Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The heroic Christopher Weait

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The heroic Christopher Weait
One of the first famous bassoonists of whom I became aware during high school was Christopher Weait, through his solo and chamber recordings and his reputation as co-principal bassoonist of the Toronto Symphony.  What were the odds that someday we'd end up living in the same city?  Luckily for me, Mr. Weait left his position with the Toronto Symphony in order to teach at The Ohio State University in Columbus, where I ended up living also after joining the Columbus Symphony.

Because of the stellar reputation which preceded him, he always struck me as being larger than life.....with a wife to match.  (Ask anyone who knows Padge Weait....she is an amazing and  multi-talented person who seems to be capable of doing or creating anything.  And she's a cellist to boot.)  We've been very fortunate to have a person of Mr. Weait's experience and abilities right here in Columbus.

He has frequently performed in the bassoon section of the Columbus Symphony, to the delight of the entire woodwind section.  His personality, always positive, jovial and thoughtful, has been perfect for shaking up our attitudes.  Whenever we see him onstage we know that we're headed for a good time.
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Columbus Symphony Rite of Spring bassoon section including Christopher Weait in the middle
On top of all of this, he's a conductor.  He conducted the final orchestral concert at the IDRS conference in Bloomington, Indiana in which I was soloist in the Mozart bassoon concerto.  Although it's unspeakably daunting to perform for such an audience, the fact that Maestro Weait was conducting made it one of the most memorable events of my life.

Another talent of his is arranging music, as evidenced by this video of Marriage of Fagotto by Christopher Weait (published by Weait Music) performed by bassoon professors Susan Nelson of Bowling Green State University, Bill Jobert of Wright State University, and Karen Pierson of The Ohio State University:

Mr. Weait has always had my back, whether it meant stepping in to play principal bassoon at the last minute if I had an emergency, coming up with music from his vast library, or even loaning me his instrument.  And he's always willing to lend an ear for bassoon coaching or life counseling.  Although he's "retired" now (and his version of retirement means working long hours each day arranging music and operating his business, Weait Music) this truth remains: for any bassoon-related emergency in central Ohio, who do you call?  Christopher Weait.

This past week Mr. Weait played a critical role in my life once again.  Thursday night, after a long and stressful day of rehearsing a difficult program which included Shostakovich Symphony No. 15,  I was putting away my bassoon on stage at the Ohio Theatre when the unthinkable occurred.

(Mind you, I'm one who is swab-obsessed, constantly warning bassoonists about the perils of careless swabbing, admonishing others to never to allow a swab with a knot in it to enter your bassoon, advising to always use a swab with a tail on each end so that it can be pulled out from either end, forever forbidding students to swab while distracted.   I've even written blog posts about swabbing.  In one of the posts I describe in detail the traumatizing horror of getting a swab stuck inside the tenor joint of my bassoon and how it took the efforts of six people including a world class bassoon repairman to extract the swab.)

So what was "the unthinkable" which occurred on stage at the Ohio Theatre last Thursday evening?  You guessed it.  My swab was stuck in my tenor joint.

Once I realized the swab was stuck (and I mean it was STUCK....it was tightly jammed near the top of the tenor joint, and it wasn't going anywhere) I panicked.  Where was the tail which should have been hanging out from the other end?  I don't know.  It was nowhere to be seen......it must have been lodged inside the bassoon.  Quickly losing the ability to function, I turned to second bassoonist Doug Fisher, who tried to remove it.  Then I turned to principal clarinetist David Thomas, who has had prior experience with stuck bassoon swabs thanks to me.   He said that he had been advised to twist a stuck swab very tightly to the point where it might come out.  All the twisting in the world wasn't going to get my swab out.......we tried.  And tried.  Second clarinetist Anthony Lojo, although experienced in instrument repair, was afraid to get involved after the dramatic stories I had told him about stuck bassoon swabs.

Meanwhile, Doug Fisher was on the phone calling Christopher Weait.  As we all know, in this day and age, no one ever answers his or her phone.  But heroes do.  Mr. Weait said to bring the bassoon right over.  By this point it was clear that I was in no condition to drive, so Anthony Lojo, himself a hero, offered to drive me (in snow and freezing rain, no less) the considerable distance from downtown to the far north suburb where the Weaits live.

We were greeted at the door by a smiling and confident Mr. Weait, swab extractor in hand.  It looked like a very long metal prod with a screw welded onto the end of it, and a handle on the other end.  He explained that the late bassoon repairman Jim Laslie had made it for him many years ago. 

Padge and Anthony looked on expectantly as Mr. Weait calmly inserted the tool while I held the ailing tenor joint.  Although terrified to the point of being nearly unconscious, I could tell when the tool had engaged the swab.  There were a few failed attempts during which I'm sure everyone in the room was beginning to wonder what would happen if the tool couldn't extract the swab.......bassoons have been ruined by the extraction of stuck swabs.  I don't think any of us were actually breathing during this procedure.

And then it happened.  As though surgical extraction of stuck swabs is a daily occurrence, Mr. Weait gently and heroically swished that swab right out of the joint.  Once we resumed breathing, we regarded the wayward swab.....it was hardly even damaged beyond a slight snag.  And the inside of the bore of the tenor joint remained intact as well.  Mission accomplished.  Crisis aborted.

(We tried to figure out how it happened.......there was no knot in the swab; in fact, it came out looking normal.  Yes, there was indeed a tail on each end, although only the end being pulled was actually visible during the time the swab was stuck.  Where was the other tail during the crisis??????????  Apparently I was guilty of the crime of swabbing while distracted.)

The whole event had been so traumatic that I was barely able to comprehend that just like that, my problem was resolved.  Practically in a trance,  I thanked the Weaits, as though there were any words equal to the situation.  Anthony and I went on our way.  The next morning, instead of having to explain to the personnel manager and music director why I'd be unable to play in the orchestra, I played the dress rehearsal as though nothing had ever happened the night before.

Mr. Weait has been a rock for many students and colleagues throughout his illustrious career.  How fortunate for the rest of us that his "retirement" hasn't diminished his ability to perform heroics!



Christopher Millard said...

The man is a true prince. I've known him for 42 years. One of the bassoon world's treasures.

Unknown said...

Not enough can be said about Chris, right? He's a jewel.

Anonymous said...

For your consideration.

Jonathan Sherwin said...

The perfect Yiddish description for Chris Weait -- WHAT A MENSCH!! Padge too!

Unknown said...

Back when I was in high school, I attended my first IDRS conference, in Provo, Utah. I was staying in the dorms and had a meal plan to eat in the campus cafeteria, what I didn't know was that one of the days of the festival was a Mormon holiday, which meant the cafeteria was closed that day. As I was staring forlornly through the security barrier at the bagels just out of reach, Chris and Padge walked by and after finding out why I was there, Padge pulled a granola bar and an apple out of her purse and insisted that I take them.

Another story, I was packing up in the pit after a ballet performance, as is usual with bassoonists, I was one of the last people in the pit. At the exact instrument I was about to pull my swab through the wing joint, some fine person shut off the lights in the pit. I must have jerked and twisted (or something) and managed to get my swab stuck for the first time ever!

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