“The most important thing you can do as an undergraduate is to take the time to learn who you are as a person, that will be more powerful than any other experience available to you. It enables you to be the best you can be.”
Since fourth grade, Chris had his eyes on his older sister’s clarinet, knowing that some day it would be his turn to play the instrument. For a while, the clarinet was his instrument, until he discovered a dusty case housing a lonely bassoon in a high school closet. He brought home the giant, wooden, stick-like instrument and started playing the bassoon. This was the start of what is likely to be a lifelong journey with the bassoon. The unusual sound of the bassoon initially resonated with Chris; it was as though the bassoon and Chris had been waiting to find each other.
Chris met Janet Polk at the UNH SYMS music summer camp after his sophomore year of high school. While he was still better at the clarinet, having played for many years, he signed up for bassoon lessons with Janet. The two of them discovered that Chris has natural embouchure, or facial muscles, for the bassoon. From this point forward, Chris would consider Janet a mentor, supporter, and an inspiration. Chris was accepted to every college music program he applied to as a clarinet player, since it was still his strength. UNH, however, was interested in him as a bassoon player. During his senior year of high school, he had a moment when he was trying to envision his future. Two images came to mind: playing the bassoon on stage, in the midst of an orchestra, and the other was him with the clarinet on an empty stage, without an audience. He took this as a sign to go to UNH and begin his official journey as a bassoon player, knowing that he had a long journey. Chris did not own his own bassoon and eventually purchased one from a former student of Janet’s. Serendipitously, the bassoon he purchased had matching serial numbers (differently arranged) to Janet’s bassoon. Chris saw this as another sign that he was moving in the right direction. Then came one more sign – a fortune cookie in the UNH dining hall, the lucky numbers matched the serial number of his newly purchased bassoon, and the fortune read, “Success comes with self-acceptance”.
Chris practiced the bassoon at UNH for three hours a day. He would spend his days at the Paul Creative Arts Center from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM or later; it became his home at UNH. He started out as the lowest ranking bassoon player. By his sophomore year, he was asked to join the top ensemble as a bassoon player. Carpal tunnel syndrome became a problem from playing so much. This led Chris to yoga which helped manage the pain in his hands. He continued to do yoga when attending summer bassoon camps in North Carolina. There he connected with a bassoonist who was also a yoga teacher. He felt at peace with his instrument, himself, and his life.
As an honors student, Chris is paying his own way through college by piecing tuition together with scholarships, grants, a work study job and loans. Chris, being very independent, even at an early age, is used to finding his own way and turning to music to find strength, inspiration and community. He has received three grants to do research in his time at UNH. Chris is fascinated by the bassoon reed and is dedicated to learning more about the impact of reed design on the instrument’s sound quality. He has built and tested hundreds of reeds in many variations. When he talks about reeds, it is as though he is an expert reed engineer determined to know all there is about this piece of equipment made of cane. This summer, Chris is traveling to Italy for 9 weeks on an IROP grant to study with an Italian bassoon player who has a unique playing style and is also a reed maker.
Chris’s days are filled with going to class, practicing, and rehearsing with the UNH Wind Symphony, the UNH orchestra, Quintessential Winds (a chamber music ensemble), and the Bodacious Bocals (a bassoon duet). On top of this, he attends an occasional GLBTQ Alliance meeting in the MUB and serves as a substitute player for the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra and the Keene Chamber Orchestra.
Chris feels very indebted to several faculty members and teachers at UNH who have reached out to him in meaningful ways. Aside from Janet, he has gained great insight and support from Rob Haskins, Rose Pruiksma and Vanessa Davis. He is so grateful for the time and energy these wonderful teachers have channeled into his time at UNH. He is convinced he would not be who he is without their support. Chris plans to attend graduate school hoping to some day perform professionally with an orchestra and teach bassoon at the college level. In his search for graduate programs, he is looking for the right person to study under, and some day, no doubt, students will be looking to study bassoon under Chris’s kind and intelligent guidance.
2011 - 2012 CYOS Honorees: (left to right) Amy Ma, Michael Vidal, Eliza Mackintosh, Chris Foss, Stacey Hoang, Theresa Lewis, Charlie O'Connor, Katie Lantz, Sunya Yakovleff, Harrison Roakes