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Home » Member Profiles » Francisco Joubert Bernard: Harnessing the Collective Power of Solidarity

Francisco Joubert Bernard: Harnessing the Collective Power of Solidarity


Between teaching, touring as second bassoon with the Louisville Orchestra, and playing with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, it’s a wonder Francisco Joubert Bernard of Local 11-637 (Louisville, KY) has time for anything else. But he is a firm believer that orchestra musicians need to take an active part in their organization’s governance.

For Joubert Bernard, the notion of becoming an orchestra musician came in high school. “Video games were the reason I first got interested in music,” he says. His grandfather, who was back in Puerto Rico, was a self-taught salsa trumpet player, and his father was a band director and trombone player with the National Guard. “I didn’t have much exposure to classical music aside from the occasional Beethoven CD my dad would play,” he remembers. “I was mostly into pop, salsa, and merengue.”

Joubert Bernard’s instrument was trumpet, and violin before that. “One day, while waiting for my violin lesson, someone passed me carrying what I later learned was a bassoon. There aren’t many bassoonists in Puerto Rico, so my first thought was, what the heck is that?” At the time, he says, he was obsessed with different instrumental sounds. “I went online, looked at pictures of instruments, and found the bassoon.”

Bassoon Obsession

“It all started with going down a rabbit hole to hear what the bassoon sounds like,” he says. “I learned how to identify it in video game music, and got a little obsessed. I looked up fingering charts, saw how hard it was, and felt like I needed to play it for the challenge.”

The next step in his bassoon obsession was trying to convince his dad to buy him one. “No surprise, they were really expensive,” he laughs. “None of the schools had one available.” Joubert Bernard took matters into his own hands with PVC pipes. “I constructed a mock bassoon and drew the keys on it with a Sharpie just to learn the fingerings.” When his dad finally noticed his fixation, Joubert Bernard made his move. He found a bassoon on eBay for a thousand bucks and promised his dad that it could count for Christmas and birthday presents for an entire year. “He took the bait—but he also made me promise to stick with the trumpet,” says Joubert Bernard.

He became the very first bassoon student in his music school, and what started as a hobby slowly took over. “The only problem was, nobody taught bassoon. I asked the woodwind teacher to teach me, even though he was a clarinetist. He agreed to try,” says Joubert Bernard.

He supplemented school lessons with online lessons from a bassoon teacher in Maryland, and watched a lot of YouTube videos, which he says were extremely helpful in getting him started. Those YouTube videos would also serve as the fuel for a project of his own later on. But, before that, there was school.

Leaving the Island

While doing his undergrad studies at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, Joubert Bernard says he understood he would have to leave home to further his studies. “I somehow knew an undergrad degree in music was not enough.” A faculty member from the states who was teaching at the conservatory offered him guidance on his next steps. “She suggested Yale for grad school—and it turned out the bassoon teacher at Yale was my undergrad teacher’s own teacher. He arranged a master class so the Yale teacher could come to Puerto Rico. I took a lesson with him, and off I went to Yale.”

Even then, he says he still wasn’t totally sure he wanted to go. “I love technology and recording. Computers and music have always been in the mix for me, along with music production. One of my grad school choices was University of Miami for a bassoon degree with a minor in audio engineering. It was hard to decide if that was for me, or if I should just dedicate myself to bassoon full time. But my teacher pointed out that not everyone gets accepted to Yale, and I should at least give it a try.”

Along with Yale, there was also a stint as a fellow with the New World Symphony in Miami. Joubert Bernard’s learning didn’t end there. “In Puerto Rico, they always sell the idea that it’s a sea full of sharks out there, so you have to step up your game. After the master’s degree, I was already thinking about my next step—but I had no idea what that was. I assumed you’d get there somehow just by studying. At Yale, I learned about what people do in the real world to get professional jobs,” he says.

Dividends of Education

He ultimately got that professional job, winning an audition for the Louisville Orchestra—but it wasn’t long before the pandemic hit. “The year after that,” he says, “we didn’t know if the orchestra was even going to have a season.” With time on his hands, Joubert Bernard went back to learning. “I took a Harvard course on web development. I’ve always been very tech-oriented. It was my first love, so I decided to start learning coding.” He took to it naturally because it tied together and complemented all his previous tech knowledge. “It has turned out to be a rewarding journey, and I still do programming and web development on the side.”

Learning has naturally progressed to teaching. Joubert Bernard says he is a true believer in education as the best investment we can make in ourselves, and the most important step we can take for others. He has taught students at the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) and NYO2, organized by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. He also teaches bassoon at the University of Louisville. “I learned from people who really believed in the power of knowledge, and I’d like to think I can also be that for other people,” he says.

In 2022, Joubert Bernard learned about the Sphinx MPower Artist Grant. “It was a competitive process, open to musicians who have either played with Sphinx or participated in one of their programs. I was a previous participant, and I knew from personal experience how their National Alliance for Audition Support program offers assistance to Black and Latinx orchestral musicians taking auditions.”

Joubert Bernard thought back to the videos he had watched when he started learning the bassoon, and how helpful they were. He submitted a grant idea for his own video project to Sphinx—and won the grant. “I had made a series of bassoon tutorials, but in Spanish, for people who don’t know English but would like to learn how to play. I needed a good camera to take it to the next level, and the grant helped me to purchase a camera to make better quality videos.”

The project, he says, ties in with his love of web development. In tandem, because he was still doing programming, he created a website where people could go to see the videos together in their proper order, along with linked resources.

A Seat at the Table

The focus on teaching others doesn’t mean Joubert Bernard has forgotten his own education. In the Louisville Orchestra, he says he has learned the importance of becoming involved in how things work. He is serving his first year on the orchestra committee and currently acts as secretary. “If I see something that’s not right, I get curious and want to know why,” he explains. “I’ve always been the type who doesn’t mind asking. My first few years in the orchestra, I never hesitated to voice my thoughts about problems that arose, as long as I had enough evidence.” He says he did this even before he had tenure. “I wasn’t afraid to speak up when I knew there were things that needed to be said.”

When committee elections came up, it was a difficult time for the musicians. The musicians had been in repeated conflict with leadership. Joubert Bernard was adamant about things that needed to change. “If you feel so strongly about the food being served, you should find out how it’s made,” he laughs. He duly got himself elected to the orchestra committee, at what he says was an opportune time.

“I believe if you want to see change, there’s no better way to do that than by getting involved and helping make that change happen.” He adds that it’s crucial to convince younger members of the orchestra to believe this as well. “Here in Louisville, we have a lot of younger musicians who already understand this. Many of them signed up to be on the orchestra committee. Some had previous experience and could bring that to the table.” The uniting goal, he says, was the common desire for positive change.

Building Solidarity

Joubert Bernard says one of the biggest transformations was the orchestra committee’s attitude towards the orchestra’s administration. “Previous relations were not great because the orchestra had been through difficult times. We’ve worked to foster an atmosphere of understanding that, at the end of the day, we’re really just talking to other people.”

He says working at a university has made him more aware of how politics can influence decisions. “Politics aside, the way you interact with people has a huge effect on the decisions they make. You have to approach others with care and with the hope that they’ll understand where you’re coming from. If you see that they’re not responding appropriately, you can certainly go back to a business mindset, but it still needs to have that element of human interaction and communication.”

Negotiation, he feels, is about an acknowledgment of mutual needs. “Both sides must understand where the other party is coming from. Negotiations are really problem-solving. Sometimes that involves compromise. In those cases, we have to be rational and level headed and sort out our priorities.” Surveys, he adds, are helpful in identifying priorities and focusing on what is most important to the musicians.

The Louisville local office, he says, has been a tremendous resource for learning about the negotiation process, especially for younger musicians serving for the first time on the orchestra committee. “The Federation’s office in New York has also been extremely helpful, onboarding newer musicians with guidance on how to read contracts,” he adds. “This has helped foster the sense of optimism among the newer orchestra members.”

Joubert Bernard is grateful for the orchestra committee’s increasingly collegial atmosphere with the locals. “One of the mistakes orchestras make is that they sometimes don’t start gathering resources and building a relationship with their local until it’s time for negotiations. You need to make those connections and build solidarity before that—not only with AFM but also with other unions in the area,” he says. “When those relationships are in place, then you’re just going to them for help if things go wrong. It encourages a more honest and stronger concept of solidarity, and we can harness that collective power way before you ever need it.”