Bassoonist Melanie Ferrabone: On Finding a New Day's Possibilities in the Everyday

It's a catch-your-breath experience. Music education is like traveling down a tree-lined drive under a canopy of magnolia greenery blooming in spring, observes bassoonist Melanie Ferrabone. The Frost School of Music doctorate candidate for music performance looks back at the last five years at Frost, then turns her focus on May 13, 2023, and says, "What a ride!"

Bassoonist Melanie Ferrabone trusts that where she is today matters for where she'll be tomorrow. The Frost School of Music doctorate candidate only has a few more months before spring's commencement, and not a day goes by that she doesn't think about how the last five years have changed her life. 

From the moment she wakes up in the morning, she realizes she's choosing her perspective. The humdrum of daily repetition can make it easy to slip into a lull of autopilot, she's learned. But her willingness to give herself a gentle shake has given her the resolve to accomplish much more. "Nothing is impossible," she says. And Frost has taught her that. 

Albeit all the goodness hiding in plain sight, last fall took Ferrabone on a rollercoaster ride. On the first weekend of November, she visited the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. She was invited to perform as a guest artist with faculty members, bassoonist Nicolasa Kuster and percussionist Jonathan Latta. 

The following Monday, she took an overnight flight and arrived in Miami at nine in the morning, just an hour before she was to rehearse for the 2022 Frost Concerto Competition, which she won. She rested for a few days, then prepared to be one of the opening soloists acts for the two-time Grammy Award-winning soprano, songwriter, and actress, Hilá Plitmann, who performed her "Song and Dance" concert with the Frost Wind Ensemble at the Maurice Gusman Concert Hall. 

The Panamanian bassoonist's schedule hasn't slowed down much. Just this Tuesday morning, she arrived in Miami early in the morning from a trip to Tucson, Arizona, where she performed at The Meg Quigley Bassoon Competition and Symposium.

The multi-day event was jam-packed with concerts, master classes, workshops, live competition rounds, and other events. The symposium, she explains, is meant to be an inclusive and congenial atmosphere of learning and inspiration built around a world-class competition. They prioritize providing a balanced representation of identities, including gender, race, culture, age, and career trajectory, in their selection of performers, presenters, and judges.  

To date, Ferrabone says, that symposium has been one of the biggest highlights of her life. The talks, the women in music supporting one another while making a name for themselves—all this adds meaning to her moment of self-reflection. And here is where we find her, talking about her passion for music and her favorite instrument, and how under all her un-checked energy, there lies within a woman with a quiet spirit and a will to be a teacher—to plant a legacy that will live on, giving others that new day's perspective she learned at Frost.

Your schedule last November was nuts. How did you do it?   

Yeah, nine days of uninterrupted planning and performing. It was quite an experience. I had seven days to prepare for my doctoral defense. Everything was back-to-back, just trying to hit the deadlines. It's the kind of thing you do, like putting one foot in front of the other as you walk. If not, you fall.

What was one of the biggest takeaway from the Meg Quigley Competition and Symposium? 

It was all about inclusion. The competition was only for female bassoonists, but I didn't compete; I just performed. I learned a lot about how we, as women, can make a difference in the industry by changing the conversations and building community—helping each other level up in the industry instead of trying to climb over each other. 

How has Frost changed the way you see the music industry? 

They are teaching me that all musicians need to be multi-faceted. Many schools only focus on performance, preparing the students to play. But I've learned something different at Frost, and that's what I teach my students. You need to understand your craft as well as the business of the craft—from marketing, sales, and management. And though those skills don't have anything to do with bassoon, they are helping me be the brand I've become.  

The music industry is also changing; how are music entrepreneurs like yourself evolving? 

We must be open-minded. There are a lot of small businesses in music now. For example, for my instrument, many people sell reeds for our mouthpieces, which we use to perform. People make reeds and sell them, and that's a craft. So, you need to have those entrepreneurship skills to open those kinds of businesses. I did a Peak Performance project or a strategic plan in my master's degree. During a semester, I took six master classes about entrepreneurship and how to record and brand yourself. I had personal training on becoming an artist, which is invaluable information to have in your tool belt. Looking back, that pushed me toward what I've been doing this last year. 

This is your last semester at Frost. What do you plan to do after that? 

I would love to teach bassoon at the college level. I've been teaching since I was very young.  

And how exactly did the Frost campus impact your life?  

In everything and in every way. For me, it started with a tight community. I learned how to collaborate with others and other departments inside the school. This community helped me change my mindset and the possibilities of a new day's perspective. I realized that I am more than a female bassoonist. I am a musician, a teacher, and a businesswoman.

Finally, May 13 is around the corner. What are your thoughts on that?  

It is coming too quickly.