While Orchestra Hall was shuttered during the spring and summer, bassoonist Marcus Schoon was wowing patrons on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Facebook page with his bassoon arrangements of Motown hits. Recorded with the Acapella app, which allows musicians to record themselves playing multiple parts of one song, Marcus has recorded performances of the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye.
“For ‘Tears of a Clown’ I listened to all of the tracks, including the singer, and wrote down the rhythm and notes, trying to keep the spirit the same,” Marcus says. “Listening to the Motown recordings, you hear how each person would sing it differently—they never sang it the same way twice. It’s very spontaneous, like jazz. I’ve been arranging quartets for the DSO bassoon quartet for many years, and I was excited to play all four parts using the Acapella app.”
One of his earliest musical influences was jazz trumpeter Jack Sheldon. “As a 10-year-old growing up in Los Angeles, I thought it would be pretty cool to be a studio musician playing on television or in movies. I would watch The Merv Griffin Show, and he had this house band led by Jack,” Marcus remembers. “Jazz is total freedom: whatever your imagination comes up with. It’s the difference between an actor saying exactly what’s on the page or adlibbing like Robin Williams.”
“Art is what helps make a city great,” says Marcus, who chose Motown as the focus of his Acapella videos because he wanted to draw attention to a product of Detroit. When he won his audition with the DSO in 1992, Marcus and his wife relocated from Cleveland to Detroit, where they have since made a home and raised their family. “Winning an audition is like winning the lottery: the stars almost have to align. And if you get a job on the level of the Detroit Symphony, you’ve made it into the major leagues.”
As a doubler—a musician who plays more than one instrument—Marcus has played bassoon and contrabassoon; soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone; flute; clarinet; and oboe on DSO concerts. He received his Master of Music as a woodwind specialist at the Eastman School of Music for which he studied five major woodwind instruments. “Doubling allowed me to access different sounds, which I enjoyed; like a painter, like Picasso in his blue period: I didn’t want to be restricted to one tone color.”
The bassoon, a bass instrument, plays the foundation or supporting role for the orchestra and requires air to travel eight feet through folded tubing. The contrabassoon is twice as long—folding around and around like a paperclip—making it an octave lower. “Not all composers are good orchestrators for bassoon. Writing melodies for a low octave that doesn’t project well can be difficult.”
Marcus loves the lush, full-sounding music of the Romantic period. “The harmony was highly developed and the melodies really beautiful,” he says.
“ Brahms is my absolute favorite composer. You can hear his intellect and the depth of emotion in his work. As I get older, I hear the personality of the composer more in the music. Just like when you talk to someone, you can hear their personality come through. You get to know these people. ”Marcus Schoon
Tours create memories and strengthen bonds with colleagues. Over the years Marcus has toured Vail, Colorado, the Hollywood Bowl, Lucerne, Japan, China, and Europe with the DSO. “I remember getting on the airplane to be the first American orchestra to tour Europe after 9/11. I played saxophone, bassoon, and contrabassoon on that tour, and a major alto saxophone solo for Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. On tours the energy level is up; everyone wants to show the world what Detroit can do. Playing a different concert in a different country every night makes you grow, and the orchestra comes back as a stronger unit.”
Marcus has studied martial arts for 44 years and has been operating his own martial arts school for over 18 years. He has a 5th degree black belt in Aikido, a 3rd degree black belt in Kenpo Karate, and is a level 5 certified instructor in Yang Family Tai Chi. “My mother was a brown belt in judo and threw me as part of my belt ceremony when I was ten. When I was a little kid, she would practice her hand release on me. We would be walking holding hands and I thought she was pulling away, but later I realized she was practicing.”
Tai Chi and music paired perfectly last fall when Marcus taught a packed class in The Cube accompanied by his colleague Xiao Dong Wei who played the traditional Chinese instruments erhu (two string fiddle), xiao (vertical flute), and guzheng (zither). “Xiao Dong is such an awesome musician that she was able to react musically to our physical movements and the feeling was phenomenal.”
Martial arts and music have many parallels. Both have rhythm, flow, and a strong mental component. “When you’re in the moment you can experience the moment—life—more fully. Music does the same thing because it requires all of you. It requires everything you have. You can’t possibly play music at a high level and be thinking about something else."
“ Like music, Tai Chi is an art form; it’s an expression of the individual that humanity can relate to. That is what I feel art is. The way you move will be affected by your feelings, by your humanity. ”Marcus Schoon
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