Alex Eastley (Bassoon ’04)
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.