Even before she joined her school band in fifth grade, Erin Banholzer knew the instrument she wanted to play. “Normally, in fifth-grade band, you get to try all the instruments and they let you choose what you want to play.” She didn’t need to do all that. She knew what she’d pick — the oboe. “They don’t always let you start on the oboe. They usually have you start on the clarinet and switch to oboe. I was stubborn and I put my foot down and said, ‘No, I want to play the oboe.’ ” Banholzer got her oboe because she had four years training on the piano. “I love the way the oboe sounds.”
Her parents are not musicians, but they exposed her to the arts early, taking the family to orchestra concerts. That’s where she fell in love with the oboe. By fifth grade, Banholzer said, she had the sound in her ear. And by seventh grade, she had started making her own reeds – a task usually left to the instructor. But her teacher insisted reed-making be a part of her students’ nightly practice time. Now, she’s passing along her skills to her students. Banholzer considers it her responsibility as a performer to teach what she has learned. “I also wouldn’t want to be teacher without being a performer because it keeps you honest, practice what you preach,” said Banholzer, who is also a faculty member at Mason Gross School of Arts at Rutgers. “I love to perform, but I never would want to do just one thing.”
Banholzer is leading a three-day reed-making intensive June 23-25 for students ages 10-18. The intensive is designed to help students at any level of reed-making ability.
Here is the rest of our conversation with Banholzer.
What do you do when you’re not performing?
I’m probably making reeds! A lot people don’t realize that oboists make their own reeds and reeds are affected by things as subtle as a change in temperature or altitude. We are always adjusting our reeds to our environment, and it’s a daily activity. Reed making is just as critical as practicing.
If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? Why?
I’ve wanted to play the mandolin for a while now. I’ve always loved bluegrass and folk music and it’s only a matter of time before I learn it myself. It’s so different from oboe, so I think I would really enjoy it.
Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?
I love going to hear the great masterpieces at the Metropolitan Opera. It’s one of the finest performing arts organizations in the country, and I really enjoy stepping back from the hustle of everyday life for a few hours.
Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?
A few years ago, I performed at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman under the baton of Lorin Maazel. Being able to travel to the Middle East and play in such an exquisite space was unforgettable. That’s the amazing thing about being a performing artist—music provides opportunities and experiences that are truly unique.
What inspires you?
Tenacity. People who just don’t quit always inspire me.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Growing plants. It’s a “guilty pleasure” because a lot them don’t survive past a few months—but I keep trying!
Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?
I teach because I love it, and because I have a responsibility to pass on what I have learned from my mentors. I also think it’s in my genes—my Grandpa was a middle school math teacher and my Mom is a nurse and educator. I think the most rewarding part of teaching is when your student makes their own reed for the first time. There is such a sense of pride and accomplishment!
Have you ever considered a career outside the arts?
When I was very young I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I was fairly certain of my career path once I was in high school.
Who would you like to meet? What would you ask that person?
I’d like to meet Elon Musk. I think he genuinely wants to advance technology for societal good. I’d like to ask him about “hyperloop” which is his vision for high speed transportation.
What’s your favorite movie?
I love Il Postino. It’s an Italian movie from 1994 about an Italian postman who befriends Pablo Neruda because he wants to write poetry.
Do you remember the moment you feel in love with your art?
I don’t remember a specific moment; I think it was a series of small moments, and I keep falling in love with it. If I pick up my oboe after a few days away, it always feels like I am coming home.
What was the first record or CD you bought?
I can’t remember the first CD I bought, but I can tell you one of my all-time favorite CDs is a recording of Nathan Millstein’s last recital. He was 82 when he gave the recital, and while it’s not the most “polished” performance out there, it is one of the most profound, honest performances I have heard.