Michele Fiala is the Associate Professor of Oboe at Ohio University. She has performed throughout the United States, Italy, France, England, Germany, Canada and Japan. Her two solo CDs on MSR Classics, Overheard and The Light Wraps You have received international critical acclaim. Fanfare Magazine said “The playing is light, fluent, and wonderfully flexible…tells the tale in a most effective manner…[with] such panache.” BBC Music Magazine spoke of her “impressive command” and the American Record Guide noted that “She has depth, charm, and humor, a juxtaposition that makes for a well-rounded performer.” Michele also appears on Naxos, Centaur Records and Equilibrium. Her book, A Performer’s Guide to Nineteenth Century Italian Music for Oboe and English Horn, is published by Trevco Music Publishing. Fiala holds a DMA from Arizona State University where she studied with Martin Schuring. She has performed in St-Martin-in-the-Fields Concert Series in London, Festival Fiati Novara (Italy), Festival Autour du Hautbois de Paris, the Banff Summer Music Festival, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Columbus Symphony Orchestra. She serves as Secretary of the International Double Reed Society.
Any favourite composers?
In orchestra, I love playing Brahms and Mahler and I think Ravel's "Tombeau de Couperin" is a lot of fun to play in context. As oboists, we have so much great Baroque literature. The Bach cantatas are wonderful to play and the Vivaldi c minor Sonata is a favorite of mine. I love collaborating with strings in performing the Mozart Quartet. In the 20th century, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Saint-Saens and Poulenc Sonatas and for the Martinu Concerto. The Strauss Concerto is a lovely and challenging work, sometimes more fun to hear than to play! I am also thrilled to perform new repertoire and have recorded two CDs of it, much of which I commissioned. I had a wonderful time working with each of the composers on my CDs.
What settings do you most enjoy playing the oboe?
I enjoy playing the oboe in as many settings as possible. I play with a flute, oboe and bassoon trio called Athenia. We give multimedia performances with activities geared toward engaging the audience in the music. I also play with our Ohio University faculty wind quintet, OhioWinds. I love having the opportunity to perform with many orchestras in my area, including the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. I welcome every opportunity to give recitals and have been lucky to collaborate with some fantastic pianists as well as other chamber musicians. These different settings allow for interacting with many musicians, sharing ideas and playing a wide variety of repertoire. I love the diversity.
What other musical or non-musical lessons have your experiences as an oboist taught you?
I enjoy running marathons and I find that the mindset of a marathon is very much like the mindset of giving a recital or concert. You have to stay focused over a long period of time and pace yourself so that you do not wear out too early. Simultaneously, you have to go for it and give your best right up until the end. Positive thinking is helpful in both areas and it takes practice to let go of negative thought patterns that could distract you from your performances, both musical and athletic.
What's in your oboe bag?
At this point I'm more surprised by what isn’t in my oboe bag: after many years of travelling with a metronome and tuner, I now have both on my phone! In particular, I love the app Tunable, where my students can "win" at tuning by turning the whole screen green and where I can show them their vibrato and its consistency and amplitude in a little white line. It has a drone and I often practice playing intervals and sections of pieces over it. I like a metronome that goes down very low so that one can practice with one beat per measure. It helps with rhythmic stability and in conveying the meter and longer phrases. New technology has revolutionized things: for a couple of dollars you can have a good tuner and a metronome!
What is your greatest passion other than music?
Running marathons - I really am addicted to it! I also enjoy organic gardening and creative vegetarian cooking.
Any tips on steps oboists can take to continue to find new inspiration and to improve as an artist?
Surround yourself with great musicians. The learning you do in school is only the beginning. Over the years, the musical friends I've made - the conversations we've had, the playing we've done together, and their performances that I've listened to - have been an invaluable inspiration. I find myself quoting friends in masterclasses all the time, and often I am quoting non-oboists! Every time I get to observe someone else playing or teaching, I pick up something that I can incorporate in my own work. I tell my students that the things I make them do now are the things they will want to do with their friends later - making and comparing reeds, playing duets, playing for each other and sharing ideas. I once interviewed Thomas Indermühle and he told me that as oboists, we are always either getting better or getting worse. So we want to make sure that we are going in the right direction!
Anything else you would like to add?
Just that one of the most valuable and underutilized means for improving as a musician is recording yourself. The technology is readily available now, but everybody hates to do it. Recording yourself and listening back is the first step toward becoming your own teacher. You will hear things that you haven't noticed before. It will make your lessons more effective because you will fix more things in your individual practice between lessons. If you tend to get to negative when listening back to yourself, one thing that could help comes from performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama. He suggests that at the end of your practice (or after listening to a recording of yourself) you list one thing you did well, one thing that showed improvement and one thing that isn't polished yet but on which you showed great effort. Too often we beat ourselves up in practicing, and it's important to reinforce the positive aspects of our playing to help them grow.