Historic Bassoon Brings Two Generations of Musicians Together for a Special Concert in Palo Alto

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Laine Bryce and Michael Severance: two bassoonists united by a love of the same instrument. (Photo: Courtesy of Beth Roth)

Much like a Stradivarius is to the violin world, a Heckel is considered one of the gold standards in bassoons.

So when Laine Bryce decided to sell her Heckel upon retirement after 26 years of playing the instrument, she was understandably feeling separation anxiety. "The day I took it to UPS, I got in the car and had to start crying," Bryce said.

Bryce had enjoyed a long career as a professional musician. She played bassoon and contrabassoon with the the Minnesota Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Delaware Symphony, and the Riverside Symphonia. For many years, she was also a member of the South Minneapolis Bassoon Quartet, and created numerous arrangements for the group. 

The beloved bassoon.
The beloved bassoon. (Photo: Courtesy of Beth Roth)

Soon after she sold her bassoon in 2012, Bryce moved to a senior living community in Palo Alto to be near her son, a Stanford physician.

Then in 2014, Bryce learned the young graduate student who bought her Heckel -- Michael Severance -- had landed a gig with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.  She spotted the announcement on a bassoon listserv and promptly emailed Severance to offer her congratulations.


Bryce took the opportunity to ask Severance to come play at her senior living facility, the Moldow Residences in Palo Alto. She got to introduce him before a rapt audience of 50 people. "For the last five years, he’s been playing on my bassoon," Bryce said to warm laughter.

Michael Severance charms the crowd at Moldow Residences in Palo Alto.
Michael Severance charms the crowd at Moldow Residences in Palo Alto. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Severance was similarly greeted with affection. "It’s an honor to be asked here by Laine," he said. "I bought her instrument in 2012. She had mailed it to me for me to try out, and I showed my teacher, and he played it for about five seconds and said, 'Buy this instrument!'”

Severance started with a couple of concert studies, No. 9 and No. 10, by Ludwig Milde, a 19th century German bassoonist and composer.

His fiancé Alex Zdanis -- herself a professional bassoonist with the Alabama Symphony -- joined Severance in a two-bassoon arrangement of excerpts from Gioachino Rossini's opera, The Barber of Seville.

Hear Severance and Zdanis play "Largo al factotum," a famous aria in The Barber of Seville:

"It was emotional for me," said Bryce of hearing Severence play the instrument she had once herself so loved to play. "It does still sound like my instrument. But an instrument is so much the person that’s playing it, too, and how they make it sound."

Severance and Zdanis explain the bassoon's peculiar charms: