Arts » Classical Music

New faces at the ISO: Michael Muszynski, the photographer


The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra opens their 2015-16 season with handful of new personalities.

“It’s been several years since we’ve seen this many new faces at the start of a season. It’s very exciting to welcome them to the family, says ISO Music Director Krzysztof Urbanski.“Just like our entire orchestra, our new musicians and new associate conductor come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. It will be such a joy for me to lead all of these talented individuals. I hope our patrons notice the continued quality of our outstanding Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and are proud of what we present each and every week.”

NUVO took the opportunity to learn about the new ISO faces. In the mix you’ll find sports enthusiasts, a professional photographer, a trained engineer; some with acting, opera and national musical tour credits. 

 Michael Muszynski, Second Bassoon

NUVO: With bachelor degrees in both music and mechanical engineering what about the bassoon called out to you to pursue a masters degree in music?

Michael Muszynski: From about ninth grade I knew I wanted to play bassoon for a living. I had been playing since I was twelve and took to it right away. My dad claims that he knew from the day I brought it home that I was going to be good at it. Something finally clicked for me when I started high school and realized that this might be a career path, but everybody warned me about how difficult it is to actually get a job.

That’s where the engineering degree comes from. I’ve always been interested in the way things work, but I’ve known for a long time that I want the bassoon to be my job. Still, I can remember sitting in the Engineering building as a Freshman or Sophomore in college thinking that I could be really good at anything I want to do as long as I put the effort into it. That was a really sad moment because I knew that someday I was going to really have to choose one or the other. For me, it ended up being bassoon. [In a later conversation, Mike mentioned his brother, a tuba player, chose engineering as his career.]

NUVO: While gaining your degrees at Northwestern you’ve been a professional sports photographer with Chicago White Sox, Cubs and Bears credits working with US Presswire. What’s the thrill of being in the midst of gameplay? Any “war stories”— photo ops that got away? 

Muszynski: Again, this kind of fits with my personality. I’ve always tried to do everything, no matter how ridiculous the time constraints. I worked at the school newspaper in college as well — I was the photo editor. That was basically a job three to four nights a week.

There’s something appealing about photography for me, and sports in particular. There is a technical side, not only of being able to operate the camera, but also knowing where the play is heading and where you need to be to have the best shot at making the shot. So much of it is about luck, but it’s also about being smart about where to be for a particular play.

Most of all, I love being part of a team when I’m shooting. Most recently, I’ve been shooting with the Northwestern team photographer who is a very close friend. Because I know he’s going to get something decent, I can go out on a limb when we’re both shooting. It leaves me open to get creative and try different things.

My favorite recent photo happened at the 2013 Gator Bowl (our first bowl victory since 1949): I got a great shot of coach Pat Fitzgerald being doused with Gatorade after the victory. It was great coverage for the team, and it was one of those moments where I had a feeling I was going to end up in the right place. When you nail that image, it’s exhilarating.

NUVO: You’ve created “Bassoon Fingerings” app on iTunes—what’s the joy in this particular reaching out?

Muszynski: The apps I write are the kind of thing that really hit the technical and creative crossover in my brain. It’s the part of me that really explains why I got both the music and engineering degrees. I feel I have a very analytical mind so when I can identify a problem I go into overdrive about how to fix the issue. I’ve written a couple of apps specifically designed at solving issues for my bassoon students.

Bassoon Fingerings gives them a way to quickly and effectively figure out how to play those new notes on their instrument that they are learning, but I also tried to make it better than the other things that were out there. As a result, users can save their own fingerings and write remarks about when to use a certain fingering in a specific piece of music.

I’ve had professionals write to me to mention how useful my app is for them. I think I even ended up talking with some other finalists at my ISO audition about it. Currently, I’m working on sharing features so that users can share fingerings with each other. I think that can be a killer feature that would really help contribute to the entire bassoon community.

NUVO: I heard you on YouTube as a member of the ensemble playing Peter Schickele Delta Jukebox for Two Bassoons and Piano, and found myself enthralled with the conversational vibrations—for you, what’s the bottom line happiness playing an instrument that gets a lot of “huh?” from the general public?

Muszynski: Oh gosh, that video was from so long ago! I think that was my first year teaching at Georgia State University. It was the first time we had ever held a Double Reed Day and I felt just so over my head in so many ways. Jeff Lyman from the University of Michigan was such a gracious guest that day and he made me feel so much like I knew what I was doing.

That piece in particular was a real introduction into the way that professionals do things. Sometimes, the music we play is done on very little rehearsal (and in that case, I think we read the piece once). Then it ends up on YouTube and becomes a lasting memorial of who you are as a performer.

This piece is so much fun because it’s written by a bassoonist for bassoonists. Even somebody who only knows the bassoon as a silly instrument, this funny little solo allows them to hear a real melodic voice of the bassoon. It’s a real joy to straddle the line between fun and serious, and even more so to show people that the bassoon can do things that they never really imagined it doing!


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