Poor pay, strange hours, job uncertainty, reeds - there are many good reasons
for people not to take up playing the oboe as a career. So why do they do it?
Here, some professional oboists are asked how they got started, and how they got hooked.
Juliet Lewis, freelance player with the Ambache Chamber Orchestra, West End musicals, opera and ballet orchestras, and the swing band 9:20 De-Luxe:
"I had known for a long time about the oboe (my parents took me to concerts and ballet), but I really only chose it at school because I could see everyone else was choosing flutes and clarinets, and I wanted to be different.
"But I soon got keen. It makes me cringe now to remember it, but I once took my plastic school oboe to a performance of Swan Lake and put it under my seat, so it could get an idea of the tunes it would have to play!"
Christopher Hooker has performed with all the major London orchestras, and was for many years Principal Oboe of the City of London Sinfonia:
"At my school it was important to be good at something. My specialist skill was boxing - I seemed to be able to beat my fellow pupils - until I noticed that I was being pitted more and more often against boys with longer arms. So I opted for the oboe - it's preferable because you have something to show for the pain!
"The breakthrough for me was one of the pieces on the CD, the Handel Adagio. It was in playing this piece that I 'got' the power of music, and realised that the oboe was something I could use to express myself."
Joe Sanders, oboist with London Musici and other groups, teacher and writer of the Alexander Technique for musicians:
"I can't remember when I wanted to play the oboe, but I can remember when I decided to be a professional. I'd played the oboe at school, but was reading Modern Languages at Cambridge University, with the idea of going into the Diplomatic Service.
"Then one day I suddenly realised that I didn't want that kind of life, I wanted to play the oboe instead. I asked a friend who was a professional, and he told me that it was a risky and competitive life with not much money - so I decided to go for it!"
Gareth Hulse has played principal oboe with the major London orchestras, the Nash Ensemble and the London Sinfonietta:
"I started the oboe on the toss of a coin. Literally. I was 11 years old and I wanted to play an orchestral instrument. I didn't like the sound the violin made, and my parents said no to a brass instrument - too loud. So that meant woodwind.
"There were two wind instruments in the school cupboard, an oboe and a bassoon, and two of us wanting to play something. So we flipped a coin. I won, and I picked the oboe because it was easier to carry."
George Caird is the soloist on the Oboe Classics CD 'An English Renaissance', and Principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire:
"Léon Gossens, who inspired the pieces on my CD, was a great influence. I remember my mother getting me, age 10, to listen to him on the radio. But I actually think it was one note from him that really got me started on the oboe.
"It was the first note of the Albinoni B flat Concerto - a B flat - in Oxford Town Hall. That note went right through me, it was an intoxicating sound; bright, slightly nasal, but full of singing. Not svelte, it was like champagne. One note did it; maybe I was an addict waiting to be hooked!"
Helen McQueen plays oboe and cor anglais with the major London orchestras and is a member of the City of London Sinfonia:
"When I was about 9, my mother took me to the St Matthew Passion in Manchester Cathedral. It's a long piece for a nine-year-old, but she was in the choir - maybe she couldn't find a babysitter.
"When it got to the oboe solo in I would beside my Lord I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and I wanted to do that myself. After the concert, I went round and met the oboist, and she said to me 'choose something without a reed, dear'. Some days I wish I had taken her advice!"
Are you a professional oboist with an interesting or amusing story to tell as to how you got started? Send it to me, Jeremy Polmear, at firstname.lastname@example.org together with a JPEG photo and a brief description of where you play, and I'll add you to this page.
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