Supporting students studying the arts


PAF Spotlight – Nadia Pona – Bassoonist

Words may not properly express my appreciation for five(!) years of support, but I’ll do my best regardless. Thank you so much for your assistance over the course of my studies, I can honestly say that I would be in a much less stable place without your continued help. It has certainly been an interesting adventure: when we first met I was a pianist who had only picked up the bassoon very casually in order to avoid choir and participate in Kwantlen’s wind symphony instead. Had I known at the time that by late 2013 I would have a Masters degree in bassoon performance and have just won my first professional audition, I would probably laughed and refused to believe it.

As it happens, one cold rainy day in January 2009, I realized that what I really wanted to do with my life was some kind of ensemble career, ideally an orchestra or perhaps even a concert band. I dreamed about joining the Boston Pops. What I know was that if I finished my B. Music i piano, I would likely not continue with music, as I had no idea where to go from there. Thus prompted the switch to bassoon, which was simultaneously on heck of a struggle and also the best choice I could have made. The initial frustration of suddenly being very bad at an instrument after being accustomed to being very good at one never truly went away, but it inspired me to keep working even when this path seemed impossible.

After then, I moved across the country to face new challenges: making it on my own in Montreal, experiencing -30 degree winter for the first time, and most importantly trying to prove myself as a Masters student on an instrument I still barely new, in one of the best music schools in Canada. It was now more than ever that I really depended on financial assistance, while I worked multiple jobs during my undergrad degree in order to stay afloat, this wasn’t possible due both to time and language constraints. In addition, non-Quebec residents pay an extra $3,000 or so per year at McGill simply for the being from other provinces, which is incredibly disheartening. Your support really helped make my studies here possible. I’m happy to say that I have made astonishing progress in my time here enough so that my teacher, Stephane Levesque, calls it uncanny (and if you know Stephane, compliments are not always his forte).
In the last year I began taking my first professional auditions. This was initially a very significant challenge for me, playing under pressure as a pianist was never especially difficult but on bassoon it seemed impossible I had never play exceptionally well in auditions here at school, and it became my focus for the year to try to understand my own psychology and manage my pre-audition jitters. After all, why did it have to be that I could play just fine in a practice room, and then flub everything when on stage or in front of a panel?

My first audition, for the Kitchener Symphony went well enough that I advanced to the semifinals, making me one of the last four bassoonists standing! Longueil and Winnipeg were less successful, and I used those experiences to try to understand what went wrong, and what kind of work I needed to do in order to succeed. It turns out that gaining a very close understanding of oneself and one’s reactions under pressure is an incredibly useful tool in all areas of life; in this case, I went on to place very highly in my auditions this year at McGill which meant that I am playing in the McGill Symphony Orchestra for the first time since my arrival here!

Most importantly, however, was the audition I took a week ago in Ottawa. I’m very proud to say that I won my first professional audition, beating out two much more experienced bassoonists in the final round for a position with one of the bands in the Canadian Forces. It is a position that allows for great growth and exploration of different kinds of music as well as forays into composition, arranging, and even learning other instruments if I wish. I have wanted this job for quite some time, and feel very fortunate at this point in my studies.

All this to say, the last eight years of my life have been full of changes, adventure and challenges, and throughout all of them, your support has been absolutely instrumental. Without financial aid, I would have had to give up on music long ago, and there is very little else that I am quite as passionate about as this. I owe you a great deal of thanks, and look forward to the day when I can give back to my community and its budding artists and musicians as has been done so many times for me. For a culture without arts and music is not one to be proud of; in the face of budget cuts, reduced funding, and a slow and indolent shift towards business and sports, it is more important than ever to try to support these areas. I hope your Foundation has a long life and continues to allow students such as myself to pursue their passions. Thank you for helping me achieve success with mine.

A thousand thanks, and best wishes for the future.

Nadia Pona

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