I am an Irish oboist living in Amsterdam and am Principal Oboe with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Prior to this post, I was Principal Oboe with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic until its closure in 2013, and my first job straight out of college was as Co-Principal Oboe with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Netherlands Chamber Orchestra.
I grew up in Ireland's second biggest city, Cork, which has a vibrant (classical) music life and which gave me a solid musical foundation. Before deciding to study Oboe in Germany, I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at University College Cork, focussing on Music and Applied Psychology. While studying at UCC I got accepted into the European Union Youth Orchestra at the age of 18 as one of the 'school' members, meaning they saw talent but not enough experience and so I was invited to rehearse for 3 weeks with the orchestra which was totally mind-blowing. Two years later they accepted me as a full member and which I remained for the next 4 years until I got my first job. At the time I had no idea where I was in the pecking order among my European peers, and playing with this orchestra helped me realise that maybe my dream of one day playing in a great orchestra might not be so unrealistic. Coming from an island on the periphery of Europe with no oboe 'school' to speak of, hardly any orchestras and no internet yet, it was impossible to have any real concept of my level among peers. All I knew was that I wanted to do this. Maybe it was better that way.
I moved to Germany to study with Prof. Klaus Becker at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover. He turned out to be the perfect teacher for me - strict, but very supportive, and with a good sense of humour, while also understanding that some mornings he had to give me a break as I had had a late shift waitressing in the local smokey Irish pub to fund my studies. After four years with him I moved to Amsterdam to take up my first orchestral job position, having chosen Holland because of a certain double bassist, but I continued travelling regularly to Hannover to study with Klaus in the Master programme for another three years.
Winning first prize at the Isle of Wight International Oboe Competition(now Barbirolli Competition) shortly after arriving in Amsterdam led to some important concert appearances, including a début recital in London's Purcell Room and performances at numerous chamber music festivals. Over the years I've gotten to play with some great players and orchestras, too many to mention(if you're really interested, my official biography has more info) and I have been a jury member on a number of occasions, including Chairperson of the Jury for the European edition of the Lions Club Oboe Competition and the Grachtenfestival Conservatoire Competition.
I began my formal musical education at the Cork School of Music, studying oboe with Sarah Burn and piano with John Gibson. Many a piano lesson was spent talking about the oboe with Mr.Gibson(to kill time as practising piano was not top of my priorities), and resulted in him writing Anach Cuain for me. Later I had oboe lessons with Albert Solivérese and Helmut Seeber in Dublin, the train fare partially funded by busking on Winthrop Street in Cork.
Teaching is a huge passion for me and I have been teaching at the Amsterdam Conservatoire since 2018. Before that I was for many years professor of oboe at the Rotterdam Conservatoire(Codarts), and I give regular masterclasses abroad, such as at the renowned Dartington International Summer School. You can read more about my philosophy and approach here.
I love learning new things and am usually studying something. Recently I completed a Masters of Arts degree in Education with a specialisation in Leadership & Management, before this I dabbled in Biological Psychology & Photography, and in 2020 I qualified as a Body Mapping instructor and also completed an Anatomy course at the Peabody Institute, to enhance my (oboe) teaching skills. What drives me the most is anything associated with the oboe and motivating students to become the best they can playing this frustrating but beautiful instrument. I admit, I am a bit of a nerd, but I am eager to pass on the training I got, not just from Klaus Becker, but also growing up immersed in the rich music-life of Cork, and from my years in Holland.
When not oboe playing, I am also closely involved in a number of music related projects. I am one of the founding members of the initiative Splendor, an award winning, innovative and unique temple for music in the centre of Amsterdam, run by and for musicians from different genres.
I am also one of the founding members of the award-winning LUDWIG, a music company formed in 2012 by a group of ambitious & determined colleague musicians and creative thinkers, all well established in the cultural world. LUDWIG derives its inspiration from its artistic spiritual father, Beethoven, whose entrepreneurship and musical vision were revolutionary. In 2018 we won a Grammy Award with the Canadian soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan for our first recording together, Crazy Girl Crazy, and our second album Passione came out in 2020 to much critical acclaim.
Being a principal oboe player, I am usually to be found at my kitchen table making reeds, a source of occasional frustration and sporadic euphoria. Apart from this, I love & prefer to spend time with family & friends, reading(usually non-fiction) and jogging in the park. I try to go back to my home town of Cork as much as I possibly can - that Irish tug on the heart strings is still after being half my life abroad very strong. And since 'home is where the heart is', I consider myself lucky to be able to call two beautiful places, Cork & Amsterdam, home.
I stumbled upon Body Mapping while investigating better ways to explain how to do certain oboe techniques to my Conservatoire students. Many of the books I read on oboe technique either contradicted each other or contained statements that I just didn’t agree with. Eventually I came across Oboemotions by Stephen Caplan, a guide to oboe playing using the principles of Body Mapping which resonated with me as being a healthy and sensible approach to playing the oboe and prompted me to find out more. Finally, someone was explaining oboe technique based on the truth of the anatomy and HOW we use our bodies.
Neuroscience has always fascinated me, and Body Mapping is a neuroscience-based approach while also embracing somatic techniques like Alexander technique and Feldenkrais. Everything we do originates in the brain, consciously or unconsciously.
Neuroscientists now believe that movement is the reason we have brains at all - not for philosophical musings, scientific inventions, or creative imagination, but for movement.
Musicians move for a living, and this is something that we need students to be aware of and to embrace. I don’t mean grand, disturbing gestures that distract from music making, but the tiny almost imperceptible movements musicians make all the time. By being aware of these and HOW they are achieved, a musician can create more freedom, reduce the risk of injury and eventually make music more freely, which at the end of the day is what it is all about. One way to teach is to play and then the student copies, which is an approach I sometimes do, but explaining HOW you do something is in my opinion just as valuable and for some students, even more so. It empowers a student, by helping them to realise that most problems can be solved once you know HOW. Once they understand this and have the tools to investigate the HOW, their confidence increases and they can be their own teachers, which eventually is my ultimate goal.