Backstage: Sandy Rock

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Welcome to our blog series, Backstage—in each installment, we feature a different Omaha Symphony musician as they chat with us about their musical lives, how they got here, what they love about Omaha, and lots more.

This week, we caught up with Alexandra (Sandy) Rock, Omaha Symphony Principal Oboe. She shared stories about how she found the oboe and let us take a close-up of her reed case (very precious cargo to any oboist or bassoonist!). She also shared how she's been keeping busy in the pandemic and her best advice for living a musical life (spoiler alert: it's never too late!):

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Where are you from originally?

Upstate New York.

How long have you played in the Omaha Symphony?

37 years!

How did you choose your instrument?

When I was in the 9th grade I went over to my best friend’s house one day, and she showed me her oboe. She taught me how to make a "peeping" sound on the reed and then we played a “duet” with me playing the reed and she playing some low notes. We shared that oboe for a year, taking it home on alternate days, and then she quit so I got to keep it!

What’s something that people might not know about being a professional musician?

Most people are not aware of how rigorous and often capricious the audition process is for gaining employment in an orchestra. For oboe players, there are usually only 5-10 openings per year in the entire world. First, you submit a resume. They send you a list of solos and orchestral excerpts (the hardest ones!) to prepare. Then, if you are invited, you fly (at your own expense) to the city where the audition is taking place. Sometimes they invite over 100 people. You draw a number to see when you will play and when your number is called, you walk out on stage and play for 5 minutes. If you don’t advance that round, you are done! All that preparation and expense! It can feel pretty devastating. If you are lucky enough to be having a good day and you do advance, there are usually two or more rounds of rigorous playing until finally someone is chosen. Oh wait—sometimes they don’t choose anyone!

It’s truly a testament to the dedication and perseverance of musicians, that we put ourselves through this time after time. Hopefully, even when we don’t win, we can learn something from the experience and keep improving our craft.

What’s your favorite quarantine activity?

Morning coffee with my daughter who came home from New York to stay with me during the pandemic. We listen to podcasts by comedians. Laughter is a great way to start the day!

What’s something about you that surprises people?

Lots of people don’t know that professional oboists make their own reeds. We buy tubes of bamboo from France and spend lots of time cutting, tying, carving and adjusting until we’ve made a reed that gives us our own special oboe “voice”.

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What’s your favorite Omaha restaurant?

V. Mertz!

What advice would you give someone looking to lead a more musical life?

Listen to recordings! Go on Spotify. Check out YouTube. Listen to the classical station (Classical 90.7 KVNO) while you’re in the car. Now more than ever you can find anything you want, and it's free! Then go to as many concerts as you can afford! Omaha Symphony has something for every musical taste.

Omaha is so lucky right now even to HAVE live symphony performances available—so many orchestras in different cities have had to furlough their musicians. Recordings are an incredible resource, but hearing music performed live in a concert hall can touch you in a way that is unique and deeply personal.

Also, take piano lessons. It’s never too late! The joy and satisfaction from learning even a simple piece will enrich your life.

What piece made you fall in love with Classical music?

My father was a history professor at a New York university and his office was in a gorgeous old brick building on a pretty campus. One day as I was walking to his office after school, I heard the most beautiful music wafting across the commons from someone’s open window. I stood under the window and listened until the piece was finished. Then I entered the building and found the office where the music had originated. I knocked and shyly asked what it was. The professor was delighted that a young high school student had shown an interest. He said it was Bach. The Air from the third Orchestral Suite. I will never forget how that music made me feel. Now that I have spent my life in classical music, I wish I could go back and thank him for that day.

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Catch Sandy and the rest of the musicians of the Omaha Symphony this spring—check out our full spring 2021 line-up here. Tickets are on sale now!

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Meet the rest of the orchestra here.