Monday, July 23, 2012

Luke Bakken, Bassoonist and Software Developer, Spokane, WA

Spokane native Luke Bakken plays second bassoon and contra with the Spokane Symphony and serves on the orchestra players committee. Luke also performs with Allegro, the Northwest Bach Festival, Connoisseur Concerts, and can be heard on soundtracks to feature films including The Grudge and Drag Me to Hell. Luke studied with John Hunt at the Eastman School of Music while double majoring in Computer Science at the University of Rochester. Luke participated in the Aspen Music Festival for four summers and held the contrabassoon fellowship for three of those years. He currently works for tier3.com as a software developer.

Tell us about your musical training and your musical career.   
I went to Eastman from 1994 through 1998, where I studied with John Hunt. I participated in the Aspen Music Festival for four summers as well, and I had the contra fellowship for three of them. I've been playing second and contra for the Spokane Symphony since 1999. I also serve on the Players' Committee and we are negotiating a contract this year. I'm from Spokane originally, so it was serendipitous to be able to come back home. I've performed with Allegro, which does the annual Royal Fireworks Concert and other small concerts. I've also performed in the Northwest Bach Festival and Connoisseur Concerts. I've had the opportunity to play on a couple of movie soundtracks in Seattle as well. The contrabassoon is a bit stereotyped, so they've been in horror flicks: The Grudge, Drag Me to Hell. You can really hear it on The Grudge since the orchestration was strings and contrabassoon only.

Describe your other career and any training related to that.

I currently work for tier3.com as a software developer. Most of the programs I write are specific business software. I did a double-major in Music and Computer Science at the University of Rochester since the requirements overlapped nicely and I was able to finish in four and a half years.

What is your typical schedule?

The core orchestra of the Spokane Symphony does roughly 180 services per season, which works out to about $18,900 for the base salary. Being a software developer has been very flexible from the get-go. We don't have many daytime services in the Spokane Symphony, but when I do I'm able to either work around them or use business leave to not play the services. I'm pretty busy from September to June. My day job is full-time, and the orchestra can be up to fifteen or more additional hours each week. In our core orchestra, our Second Clarinet and me are the only two people who work full-time day jobs.

How much practicing and reed-making do you fit in?

When I have difficult repertoire, I can usually find an hour a day to practice. As for reeds, I usually make enough during the summer to last the season without too much trouble. Bassoon reeds are nice that way. I'm glad I don't play the oboe. Our second oboe player gives me dirty looks all the time when I mention that I'm using the same reed from the last concert.

Do you do any preparation to the cane?

I've never bothered with any of that. I've used gouged, shaped, and profiled cane from the first day I started playing bassoon.  

What tools do you use to manage your schedule?

I put stuff on my work calendar. I don't use an iPhone or any stuff like that. Actually, my co-workers think I'm crazy for only having an ancient pay-as-you-go Nokia phone. My wife also plays in the Spokane Symphony and she keeps track of the rehearsals. Before she moved up here there were a couple close calls where I almost forgot a rehearsal.

If you’re away from the instrument for long periods of time, what do you do to get back in shape?

I’m not away from my instrument much during the season, since we're pretty busy every week. During the summer, I try to not put it down for too long, but you know how that goes. Getting back into shape usually involves a painful fireworks concert in July. Otherwise, I've got some colleagues in the orchestra with whom I play wind quintet music. 

Have you taken auditions while working at your other job, and how did you prepare?

Way back in spring of 1999, when I was preparing for the Spokane audition, I had just moved back here. Plus, I had one more summer in Aspen, and I wasn't working full-time. I had plenty of time to practice then. I took the 2003 bassoon/contra auditions for the Oregon Symphony and played terribly. I was prepared well enough, but I got nervous due to the lack of actually doing auditions. I was working full-time then so my daily schedule was eat, sleep, work, practice, rehearse. I also took an audition for the Utah Symphony in 2006. I played much better than I did in 2003, but I did not get that job. There aren't many places I'd like to live, which limits my motivation to audition for another group. Plus, it just doesn't pay as well as writing software.

Are there aspects of your musical training and career that help with your other life and vice-versa?

I always tell people that job interviews are a piece of cake compared to auditions. So, interviews are never a problem. People are always wondering how I find time for stuff. I'm also an avid runner and outdoors-type. It comes down to time management. Playing in an orchestra or chamber ensembles is good practice for working with people in the "real world" too. People at the software company are usually fascinated with the music career, like I'm from outer space or something.

What motivated you to pursue an additional career?

I figured I'd have to pay the bills somehow. I pretty much knew I would always do both careers. I started playing bassoon when I was 13, and knew that I wanted to play in an orchestra right away. I got interested in computers in high school so I thought that would be interesting to pursue as well.

Do/did you ever want your career to focus solely on the oboe or bassoon?

Maybe, who knows? But I think any serious attempt at getting into a full-time orchestra would involve me quitting my day job and taking bassoon very seriously for six months at least. The orchestra here almost pays enough that the two of us could live on the income. But that would be stressful. I was out of work briefly this year in July and considered it, but then my current job opportunity at tier3.com came up and I went with it.

How do fellow musicians respond to your dual-career situation?

I'm pretty sure they think I'm crazy with how busy I am all the time. But they know how seriously I take playing music. I think I get a little more out of it because it's my "fun time" away from the day job.

What advice would you give to young people who are considering careers in music?

Be dedicated, practice a lot, listen a lot, immerse yourself. But be realistic at the same time. And there's always someone practicing more than you are.   

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