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Soloist Spotlight: Nisreen Nor

TCS: How did you come to choose your instrument?
NN: With bassoon, it was similar to how I chose the clarinet in 7th grade. In 9th grade, I saw someone with a bassoon on a tv show and thought it looked cool. We didn’t have double reeds in junior high, so I wasn’t familiar, but I was intrigued. I remember describing it to a friend, who then pointed to the long cases on the top shelf of the instrument room. So, I started learning that summer. I had already spent some time with clarinet and tenor sax and continued playing both throughout high school; but deep down, I knew that bassoon was who I wanted to spend all my time with.

TCS: Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
NN: My parents were a big part of it, even though my father in particular, always warned about the challenges of the field. He was a jazz trumpet player and choral music teacher, and although my mother taught reading, she had also studied voice and piano growing up. From an early age, they always exposed us to different styles of music, through live concerts, including some of my father’s, or listening to records at home. There was always something playing in the house-jazz, classic rock, r&b, funk, classical, showtunes, or maybe something from another part of the world. We were (and still are) always immersed in it and it made me happiest.

TCS: What have been the biggest challenges of your career so far?
NN: I’d have to say the last two years and I wonder who could say otherwise. The shutdown hurt performing musicians of course, but my challenges were a little different. The fact that things were shut down helped me to manage a variety of issues, a little better. When the pandemic started, my brother was a few months into a battle with brain cancer, and we moved to the house to assist; and then last year my husband had surgery for a different type of brain tumor. There were definitely times when I questioned whether playing bassoon was still realistic, but I had amazing family, friends, and opportunities, always at the perfect moment as needed, which gave me the strength to keep going.

TCS: Do you have any favorite TCS memories?
NN: When I think of TCS, the first thing that comes to mind is the diversity in programming. I’ve been exposed to some great living composers through concerts with this group and always appreciate the thought that goes into the programming. Aside from learning great repertoire, I had a lot of fun filling in for one of the Mozart In The Jungle episodes with musicians from TCS, and other ensembles, and spending the day “playing music” at SUNY Purchase.

TCS: What keeps you coming back to play with TCS?
NN: As I mentioned, the programming is a big part of it, as well as the great musicians and conductors I’ve had a chance to work with. I’ve also always admired the solo benefit concept as an incentive for musicians and I think it’s probably part of why these great musicians I’ve loved working with keep coming back. I was never good at keeping track of my own points since I performed with the group somewhat sporadically in the beginning, but also thought it might be nice to do one day, whenever I reached that point. And now here we are...

TCS: What do you carry with you in your instrument case?
NN: Much like my purse, probably more than I need in a day, but I always have the “I might need it” mentality. Let’s see- reeds and more reeds, tools of course, tuner/metronome, extra pencils and lip balm (I always have them, until I need them), seat and neck straps, mini stand light, reed cup, a crutch I’ve never used, a couple bocals I never use, and swabs. I used to have a bigger case, and this was a more extensive list.

TCS: What is your ideal day of practice?
NN: This doesn’t happen very often, but an ideal day would be one where I have the house to myself and no other pressing obligations, so I can just spread out and focus- work on reeds, long tones, technique, and rep, test out new music, improv, etc., and never need to worry about the time. On this unicorn of a day, all my reeds would play perfectly in every register, with minimal adjustments needed and when practice is over, I’d stretch and relax, because someone else will have already made dinner.

TCS: Why did you choose to perform this piece with TCS?
NN: I was not familiar with Miguel del Aguila’s work prior to preparing for this concert. This performance was also an opportunity for me to do a little more exploring into solo repertoire, and I just fell in love with this piece. I love how well he writes for bassoon, in general, but the rhythms of the bassoon and the accompaniment in the 12/16-7/16 are what grabbed me and what I find myself tapping along to in my head.

TCS: What are some things you learned while preparing?
NN: Working on this piece pushed me to focus on certain aspects of my technique, which I feel more mindful of, as a result. Malambo dances through all the registers of the bassoon, up and down, throughout the piece, so it is important to have air, tongue, and embouchure properly in place for each octave to speak. Aside from technique, I also learned a little more about South American culture. I knew very little about South American gauchos and had never heard of the malambo dance. Learning more about the music led to more research into the culture. When I read about the synopsis of the piece, I related very much to the protagonist’s struggle “…with past memories and with the decision of joining the party or isolating.” This felt similar to my decision to still perform this concert, in spite of family losses.

TCS: Do you have a favorite recording of this piece?
NN: The first recording I heard was Barrick Stees with string orchestra, from the 2017 IDRS Conference, which is what made me want to learn the music. The piece has been revised since then and I’m grateful that the current version seems to offer a few more places to take a breath. In addition to this recording, I also really enjoy Judith Farmer’s recording with the New Hollywood String Quartet