"From a very young age I have always loved my culture and the music of my home country of Spain, and this has led all my artistic work to be specialized in the field of Spanish music, and especially that of the Spanish music genre known as flamenco."
- Niño Rubén
We had the chance to talk with Rubén, a Spanish bassoonist artistically known as Niño Rubén (translated into English: Child Rubén). He is the creator of the flamenco bassoon and one of the most famous bassoonists despite his young age. Rubén recently shared his story through a documentary called El Nacimiento del Fagot Flamenco (The Birth of the Flamenco Bassoon), available on his official YouTube channel. In this interview, we try and understand his unique style of music performed on the bassoon and where his inspiration came from.
To watch his documentary, please scroll down to the bottom of this blog.
For more information about Rubén, including his background, projects, and videos, please make sure to visit his profile page.
BB: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with younger musicians around the world! I know that many people in Spain might already know you, but can you tell us about who you are?
Rubén: My name is Rubén, although most people know me by my pseudonym, Niño Rubén. This name came from the way my family referred to me, because many people of my family are also called Rubén, and I was a child at that time. I am a concert player with the bassoon. I am also a composer, and I give master classes and carry out research projects. From a very young age I have always loved my culture and the music of my home country of Spain, and this has led all my artistic work to be specialized in the field of Spanish music, and especially that of the Spanish music genre known as flamenco.
BB: Interesting! I think your style of music and career as a musician so far has been very different from most other bassoon players around the world. How did you get started?
Rubén: Yes, I started at age 9 at the conservatory in my city, Lucena, south of Spain. This was purely by chance, as I always say that I did not choose the bassoon, but that it is an instrument that chose me. To be honest, at first I didn't like it very much and it was very uncomfortable for me. the bassoon is a huge instrument for when you are a child! But in my region where there were very few bassoonists, I realized that the bassoon opened up many doors to music performance, as I began receiving calls to work in different ensembles, professional orchestras and even also as a soloist. For a decade now I have had a life full of travel, playing music all over Spain. However, my dream had always been to be able to dedicate myself to being a soloist. Today, I think I am somewhat of a madman bassoon concert player, where with flamenco bassoon, I have finally been able to fulfill the dreams I’ve always had.
BB: I agree. When I started playing the bassoon, I really liked it but also realized how difficult it may be for younger kids because it is a bigger instrument. I think that is why a lot of bassoonists start when they are a little bit older. I could not imagine starting to play the bassoon at just 9 years old! Did you always know you wanted to be a composer?
Rubén: No, I started composing out of necessity. Before starting my studies at the conservatory, I was already improvising with the recorder that was taught in schools. Composition has always been with me and I have not been able to get rid of it. When I dedicate myself to it I am happiest.
BB: I read that you did not consider yourself a composer until recently?
Rubén: I would not know what to tell you, because I personally always felt I could be defined as a bassoonist, because I studied and worked really hard on playing the bassoon. But I have never taken composition classes, only those at the conservatory, and in this field I am completely self-taught. Through the experience of working with different publishers, I began to realize that I could do this. It was a decisive moment in my career because I began to believe more in myself, especially in my abilities as a composer.
BB: In 2016, you decided to forget all of your entire career to throw it all away to start over. Can you tell us about what was going through your head during this time?
Rubén: That year marked the ending of one of the major stages of my life. During 2016, I was beginning to become highly regarded as a bassoonist by the orchestras where I had worked, by the awards I had won, and by the publishers who had bet on my music. That year I was a finalist in a national competition, and my works were distributed around world by TrevCo Music Publishing, for example. But I began to realize that everything I was doing wasn't actually me. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed being a soloist. More importantly, I had forgotten how much the music of my land meant to me. I made the decision to stop playing in one of the orchestras I was a part of at that time, the Southern Spain Orchestra.
I think we sometimes need to die in order to be reborn, and in reality I discovered it was my freedom which was born again. This is actually one of main reasons I use my artistic name instead of my real name. I always wanted to be a soloist, I have always admired the art of flamenco and I have always composed. I think it is important to think about what role the music of our land that ocupies and how we can take advantage of living in a certain place and time. I think it is very important to think about what we can contribute to our culture and also to the evolution of the bassoon.
BB: Wow that’s pretty cool. It is really inspirational to see how you were interested in Spanish music that is an important part of your culture. The bassoon isn't very well known to most people in the world, and not enough young musicians have the chance to learn about it. I think that is really unfortunate.
Rubén: That was my surprise as well. As a result of the public release of this documentary at the beginning of the year, many people have become interested in our instrument and have discovered it. People from all over the world who are not even musicians. That's great, where to people learning about the bassoon for the first time, it seems like a great find I think.
BB: I definitely agree. After you started to get into an instrument as unique as the bassoon, how did your thinking about music change?
Rubén: I have always composed and researched the flamenco style of music, but I had never tried to play it with the bassoon. These are the kind of things you don't think about until life puts you to the test. One day I tried to play something traditional with a flamenco guitarist, and my thoughts changed in a second in such a way that I fell in love with what I was doing. I saw a whole world to explore where there could be much more than what I ever would have thought. It was from there that I began to study the interpretive aesthetics of flamenco to transfer it to the bassoon. In other words, the sonority of the bassoon had to be changed so that it could sound flamenco.
BB: It’s really interesting that you were familiar with flamenco music from your childhood, but you didn’t realize until much later that the bassoon could be a part of that world! You talk about changing the sound of the instrument for flamenco music. Do you mean something like how the sax in jazz music can have a very different sound than it does in classical music?
BB: I think it sounds really incredible the sounds you play with flamenco bassoon. It feels very powerful and emotional and is definitely a really unique sound! Can you share some more information about your work “Al Toque del Fagot Flamenco”? When I was searching online for information about flamenco bassoon, this was one of the first works that I read about.
Rubén: In June 2017, the publisher TrevCo Music published this work of my authorship with a short prologue where I present different observations. This was about a month before I first performed this live. Right now, I am working on expanding this work to become a method, a much broader and more complete study. This reissue will soon take place and will be available in both Spanish and English.
BB: I’m so sorry that I don't speak Spanish! But through Google Translate I think the name of your work means “A touch of the Flamenco Bassoon”. Can you tell us a little bit more about what this means?
Rubén: The “touch” is the way of playing in flamenco, which comes from the flamenco guitar. So it would be more or less like that way of playing, only except now it does not only belong to the guitar or to other flamenco instruments, but now also to the bassoon. In other words, the title refers to the way flamenco bassoon is played.
BB: Can you tell us how this reissue is going to differ from your original work?
Rubén: Topics such as why I felt flamenco bassoon is something necessary in the evolution of the bassoon will be discussed. I also expose the musical characteristics of flamenco both for its writing and execution, as well as its interpretation, that change of going from playing classical to flamenco. All this will be accompanied by studies to work on all these concepts. This is the first method that talks about the interpretation in flamenco through melodic instruments. This book is also interesting because it allows everyone to find their own voice and their own way of expressing themselves. It's a pretty eye-catching investigation that I hope bassoon players will really enjoy. If art is not mathematics, I assure you that flamenco is even much less so.
BB: Can you share a little bit about your teaching and how you incorporate flamenco into it? I noticed that your master classes are called "Get a Hundred Percent out of You."
Rubén: Flamenco is just a base. This music is not only useful for how do you dedicate yourself to playing it, but it is also beneficial to practice many other things or to enhance other languages such as jazz or composition. In my master classes I talk a lot about how to get a hundred percent out of yourself as a bassoonist.
BB: What would you like to share with younger musicians regarding your documentary?
Rubén: The documentary describes, as its name suggests, the birth of the flamenco bassoon. In it you can see and hear what my feelings about this instrument and style of music. It first started in my hometown in 2017, where I was surrounded by my closest family and friends. I was accompanied by that first guitarist with whom I discovered that the bassoon reach this very hidden place. This allowed me to present it at two major international events for the next two years. One was at the IDRS Congress in 2018, before the double-reed instrumentalists, and the other in 2019 at the International Festival of Cante de las Minas, at the so-called Flamenco Cathedral, one of the most important annual meetings in the flamenco world.
Because flamenco bassoon was something so expected and unprecedented, I wanted to play with the effect that people would come to see me without knowing what they were going to hear. For this reason, I purposely delayed posting my documentary on YouTube once I finished all the concerts so that audiences seeing me perform for the first time would have no exposure to what they would be experiencing. This was very risky for me personally, and I was very scared until I heard the first applause at my concerts.
BB: It is so amazing that your entire city has been there to help support you! Your family and friends must be so proud of your work. What was your experience like at the IDRS Congress in Granada?
Rubén: In Granada at that IDRS I have to admit, was where I was most afraid. I was in front of the experts of my instrument and I knew I was going to turn the technique and the sound of the bassoon completely upside down from what people were used to. Fortunately, everyone loved it. I still remember the ovation I received, and how so many people came up to me to tell me that I was the most innovative bassoonist they have seen. They saw my sound as fresh, alive and contemporary. So much so that all the stock of my work “Al Toque del Fagot Flamenco” actually sold out that same day at the publisher stand at the congress. That was really surprising and memorable for me.
BB: Finally, are there any other thoughts as you think back on your journey, and anything else you might like to share with younger musicians?
Rubén: Well, because of the interest that was shown in Granada, I made the decision to take advantage of these past several months, where it has been difficult to travel and perform music, to instead translate (yo pondría mejor ampliar, porque la obra original ya era en español e inglés) my research into the reissue of “Al Toque del Fagot Flamenco” as I mentioned earlier. So that I can help all bassoonists and musicians who want to get closer to the world of flamenco bassoon do so. It has not been easy. In this book I am not going to solve mysteries, but to raise doubts and new paths. There are people who think that doing what I do is more accessible than playing in an orchestra, and it really isn't. This misconception actually makes me both angry and saddened because my decision to stop working in orchestras was because I wanted to be a soloist and create a new way to revalue the bassoon. I think very few bassoonists can say that they make a full living from playing the bassoon as a soloist.
My goal has not been only to discover the flamenco personality that the bassoon is capable of having, but to also execute it so that it reaches audiences’ hearts. That is what flamenco music is about, the history of Andalusia and, above all, that flamenco emotion and feeling. In the past, people looked at me with a crazy face when I mentioned to them that I was introducing the bassoon into flamenco music. Some laughed at me. But to have come as far as I have, and see so many people enjoy the music I believe in, this inspires me to continue on this path and be a part of a type of music and instrument that I love.
BB: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story and give everyone a chance to look into the world of flamenco bassoon!
For more information about Rubén, please see his profile page.
Here is a link to watch the documentary El Nacimiento del Fagot Flamenco "The Birth of the Flamenco Bassoon":