Tag Archives: oboe

Elaine Douvas

Getting Off the Ground Through Music—And Staying There

Elaine Douvas fell in love with classical music as a first grader in ballet class. The “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” by Tchaikovsky made her spirit soar, and by age seven she knew she wanted to be a professional musician. She started on piano, changed to violin, and in sixth grade decided to switch to a band instrument so she could play in the school band with her friends. She endured a summer of French horn, which did not suit her, and ultimately found the oboe. “I think I chose the oboe because it was rare and I thought I’d have more opportunities—and that kind of turned out to be true,” she says. “I am so lucky I found the instrument that works for me.”

To say the oboe worked for her is an understatement. Douvas, a member of Local 802 (New York City), is an institution in the oboe world, having served as Principal Oboe of the Metropolitan Opera since 1977 and oboe instructor at The Juilliard School since 1982. She teaches in multiple schools, conservatories, seminars, and festivals across the globe and is considered one of the most influential music teachers in the US. This teaching, and the importance of education and the influence of educators on young musicians, has always been imperative to Douvas.

The “turning point” in her life was attending three years of high school at Interlochen Arts Academy. “I was only in college (at the Cleveland Institute of Music) for three years after Interlochen, and I was still heavily drawing on that high school repertoire and experience to start my first job in the Atlanta Symphony when I was 21,” she says. “I was inspired by the example set by my teachers who put so much energy and devotion into their work—it was astonishing. It truly is a sacred trust, and I hope I have inspired many students to carry on after me too. We really want the next generation to surpass us and take the standard higher than we ever imagined.”

To that end, Douvas has been full of ideas—and taking action—on making the best of the pandemic as an educator. Like so many of her colleagues in the classical music world, Douvas has been getting through the pandemic by teaching online. “I devote so much of my time to try to be sure the students aren’t becoming discouraged, that they can get through this stretch and keep pursuing their dreams,” she says. “I spend a lot of time brainstorming projects that they can do to have goals, but also to make money.”

For example, she has given several of her recent graduates ideas such as starting a “Warm-up Support Group” for those who find it hard to make themselves play every day (and charging a modest subscription fee); other students have connected by starting a Listening Study Group on a “piece of the week”: a show and tell of recorded interpretations each student has discovered and plays for the class. Several of her students have started reed-making intensives for online instruction using close-up cameras and sound tests on the reed alone.

Currently, Douvas is working to start a summer festival for woodwinds as part of the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in California and raising funds so that the festival can be free for participants.

While Douvas loves teaching, she considers her work in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to be her true profession. The current state of the Metropolitan Opera and recent events occurring from decisions made by the Opera Board have been difficult for her and all her colleagues to endure, she says. Met musicians were furloughed early last year and have not been paid since April 1, 2020—one of very few full-time orchestras in North America receiving no pay at all during the pandemic. On top of that, Met officials have been in a labor dispute with backstage workers, and on New Year’s Eve 2021 the Met hired non-Met (and therefore non-union) musicians to play its virtual NYE Gala. “These things are all very painful,” Douvas said. “I’m really proud to be part of such a great orchestra … and the players are going to hold tenaciously to all the conditions that are needed to preserve artistic integrity and our stature as a world-class ensemble.”

Douvas has been an AFM member since 1972—for 49 years—and is not only a proud member, but also discusses the benefits of the union to young musicians in a career development class she teaches at Juilliard. “Because of the union, so many orchestras have been able to negotiate a living wage and longer season, and we would be nowhere in this profession if it weren’t for the opportunity to band together and bargain as a unit,” she says. “I’m happy to contribute my union dues on whatever work I do so that the union can provide services to musicians who need it. Nowadays, I’m one of them. I’m so glad we have skillful union representatives to help us in our negotiations and our legal matters.”

Despite the pandemic and the current labor issues confronting the Met Opera, Douvas is eager to get back to playing. One of the four woodwinds in an orchestra, the oboe often is used by composers to express emotional moments in a piece. “Woodwinds all have very soloistic parts; they are heard individually,” she says. “I don’t think it’s going too far to say they are sort of the crown jewels of an orchestra; they are the ones that are heard the most.” Douvas says the oboe is an instrument perfectly suited for her because of her preference for playing long, expressive lines—rather than the more acrobatic parts for other wind instruments like flute and clarinet.

She likens her playing to another personal passion: figure skating. Douvas skated for a while as a child but gave it up in order to focus her time on practicing her musical instruments. She always regretted quitting, she says, and during the Metropolitan Opera strike of 1980, when she suddenly had a lot of free time on her hands, she took it back up. “I skated fanatically for [the next] two years,” she says, practicing four to five days a week, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to practice before going to rehearsal at the Met each day. “It was kind of crazy, but I was trying to bring back the days when music was so fun, and I tried to pretend skating was my work.” She realized she could not keep up that pace, so she pulled it back and has been skating more recreationally ever since.

The juxtaposition of skating and music, however, has been with her ever since. “A lot of my imagery in interpreting music comes from the wish to be a skater or a ballerina,” she says. “Playing the oboe, you can still get off the ground; you can still create sweep and line, and things that are high and things that are low. I see in my mind’s eye skating choreography, or ballet choreography, in a lot of the things that I work on. And there’s just nothing more important to me than getting off the ground and staying off the ground.”

The same goes for when she is a listener at a concert, and she hears music that is so uplifting that it creates a magical, almost out-of-body experience. “If I can manage to do that now and then, that’s what I’m trying for: to transport people, to feel weightless and uplifted.”

Buffet Crampon Légende Oboe

Oboe Innovation

The new Buffet Crampon Légende oboe model is complimentary to the Buffet Crampon professional oboe family for its qualities of accuracy, flexibility, centered tone, and projection. Particular attention has been paid to the acoustic quality, the harmonic spectrum, the ease of response, and depth of sound. The Légende is part of the new Buffet Crampon aesthetic concept, with pink gold-plated posts, rings, and reed receiver.


Detroit Fellowship Prepares Oboist for the Career Field

In common with many kids who start on a different instrument, Geoffrey Johnson of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) didn’t come to the oboe until after the fact. “I started on the clarinet,” he recalls, “but my teacher in middle school thought I needed more of a challenge.” Progress was rapid, helped by his environment: “Music is a big deal in Texas schools, so growing up in the Houston area, most kids were in band. It just clicked for me, and in my junior year of high school I won first oboe in the all-state competition.”

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oboe reed

European Scrape Oboe Reed

oboe reed

Légère European Scrape oboe reeds respond instantly and are ready to play straight from the box. The design allows for a warm, centered sound with ease of projection. They never need to be moistened and are available in three strengths: medium-soft, medium and medium-hard. They also are unaffected by any weather or humidity. Their ease of playing is the reason these reeds are heard in some of the most prestigious orchestras and on stages and recording studios around the world.


LA Chamber Orchestra Receives $1.5 Million to Endow Position

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) has received the largest gift in its history: a $1.5 million donation to endow the principal oboe chair. The gift comes from longtime LACO donors Carol and Warner Henry, and was made in honor of Allan Vogel of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), who served as LACO’s principal oboe for 44 years until his retirement in June 2016.

How wonderful that my dear friends Warner and Carol Henry have so generously ensured the strength of LACO’s oboe section well into the future,” says Vogel. “Music lovers and musicians in our community are truly fortunate that the Henrys are such passionate supporters. They glow with selfless appreciation of our art. I look forward to joining LACO audiences to hear each concert begin with a glorious tuning ‘A’ from LACO’s principal oboe Claire Brazeau [also of Local 47].” The Henrys’ gift will also support the performance of baroque music and LACO’s Baroque Conversations series.

Musicians of LACO are represented by Local 47.

katrina yaukey

Taking the Stage with Actor-Musician Katrina Yaukey

katrina yaukey

Actor-musician Katrina Yaukey of Local 802 (New York City) plays accordion on stage in the musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

One of the radically innovative trends in theatre music has been the emergence of the actor-musician. These multi-talented artists serve not only as musicians in the show—often playing several instruments in one evening—they are also singing, dancing, acting, and delivering dialogue. And while these shows are not the norm, they also cannot be dismissed as mere outliers anymore. Shows such as the Tony Award-winning Once and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812—which debuts on Broadway this month—were originally conceived for actor-musicians. Others are radically reinvented revivals, from Sweeney Todd to Company, and two currently-touring union revivals, Cabaret and Into the Woods.

Actor-musician Katrina Yaukey of Local 802 (New York City) naturally fits the cross-discipline niche required for Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. A double major in musical theatre and musical performance (she is a classically trained oboist), her dual-discipline preparation uniquely positioned her to seize the actor-musician moment. But she admits that her Penn State professors were left scratching their heads at her decision to pursue two very demanding disciplines at the same time.

“I had the musical theatre department saying, ‘What are you doing? Oboe is a distraction!’” notes Yaukey. “And the music department was like, ‘You’re a good oboist—why are you doing this theatre thing?’” While this mix may still seem unnatural to many in the US and Canada, Yaukey notes that in England, universities already offer majors for “actor-musos,” as they call them.

Yaukey credits her parents for stoking her early musical passion and curiosity. “From the time I could stand, I was in front of the piano,” states Yaukey, who also pursued dance at an early age. “My parents had a band, Dean’s Duo—which got renamed to The Main Event, when my brothers and sisters and I were old enough to join.” While Yaukey was initially drawn to the violin, her public school music program lacked a string department. This led her to the oboe, and an eventual music scholarship to Penn State.

While still an undergraduate at Penn State, Yaukey took an audition on a whim, during a vacation to New York City. Much to her surprise, she landed the job touring as a dancer with the first national tour of Victor/Victoria. Noting her offstage skills as an oboist, a fellow touring actor encouraged Yaukey to audition for an actor-musician role in an upcoming revival of Cabaret on Broadway.

“On a break from tour, I went home and pulled out a tape recorder. I got out my oboe … and my brother’s flute, and my sister’s sax, and I played a little piano too,” she says. She eventually landed a role in the production, playing alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, and keyboards during a four-year stint. And by the way, she also understudied the lead role of Sally Bowles. “Cabaret was the dream—the perfect mix of the two things I loved—music and acting,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I was getting to do all these things at once.”

Her next big role came in a reinvention of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, where she covered several roles playing flute, alto sax, trumpet, tuba, oboe, and piano. “I’ve always wanted to play everything—I think I got that from my parents!” she notes. With the money she was earning—working under the joint jurisdictions of Local 802 and Actors Equity—she was finally able to buy a violin and take lessons.

From here, she went on to play the role of Pirelli in the tour of Sweeney Todd, where she also played accordion, flute, and piano. Her varied career then took her to the play Warhorse and the national tour of Billy Elliot. In between gigs, she discovered a program at the Berklee College of Music that allowed her finally to finish—at the age of 40—her undergraduate degree in Music Production and Technology.

While her role in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has her playing only one instrument, the accordion, it still poses challenges. “Comet is like Cabaret taken to a whole new level,” she says. “It is very physical, like Once, requiring us to run, kick, play, and sing—often at the same time.” Comet creator Dave Malloy, a member of Local 802 and himself an actor-musician, was interested in an intimate exchange between performer and audience, with roving musicians intermingling with patrons. He created the show with many of his actor-musician friends in mind.

For Yaukey, curiosity and diversity have always been the core of her artistic passion. “It was never about being ‘the best’ for me. I didn’t want to be the best oboist, or pianist. It was more that I love all these instruments, and I love music.” Yaukey’s musical interest seems to have no limit. “I have 33 instruments underneath my piano right now, and I recently got an upright bass.”

Though she chose not to pursue the single-minded perfection of a career in oboe performance, Yaukey has no regrets. She is proof that you can do many things well in order to play—and sing, and dance, and act—your way to success.