Humans of the MET: Toni Lipton

by Katherine Anderson, violist

Toni Lipton retired as contrabassoonist of the MET Orchestra in 2008, having held that position since 1979. In short order, she was confronted with a very important question: What does one do after a career spent in the pit? The answer, it turns out, involves the American Southwest, weightlifting, and a bit of bassoon.

Katherine Anderson: When you retired, why did you and your husband, Scott, choose to move to Santa Fe?

Toni Lipton: We were looking for a place that had all four seasons, an intellectual and artistic community, and a place we could afford. The perk is that it's incredibly beautiful. Scott is the mountain person. I really don't get outdoors as much as I'd like, but we try to fit in a hike every Saturday. I'm really not a desert Southwest person. I'm a coastal person and I really miss the ocean!

KA: Was it important to you to be involved in the artistic community in Santa Fe?

TL: Yes! When I contemplated retiring, I remember the older women artists on my block in Brooklyn - these people saved the neighborhood. Knowing these wonderful people inspired me and made me realize how important it is to stay creative as you get older. They were very bright and involved and I knew I needed to stay active and creative like that. In Santa Fe, there is a place called Santa Fe Clay...a wonderful place. When we first moved to New Mexico, I went there and got very involved in ceramics. That is what pictured I'd be doing in my retirement.

KA: Was playing the bassoon part of your retirement plan?

TL: No, I really didn't expect that I'd continue playing at all! But the music world is small and word got out that I was here, and before I knew it, I got drafted to play in several chamber music and orchestral projects. One thing is for sure: there is no shortage of great musicians in Santa Fe!

KA: Toni, I've heard through the grapevine that you are an incredible weightlifter! How did you become interested in that sport?

TL: Well, it started because people had recommended this bizarre old gym to me in Santa Fe, so I went and visited. In one part of the gym, lots of women were doing Olympic-style weightlifting. There were amazing women of all ages doing these incredible athletic feats. I said, “Wow, I want to do what they're doing!"

It turns out that the guy who owned the gym had been a coach for weightlifting teams that participated in the Olympics. I discovered that it was a really great community of people here: doctors, scientists, artists...interesting people. A few years after I started the training, our women’s team was going to the National Masters Weightlifting Competition and they needed one more woman. So I was asked to join the team and, lo and behold, we won, and we were a very tiny team competing against much bigger teams. It was pretty exciting!

Interestingly, when I started weightlifting, six years ago, it wasn't very popular, but now because of Crossfit, it's become really popular. The gym is full of people doing this. For me, I just thought it was such an interesting sport...it's so technical and it feels great to be strong and to stay strong as you get older, especially as a woman. It's also such a good, strong, close-knit community.

KA: Your life sounds so rich and rewarding! Is there anything you miss since you left New York?

TL: My friends and neighbors in Brooklyn, the camaraderie and wonderful friends at the Met, and, believe it or not, I miss the subway! I hate having to get in the car all the time. I really enjoyed my subway rides and that's where I did a lot of reading. There's really no place quite like NYC!

KA: Do you have any favorite memories or stories to share from your years at the Met?

TL: Without a doubt, my favorite memory was when we were on tour in Japan. We were in Kobe and I took a hike with a bunch of friends in the Met viola section and we ended up being chased by wild boars!

KA: Well I was on that hike and I agree, that is one of my favorite memories as well! We really miss you, Toni - it's been wonderful to catch up and hear about your life after the Met!