By Sydney Schwichtenberg
Taylor Gambill runs to his car in the Timberdell parking lot with a black gig bag in tow.
Inside, Gambill’s prized possession, his bassoon, waits to be played in front of hundreds, joined by the OU Symphony Orchestra. Gambill works as a graduate teaching assistant in OU’s music department, through his job he earns the opportunity to perform.
Gambill, dressed in a black suit and tie, combs his hair back for the event. He unlocks his 2000 Lexus, a car he has driven since he earned his license at 16 years old.
In bold print, his license plate reads, “BASSOON.”
“I did have to wait for someone to die to get that,” Gambill said. “It took two years, but I got it.”
Music can be found anywhere in Taylor Gambill’s life, from the years spent in his middle school band, to his current position as a teaching assistant to music students, and to his satanic beliefs.
Gambill, an Arkansas native, spent most of his life running away from the Bible Belt.
“One of my brothers is an accountant and the other is a dentist,” Gambill said. “I’m a satanist.”
As an 18-year-old, Gambill attended his first satanic ritual ten minutes outside of his hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. In a rented-out gymnasium, Gambill, dressed in a black robe, stood in a circle of men and women as they surrounded a makeshift altar.
In his hand, Gambill held a glass of wine.
“It was box wine,” Gambill said. “It was all going to waste anyway, so the price didn’t matter.”
In front of him, three naked bodies of willing participants danced together. Gambill, along with the strangers around him, threw gallons of wine over tangled, bare limbs at the word of the priestess.
Inside the Reynolds Performing Arts Center, Gambill’s closet-sized office sets on the third floor. When Gambill stretches out his arms, his fingers scrape either side of the wall. Dressed in a flannel and cargo shorts, Gambill fails to resemble what most would imagine as a practicing satanist.
Each day, Gambill spends at least three hours inside of the tiny, sound-proofed office practicing his bassoon, a woodwind instrument. Since middle school, he dedicated thousands of hours to his music.
“People don’t start out on the bassoon, they’re switched to bassoon,” Gambill said. “It’s sort of a complicated instrument and not many people play it. My band director asked three of us to try out the bassoon, I’m the only one who kept going.”
Gambill grew up in a Pentecostal home located in what he describes as “the middle of nowhere.”
“Lots of rice fields, mosquitoes and mud,” Gambill said. “That’s pretty much where I come from.”
After high school graduation, Gambill stayed close to home. A ten-minute drive from his hometown of 75,000, Arkansas State University was Gambill’s first steps into his professional bassoon career.
“I picked a very specific field and it just lucked out,” Gambill said. “I just so happened to be lucky enough to live right next to a really big reed nerd.”
Back in Jonesboro, Dale Clark, a bassoon professor at ASU, grew Arundo donax, a type of cane, in his backyard. Through years of perfecting his craft, Clark created a small business of reed-making.
Arundo donax is the cane used to make the mouthpiece for the bassoon. According to Gambill, the bassoon is not like most woodwind instruments. Instead, it requires a skilled hand and multiple hours of work to create the mouthpiece.
Clark saw Gambill as a rising star in the bassoon world.
“Taylor took any suggestions I made and tried to make it work,” Clark said. “He was very easy to teach. This didn’t mean that he had no initiative. Taylor is a very creative thinker.”
Gambill’s bassoon lessons with Clark started when he was 14 years old, but as a junior in high school, he realized he wanted to learn Clark’s reed-making craft.
“I would go to his house after school and make reeds for him,” Gambill said. “I wasn’t good enough to work for his company until I was a freshman in college.”
Creating reeds for the bassoon is tedious work, but required for playing the instrument. According to Gambill, Reed-making is a practice career bassoonists must learn, unless they would rather buy expensive reeds.
“I spend fourteen hours a week [making reeds],” Gambill said. “It takes a lot of time. That’s why people don’t do it.”
Through years of crafting, Gambill’s reed-making is what earned him his graduate position at the University of Oklahoma. But, according to Gambill, the process is much different.
“Here, at Oklahoma, I buy tubes of cane,” Gambill said. “In Arkansas, [Clark] had a field specifically planted to get our own cane from. That’s the only cane field I’ve heard of in America.”
As Gambill’s talent with the bassoon grew, so did his curiosities about religion and belief.
“I went to church about three times a week growing up,” Gambill said. “I saw a lot of things happen. They’re very intense people, getting filled with the Holy Spirit and having outer body experiences. I would witness this with my eyes weekly, but in the seventh grade, I was sorta like, I’m going to church, doing the same thing these people are doing every week, but I don’t feel what they feel.”
Because of his disconnect with the Pentecostal church, Gambill questioned what he truly believed in by researching.
“First I started with what I could find at the library, which was ‘Buddhism for Dummies,’” Gambill said. “Then I found the Vedas from Hindu text, and so on and so forth with other religions. Just enough to get acquainted with them, and just sorta of figured out in my own head, that they’re all doing the same thing, convincing themselves of things to explain what they can’t explain with science.”
According to Victoria Pulliam, Gambill’s fiancee and a substitute teacher in Norman and Moore, Gambill’s nonconforming lifestyle is what attracted her.
“Taylor allows his mind to wander, to think, and to question in an intelligent way,” Pulliam said. “I love how he was interested in wanting to learn how all religions worked and intertwined.”
Gambill’s curiosity is what spurned his interest in LeVeyan Satanism, the only religion he thought grasped his beliefs.
“I’m a big fan of satanism,” Gambill said. “The reason why we’ve chosen Satan as our image is because he’s kind of the perfect human. He embodies all of the natural qualities humans try to elevate themselves above.”
According to Gambill, contrary to the title of satanism, most satanists fail to believe in a spiritual or supernatural world.
“That’s the point of this whole religion,” Gambill said. “It should be scary, but it’s not– because it’s just a story.”
As a teenager, Gambill was inspired by the satanic movement in black metal music.
“Going to a black metal concert looks like a black cathedral,” Gambill said. “The candles, the chanting, the sage.”
Experiences like this are what tied Gambill’s love for music and his beliefs together. He found a religion which celebrated music, a skill he has loved since middle school and a career he plans to last his entire life.
“I would say music as a whole is one big ode to Satan,” Gambill said.