Burnaby bassoonist plays it forward

Isaac Bull is a Burnaby bassoonist who is trying to raise $35,000 to buy instruments, music and supplies for a youth orchestra in the Philippines. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Isaac Bull is a Burnaby bassoonist who is trying to raise $35,000 to buy instruments, music and supplies for a youth orchestra in the Philippines.

A Burnaby musician who got a break when he was young that helped fire his musical ambitions is hoping to give similar opportunities to aspiring bassoonists in the Philippines.

Isaac Bull, a professional basoonist, has just launched a fundraising campaign on the crowd sourcing website Indiegogo to raise money to buy instruments, supplies, music books and ongoing professional lessons for members of the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth.

The orchestra is comprised of 90-100 young people, aged 12-18, who are handpicked from various ensembles around the Philippines. Many of them are from underprivileged families and travel into Manila at least one day a week for a full onslaught of lessons, practices and performances.

The orchestra was founded in 2012 by Filipino pianist Jose Antonio Abreu. Bull, whose wife is from the Philippines, is a close friend of one of the orchestra's major supporters, Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz.

On a recent visit Bull, who plays on a freelance basis in such groups at the Vancouver Symphony and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, was able to attend the office building in Manila where the youth orchestra is headquartered. He coached some of the young musicians. He brought them a fistful of handmade reeds. He saw the possibility of doing even more.

The experience, Bull said, reminded him of a kind, guiding hand he got from a bassoonist in the New Westminster Symphony named Paul Woods when he attended a concert with his brother many years ago.

Woods let Bull play his giant contrabass bassoon, handed him some of his own reeds.

Bull, who was just beginning to learn how to play the bassoon himself, was so impressed he convinced his parents he should take lessons from his new hero even though it meant a long, arduous trip from their New Westminster home to Vancouver's West Side.

Bull went on to study music at UBC and he's played professionally for 25 years in addition to his steady job as a para-legal.

Bull said he was struck by the dedication and focus of the young Filipino musicians. Their instruments are of inferior quality, and there aren't enough of them. The orchestra, which is supported by corporate sponsorship and donations, can't afford insurance for the instruments, so the kids can't take them home to hone their skills. Supplies like reeds, mouthpieces and even supportive straps are lacking.

"It's hard when you're playing a new instrument just once a week," said Bull. "It really slows down the learning process."

That's especially true for the bassoon, a complex and expensive instrument. Bull said a new, quality bassoon can cost 200,000 pesos in the Philippines. But the average family is lucky to earn 10,000 pesos a year.

So when Bull recently returned from his month-long visit, he set out to raise $35,000 to help his new musical friends and proteges out.

Bull's got less than 60 days to fulfill his Indiegogo campaign that just launched on Sunday, but he hopes he'll be able to make a difference.

"Here kids have so much on their plate," said Bull. "But over there they've made the choice. They're making some sacrifices but they've decided they're worth making. It's heartwarming."

To learn more about Bull's fundraising campaign, or to contribute, go to


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