Focus on Oboist, Cristina Sewerin
Written by Christine Fong and Cristina Sewerin
I took some time this past month to catch up with fellow CBSO musician Cristina Sewerin to find out what she has been up to and what it’s like to play oboe for the CBSO.
Hello Cris! I hope you had fun reading through Mahler’s 3rd Symphony Monday night. It is a beast of a piece, but quite uplifting and joyful in many places. I always enjoy hearing Mahler’s music. Did you have fun?
I had a wonderful time! I’m a big fan of Mahler’s music, and his Third Symphony is a particularly stunning work. It’s not every day you get to play through this piece, as it is extremely long and requires a very large orchestra, a solo singer and not one but two choirs! It was a real treat to read through this kind of high calibre repertoire with CBSO friends and colleagues.
When we first started the run-through rehearsals, I wasn’t sure they were going to work, but so far, everyone who comes out seems very excited and eager to play. What has been your experience with the zoom rehearsals?
No doubt about it – Zoom can be challenging at times. But it’s been very smooth sailing, particularly with Christine’s fabulous conducting and the goodwill that everyone brings. During this challenging time, the rehearsals have been another of those wonderful lifelines that we can draw on to connect with each other, and to keep alive the excitement and joy of making music together.
Thanks Cris! I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying them. How do you think they benefit our players?
There’s great value in simply connecting with each other, picking up our instruments, and getting that musical workout…it’s good for our minds as well as our instrumental ‘chops’. CBSO, like any orchestra, is also very much a community. So the weekly rehearsals are also important to maintaining and nurturing that community. I’m grateful to Christine Fong and to the entire CBSO Board for organizing these rehearsals.
Thanks again, Cris! It has been a great pleasure running these run-throughs. And I’ve had a lot of help from the Board Executive,Tim, Peggy and Shonagh. As you said, everyone is so eager and happy to see each other that it makes it all worthwhile and has been very rewarding. Because I am working on the conducting, however, I haven’t been doing as much work as I should on my playing. How have you kept yourself motivated to practice?
Definitely a challenge! I’ve really missed those weekly goals. When it was warm enough to play outside, I really treasured distanced meetups with friends, and putting together some distanced outdoor concerts. Now that it’s too cold and we have the lockdown, I’ve started a little practice support group with friends, where we commit to practicing 20 minutes every day,set a few weekly goals to work on, and share tips. Just like our CBSO rehearsals, it’s another way to connect socially and support each other. And I’m also trying to take advantage of this time to get to a few of those solo pieces I’ve always wanted to buckle down and work on…Strauss,anyone?
I know that you spend time making reeds for your instrument. Can you take us through the process for our patrons who may not know how it works?
Oboe playing is somewhat unique because we can’t play our instrument without our reeds, and they are labour intensive to produce. It’s a bit of an arcane and specialized skill, and oboists spend years perfecting their craft. It definitely helps to be a nerd! Oboe reeds are also quite fragile so they don’t last very long. Consider that the corner tips of the reeds are four micrometers thick; as a reference point, a regular piece of printer paper is around 9-11 micrometers thick. Professional symphony oboists spend as much as 15 hours, every week, making reeds on top of their practice and rehearsal schedule. When I was younger and playing 3-5 hours daily I spent perhaps 10 hours weekly and that didn’t feel like enough. I spend far less time now and it still doesn’t feel like enough!
Do you typically do a big batch all at once, or is it a continual as-needed process?
I usually work in small batches of 3 or 4 at a time. I start with tubes of cane from the plant Arundo Donax which are grown in southern France and sold by the pound. Reed making is all about consistency, precision and patience. Listening to a good podcast or radio station helps! I start by splitting and gouging the cane. I fold and‘shape’ each piece, then tie it on to a metal tube. I scrape the reed on all four sides to precise dimensions. A sharp knife is crucial. Oboists also develop expertise in sharpening our knifes and have very nerdy conversations about the virtue of ceramic rods versus Japanese water stones. But it’s all for good reason…balance between the various areas of the reed determines everything from response, to tone, pitch and stability.
You are a true artisan! I shall think about all of your time and effort the next time I see you open your reed case and see a beautiful line of pristine reeds ready to be played!
I understand congratulations are in order….you retired last year! How has that changed your routines?
Thank you! It’s definitely a strange time to retire but it has also been very rewarding. The first thing I did was take up kayaking! I had studied English horn when I did my music degree but had no time for it these last 35 or so years. So it has been a treat to take that up again. Besides oboe and horn, one of my big goals was to be more active and it has been wonderful to have the time and freedom to go for long walks, hikes and bike rides. I’m currently taking one of those free online university courses, taught by a wonderful professor at Yale University, on the Science of Happiness…a timely topic for a freshly minted retiree! I’m also very active with another GTA orchestra and am giving back by serving on that group’s Board of Directors.
It looks like you are definitely enjoying retirement despite the pandemic! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me for the newsletter, Cristina.
CBSO Board members have been meeting weekly to discuss plans for re-opening with exciting repertoire programming for the 2021/2022 season.
Also for the new season, we still have very enthusiastic Conductor Candidates who are ready to take on the continuation of the Music Director’s search process starting in the Fall. We look forward to seeing them again and working on some of our most well-loved orchestral music with them.
Be sure to read our monthly newsletters for more information regarding the 2021/22 season!
Online rehearsals on Monday evenings have been going well with members sharpening their playing skills in preparation for future in-person rehearsals. Repertoire readings have included Holst’s Planets Suite, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade and Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Despite the limitations of technology, members have found that rehearsals initiate practice as well as offer a way to socialize with fellow musicians on a regular basis. In the coming weeks, we will be reading through Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Prokofiev!
Your Support is Greatly Appreciated!
We want to reassure our CBSO patrons and community that our CBSO Board and administrators are meeting weekly and working hard to make sure that we will be able to bring music to you in Scarborough and beyond. Thankfully our government has not forgotten about the Arts, so there are opportunities out there. Even so, we need your help to keep things running so that we can open up again in the near future.
To all of our dear patrons: please consider making a donation this month in order to help us continue to be able to bring quality music to your community!
The orchestra is a registered non-profit charitable organization and provides tax receipts for donations of any amount (Charity # 89036 4573 RR0001).
Thank you for your support!
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