“Everything is nebulous and time is fake,” oboist Gwen Goble said when asked about her 344th day at home since Oberlin Conservatory shut down due to the pandemic. Though the Northeastern Ohio school has allowed students to return to campus since last August, Goble opted to stay home and continue her studies remotely for both the fall and spring semesters.
In her third year at the conservatory, Goble’s primary focus this spring has been on preparing her junior recital, which streams live on Saturday, March 6 at 4:30 pm EST. A native of Keller, Texas, Goble is commemorating her tenth year of playing with an unaccompanied program — including a diverse array of composers, ranging from C.P.E. Bach to Jenni Brandon.
Without the conservatory’s live streaming equipment at her disposal, Goble has been forced to adapt. Since performing on Zoom in her living room doesn’t hold up in terms of audio and video quality, she introduced a Blue Snowball Microphone, Logitech Webcam, and Ethernet cable to her technological team.
Goble’s biggest concern for her recital is endurance — playing the oboe for 40 minutes straight is no simple task. But after concluding our interview, Goble played through her program flawlessly, demonstrating incredible control over her range and vocal-like phrases, down to the last second of the set.
Goble noted how sick of the standard repertoire she was — she wanted to diversify her program while also avoiding the need for a pianist. As a result, she will open with Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for Oboe, and move on to Jenni Brandon’s 2019 Wood Song. The composer explained that the piece is inspired by Sara Teasdale’s poem of the same name. Using the image of a wood thrush, it celebrates the beauty and simplicity of life, despite its many flaws. Musically, the oboe wonderfully illustrates the sounds and journeys of the bird.
To follow, Goble segues to the English horn solo from the third act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. She then switches back to oboe for C.P.E. Bach’s Oboe Sonata in G minor, and concludes with Ross Edwards’ Ulpirra. Literally translating as “pipe” or “flute,” the 1993 work was commissioned by Australian recorder player Jo Dudley. Written for any treble instrument, the piece is vivacious and invigorating, making it the perfect closer.
In addition to preparing her recital, the concept of online lessons has been a challenge for Goble this past year. Her oboe teacher, Robert Walters, has her record and listen to her lesson repertoire as well as make her own comments on her playing. While itching to play in-person again, Goble appreciates this different approach to her lessons because it has forced her to listen to herself more and notice new things about her playing.
The strangest part about her lessons, she says, is working on reeds. She has weekly reed making sessions with Detroit Symphony principal oboe Alexander Kinmonth. Since Zoom’s video quality isn’t ideal for such intricate work, Goble usually ends up sending pictures of her reeds to Kinmonth, using the allotted lesson time to talk about what they see.
Being stuck at home for the past year has its upsides, Goble said. She has additional time to practice, fewer distractions, and more time to spend with her family. Her practice is better focused and she’s also been able to take a lot of lessons with different people from all over the world — which is something she hopes can continue to happen once the pandemic is over.
On the other hand, Goble confessed that she is going a bit stir crazy. She’s found it difficult to manage her time off-campus. She also misses playing in ensembles and being with her friends. That said, she has stayed cool and collected by learning to crochet, watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and re-reading the Harry Potter series.
Despite being at home for much longer than the average college student, Goble has persevered, being a real inspiration to all of those who talk with her and listen to her play. Broadcasting her recital from the Goble Residence Living Room Concert Hall will certainly give viewers feelings of warmth, belonging, and closeness — that is, if Goble doesn’t first evoke those feelings in you herself.
You can be inspired by her too – on March 6th at 4:30pm EST, via this link