A big part of an orchestra’s musician’s life is people. You sit beside them, breathe the same air, share a music stand, turn pages for each other. And you perform in a hall full of people, sometimes in the thousands.
Musicians are also alone a lot, said Chip Hamann, Principal Oboe of the NAC Orchestra, which means that in some ways, life under the pandemic has been relatively normal. “Practising, preparing, studying, listening. As an oboist I spend a lot of time making reeds. I’m still doing all that. It’s just that there’s this luxury of time without the pressure of an immediate concert.”
Like so many artists, Chip is performing online these days, and he’s grateful for the NAC’s initiatives that provide those opportunities. At the end of March, he chose to perform a piece from Twitter Etudes Vol 2 for Solo Oboe by the Canadian composer John Burge for NACO Lunch Break. The piece is one of six études that Burge, a Queen’s University professor and composer, created on Chip’s suggestion. He will perform the rest of the études on Lunch Break, hoping to spread the word about Burge’s work so that Canadian oboe students can learn them too.
Performing solo, online, is very different, Chip said.
“When you’re in an orchestra, you’re part of a whole. It’s not this experience of doing something that is very exposed, and with it being on social media, it feels like it’s there forever. But there’s a kind of community that’s been growing through the pandemic of people showing their everyday work. [Principal Trumpet] Karen Donnelly did one called “#100daysof practice” that was started by a trumpet player in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, pre-COVID-19. There’s an interesting connection that takes place when you’re learning what your colleagues are doing.”
He’s enjoying the slower pace, of not having to rush. And he’s grateful to be part of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. “So many orchestras have had the official cancellation of their seasons, and layoffs. It’s great that the NAC has found ways for the Orchestra to keep in touch with our audiences.”
That more relaxed tempo has also meant more time for gardening – a passion for Chip, who has a topiary garden on his back deck. “It’s fun if you are a details kind of person.” His plants have wintered in the sunny parts of the house and will soon be moving out.
Last year he was out of the country nearly all of May – prime gardening time – during the Orchestra’s Fiftieth Anniversary European Tour. “I was sure I was going to miss the tulips, but it was like a miracle. It was a cold spring in Ottawa. We got back on May 31 and the tulips were at their peak.”