"I saw this very tall girl playing this instrument," Winstead recalled with a chuckle. "I think it was just the unusualness of it, or maybe I liked the way it sounded. But I was just obsessed from that moment on."
That instant, though unexpected, proved to be a pivotal one for Winstead, and just the next in his lifelong infatuation with all things musical. The western Kentucky native recounted how, from his earliest memories, music was in his blood. His mother—a piano teacher—first recognized his interest at age three and began teaching him herself. By age five, he was writing music of his own.
"I was obviously predestined in some way to be a musician," he said. "There was never really another thought about it."
Throughout the ensuing years, including undergraduate studies at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music and graduate work at West Virginia University, the "natural" began to carve out what would become a multidimensional musical career. He mastered multiple instruments, composition and music theory, and during his graduate assistantship at WVU, Winstead discovered his affinity for another facet of music: teaching.
Soon he found himself leading a triple life – of performing artist, composer and educator. He went on to teach an array of subjects at Indiana-Purdue University, Florida State University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony performed world premieres of his works. Simultaneously, he flourished as a performer, with engagements at the Marlboro Music Festival (Vermont), Aspen Music Festival, Spoleto (Italy) Festival of Two Worlds, and the Sarasota Music Festival, to name a few. Successful guest appearances with the Cincinnati Symphony led to an invitation to join the orchestra full-time in 1987. Two years later, Robert Werner, former dean of CCM, recruited Winstead to the college’s faculty.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Winstead shows no signs of slowing, invigorated by the opportunities before him. He continues to receive critical nods for his performances, and he has spearheaded dramatic growth in CCM’s bassoon program. Budding young artists clamor to work with him not only due to his status as an accomplished performing artist, but also because of his reputation as a skillful and sensitive teacher. According to his division head David Adams, "[He] is considered one of the finest bassoon pedagogues in the nation. Acceptance into his teaching studio is highly competitive."
|Williams Winstead working with a bassoon student.|
His years in the professional music world have no doubt shaped his exacting, yet practical approach to teaching, and masters student James Massol is one of many who has benefited from it first-hand. "Mr. Winstead works miracles," he explained. "I have seen so many struggling bassoonists come here, like myself, who need serious help to learn how to play. Instead of rattling off a discouraging list of deficiencies, he brings up each issue in turn. The student never has more work than he can handle."
"His students prize him ... for his intense devotion to their individual musical development," added CCM alumnus Adam Schwalje, now a bassoonist with the Macau Orchestra in China. "He works tirelessly, is able to teach with both minute detail and overarching concept, and brings out the best in his students with his obvious passion for their success."
Winstead is proud of his achievements both onstage and in the classroom, citing his enduring excitement for music as his catalyst. And perhaps, he thinks, he’s received a nudge or two from that that same hand of fate that launched him on his artistic pathway to begin with.
"I can see that it was all set up somewhere in advance for me," he said. "My opportunities were just lying in wait all along."