SPCO bassoonist Carole Mason Smith retires after 40 seasons

Bassoonist Carole Mason Smith will retire at the end of the current season after forty concert seasons with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. That’s thousands of performances throughout the Twin Cities, several tours across the world, many meaningful friendships, and countless memories. 

“What it represents, when you add it all together, is a tremendous legacy of a commitment to the art form and a commitment to the community,” said Managing Director and President Jon Limbacher. 

“I count myself very fortunate for being able to make a living as a musician,” said Carole. “I just took a chance at making a career out of it, and it worked out!”  

Carole’s dedication to music started early on thanks to the passion and support of her elementary school band director, who encouraged her to take up the bassoon. “I was just happy to not have to share a music stand with anyone after that,” she recalled with a laugh. Carole quickly became enamored with the instrument and flourished among the woodwinds. 

“When you have a good teacher with such a deep love of music, it is just profound,” Carole said. “My band director Carl Karoub, who I am still in touch with, was a French horn player in the Toledo Symphony. He played alongside my brother Jim who was a bassoonist, so [Carl] knew I had access to good reeds. Jim was 17 years older than me, so I got to see what it took to be a bassoonist, which also helped me grow with it. Since I grew up listening to him, we had a similar approach.” 

Carole went on to perform next to her brother in the Toledo Symphony for two seasons, as well as in the Columbus Symphony for three seasons, before making her way to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra as one of Pinchas Zukerman’s first hires. International tours and playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert symphonies under Zukerman’s direction are among her most cherished SPCO memories. 

Trumpet player Lynn Erickson reflected on Carole’s contributions to the SPCO: “Carole is fun and savvy and smart and thoughtful. She’s a great bassoon player. I don’t know how we are going to replace her. She is sort of the base of our wind section.” 

Cellist Joshua Koestenbaum added, “Carole is an old and dear friend. We joined at the same time in 1980. She’s someone who’s always there for you.” 

“What it represents, when you add it all together, is a tremendous legacy of a commitment to the art form and a commitment to the community.”

—Jon Limbacher, Managing Director and President

“Carole is an amazing artist,” said Limbacher. “She has also been, throughout her time in the orchestra, a leader in the orchestra. She’s been a passionate and selfless advocate for her colleagues in the orchestra … We will miss Carole as a musician without question … Carole is always going to be a valued, cherished member of the SPCO family.” 

To kick off her retirement, Carole looks forward to post-pandemic adventures including meeting her granddaughter in Australia and revisiting countries she toured with the SPCO — this time with her husband. In the meantime, one thing is certain: “I will not miss making my own reeds!”