Music News & Reviews

Rescheduled: UK oboe players to gather to celebrate, support beloved teacher

UK oboe professor Nancy Clauter, center, with students Phillip Smith, left, Amanda Slone, Heather Baxter and Raechel White. Clauter is leaving her post to concentrate on stem cell treatments for her multiple myeloma.
UK oboe professor Nancy Clauter, center, with students Phillip Smith, left, Amanda Slone, Heather Baxter and Raechel White. Clauter is leaving her post to concentrate on stem cell treatments for her multiple myeloma. Lexington Herald-Leader

University of Kentucky senior Lindsay Baranowski will frequently get text messages and start cracking up.

"People will say, 'Who's that from?' and I'll say, 'Oh, it's just my oboe teacher, no big deal,'" Baranowski says. "They'll say, 'Really, you text your oboe teacher,' and I say, 'Yeah, she's like my mom at college, and she really is. She's taken care of all of us."

That's why Baranowski and her fellow students in UK oboe professor Nancy Clauter's studio are putting on a big oboe-centric recital Saturday evening at Central Christian Church to say goodbye. (The event was originally scheduled for Friday night, but was cancelled when the University of Kentucky closed due to severe storms moving through Central Kentucky.)

Clauter is retiring from UK as well as her post as principal oboist with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra to focus on her battle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow.

"There's no cure," Clauter says. "You can put it in remission, sometimes long-term remission."

She first started battling the cancer in 2008, when she was out for the fall semester to undergo a stem-cell transplant that led to a three-year remission. But the cancer returned late last year. In December, she told the seven students in her studio and her colleagues that she would be retiring in the spring semester.

"When a doctor says to you, 'You know, if I were you, I'd just quit work and go enjoy life,' I thought, wow, I never thought about that as an option," Clauter, 56, says. "I sort of needed the permission."

She will begin a second round of stem-cell replacements Saturday and in the summer move back to her home in Arizona to be near her brother and enjoy life, including playing oboe, when she wants.

"Playing oboe just for fun — imagine that," says the professor who is known for making the notoriously difficult woodwind instrument a good time for her students. Barankowski says she does not have to come to studio classes to fill requirements, but comes anyway because she enjoys them.

"Everyone's jealous of our studio because it is so much fun," says Raechel White, 20, a sophomore from Richmond.

She would try to create activities to reinforce the fundamentals of oboe based on TV shows like C.S.I. and games like telephone, where the students try to mimic lines the others are playing.

"It's a really nice atmosphere and really comforting," sophomore Amanda Slone says. "I always look forward to coming to studio."

Clauter says, "We need to support each other, because the instrument and the reeds are hard enough."

Graduate student Phillip Smith says Clauter is the only oboist he knows who looks forward to making reeds, which oboists blow across to produce sound.

"It fascinates me that you take this little blade of grass, you've got this tree limb, and you can put it together and it makes music."

In putting Friday's event together, the students say they are trying to echo Clauter's joyous spirit.

"While we're sad that she's leaving, the concert is a celebration of everything she has done for us," says graduate student Phillip Smith, 22, of Irvine. "So the recital is going to be lighthearted, and a whole lot of fun."

The students are excited to have a chance to show off oboe music, which is often relegated to a few solo lines in orchestra and chamber music. Pieces include Mozart's Serenade No. 10, the Gran Partita, a pieces for 13 wind instruments that will involve Clauter's fellow UK wind faculty; classical Baroque pieces; and "things that should never be performed on an oboe," Smith says, including an arrangement of James Brown's I Feel Good for two oboes, English horn and bassoon.

For the remainder of the semester, doctoral student Heather Baxter will run the oboe studio as the search begins for Clauter's successor.

"I think when I'm gone, it will remind them, I'm gone," Clauter says.

But she will never be too far away. Her students note they will still be able to text their former teacher, even if she's fishing in Arizona.