Young Bassoonist Busking for School Money -- With Help From a Pro

Kai Rocke has a full scholarship but is busking to make money for room and board

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A Woodbridge teen is out on a classical mission. Kai Rocke will be raising money for college this weekend in a unique way. He's joining up with a member of the National Symphony Orchestra to bring a different kind of harmony to the streets of D.C. Northern Virginia Bureau reporter David Culver found out what drives this "busking bassoonist." (Published Friday, Jul 19, 2013)

    A Woodbridge teen and a member of the National Symphony Orchestra are on a classical mission.

    If you haven't heard them already, you might catch them this weekend bringing a sweet harmony to the streets of D.C.

    It's not what you expect to see when you're walking out of the Metro: a pair of busking bassoonists.

    "Look, it's an oboe!" jokes Kai Rocke, 18. "No! This is a bassoon... They're closely related."

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    Rocke is used to explaining his passion to those passing by. "They probably think, 'Oh some street guy. Oh that's a weird instrument. What is he doing?' And then they read the sign."

    Propped up on an open case, the sign explains why Rocke is out sweating in 90-plus degrees and still performing. "I have to raise money to fund myself for the next few years," he said.

    Rocke graduated from Woodbridge Senior High School in Virginia last month, and this fall, he's headed to the prestigious New England Conservatory. He has a full scholarship -- but is facing a shortfall for room and board, plus a new instrument.

    "It's not cheap at all," he said.

    Rocke's mom says music is in their blood. She played the violin; Kai's dad played the drums.

    And now he's gained another supporter, Sue Heineman, principal bassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra -- who, outside the Metro, has a sign placed right next to his.

    "She's awesome. I love her to death," Rocke said.

    Heineman is teaching Rocke this summer at the NSO's Summer Music Institute. She came up with the idea of busking to start him on his way. He's able to pay for his expenses in installments, which should help make it easier.

    "...My idea with the busking was... if it worked (which it has!), he could go out on his own or with friends to start to chip away at these huge numbers," Heineman said.

    "It's fun for me to play with Kai," she said. "He's a very natural player and I learn a lot just listening to him."

    But her lessons go beyond music.

    "I talk to Kai about the realities of the situation... Just because he's talented and eager and hungry, and got into a top school -- it's a game of numbers, and it could be a tough road," she said.

    Rocke takes it to heart.

    "The next level for me is going to conservatory and studying as hard as I can, to get as good as I possibly can, and hopefully win jobs performing in orchestras," he said.

    But more than that, he says that ultimately, he wants to give back, the way Heineman has given to him.

    You can catch the duo performing around the district the weekend of July 20-21. They're planning to hit several spots, and you can find their location in real time via Heineman's Twitter account: @sueheineman1. Rocke is also collecting donations online.