Bassoon instructor is a performer 1st

Susan Maxwell, music theory and bassoon instructor at K-State, created the bassoon Profiler to help people make reeds. (Photo Courtesy of Susan Maxwell)

Susan Maxwell, music theory and bassoon instructor, may be a teacher, but she is a performer at heart. Music has always been a part of her life, Maxwell said.

At the age of 8, Maxwell said she began piano lessons, and by age 10, she picked up the flute as a second instrument. During her senior year of high school, her band instructor introduced her to the bassoon, a bass instrument normally played in orchestras.

“I didn’t even know what it was,” Maxwell said. “They asked me to go find the one in the instrument closet, and I had to have someone help me.”

When Maxwell went to college, she said she started to notice the benefits of playing the bassoon.

“I saw that I was getting playing opportunities,” Maxwell said. “Performing opportunities and a lot more performing opportunities on the bassoon than on the flute.”

Maxwell said there is a thrill and even meditative quality to performing in front of a live audience.

“I think, for me, there is a certain adrenaline,” Maxwell said. “There’s an intensity with a performance.”

Maxwell has played in several different groups, such as the Kansas City Symphony, the Lake Shore Symphony Orchestra in Chicago, the K-State Faculty Quartet and a local group called Tallgrass Trio, she said.

Steve Maxwell, Susan’s husband and associate professor of tuba and euphonium, said Susan’s performances do not go unnoticed by her peers.

“She’s a fantastic player,” Steve said. “Just a world class player. She has a real sensitivity to playing with others and (playing) the right styles and (is) really a fantastic player.”

When Susan is not performing, she is a studio instructor, a role she said comes with a great deal of responsibilities.

During the academic year, Susan arranges and conducts the bassoon ensemble, as well as works with the bassoon students one-on-one. Her dedication and teaching style has resonated with some of her students.

“She’s very laid-back in the best possible way,” Ashton Bethel, senior in music education, said. “She’s always looking on the brighter side of things.”

Bethel said she has been one of Susan’s students for the past 3.5 years.

James Renner, senior in bassoon performance and secondary education, said he thinks Susan is motivational.

A major part of playing the bassoon is creating and maintaining a piece of the bassoon called the reed, a mouthpiece that consists of two pieces of cane, Susan said. Bassoon students must learn how to make reeds throughout the course of their college careers. This was a difficult process until Susan found a way to make them more easily and faster, she said.

She designed a tool called a Profiler, a metal device that helps shave down the cane. With help from a research grant through K-State and the K-State Advanced Manufacturing Institute, she was able to facilitate making her Profiler. Susan said she currently retails her Profiler online.

“Across the United States, there’s not very many people that are both a professional musician and in on the constructions of a tool for that,” Steve said.

Susan said music feeds her soul; part of her is designed to be a musician, and at the end of the day, she is a musician first.

“Whether I would be teaching at the university or not, I would still be a part of making music because it makes me thrive as a person,” Susan said.