Bassoonists have a choice. They can either purchase a reed, ready to use, or invest hours on customization.
UMD senior Evelyn “Evi” Jones chooses customization. She’ll dedicate a full day to crafting a batch of 50 reeds, which lasts about two months. “Reed making is half of the battle in playing a double reed instrument,” she says, “ The other half is playing the thing!”
It’s safe to say Evi’s won the battle. When she graduates next week, Evi becomes the first person in the history of UMD to obtain a bassoon performance degree. She’s also choosing graduation to reveal a very personal transformation.
Similar to her rejection of “one size fits all” reeds, Evi is shedding a gender that didn’t fit and telling the story of her evolution from Kevin Jones, her birth name, to Evelyn Jones.
Playing through Adversity
In a middle school miscalculation, Evi couldn’t convince her music teacher to repair the school’s one and only bassoon. “They didn’t think I was someone to go on and play, so they didn’t get it fixed.”
Indeed she did want to play and was finally matched with a bassoon in ninth grade. “When I started in high school, I played three or four hours a day because I enjoyed it.” All that playing translated to much-needed muscle memory, especially important for the bassoon, a ten thumb-key instrument.
But something was amiss. At auditions Jefferson Campbell, UMD’s music department head and a bassoon player himself, could tell immediately that something was wrong.
This was the first time they’d met. Evi’s high school grades weren’t great, which meant that she wasn’t on Jefferson’s recruiting radar. “She showed up on campus without warning. She just showed up and played really well.” So well, in fact, that Jefferson was able to help Evi secure a talent exemption which garnered her acceptance to UMD.
It turns out the poor grades were due to an undiagnosed health problem, a soft palate, which led to acid reflux. It’s a condition that becomes pronounced in wind instrument musicians. Remembers Jefferson, “I knew right away because when you play, air starts to leak from your nose.”
Evi was able to get treatment and was on her way, says Jefferson. “Evi jumped in with both feet. She never hesitated. She was serious from the moment she got here that she knew what she wanted to do.”
Evi also knew who she was. It was an indelible part of her persona since childhood. But nobody else, not even her family, really understood. Up until this point, everyone knew her as him, Kevin.
“I knew ever since I was a kid, and I also knew my sexuality since I was a kid,” says Evi, but there’s a great distance between knowing and actualization.
Evi remembers telling her parents that she was gay and their response of suggesting therapy. “And I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll push that under the rug.’ She did, for years. "I didn't identify as gay until here, because that was definitely not OK." She credits UMD QASU for making her journey easier.
It's taken a bit longer for her to come out as transgender. She started going by Evelyn and living female pronouns last year, but recloseted. "There were a lot of issues with my family, they didn't really understand, but they still love and support me." Evi spent some time reflecting, affirming what she had to do. "About three months ago, I started taking hormone replacement therapy."
Again, Jefferson Campbell noticed. As someone teaching students music performance, he's mastered the art of observation. "I see her almost everyday. For me, I've been watching it happening gradually. Part of the transition, some of it's medical. It changes the chemistry, and I could see that she was having a harder time than she had to have."
This vantage point allowed Jefferson to offer advice on when Evelyn Jones should be presented to her audience. Evi wanted to enter stage left during her senior recital, but Jefferson talked her out of it, explaining, "I wanted the attention to be on the work that she did. When it comes down to it, it doesn't matter who we are, it's what we do."
"His reasoning not to do it was very sincere," says Evi. "Jefferson didn't want the audience to get their attention taken away from my music and be distracted by how I identify. To me, that means a lot. The response really showed not only how much he not only respects how I identify, but also how much he cares."
Evi has decided that graduation is the right time to make her debut. It's a decision steeped in symbolism. She exits Weber Music Hall as Kevin and steps onto the University of British Columbia stage as Evelyn, where she'll pursue her master's degree. She received a full fellowship and gives full credit to UMD's music faculty, "Our faculty could be world-renowned. They're all outstanding at teaching, performing, and being really good people."
Evi is especially appreciative of her relationship with Jefferson Campbell, and says he's the reason that she came to UMD.
Jefferson has no mixed emotions about her moving on. He tells his students that his job is to put himself out of a job, teach them everything he knows so that they don't need him anymore. His shift with Evi is over. "It's time. She's taken everything she can from UMD, and it's time for her to learn from a new group of people."
Evi is also reflective, and not just of her time at UMD. Finding the bassoon, convincing others of her calling, finding herself, convincing others of her identity. The lesson throughout, she says, is, "Don't be afraid of who you are."