Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra Talks to Principal Oboist, Timothy Michling

Meet A2SO Principal Oboist Timothy Michling

How do you make the perfect reed? How many do you currently have? How do you decide which one you'll use in any given concert?

I do not have now nor have I ever had a perfect reed, although three or four stick out in my mind over the past 12 years. I have roughly 35 reeds on hand now, and I continue to make many more in an attempt to have just the right one on hand for my performance of the Mozart concerto.

Because the cane from which reeds are wrought is a natural, imperfect material, every reed will feel and sound different, even when made to the same specifications; each reed ultimately has its own individual character, though an oboist must fashion and adjust reeds to suitably respond to his or her individual musical reeds. I select reeds for each performance based on the specific musical demands of a given program out of my selection of reeds that happen to work well at the time. Factors such as altitude and humidity will dramatically alter the way reeds respond, so my choice of reed may quite literally change along with the weather.

When did you start performing?

While I was captivated by music and desired to learn an instrument from a very young age, it was not until the sixth grade that I was able to do so through participation in my public school's music program. From the seventh grade onward, I began to perform as a soloist at school concerts, with area youth orchestras, and in churches and other venues.

What is your favorite part about making music?

Music is, for me, chiefly about communication-about expression-and I greatly enjoy opportunities to create music with my many friends and colleagues, wherein we may connect in communication not only with one another but with audience members too. Music provided me with a voice and a means of expression from an early age and I am grateful for every opportunity to share my love of music with others.

Who is your favorite oboist? Do you think of their style when you play?

Selecting a single favorite oboist is truly an impossible task for me; I appreciate the individual artistry of so very many performers that I could never choose just one favorite. Moreover, I believe music is enriched by having diversity of voice and interpretation and I delight in these many differences among oboists and among other musicians.
My playing is certainly influenced by many oboists, such as Albrecht Mayer, Eugene Izotov, Stefan Schilli, John Mack, Heinz Holliger, John de Lancie, Lothar Koch, etc...However, my teachers have undeniably had the greatest influence upon my playing, and I am continually inspired to hear both Nancy Ambrose King and Allan Vogel. Still, I try never to imitate the style of others, but rather to learn from each performer while endeavoring to develop my own unique style.

How many instruments do you play?

I play most every woodwind. I have performed on the oboe, bassoon, flute, clarinet, and saxophone, along with members of each family of instruments. I also play the penny whistle, recorder, duduk, and bagpipes. In addition to the woodwinds, I have studied violin, viola, and piano, have performed on various percussion instruments, and enjoyed a brief stint playing the Sousaphone in my high school marching band. I have yet to encounter an instrument upon which I cannot play a simple tune or rhythm.

Which instrument was the hardest for you to learn?

Without question, the oboe has been the hardest for me to learn. When I received my first oboe, I refused to put it down and taught myself a full two octaves of notes and scales in the course of a weekend. While I absorbed the basics of oboe playing quickly, mastery of this sensitive and sometimes seemingly capricious instrument (along with the requisite reed making) has been progressing now for nearly two decades and continues to develop. I often tell my students that playing the oboe is not simply an activity, but rather a lifestyle.

What does a typical concert day look like for you? Do you have any unique traditions or rituals to get ready to perform?

I try to have a restful day before performing when and if my schedule allows. This may include time for reading, tea, and some quiet contemplation of the music to be performed. I often treat myself to a light, vegetarian lunch at one of my many favorite restaurants and then go for a relaxing walk (weather permitting). My only pre-concert ritual involves intently searching (knife in hand) for just the right reed. After a good performance, however, I will often celebrate by indulging in some dessert and a nice glass of wine. Conversely, if a performance happens to go badly, I often find solace in some dessert and a nice glass of wine.

What does a typical non-concert day look like for you?

I have no typical day, as my weeks are filled with many diverse jobs and activities. Many of my days are spent in Lansing at the Michigan House of Representatives where I serve as Legislative Director for State Representative Erika Geiss. Others are spent teaching at Oakland University or in my private studio. It is not uncommon for me to put in a full day's work in Lansing, rush home to teach a private student or two, and then head out again to rehearse with one of the many orchestras with which I regularly perform.

Do you ever put a cocktail in the little shot glass where you wet your reeds?

I'm a whiskey guy (bourbon or rye), but I find that the sugars of cocktails are a detriment to reeds even as they give strength to the oboist ;-)
Mozart Birthday Bash
January 31, Michigan Theater: 8pm

Special Guests:
Jeanette Vecchione, soprano
Timothy Michling, oboe

co-sponsored by Rebecca Horvath

Adagio and Fugue for Strings in C minor
Oboe Concerto in C major
Arias from Abduction from the Seraglio and the Great Mass in C
Symphony No. 40 in G minor

Related Articles View More Classical Music Stories

More Hot Stories For You

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram instagram