Alex Eastley (Bassoon ’04)

Portrait by illustrator Ania Siniuk

Interviewed by Ali King
Director, Marketing and Business Development
Curtis Institute of Music

February 12, 2021

AK: What made you want to return to Canada after graduating from Curtis?

AE: I moved to Philly to attend Curtis two weeks before 9/11 happened, so it was a strange time to be in the U.S. and took some adjustment. Canada is home. I was born in Montreal, which I love, but grew up in the suburbs of Toronto and Calgary. After eleven seasons playing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, I ended up back in Montreal where I now freelance.

AK: You received your master’s degree in solo bassoon from McGill University; what did you appreciate about learning at a larger educational institution after your time at Curtis?

AE: It can be great to have that small, intense environment, but sometimes stressful on the flip side. I felt a lot of pressure at Curtis because I lived at the school. Having more space and independence is important to me; I’m pretty far on the introvert scale. A larger campus allowed for more anonymity, which I think suits me.

AK: How did your relationship with your teachers influence how you teach today?

AE: It’s unusual in a college environment to spend at least an hour one-on-one with a teacher at least once a week. You form a different kind of relationship and deeper insight into each other’s lives. I’m grateful for all of my teachers and feel so much responsibility as a teacher to be supportive to my students — I want to give them the absolute best I can. And you don’t just suddenly know how to teach; it’s its own learning process and commitment. Being a good performer doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher.

AK: How do you practice being a better teacher?

AE: I want students to become their own teachers. I often ask them what they think worked, or didn’t work, to build that self-reliance and analytical skills on their own. Mistakes are really important; we tend to fixate on perfection as classical musicians. I encourage my students to approach mistakes with curiosity rather than judgment — to cultivate self-compassion rather than frustration. I tell myself that too! We have an obligation to allow students to be whole musicians and pursue multiple avenues of interest, and to prepare them for a 21st-century career. It’s not a linear formula of just practicing your way to success.

AK: You’re a contemporary improviser; tell me more about that pursuing that musical genre.

AE: I was in London the summer of 2011, and there was a venue within walking distance of where I lived called Café Oto where the London Improvisers Orchestra played. Some of the members were enthusiastic that I played the bassoon and encouraged me to play with them. I was always interested in improvisation but reticent to try. The group was so accepting and eventually convinced me to try; I fell in love with the format and found it so liberating. There’s a great scene in Montreal that I hope to participate with more in the future, and in Auckland, too, where I filled in for someone on maternity leave for a few months. My current neighbor is actually an improviser, and we’ll play together over Zoom sometimes — the spontaneity is exciting.

AK: Did you explore improvisation at all while you were at Curtis?

AE: Not really — it was hard for me to make that leap on my own. I think for some string players, the instrument feels more like a natural extension of their body in a way that it didn’t for me.

AK: What advice would you give yourself as a new student at Curtis?

AE: Go explore Philly more! When I’ve returned to campus to teach in the summer I’m amazed by how much the city has changed since I was a student. I felt tethered to campus at the time — like I had so much catching up to do because I started playing bassoon relatively late. There’s other great music happening in the city that I should have taken advantage of experiencing. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, Reading Terminal Market — there are so many great places to visit all within walking distance.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Curtis Young Alumni Voices

Conversations with Curtis Institute of Music young alumni. Portraits by Philadelphia artists. Learn more @CurtisInstitute on social media and at www.curtis.edu.