Doodad

On a Roll

For cyclist/bassoonist
Mark Hekman, life is
a wild ride

Among the good-natured barbs that Julliard professor and violist Toby Appel once delivered in his comical “Irreverent Guide to the Orchestra” on NPR was the following: “Bassoon players like to give the impression that theirs is a very hard instrument to play, but the truth is that the bassoon only plays one or two notes per piece and is therefore only heard for a minute in any given evening.”

The ribbing elicits a hearty laugh from Mark Hekman, second bassoonist for the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, which continues its inaugural Masterworks concert on the first of this month with “War and Peace Re-imagined.” Hekman’s instrument, a double-reed woodwind is, to be sure, difficult to play, and he actually appreciates that it’s not one of the flashier instruments. “I enjoy being part of a group,” Hekman says. “I’m there to add a layer of color.”

It’s a modest statement, considering that five years ago, the musician was honing his competitive chops as a professional cyclist. After completing his Master’s in music at Ohio State in 2004, Hekman chose to defer one dream for another: racing. “I didn’t touch my instrument for five years,” he says. Lured by the mild North Carolina winters, which lend themselves to year-round training, the Michigan native landed in Winston-Salem with a housesitting gig and soon discovered the tight-knit community of cycling enthusiasts. Before long he was competing on eight-man teams in criterium races across the United States. He placed third in the United States National Criterium Championship, the highest level of pro racing, in 2008, and went on to win the USA Crits series in 2009. Hekman has pedaled his way through Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, but his fondest memories are of the nighttime laps through big North American Cities in Crit races, “with people coming out of bars” cheering him and his teammates on — much like the festive scene in Twin Cities’ Arts District during the Winston-Salem Classic each spring.

These days, the applause is coming from appreciative audiences at the performances of the GSO Symphony, which Hekman joined for its 2012–13 season. And the transition from cyclist to bassoonist isn’t as big a leap as one might think: “A lot of musicians are into cycling,” he observes. Both pursuits require self-discipline, and, Hekman adds, “Exercising is like practicing: There’s a good sensation afterward.” Practicing since the fifth grade, when he chose the bassoon “because it looked funny and sounded great,” Hekman is also working on his doctoral degree at UNCG and teaches at HPU in between concerts. “Performing with the Greensboro Symphony has been a lot of fun,” he says, citing the thrill of working with Dmitry Sitkovetsky, “one of the all-time great violinists.” And, he adds, “the programming has been superb since I joined.” In addition to October’s program of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, he’ll be “adding layers of color” to the likes of Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven and Mendolssohn later in the season. “It’s crazy how much great music is out there,” he marvels.

As for the cycling?

“I get out when I can,” he says, adding that it’s harder to find the time for sport while raising a family. But Hekman isn’t one to complain, noting, “ I’m really blessed with the way life has gone.”   OH

— Nancy Oakley

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