Don't Fence Me In
Pride Toronto: Clean, Sober, and Proud Place – Das Fagott Mannschaft
The Clean, Sober and Proud stage happens every year at Pride Toronto. but seems to be one of the least popular stages at the festival. I think the name says it all for most who see Pride as a day to go out an let loose mainly by having a few too many. After all, one of the festival’s biggest sponsors is a beer company.
The great thing is that this place does exist for those who simply don’t drink out of choice, or for those who struggle with addiction and would still like to be in a safe space to have fun and be social ,but not have to deal with the pressure of drinking. It’s also a place anyone can drop by just to chill out. So even if you have had a couple drinks, and just want to kick back on the lawn and take in some eclectic programming, you are more than welcome.
There are many entertaining things happening this year at the Clean and Sober Stage including a performance by a less than conventional band with a less than conventional name. The band I speak of are Das Fagott Mannschaft. When I first heard the name I thought “Oh shit. Someone’s gonna get charged by the PC police for using the F word like that.”
I had the opportunity to catch up with Catherine Magowan, the founding member, bassoonist, arranger and composer of Das Fagott Mannschaft to ask about the origins of the band’s name and their upcoming performance at Toronto Pride’s Clean, Sober and Proud Stage.
LUCAS– To say that DFM is an unusual band is and understatement. The bassoon isn’t an instrument that many people think of picking up. For starters, what attracted you to the instrument and secondly, how did you all find each other?
CATHERINE– I came to the bassoon in the usual way – from a completely different instrument! The bassoon can be such a ridiculous, unwieldy beast that most students start off on a more manageable instrument, and then switch later in life. Graham was a clarinetist in university when he jumped ship, and Neil was a sax player. I was a flute player trying to avoid the bassoon because my mother is a retired bassoonist, but I couldn’t resist it and eventually took it up at the end of high school. Susan started out on the bassoon in her early teens, but she’s a rarity!
I asked her to share her story, and here it is: I was in grade 5 and all the grade 6 students were picking their instruments for band…and NOBODY picked the bassoon. I felt sorry for it and decided I would play it. The next year I realized that all the students had to start on clarinet then switch, which was why nobody picked it. Lol! On my first day of band I was handed a very heavy case and music written in bass clef, and I thought to myself “oh no! What have I gotten myself into!”
The neat thing about DFM is there is an almost two-decade span between our youngest and oldest members, and because of the bassoon we crossed paths and became close. We all studied with the same teacher, but at different times. Graham and I met as nannies for our teacher, and Susan and Neil were at school together. Susan and I met over “business meeting” (aka wine) at this same teacher’s house, which is where the idea for DFM was born.
LUCAS– What is the story behind the band’s name?
CATHERINE– The name literally means “The Bassoon Team” in German, and was given to us by one of our dear friends. Fagott is the German name for the bassoon, and most orchestral bassoon parts have Fagott 1 or Fagott 2 emblazoned across the top. Mannschaft sounds quite dirty, but simply means team. German speakers are always quick to tell us that our use of Das is incorrect and it should actually be Die, but that looks alarming in print, and we like to play with gender anyway.
LUCAS– The band does many covers, my favourite being Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. Is DFM exclusively a cover band or does the band do originals?
CATHERINE– “Rehab” was one of our very first covers, and I’m so glad to hear people still love it! The bulk of our rep is covers, because that’s what crowds like to hear from us. We especially like to rework hits from the 80s and 90s, but we play everything from early jazz right up to today’s top 40. By playing covers we give people the musical familiarity they need to feel comfortable after the shock of seeing three electric bassoons, a contrabassoon, and cajón on stage. We have a running list of songs that we listen to and think “that’s totally bassoonable!”, and try to tackle that list as much as we can. We also take requests from fans! (hint hint!)
That being said, we do have an original or two in our back pocket for when it’s appropriate. There are also other composers in Canada who have written fantastic bassoon quartets, but again, the bar crowd usually wants to hear their favourite hits, and we’re more than happy to oblige.
LUCAS– Have you ever played Toronto Pride before? What is DMF’s connection to the LGBT community?
CATHERINE-This is the first year that we are playing Pride in an official capacity, and we’re pretty excited! In previous years we’ve busked near Church and Wellesley, and other locations, to gain exposure and refine our craft, and during World Pride we even got some media coverage. Just over half our members identify with the community, but for some reason the bassoon biz has always been exceptionally queer-friendly, and the “1 in 10” figure that gets tossed about is considerably higher within the bassoon circle. Maybe it has something to do with constantly seeing “Fagott” at the top of our music or the fact that we play a big wooden stick.
LUCAS-What can we expect from your live show?
CATHERINE- Lots of laughter and crude jokes! Oh, and the bassoon. Not only do we have three regular bassoons, but we’ve got a monstrosity called the “contrabassoon”, or “double bassoon”, which is twice as large and four times as wild!.We’re also so lucky to have a percussionist who can do anything with her cajón (a rectangular percussion instrument), and lets us make jokes about her “slapping her box”. We are the world’s first electric bassoon band, which means we’ve got lots of tricks up our sleeves to transform our sound in unexpected ways. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a contrabassoon run through a distortion pedal!
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About the Author
Lucas Silveira is best known as the front man, songwriter and founding member of the rock band *The Cliks. *Lucas has become a leading force in the LGBTQ community for the promotion and visibility of transgender people in the mainstream music industry. He is the first out transgender male to be signed to a major record label deal and has toured with music icons including Cyndi Lauper, The Cult, Debbie Harry and The New York Dolls.