Student profile: Sergio Acosta, flutist-turned-bassoonist

Sergio Acosta
Sergio Acosta and his favorite instrument

It’s the time of year to consider all the fine progress of our students at the UW-Madison School of Music. We have a few stories to share. Our first begins today, with the interesting career journey of Sergio Acosta, who just received his masters degree in bassoon after earning his undergrad on flute. His story came to us from UW-Professor of Bassoon, Marc Vallon.

Marc writes:

Sergio joined the School of Music as an undergraduate in 2006 as a flute player and made himself immediately noticed by extraordinary musical talent and his friendly personality. The course of his studies took an unexpected turn when he fell in love with the bassoon during a woodwind fundamentals course. His uncommon natural ability on the instrument allowed him such lightning-fast progress that he enrolled as a master’s candidate in 2010, only two years after playing his first notes on a bassoon. Sergio’s degree has been partially funded thanks to the Advanced Opportunity Fellowship program that supports access to higher education for minority students.

We asked Sergio a few questions.

What caused you to change instruments? 

I started on violin in 6th grade and in 7th grade began to learn oboe, flute and clarinet. (My middle school teacher would not let me try the bassoon.) Throughout high school I dabbled with different instruments, including baritone sax, and participated in Wisconsin School Music Association solo/ensemble competitions on flute, sax, and clarinet. I became most proficient on flute, so I decided to have flute be my undergrad focus.

But, after taking the bassoon fundamentals class in spring 2008 and playing it for a couple months I completely fell in love with it; it came naturally to me. I felt happy and I was able to communicate musically, after some practicing, on bassoon what I couldn’t on flute.

In a seating audition at UW-Madison, Mr. (James) Smith, our orchestra conductor, who had already heard me on flute for three years, said, “I think you found your instrument. You have a really great voice for it.” This meant a lot and really made me work hard. I then auditioned with Marc Vallon and he accepted me into his studio.

How was it different for you?

The weirdest thing about changing focus in instruments was the change in practice habits, repertoire and mindset. On flute, I focused on practicing sound and tone, whereas with bassoon I focused on technique and facility. I also had to get used to playing different styles of music and having a different role. The flute typically has very high melodic lines, whereas the bassoon has lower solo, but many times supporting roles for other instruments. Plus,I needed to get into the habit of making reeds! There are no reeds on flute.

I realized I would have to work harder than I was used to. Flute was second nature to me, so I was mostly just fine-tuning, while on bassoon I really needed to establish basics.  Eventually, my technical ability caught up to my musicality but sometimes I still need to think a little more about my bassoon playing than on the flute. It’ll take some time before bassoon is as “second nature” as flute is.

It has been an exciting journey that I knew I would not want to give up on. It just had to be. It helped to have a wonderful supportive teacher and mentor like Prof. Marc Vallon who was patient, supportive and kept inspiring me.

Where will you go now?

Throughout 2013-2014, I will be in Madison working. I plan on taking auditions for orchestral jobs around the country and perhaps eventually in other countries, such as Germany. I do plan on teaching more students and teaching as much as possible. I will be playing gigs as often as I can.

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One thought on “Student profile: Sergio Acosta, flutist-turned-bassoonist”

  1. Sergio is an incredibly expressive bassoonist. He can REALLY sing on the instrument. For non-musicians who may not appreciate the nature of this change, it is similar to learning tennis at a professional level, then deciding that you actually prefer soccer and learning that sport at a professional level too. I’d also like to add that Sergio has either been in the audience or on stage at almost every UW concert I have heard or played in. If there were an award for “student most supportive of his colleagues,” Sergio would win hands down.

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