Stacey Berk is Professor of Oboe and Music Theory at the University of
Wisconsin - Stevens Point. She performs as principal oboist with the
Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra and with Trio Canna, the UWSP faculty
reed trio. She performed the U.S. premiere of Graeme Koehne’s Inflight
Entertainment for amplified oboe and orchestra with CWSO and has also been
a concerto soloist with the Wausau Symphony, the Marshfield Symphony, and
the UWSP Symphony, Wind Ensemble and Chamber Orchestras. She has performed
as a member of the Fox Valley Symphony, the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra,
the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, the U.S. Air Force Band of the West, and the
Polaris Wind Quintet.
Stacey is an active composer and has had works performed throughout the
United States, Europe and Asia. She has received numerous commissions for
works, including from the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra, the U.S.
Air Force Band of Mid-America, Midwest Double Reed Society, Point Dance
Ensemble and many others. Her compositions often have a programmatic or
literary reference, and her works cover a broad spectrum of styles,
including humorous ensembles, exciting fanfares, challenging contemporary
works, and serene lullabies. Her works are available through Cocobolo
Music Press (www.cocobolomusic.com).
What or who were your early musical influences?
I grew up hearing a variety of music, but can’t really point to any one
influence. I always loved symphonic music, though, and remember listening
to classical music radio stations growing up, when most of my friends and
my siblings were listening to pop & rock. I can’t remember any specific
moment that led me to become an oboist/composer, other than having an
interest in it and having people in my life who supported those interests.
I guess this might say something about supporting kids in their various
endeavors, as you never know where those interests will take them.
Do you have any practice and pre-concert rituals?
I don’t believe I have any pre-concert rituals other than making sure I
have some good reeds to play on. I like to arrive in time to make sure I’m
warmed up, have everything I need and am ready to go. For practice, I
would love to say that I’m diligent with a routine, but I’m really not. I
tend to practice more when I have a concert or recital coming up, and when
I get busy with my other responsibilities I don’t get as much time with
the instrument. What I like to do is to warm up with scales and etudes,
then progress on to solo and ensemble music, but sometimes I only have
time to do part of this. While it’s better to have a larger chunk of time
to accomplish a lot in a practice session, it’s still better to get a
shorter time in with intense focus than to skip the practice entirely.
You have written many works for double reeds. Could you briefly walk us
through the creative process?
Yes, I have written and arranged (or deranged) quite a few double reed
pieces. That started when I was in college, and my oboe teacher, Michael
Ericson, encouraged me to write something for the oboe studio recital.
Those first pieces were funny pastiches that melded a variety of tunes,
and they became popular for encore pieces. After that, others approached
me about writing for double reeds and other ensembles, so I’ve built up a
number of both silly and more serious pieces in the past 20 years. I guess
my process starts with determining the goal of the work. “Flight" for oboe
and wind ensemble and "Avian Suite" for woodwind quintet are my more
recent pieces, and they both are in honor or memory of someone special. I
spend a lot of time in pre-composition, determining what type of
characters or story I want to portray through the music. My compositional
ideas almost always start with melody, so I find melodic ideas or motives
or even intervals that resonate with the story I¹m trying to tell with the
music, then I use those fragments to construct the harmonies and
How does being an oboist affect your compositions?
I think I’ve always been drawn toward melody, which could be why I chose
to play the oboe. But perhaps being an oboist has strengthened that
melodic tendency in my compositions? It’s hard to say, as I usually sing
my ideas when I’m actually composing, and don’t usually physically
incorporate my oboe in the composition process. Double reed players often
have a fun, quirky sense of humor, though, and we’re able to produce
playful sounds on our instruments very effectively. I think that
playfulness comes through in many of my compositions, whether they are
silly or serious.
How does playing the oboe differ in a trio vs. an orchestral setting?
I’ve played for the past 14 years in a trio with my clarinet and bassoon
colleagues at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point and as principal
oboist in the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra. In both cases I need
to know when to project as the lead voice and when to blend into a
supporting role. There are technical challenges with some orchestral
pieces and with the advanced trio literature, and I always need to make
sure I have reeds that are appropriate for the musical demands. But trio
music is more demanding in terms of stamina, as there is seldom a break
from playing. I really enjoy both ensembles. Chamber music is great for
getting to make all the musical decisions in a small group and having lots
of musical communication between the performers. Orchestra is great for
sitting in the middle of a large group and having all the timbres and
resonance vibrating around the room.
What would you say are most important approaches in introducing
beginners to learning the oboe?
I teach primarily college-age students, but love when I have the
opportunity to work with younger students or beginners. One important
aspect I concentrate on with both younger and more advanced students is
their body position. Often, beginners translate the energy that it takes
to blow into the reed into energy they put into their neck and shoulder
muscles. I like to help them relax their upper bodies, bring up their
heads to balance on their spines, and show them how easy and more relaxed
it can be to play if they engage only the muscles they need to. Obviously
it’s also good to make sure their embouchures are on the right track and
that they are not setting up bad habits with their embouchures or hand
positions. One especially important concept, though, is to encourage and
help them listen to amazing performers, and to teach them to listen
carefully to the nuances in the recordings. If the students only hear
themselves, it’s much harder to develop the tonal concept of a mature
sound. Once they know how they want to be able to sound, they can start
adjusting their embouchures and aural cavities to emulate the sounds that
they hear. This is also true for listening carefully for articulation and
phrasing, and trying to emulate great performers.