Matthew Ruggiero interviewed by Dale Clark

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Dale Clark is principal bassoon of the Delta Symphony, former member of the North Arkansas Symphony, and has appeared as guest principal bassoon with the Memphis Symphony and Arkansas Symphony Orchestras. He is Adjunct Instructor of Bassoon at Arkansas State University and was instructor and principal bassoon at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival of the Sewanee Festival. He is a former member of the Memphis Woodwind Quintet and has appeared at conferences of the International Double Reed Society as performer, composer, panel member, reed class instructor and exhibitor. His principal teachers were Ed Knob, Keith McClelland, Gary Echols and Matthew Ruggiero. As owner and reed maker of Clark Bassoon Reeds, he provides professional quality bassoon reeds to over 1500 customers across the U.S and abroad.


DC (Dale Clark): Would you describe your experiences at Curtis? How about your studies with Sol Schoenbach? Are there any memorable moments or important aspects of his teaching you’d like to share? Are there any other important teachers you’d like to mention?

MR (Matthew Ruggiero): I was accepted to Curtis and began my studies with Sol Schoenbach, principal bassoonist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in September of 1951. While still in high school, I used to go to the public library and play over and over the recording he had made of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with Stokowski conducting. It was then that I began thinking about how wonderful it would be to study with him. Finally, my dream came true. Not only was I taking lessons from him, but the lessons were free. To say my Curtis years changed my life would be a huge understatement. Schoenbach introduced me to new ways of thinking about music and phrases. He showed me how to breathe and how to blow. He refined what I had learned from Del Negro.

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Matthew Ruggiero

And everything I learned at bassoon lessons was reinforced in chamber music classes with the first of my other two influential teachers. I call them my two “Marcels.” Marcel Tabuteau was the legendary principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1915 to 1954, and teacher of oboe and chamber music at Curtis. Our Thursday classes in Curtis Hall were public, and it seemed the larger the number of observers, the more humiliating and insulting Tabuteau acted toward us. True, he could be difficult and overbearing, but everyone respected him, for he gave us the tools and the vision that would enable us to bring a musical phrase to life. He developed an elaborate system of numbers that could be used for scaling dynamics, intensity, and musical groupings. The last of these could be thought of as units of motion, and Tabuteau made it clear that our obligation as interpreters was to structure the music according to musical units, which almost invariably flow counter to the divisions by bar lines. “The day the bar line was invented,” he used to say, “was a black day for music.” With his system for controlling dynamics, vibrato, intensity, groupings, and speed of the breath, we had ways of bringing a phrase to life, for nothing was more abhorrent to Tabuteau than expressionless, mindless playing.