John Steinmetz

bassoonist, composer, writer, satirist, speaker



"I suppose what drew me into music was its effect on me, as well as the fun of riding music's changing energies with other people. I kept tinkering with both performing and composing, trying out different styles, different formats, different roles, different attitudes, different jobs.

"Meanwhile, a lifelong curiosity about how people learn things has kept me involved with education. From my hatred of meetings sprang explorations of ways to make meetings more productive and enjoyable. Through it all I indulged my love of hearing people laugh.

"I have pursued all of these things, and the rest of my life, without big plans in mind, using an approach called 'groping and blundering.' Only through looking back can I see what I'm up to." —John Steinmetz


For decades John Steinmetz was a worker bee bassoonist in the great musical hive of Los Angeles. He played chamber music with XTET and Camerata Pacifica, he appeared with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Bach Festival, and he contributed bassoon sounds to movie and television soundtracks. (You might actually be able to hear him on "Synecdoche, New York" or "Far From Heaven.") He was a regular participant in the Oregon Bach Festival and a frequent guest faculty member at the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, where he still coaches in some summers. He performed at the Skaneateles Festival, the Moab Festival, and the Chamber Music Conference and Composers Forum of the East. He made three tours of Spain with the Bill Douglas Trio (one of those bassoon-oriented jazz-funk-Latin-Renaissance-Afro-Irish ensembles), he premiered Donald Crockett's Extant for bassoon and chamber ensemble with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and recorded the piece with XTET, and he premiered his own Concerto for bassoon and orchestra with the Santa Rosa Symphony. He teaches bassoon and other things at UCLA.


By now John's music has been released on more than fifteen recordings from various artists and groups. His Quintet appears on CDs from the Borealis Wind Quintet (Helicon HE 1030), the Camerata Quintet (Crystal CD756), and Mill Ave Chamber Players. His Etude No. 5 can be heard on "Bassoon Images" by bassoonist Benjamin Coelho (Albany Records TROY 608). His Sonata for bassoon and piano has been recorded by Michael Burns and Inara Zandmane (Mark Masters 8084).

One and Many, which features children and guest musicians performing alongside a professional ensemble (including sections composed by the children), was featured by the Apple Hill Chamber Players on their "Playing for Peace" tours in the Middle East and Northern Ireland. Mixed Blessings and War Scrap were commissioned by the innovative Los Angeles series Pacific Serenades. Prairie Blessings combines a solo bassoon with a computer, electronics, and slides of unplowed Illinois prairie. His sextet Simple Pleasures was commissioned by the South Bay Chamber Music Society to commemorate their 40th anniversary in 2003, a month before the first performances of his new Concerto for bassoon and orchestra, commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Keene Chamber Orchestra (NH), and the Santa Rosa Symphony. In 2009 the Amman Symphony Orchestra in Jordan premiered his Together for orchestra, beginning string players, and guest musicians playing local music (in this case, playing the traditional Arabic instruments oud and qanun).

John has also written comic pieces that poke fun at the concert ritual and other human foibles. In Possessed a solo cellist speaks the thoughts that run through a performer's mind during a concert. The Creation of the World for solo bass covers the whole of history with music, a beach ball, a headlamp, and individually-wrapped cheese slices. What's Your Musical I.Q. (A Quiz) combines musical examples and test questions to parody music appreciation classes, standardized tests, and magazine quizzes.


John's work in education follows two general directions: helping listeners understand and enjoy music, and exploring ways to foster learning in any field—particularly learning that encourages both independent thinking and awareness of interdependence.

John has helped to design new concert formats for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Oregon BachFestival, Skaneateles Festival, Pacific Classical Winds, and XTET. He has given preconcert lectures at the Oregon Bach Festival and the Chamber Music Festival of the East. His week-long residency at the University of Oklahoma was called "Enlivening Live Music." He has been a featured speaker at the national conventions of Americans for the Arts, Chamber Music America, and the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy.

As Artist in Residence for two years at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, John facilitated design teams of community members, parents, staff, and faculty to create new kinds of concert events and innovative enhancements for administration and teaching. (His paper about those projects, "Creative Teamwork," describes using artists' methods for organizational problem-solving.)

During the 1980s and '90s, John worked with computer scientists at Atari, Apple, and Disney Imagineering, consulting on projects for Alan Kay, one of the inventors of personal computing. While computer scientists developed new software for enduser programming and tested it with children and their teachers, John explored the effects of new and old technologies on learning and expression. He composed pieces involving computers, he programmed software for classroom use, and he researched creative thinking in classrooms with education researcher Doreen Nelson. He wrote about learning environments and about the possibilities and pitfalls of computer use in classrooms (see "Computers & Squeak as Environments for Learning." This is a PFD file--it requires Adobe Acrobat reader.)

John has served on the boards of Monday Evening Concerts, Renaissance Arts Academy, Pasadena Waldorf School, and the Design-Based Learning Laboratory at Art Center College of Design. He is a past board member of Chamber Music America.

He teaches at UCLA.


Since its first publication in 1993 in the NARAS Journal, John's essay about music and society, "Resuscitating Art Music," has circulated widely among musicians, teachers, administrators, and other music-lovers. It has been reprinted and excerpted in other journals, magazines, arts handbooks, and concert programs. John's booklet "How to Enjoy a Live Concert" is published by Naxos Records. John also created and edited Music for Kids  for Naxos, a book and recordings for children, with folk songs, dances, music from around the world, musical projects, and narrated introductions to aspects of music. His article "Music for All" appeared in the Journal of the Music Teachers National Association. Other articles have appeared in Chamber Music and The Double Reed. He also has written satire and comic fiction, including adventures of the superhero musician Sideman.


John has facilitated meetings, workshops, board retreats, and project teams for the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, Claremont Community School of Music, National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, Chamber Music America, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, University of Oklahoma, Long Beach Symphony, the Lilly Conference on Teaching, the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy, Chamber Music Conference and Composers Forum of the East, Network of Music Career Center Directors, Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto), California Institute of the Arts, International Double Reed Society, and Valley Chamber Musicians (Phoenix).

He has used Open Space Technology (a strategy for self-organized meetings) Cafe Conversations, and other approaches, some of them described in his paper "Creative Teamwork."


John lives in Altadena, California with his wife, violist Kazi Pitelka, and various vegetables, flowers, and fruit trees.

Born in Oakland, California in 1951, he grew up in Fresno, moving to southern California to attend California Institute of the Arts. Afterward he got swept into Los Angeles' freelance whirlpool.

For more on John's background, influences, and attitudes, see the Bassoon Concerto Interview by Carole McEdwards.

He has enjoyed travel. He hikes when he can. He takes photographs of nature's beauty, urban landscapes, amusing signs, his wife's garden, and his family. He loves to hear people laugh. He frequently writes about himself in the third person. [Web editor's note: We could find no example of this in his writings.]