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Forte: A transformative event for a budding oboist

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Brent Hages, Yakima Symphony Orchestra Principal Oboe. (Courtesy of Yakima Symphony Orchestra)

YAKIMA, Wash. -- My first six years as an oboist were spent listening to uncountable hours of CDs — Tower Records was a treasure trove for me. I had an experience at age 17 that changed my insular world forever, and it is still as fresh in my mind today, almost 25 years later.

In 1994, I was in London with my mom and friends. My oboe idol was Roy Carter, principal oboist of the London Symphony Orchestra. My mom and I managed to get two tickets to see the LSO, but upon arrival Roy was not playing.

At intermission, I managed to get backstage and miraculously happened upon the personnel manager. I asked her how I could get hold of Roy, as I was in town for just two days. She said, “Don’t move, stay right here and I will be back.” She returned with a small scrap of paper with his phone number and said, “You’re never to tell anyone where you got this!”

So I called him right then and there — and, long story short, he invited me to a recording session the next day. He had the week off from concert performing as he was recording the opera “La Bohéme” with the other half of the orchestra and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as the headline star.

Walking into the Abbey Road recording studio the next day and sitting mere feet away from Roy and Dame Kiri gave me the best impression of a reality that I had no awareness of: live performances at a professional level. To hear these familiar sounds that I had spent thousands of hours listening to, but in real life — the resonance, the colors at the moment they were created — is something a CD can’t convey.

I was riveted by what I had been missing, and that experience gave me a new motivation for my life with the oboe. I’m the person who will go to a performance three or four times if the first time is as magical as the experience that day.

CDs are wonderful, but hearing the magic of live performance is irreplaceable!

• Brent Hages is principal oboe for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at

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