November 11, 2022

CIM Studio Profile: Barrick Stees, assistant principal bassoon of The Cleveland Orchestra

Bassoonist Barrick Stees coaches a student in his studio at CIM.
Bassoonist Barrick Stees coaches a student in his studio at CIM

Students of Barrick Stees at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) enjoy much more than just lessons. They receive real-world guidance on how to become a professional.  

Indeed, that’s why so many bassoonists choose CIM: for the chance to study with the assistant principal of The Cleveland Orchestra. Here, they know, they’ll train with the best to land and thrive in the job of their dreams. 

When it comes to choosing a music school, “I like to think we’re always at the top of the conversation,” said Stees, a 20-year veteran of both CIM and The Cleveland Orchestra. 

It’s true: like every department at CIM, the bassoon studio is highly selective. Stees, one of three Conservatory faculty bassoonists at CIM, all of whom are members of The Cleveland Orchestra, has just four students, half of the studio’s eight.  

That’s because he and his colleagues – principal bassoonist John Clouser and contrabassoonist Jonathan Sherwin, along with Preparatory and Joint Music Program faculty bassoonist Mark DeMio – have high standards. When considering applicants, they look not only for talent and seriousness but also for coachability, for evidence that a player can process and apply recommendations quickly.  

“That’s an important skill in an orchestra,” Stees explained. “You have to be able to change without asking questions. 

The benefits of admission and enrollment are considerable. Once enrolled at CIM, bassoon students receive an uncommon level of attention. They join a group that’s distinctly close-knit and committed to the success of each member.  

The training, certainly, is unique. Although the bassoon can be a solo instrument, many students at CIM are eyeing orchestral positions. For that reason, Stees spends almost as much time developing tutti or other less-prominent passages as he does preparing traditional excerpts.  

“They’re not just playing a single line,” he said. “They have to think about where they fit in.” 

No less special at CIM is the level of access students have to their teachers. Between private lessons, an orchestra repertoire class and expert reed-making instruction (Stees also sells his own line of reed-making tools), Stees regularly sees each student three times a week.  

Contact doesn’t end at graduation, either. Long after students have left CIM, when they’ve joined (or are preparing to join) any number of major ensembles or other groups, Stees remains in touch, freely offering advice, coaching and professional friendship.  

“I enjoy that part of the job very much,” Stees said. “It’s something we can afford to do because we’re a smaller conservatory. For all of us, this is a wonderful situation. We love teaching.”