Christopher Witt and the Underdog of the Instrument World


By Thea Gonzales

Around November of last year, sophomore Christopher Witt changed the path of his high school career by saying “I want to play the funny-looking one,” and another musician was added to family of the illustrious underdog of the instrument world– the bassoon.

Unhappy with the clarinet, Witt wanted to try something new last year and was pleasantly surprised by how much he liked playing the bassoon: a paradigm of how small challenges and new experiences can be life-altering.

“Playing the bassoon has impacted my life tremendously. I planned on quitting band going into high school because I wasn’t very interested in it. I also used to play video games all day long, but when I started the bassoon, I found something to be motivated to be good at. Now I have something to look forward to do after school every day,” Witt said.

Commonly mistaken as an oboe, the bassoon’s similarities to the smaller instrument end at its use of a double reed. In order to create sound, bassoonists release supported air through two reeds that vibrate against each other, resonating through the 4-foot-tall instrument and playing from as low as Bb 1 to over three octaves about as high as G 5.

“The coolest thing about playing bassoon is the amount of people who watch in astonishment. Nobody knows what it is! Even during CYSO auditions, people called it an oboe! That brings me to my next point: it’s not an oboe! It is the greatest of double reeds called the bassoon,” Witt said.

Enamored with the unconventional instrument, “50-60%” of the time he spends hanging out with his friends is now spent playing music with them.

“Chris works really hard. Whenever I see him we usually talk about music, the things he’s been working on, and all these goals he wants to accomplish. He’s always trying to improve and get really good. Ever since Chris picked up the bassoon, he’s always been working and trying to be the best,” sophomore Anthony Ty said.

Regardless of where he goes, even his family knows how much he cares about getting better at his instrument given his constant practicing.

“He practices a LOT. At all hours of the day. He works really hard, and I can hear him playing the same measure until he gets it right over and over again. He practices while he plays video games, Skypes his friends, etc. Occasionally we’ll practice together. But it went from me helping him with music and rhythms to him being a billion times better than me. I need his help now,” sister and senior Elizabeth Witt said.

This improvement didn’t come out of the blue. Like many band students, Chris has to continually push past frustration as a musician in order to reap the rewards; it’s not an easy job, but when one puts in the time and effort to be good at something, there is a transformation in not only work ethic but skill level.

“Even when I have a lot of homework I find time to practice. Whether it be fingering the notes in my head while I work on math or listening to a piece I’m working on while reading, I find time to work on my bassoon skills,” Witt said.

Within less than a year of deciding to play the bassoon, Witt has already reached new heights in his musical abilities and made top ensembles like the Niles West symphonic winds, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO), and the District VII senior orchestra of the Illinois Music Educator’s Association (ILMEA).

“I auditioned for CYSO because my teacher, Hanna Sterba, thought it’d be a really good experience for me. I spent all summer practicing 2+ hours a day getting ready for it and it paid off in the end,” Witt said.

He has been involved with the Whitewater high school honor band over the summer, played with the Niles Township summer orchestra, and done chamber music written by friend and junior Vijay Shah whenever called upon to do it. Such achievements are amazing for a beginner bassoon player– especially a sophomore who has only been playing for a year– and a source of inspiration and high hopes to music students and teachers alike.

“Chris is an extremely hard worker and one of the hardest working students I have. I think this is the reason he is having so much success as a musician. I have the same expectations for Chris as I would have for any other student. That he continues to work as hard as he can, that he continues to grow both as a person and a musician, and that he perseveres when things inevitably get difficult,” band director Justin Johnson said.

In the future, Witt plans to work all summer to save up for his own bassoon and has hopes of continuing his bassoon study at his dream college, Northwestern University. He also plans on going to masterclasses and bassoon camps in the summer to practice in as many musical settings as he can.

“A piece of advice for aspiring musicians is to just practice. Towards the start of the summer, I was just average. I practiced every single day and pushed through the hard days and I’ve become a talented musician. Even though you may go through slumps where it feels like you don’t improve, which I’m currently going through right now, just push through it. The outcome is worth the hard work,” Witt said.