I first heard of Betty when I played alongside Mary Anne MacKinnon who was from Oklahoma City ... anyway, she revered Betty who was her first and greatest teacher. A woman playing first bassoon in a major orchestra? Egads! (Mary Anne and I played as a section in the mid 70s.) Mary Anne went on to Curtis and was a fabulous player herself. She always said that Betty instilled the discipline and the passion for bassoon. I wish that I'd had the honour of meeting her..

Debbie Wright
Worcester, MA

When I was in college (Oklahoma City University) in the 60's, Betty had a "bassoon club" made up mostly of her students. (Unfortunately, I was a math major, so I didn't take lessons from her -- my loss.) I attended one of her sessions where she heard me play for the first time. I had been playing on out-of-the-box reeds, and didn't know that you could do anything with them. She took my reed, went to the restroom (?!) with her tools, and came back several minutes later with a modified reed for me to play. That reed played so well that I used it for the rest of that year and part of the next!

Later in my college life, our local home-town orchestra played for a performance of "The Nutcracker". The orchestra was just getting started, so we imported several musicians from the Oklahoma City Symphony. We had only one bassoon (me), so Betty was one of the "imports". She volunteered to play 2nd in the ballet, giving me the chance to play 1st bassoon. Years later, I realized that she was giving me lessons by example, both in her playing and in her graciousness.

I also remember when she premiered Ray Luke's bassoon concerto. She did an outstanding job on it. Dr. Luke was our orchestra/band conductor at the time. She was also the bassoonist in a performance of "L'histoire du Soldat" that Dr. Luke conducted, and again did a superb job.

Bob Gemmell (OCU, class of '67)


Someone once asked Betty why she didn’t audition for other, more prestigious orchestras, commenting that she certainly was good enough. Her response was “Well, I reckon I’m right where I ought to be.” This wasn’t resignation on her part, but rather the remark of a woman who was doing exactly what she wanted to do. This may have partly explained her wonderful attitude towards life’s problems, which was “Okay, now what are we going to do about this?” When I was a sophomore in high school, I brought a large score to one lesson and plunked it down on the stand. “What’s this?” Betty asked. “We’re doing West Side Story and I get to do the bassoon part!” I replied. She grinned, knowing, but not saying, how hard it was. “Well, okay,” she said “Let me show you how to practice it.”
I learned a lot of other things from Betty, too. I learned to: Breathe from the bottom jaw because that’s the only part of your head that moves… Move the fingers and the tongue at the same time…Fill up and expand the lower back when taking a breath… Move the fingers in between the notes when playing oom pah oom pah parts…Read ahead (She’d sometimes cover up the beat I was playing to make me do this!)…Tune the reed…Flick! I resisted this one at first, but am now a devotee to the technique…Point the bocal AWAY from people when blowing it out…AND I learned to SING through the bassoon. Betty was a natural mentor—she couldn’t help it. She said, “You need to go to this masterclass. I’ll drive you.” Of course, I went. “You really need to buy this bocal.” The bocal was bought. And one day she came into a lesson with a pamphlet. She said “We’re starting up this new summer camp—you need to go to it—it will be good for you. I’ll drive you.” This summer camp turned out to be OSAI and it was there with her that I fell in love with playing the bassoon and got my first taste of what it would be like to become a musician. I also got my first taste of frozen yogurt. She came out of the concession stand one day with some yucky-looking purple stuff. “You need to try this,” Betty said. I did, and of course, I liked it. One of my most memorable lessons was one of my most horrible. As often was the case, I had waited until the last lesson before the audition to bring in the All-State material. Betty was on me like white on rice. “That’s an e flat! …No—slur those two notes!…Taper!…What are you doing?… Read, if you’re not going to practice, READ!… What’s that shaking sound you’re making?…Sing!” At the end of the lesson, I was exhausted, embarrassed, hurt, dejected. She gave me a sideways look—a look I saw often—and she smiled and patted me on the shoulder and said “Don’t worry, you’ll make it.” Then, of course, I did. And with that message Betty showed me a path for my life. One from which I’ve often strayed, but to which I’ve always returned. She will always be at the beginning of that path—there to go to and there to go away from. I know how lucky I was to have her—we all were. And I’m so very thankful that “right where she felt she ought to be” included being right in front of me.

---Kat Sleeper