Rich Copley: New oboe professor at UK looks to build community

Herald-Leader culture columnistMarch 1, 2014 

ToniMarie Marchioni, an oboist since fifth grade, has degrees from Harvard and Juilliard.

RICH COPLEY — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • IF YOU GO

    Chamber Players of Central Kentucky

    What: Concert presented by the Chamber Music Society of Central Kentucky featuring oboist ToniMarie Marchioni and guitarist Dieter Hennings performing Sonatina for Oboe and Guitar by Karl Pliss, Phantasy Quartet by Benjamin Britten, Quartet for Guitar and Strings by Wenzel Matiegka and Franz Schubert, and Oboe Quartet by W.A. Mozart.

    When: 3 p.m. March 2.

    Where: Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall, 405 Rose St.

    Tickets: $25, $7.50 students, free UK students. Available at Singletary Center ticket office, (859) 257-4929 or Singletarycenter.com.

    Learn more: Facebook.com/ukoboe, CMSCK.org.

In the studio of new assistant oboe professor ToniMarie Marchioni in the University of Kentucky Fine Arts building, it looks as if Facebook has exploded all over her left wall.

Filling it are memes, some with the characters we all know and love from our own news feeds: Grumpy Cat, the Most Interesting Man in the World and "Keep Calm" signs, all with oboe variations, such as "Keep Calm and Make Reeds."

Then there are some less common images: some of Marchioni's students with captions including, "They tried to make me go to reed-hab, but I said no, no, no!," "Plays wrong notes, calls it 'interpretation,'" and a number of slogans you probably have to be an oboe nerd to understand. They are on virtual display at Facebook.com/ukoboe.

Marchioni is working to build a community of oboe lovers in her studio.

"I'm trying to create a special community where everyone feels like they are really part of a family," says Marchioni, who is in her first year at UK. "The memes are one silly part of that, but overall, I want them to feel like they have ownership over what we do here."

As an example, she cites last week's divisional recital, in which her oboists performed a medley of Lady Gaga songs while wearing Gaga-inspired clothes and wigs.

"They went for it and sounded great," Marchioni says. "And the important thing to me is we can have fun as long as the artistic standards are high."

After all, backing up the Facebook memes and Lady Gaga appreciation are Marchioni's degrees from Harvard and Juilliard, and a life of playing the oboe since fifth grade, when she opened the case of her newly issued school oboe and told her mom they had to take it back because there was no mouthpiece.

Oboes, unlike some other instruments, don't have standard mouthpieces; players must make or buy reeds to attach to the oboe.

"I did not know what I was getting into," she says of her decision to play oboe in her hometown, Mechanicsburg, Pa. "If somebody had set me straight and said, 'You're going to be making reeds the rest of your life,' maybe I wouldn't be in this position."

But making reeds, as it turns out, is a way of life for oboists. It even builds community.

On Sunday afternoon, Marchioni will perform in a concert dedicated to a former member of the UK music community: oboe professor Nancy Clauter, who retired after the 2011-12 school year to focus on her treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer she battled since 2008. She died Dec. 24 in her home state of Arizona.

The concert by the Chamber Players of Central Kentucky will be the second one in a month dedicated to Clauter at which Marchioni will play. She also performed with the University of Kentucky Wind Symphony on Feb. 15, playing Aaron Copland's Quiet City.

The program for this weekend's concert would be music to any oboe enthusiast's ears. It includes Karl Pliss' Sonatina for Oboe and Guitar, on which Marchioni will team with UK assistant guitar professor Dieter Hennings; Benjamin Britten's Phantasy Quartet; and W.A. Mozart's Oboe Quartet, one of the icons of the oboe repertoire.

"That is one of the best things written for our instrument," Marchioni says of the Mozart piece. "It's just wonderfully virtuosic, but in the best possible musical way. It's virtuosity for virtuosity's sake. It's so musical, and so gorgeous and fun. The second movement is kind of a mournful aria, but it's very concise compared to these other joyful, jubilant movements."

Before this school year, Marchioni's stages were primarily in New York, where she worked as a free-lance musician after earning a bachelor's degree from Harvard and a master's and doctorate from Juilliard. She also is a graduate of The Academy/Ensemble ACJW, a training program based at Carnegie Hall that included working in New York City Public Schools, performances at Carnegie and training in arts advocacy.

"It's an incredible, incredible program," she says of The Academy. "There's nothing like it."

Being a free-lancer gave Marchioni a chance at many good gigs, but she says they were always substitute posts. The faculty position at UK was a chance to get a full-time post that allows her to continue free-lance work around the country.

"It was important to me to be in a really vibrant program, and Lexington's a great city," Marchioni says.

"I remember walking off the plane, and the smell of Lexington was so good," she says, laughing. UK Music School chair Skip Gray "still jokes that was the first thing I said to him. He asked, 'How's your visit?' And I said, 'It smells so good here.'

"It's a really lovely community to be a part of."

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: rcopley@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @copiousnotes.

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