodges and bassoon with Jeffrey Keesecker. She has worked with hundreds of bassoon students of all ages and performed as a freelance musician across Central Texas. Amanda also served as the Executive Director of the Austin Symphonic Band from 2015-2021.
While she no longer teaches private lessons, Amanda hopes to create new opportunities for music educators to find meaningful, sustainable work by offering strategic solutions and support to teachers. In addition, she is a Squarespace Circle Member with experience designing websites for artists, musicians, and arts organizations.
Amanda is also the author of the Blue Moon Bassoon Songbook for Beginning and Intermediate Bassoonists, #BassoonGoals: Scales & Arpeggios, and #BassoonGoals: Getting Started Workbook for Bassoonists available on Amazon.
We had the chance to interview Amanda Pierce in December 2022.
BB: Hi Amanda, thanks for taking the time for this interview! Would you mind sharing a little bit about your childhood and how you got into music?
AP: I grew up listening to classical music on the radio and going to see the Nutcracker. I loved music and wanted to learn to play an instrument, so after begging my Mom, she let me take piano lessons starting at around age 10. I knew I wanted to join band or orchestra in middle school to learn another instrument. Since the band had more instruments to choose from, I decided on that. When I was 11, we had a day to try all the band instruments. My favorites were clarinet and bassoon. While trying to decide, my band director told me if I picked bassoon, I would be in a much smaller class and get a lot more instruction from the teacher, so I went with that! I had great band directors throughout school and was lucky to take private lessons from day 1.
BB: When and how did you first hear about the bassoon? Did you play another instrument before that? If so, what made you decide to switch?
AP: I first heard about bassoon in 5th grade. We had an elective demonstration day where musicians came to show us each of the band and orchestra instruments and played for us. I was initially interested in playing clarinet, but I loved the deep, rich sound of the bassoon and thought it looked really cool.
BB: What was it like playing bassoon for the first time? What was your personal journey as a bassoonist like, and did you know you were going to be a bassoonist pretty early on?
AP: Playing bassoon was great! I loved playing and had a lot of support early on. I was successful in auditions and performances, which motivated me to keep learning and practicing. I was very interested in teaching band when I was younger. Still, as I got older, I focused more on performance. I only considered studying bassoon in college (although sometimes I wish I had explored multiple options). My teachers were very encouraging, and I really enjoyed playing.
My high school bassoon teacher, Daris Hale, pushed me and helped me grow as a musician. She encouraged me to pursue a degree in music, and I was fortunate to study with George Sakakeeny at Oberlin. For graduate school, I decided to do a degree in Arts Administration because I saw how difficult it was for my classmates to get jobs in performance. And I was genuinely interested in studying business, marketing, fundraising, etc. So, I attended Florida State University, which allowed me to focus on Arts Administration and continue studying bassoon with Jeff Keesecker simultaneously. After graduation, I worked in fundraising at a performing arts center for a few years. Then I started teaching privately and served as the Executive Director of a local community band. Having experience doing business and music jobs has given me a lot of confidence to take risks and try new things.
BB: In your opinion, what makes the bassoon similar and different compared to other instruments?
AP: The bassoon is similar to other woodwind instruments in many ways, the most obvious difference being that it is a double-reed instrument. But, most people overstate how "challenging" the bassoon is to young people. After teaching hundreds of bassoon beginners, I'd like to offer that the bassoon is pretty easy to learn with the proper support. What makes the bassoon different, though, is that it's unpredictable. The alchemy of you, your instrument, and your reeds will make every playing session a little different, which might mean you sound great one day and not so great the next. So learning bassoon is about how to manage that mentally and physically so you can show up and sound great every time. Reeds also complicate things for young players because they can get so attached to a specific sound or reed. We must learn how to get the results we want despite things not being perfect every time. That can be discouraging for young musicians. I advise young bassoonists to find a good source of reeds and rotate them regularly. Always have at least three working reeds in your case if you can. Also, take private lessons if you can. You will avoid building bad habits that will slow you down and frustrate you or cause problems when you get to more advanced repertoire. Progress isn't always linear; some days, you may feel like you're going backward, but I promise that it gets better and more consistent with time and effort.
BB: You are so busy with many things relating to bassoon, and one of the inspiring things you are doing is your website Blue Moon Bassoon! How did you get started? What sorts of goals are you hoping to accomplish with Blue Moon Bassoon?
AP: Thank you! I initially created a simple one-page website to promote my private lesson studio in 2015. I am no longer teaching privately, but by the time I stopped teaching, my website had grown quite a bit. I wrote several blog posts to address many of the questions I was getting from parents and band directors so I would have an accessible resource to share. I also started selling reeds online, so running an online business was comfortable. Then I started writing mystery song melodies for my students during the pandemic and posting them online. I like to dabble in graphic design and web design on the side, so working on the website is fun for me! My goals for bluemoonbassoon.com are to create high-quality resources for bassoonists and to help modernize bassoon education. So many of the materials we use for bassoon need to be updated or redesigned. Bassoon resources should be beautiful, functional, and easy to find and use.
BB: Blue Moon Bassoon, of course, is such a cool name! Is there a story behind the name?
AP: There is! I knew I wanted to register my business as an LLC for legal protection and to ensure I ran my private lesson studio as professionally as possible. I also wanted a name that included "Bassoon," so I started writing a list of rhyming names with bassoon. Then I thought of Blue Moon since bassoonists are rare and unique, and I just loved the name. My husband Victor is an artist and designed the logo for me, which references Nightmare Before Christmas with a crescent moon and a hidden bass clef.
BB: The pandemic has been very difficult for music organizations and schools around the world. What were the past few years like for you and Blue Moon Bassoon in the midst of Covid? Did Covid change how you think about the bassoon or the things you are doing at Blue Moon Bassoon?
AP: COVID has changed everything about how I work. I was a full-time private lesson teacher and freelance bassoonist for over 10 years, which I loved but was also pretty non-stop. I was teaching 50-60 students per year, performing when I could, and making about 600 reeds yearly. Then, after teaching so many virtual lessons during the pandemic, I was completely burned out. So, I took a break and am now more focused on creating online resources and educational materials that anyone can access anywhere. I miss performing sometimes and had excellent students, but I wanted to have more control over when and how I work.
BB: Is there anything new and cool that you're working on at Blue Moon Bassoon?
AP: I'm currently ramping up to sell bassoon reeds again, which I'm very excited about! I'm also working on a duet book companion to the Blue Moon Bassoon Songbook so all the songs can be played as duets.
BB: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for younger musicians considering the bassoon for the first time?
AP: The biggest challenges are access-related: access to instruments, access to good reeds, and access to quality instruction. Depending on where you live, any of those three things could be challenging to find or afford. These are the kinds of issues I'm interested in solving in non-traditional ways. Playing bassoon was a joyful and expressive experience as a young person. I believe it should be accessible to as many people as possible.
BB: Any tips that you might have for younger bassoonists who are trying to get better with bassoon?
AP: Try to think of practicing as an experiment rather than a chore. You get to test things, see what works, solve problems and challenge yourself to learn new skills. Focus on the elements of playing that challenge you, and don't just play through the music. We all tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, but we learn from our mistakes. So approach practicing with more curiosity and practice in a way that makes you feel more successful, not less. Also, review your scales and fundamentals every time you practice! I skipped them a lot when I was younger because I wanted to get to the "music." But having an excellent grasp of your scales and fundamentals makes it easier and more fun to practice challenging music. Also, remember, "the bassoon is a wind instrument, not a lip instrument." Focus on improving your air support and not using too much lip pressure. It'll enhance your sound and make it easier to play in the long run.
BB: How do you think we can get more younger musicians to consider playing the bassoon?
AP: There are two sides to getting more people interested in playing the bassoon. The first is introducing more people to the instrument, whether that's through online content, classical performances, performing in schools, etc. The other is to find ways to make reeds, resources, and instruments more affordable and accessible which is definitely a challenge. So many of us who make instruments, teach, and sell reeds are individuals or small businesses. So we run into issues with economies of scale in terms of making things more affordable. I believe that people should be paid fairly for their work AND that bassoon should be accessible to as many people as possible. We'll have to be creative with accomplishing both of those things, but I believe it can be done.
BB: Any memorable bassoon stories that you can share from your life over the years?
AP: So many! But one of my favorite bassoon memories would have to be performing in bassoon Christmas every year at Oberlin. It was such a fun and crazy tradition. The whole bassoon studio would dress up in different themes each year, and we played all of these fantastic bassoon arrangements of holiday songs. It was always a little chaotic but so much fun.
For more information about Amanda Pierce and Blue Moon Bassoon, please visit her website.