Bassoonist’s Balance

Bassoonist’s Balance

Music and community important to musician


Lia Uribe’s career is an example of what can happen when someone finds her passion early.

Uribe is an assistant professor of bassoon at the University of Arkansas, as well as the principal bassoonist of the Symphony Orchestra of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra. She’s also a member of the Lyrique Quintette, a woodwind quintet made up of UA faculty members.

“My family is a very musical family,” she said. “I’m from Colombia, originally, and it’s a very common practice to get together for any reason — to celebrate a birthday or a baptism — and sing. I grew up among music, all the time. Riding the buses … music, music, everywhere. In the kitchen, with my mom, cooking …”

But, when Uribe was 11 years old, it was the visual arts that first inspired her creativity.

“I started painting early in life, taking lessons and doing portraits and painting still lifes with a group of very old ladies,” Uribe said with a smile. “I was the 11-year-old with all of these older women. But it was what my mom thought was the right thing to do, and it was enjoyable and exposed me to a different world of creation and exploration. And, because of that, I found an ad in a newspaper for a conservatory, an arts institute in my city. They were advertising for a visual arts program, and I wanted to do that — so I went there with my mom and inquired about it.”

The visual arts program was for high school students only, and Uribe was still much too young. But she and her mother were told there was a musical component to the institute accepting applications. Even at such a young age, Uribe recognized her creativity was not limited to just one area of interest, so she enrolled.

“This program was very, very immersive. So every day, after school, I would go there to take my lessons,” she said, lessons that included instruction in the instrument of her choice, as well as music theory and choir. “The whole afternoon was devoted to music.”

Uribe entered as a guitar player, but soon realized that wasn’t the instrument for her. When her music theory teacher helped her interview teachers to find a new instrument, she was drawn to the bassoon.

“The bassoon teacher said, ‘It would be really nice if you would join us. It would be the first young girl joining my studio, playing the bassoon. We don’t have anyone like you,’” Uribe remembered. “And I thought it would be the coolest thing — to be the girl playing the bassoon in a world where not many girls did.”

Uribe would pursue this passion at the institute through high school. She started her professional training there, as well, until the school’s lack of a permanent bassoon instructor pushed her to pursue instruction at a big conservatory in Bogota with a nationally known professor.

“That has directed my entire life, everything I have done ever since — that one decision so early,” she noted. But for Uribe’s parents, this single-minded drive was difficult, at first.

“My parents were devastated,” she admitted. “I was an only child and really good at school — straight As, really good in math. There was a hope that I was going to be a physician or a mathematician, something really, really cool like that in their eyes. But I decided early on I was going to be a musician.”

In Bogota, Uribe worked hard pursuing her dream. School was not expensive, but living expenses were. She waited tables and taught music classes to children. Her early dedication and focus on playing paid off as she racked up professional engagements.

“I was playing with the national orchestra, gigs here and there. I did a little bit of popular music, as well. It was a very eye-opening experience. After so many years of being focused on classical music, I was introduced to this different world. It was an interesting balancing act for me.” Uribe even toured with a pop music star who sold out huge amphitheaters.

“It’s kind of the ‘Secret life of Lia,’” Uribe said with a laugh. “[The pop music star] was singing Mexican folk music with a rock band backing her up, so the arrangements were a little more edgy and more attractive to younger people. Those were concerts to 50,000 people. I had never experienced that as a bassoonist.

“I remember arriving to the first rehearsal of this band, and I get there with my written music and my whole classical musician demeanor. They were like, ‘No, you need to memorize that music. You need to change your look because you’re going to be up and dancing, too.’ So it opened up my connection with the audience and my connection with music. It was an interesting and very fruitful experience.”

Graduation brought a residency at the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada, which prompted Uribe to apply for other programs that would allow her to see the world — an impulse that, ultimately, would lead her to Fayetteville.

It’s a long way from Cali, Bogota.

“Some people today ask me the question, ‘Are you in Arkansas? I’m sorry,” Uribe related. “I always say, ‘There’s nothing to be sorry for! It’s the best decision I’ve ever made!’ Everything worked out great — I had all the support I needed when I came here. They were looking for a bassoonist for Northwest Arkansas Symphony (precursor to SoNA), and I started playing with that orchestra with my teachers, who were my colleagues there.”

After earning her master’s degree from the university, life took a busy turn. Uribe started working on her doctorate, got married and had two children. Married life diverted her to Springfield, Mo., when a divorce found her restructuring her plans.

“It just so happened that there was an opening here,” she said. “I never thought I was going to come back to Fayetteville — though I was commuting from Springfield to play with SoNA, and I had great connections in the area.”

Uribe marveled at the arts and cultural offerings found in Northwest Arkansas.

“To have two functioning orchestras, both successful orchestras, I find that very unusual,” she noted.

The balance Uribe is able to have in Fayetteville is the ideal, she said.

“I love it, I absolutely love it,” she said. My full-time job is teaching, but I have an opportunity to play with these two orchestras. We also have a faculty quintet, and we just released a new CD. That’s my outlet for chamber music. We do a lot of things together. We record, we travel … we’re going to Spain in a couple of weeks.

“And then I travel a lot as teaching artist. The university is a good anchor, a good platform for all of this to happen.”

“For me, Lia has always brought a centered energy full of empathy, warmth and openness to the department,” said UA colleague Er-Gene Kahng. “As a colleague, collaborator and also someone I consider a friend, such qualities are rare — as you can imagine — and undeniably contribute positively to the ‘glue’ of a relationship, professional and personal.”

Uribe also is a passionate advocate for the artistic community at large, taking care to always look for more opportunities for those of Latin American heritage.

“I’m about to release my own CD in the next month,” she said. “It’s bassoon, piano and percussion. I work a lot with Latin American composers. That’s another passion of mine. I work with composers and commission music and record them — I like to be that kind of messenger. Those bridges and connections and windows are not always easily opened for Latinx composers.”

Uribe was recently appointed to the Walton Arts Center board of directors, where, she said, she’s proud to serve an organization that has been such a huge part of her performing life here in Northwest Arkansas.

“Lia is a welcome addition to our Walton Arts Center Council as a representative of the University of Arkansas,” said Peter Lane, chief executive officer of the arts center. “We love the varied backgrounds that our board members come from, and there’s something special about having a classically trained musician serving on the board. However, I believe that Lia brings so much more to the table than that. She’s passionate about diversity and inclusion, and she really has a desire to learn more about our business. Those are all elements that will make her an invaluable resource to our staff and an engaged and active board member.”

And Uribe’s been an active participant in Artist, Inc., a professional development program for artists offered by the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

“I was a fellow in 2017 and became a facilitator this year,” she said. “It’s been such a great opportunity for getting to know what people are doing and getting to collaborate with them. Fantastic things have come out of those connections.”

Through eight seminars, the program helps artists of all stripes manage themselves as a business — something that doesn’t always come easy to creatives.

“I am making a living as an artist, and I feel very lucky,” Uribe noted. “I have a full time job that pays for my expenses. Not everyone has that. And we’re not all taught how to manage ourselves as artists — how to charge for your services, how to promote yourself. We want to change the mentality about what we do and the value behind it. It’s been very useful at the university, to relate it to my students and change their perspectives.”

“She is a beautiful musician who is constantly on the lookout for exciting and interesting new repertoire, colleagues with whom to work, venues and opportunities for performance,” UA colleague Tim Thompson summed her up. “She has been the driving force behind so many musical projects in Fayetteville, benefiting not just herself but students and colleagues as well. I’ve never worked with anyone more driven, positive or successful. In addition to all this, she is a dedicated mother, a loving friend and a fierce proponent of those with whom she works.”

Is Uribe busy? Oh, yes, she said, but advocacy and giving back — especially given her unique perspectives — are important values to her.

“Doing what I do with the community — advocacy and teaching itself — a little bit of everything is being used,” she said. “It’s fulfilling. I feel really proud to be one of the three percent of Latinx people joining boards and organizations nationally. I feel lucky to be there. And I’m not just that, of course — I’m not just a Latin American musician. I’m a classical musician, I’m an educator, a mother … it’s not my only agenda. I think that’s the beauty of it.”

Lia Uribe first started playing the bassoon as a pre-teen. Today, she’s assistant professor of bassoon at the University of Arkansas and principal bassoonist of the Symphony Orchestra of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, and a member of the Lyrique Quintette.

Courtesy photo
The Lyrique Quintette is comprised of faculty members from the University of Arkansas. “We do a lot of things together. We record, we travel … we’re going to Spain in a couple of weeks,” Lia Uribe said of her involvement. Members include (from left) Timothy Thompson, Uribe, Rhonda Mains, Theresa Delaplain and Nophachai Cholthitchanta.



What is it?

The bassoon, a double-reed instrument of the woodwind family, first gained popularity in the 1600s. The instrument is large and heavy, measuring nearly 4 feet, but would be double that size if it weren’t for the bend in the instrument that nearly halves its length. The sound of a bassoon is deep and warm and often compared to the tone of a man’s baritone voice. The bassoon player must use every finger, including thumbs, to play the instrument.

Orchestras will generally have between two and four bassoonists. The Symphony of Northwest Arkansas has three. Lia Uribe is the principal player, joined by William Bruce and Joan Chair.


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