Bassoonist Michael Ke Ma leads master class

Students gathered to learn from internationally acclaimed bassoonist Michael Ke Ma on Monday night in the MacDonald Recital Hall at 7 p.m. Ke Ma is the assistant principal bassoonist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and an alumnus of the USC Thornton School of Music’s winds and percussion sections. Ke Ma brought his talents to USC to share his expertise with aspiring bassoonists.

The event began with Samantha Epp, a freshman majoring in bassoon performance, who was the first performer for Ke Ma.

She chose to play the first movement of Concerto in C Major by Jan Vanhal. For 10 minutes, Epp played as Ke Ma observed her from the side of the room, listening to her play the bassoon and the piano accompaniment on the Steinway. After, Ke Ma began sharing his advice and playing along with his own bassoon to help communicate his advice. He workshopped her piece and asked her to emphasize the main beginning notes for runs and to give enough air in the beginning for sixteenth notes.

Sloan Quessenberry, a freshman majoring in bassoon performance, played a slower melody next. Quessenberry showcased the second movement of Leopold Kozeluch’s Concerto in C Major for the audience. Ke Ma advised him to be in closer contact with the pianist while playing. The crowd was filled with fellow musicians and bassoonists for support.

Next, Ryan Williams, a senior majoring in bassoon and music performance, played Solo de Concert Opus 35 for bassoon and piano by Gabriel Pierne. Ke Ma commented on his spiritual playing, telling him that he should play the beginning louder with the notes shorter. He commented that he was the only one playing on stage so he should be more expressive, take his time and not rush through the notes.

The final player, Anne Ranzani, a sophomore majoring in bassoon performance, played the first movement of Mozart Concerto in B-flat, one of the most famous and popular  bassoon pieces of all time,

“Mozart is like a theme park,” Ke Ma said, prompting laughter from the audience. “Everyone is welcome to come in.”

He explained that in this piece, the beginning notes were like a ball bouncing back and forth. He demonstrated the notes himself, letting his powerful tone resonate throughout the recital hall.

The four students were joined by five other bassoonists that showcased their skills in the master class: Amber Wyman, Jaquain Sloan, Emily Schoendorf, Andrew Favorito and Lieza Hansen. Each played six to 10 minutes from pieces by renowned composers such as Mozart, Ravel, Shoshtakovich and Beethoven. In return, they received 15 to 20 minutes of one-on-one teaching from Ke Ma.

Ke Ma has performed and taught around the world. He first started his career in 2000 when he was appointed principal bassoon of Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2004, he was appointed the assistant principal bassoon of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to his career as a seasoned performer, Ke Ma has also taught at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, coached private students and worked with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic ensembles.

The event was organized by Judith Farmer, Ke Ma’s former teacher and a bassoon professor at the USC Thornton School of Music.