But not, perhaps, the one you expect. Here is Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Oboe & Piano, played beautifully by Robert Walker (oboe) and Irene Kim (piano). Do you hear snippets that remind you of Robert Schumann’s work?

I have hesitated writing more about this topic, but I’ve decided I’m going to write a bit of my own story, starting from the beginning of my music making. Some of this is good, some is not so good, and some is simply horrible. Some I knew was horrible, but sometimes I was just so accepting that I thought the way a conductor treated musicians was normal and even necessary.

But let me start at the beginning.

I began my instrumental music making in elementary school, taking piano lessons every other week, sharing the early morning Saturday spot with my sister. (Prior to that, and after as well, I sang in school and church choirs. Singing was always a big deal with my family: “Happy Birthday” was sung in four part harmony at our house!) I don’t really remember much about my teacher Miss Penner, other than that she was old, kept a tissue in her sleeve (which I assumed that all OLD people did, she was nice, and she was single which was unusual in that day. Funny … odds are she was younger than I am now!), and I liked earning points so I could go into her other room to choose a prize. I played a few recitals, and I think I was nervous, but I really don’t remember. I know I didn’t learn any music theory and didn’t have a clue how a major scale was created, I just knew the fingering … 1,2,3,1,2,3,4,5 or 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 or some such thing. I had good rhythm. I knew when I played a wrong note and if I didn’t my mom would yell out “Wrong note!” (She did this with flute and oboe as well) I did fine, but wasn’t stellar. But Miss Penner was kind. I never saw her get angry. Not even once.

I started flute before beginning oboe. Mr. Kucera (sp?) went from school to school to teach us. He was a kind man. He walked with a cane and I thought he, too, was very very old. (But weren’t ALL teachers old?) I was fearful when we had to read all the notes out loud for some reason. It might be that I was too introverted and speaking out loud caused great anxiety. But he was nice. I did fine, but I suspect not as fine as my older sister who also played. After sixth grade my parents suggested oboe and I said, “Sure, what is that?”

Oboe was me. Oboe fit my idea of sound. The instrument worked with my somewhat larger hands. I loved it. I hated it. Well, mostly I hated the reeds! Immediately after moving to oboe I took music summer school and the director there was an oboist so he helped me a wee bit. Then I had a teacher come to my house for a year or so. Mrs. Kruse set me on the right path. She worked on my reeds. She was kind. She moved to Pleasanton and soon had a child on the way. (Funny: I thought she, too, was OLD. Now I realize she was certainly not old. She was just starting her family!) We drove to Pleasanton for lessons. She continued her kind ways. She rescued me many a time with reeds she would make for me. She never grew angry with me, even while I’m sure she knew when I hadn’t practiced.

While I took lessons from Mrs. Kruse, I moved on to a new piano teacher. She doesn’t need to be named. She was cold. She was certainly a better teacher, but she wasn’t someone I connected to. At that point, in junior high, my band director suggested I play the Grieg Piano Concerto with the orchestra (first movement only). I had been studying it with the piano teacher. In the key of A minor. As it was written. I still knew nothing about music theory. I mean NOTHING. So I didn’t understand why the simplified version I was playing with the school was different, but it was. I’m guessing it was a key that someone decided was better for the students. I honestly don’t know. What I DO know is that I started the opening piano solo in one key and when I got to the bottom of that opening I was in another key world, because I’d reverted to what I knew. The rest of the performance was a mess. SO much of a mess that my band director (Mr. “T”, a very kind man) told me years later he immediately erased the recording.

I walked off the stage and when my mother came to get me I said, “I’m quitting piano.” She agreed. My cold piano teacher saw me again (I don’t know why I returned) and she said, “I hear your concert didn’t go as you planned.” No words of comfort. Nothing. Just a cold cold comment. And that was it for piano.

High school was next. And that’s when things changed. Stay tuned … I’ll probably continue this tomorrow. Right now my hands are tired!