Report: John Mack Oboe Camp, 2012

You know you are at oboe camp when the rules include “no crowing reeds before 7:30 a.m.”

I’m back from the John Mack Oboe Camp, held every June at the Wildacres Retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. The camp has been an institution for over 30 years, and has been carried on by Mr. Mack’s students since his passing in 2006.

The JMOC is a a week of intensive oboe study. Most of the 60 or so attendees were motivated undergraduate and graduate oboe students, plus a handful of us in the “30+” category and a smattering of talented teenagers. There is an application but no audition; ability levels ranged from enthusiastic amateur to professional.

It’s possible to enroll as an auditor, but most attendees participated in masterclasses, performing a Barret or Ferling etude and an orchestral excerpt over the course of the week and getting coaching from the camp’s distinguished faculty (I got to do Barret melody no. 40 and the second movement of the Brahms violin concerto, with coaching from Martin Hebert and Linda Strommen).

A typical day included morning masterclasses, afternoon workshops or free time, evening masterclasses, and late night snacking and socializing. Other events included a faculty recital, ad-hoc chamber music rehearsals, free oboe adjustments and repairs by John Symer, shopping in the RDG Woodwinds mini-store, a mass oboe choir, and reed evaluation/advice sessions with the faculty.

The spirit of John Mack was very much present during the week, with the faculty (all Mack protégés) making a point to share wisdom and stories from their studies with him: “As ‘our teacher’ would say…” Having the camp taught by all Mack students gave a nice continuity and unity of message to the masterclasses.

The week wasn’t all business, though—Wildacres is a paradise with gorgeous mountain vistas, fresh air, deliciously mild summer weather, comfortable lodges, and outdoor activities. It’s also a haven for the arts, that hosts many arts-related camps every year (including several woodwind-related ones). Every space at Wildacres is filled with sculpture, paintings, photography, poetry, and other evidence of the inspiration generations of visitors have found there. There are instructional spaces and a nice little auditorium. The dining hall serves three hearty family-style meals a day, with vegetarian options and other special accommodations available. Internet access and cellular service are spotty at best, but Wildacres spins this as a feature: unplug, relax, and enjoy the here and now.

I found my fellow campers to be happy, relaxed, supportive, and friendly. The makeshift “reed room” in the main lodge was usually packed, with more experienced reedmakers happy to offer advice.

The JMOC is a surprisingly good value, as tuition costs less than a week’s hotel stay, but includes lodging, meals, and extensive educational opportunities.

Highly recommended!

Required recordings, fall 2009

I’m requiring each of my applied students at Delta State to purchase a recording of their instrument this semester as a sort of textbook. A number of them have confessed to me that this will be the first such recording they will own. I plan to require a different recording for each instrument each semester, so that, over the course of several semesters of study, the students will begin to build their personal libraries of great players playing great literature.

The purpose of this, of course, is to help the students develop good aural concepts of tone, phrasing, expression, vibrato, ensemble, and so forth. To try to learn to play an instrument well without a solid aural concept is like trying to learn a foreign language from a textbook. You might pick up a few things, but you’ll be sunk unless you get to really hear—over and over—how the words and phrases sound.

Here are the recordings I’ve selected for this semester. They are recordings of some of the most admired and relatively current performers (all are actively performing except for the late, great Mr. Mack), performing core solo literature. There’s no flute recording because I’m only teaching reeds, but maybe something like this would have been a good choice.

Oboe: John Mack, Oboe

John Mack, Oboe

Repertoire: Schumann Three Romances, Saint-Saëns Sonata, Hindemith Sonata, Poulenc Sonata, short pieces by Murgier, Berghmans, Planel, and Barraud.

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