September 22, 2020

Artist of the Month: From class notes to music notes, Roth has it balanced

Roth has been the principal oboist in the high school's Wind Ensemble as well as the Rivers Youth Symphony Orchestra (Photo by Celia Golod '17).

For Mara Roth ’15, playing the oboe is more than just an extracurricular activity; it is a source of inspiration, a relief from the pressures of the academic world, and a passion that she devotes countless time and energy into in order to achieve the highest possible results.

Roth first began studying oboe at the end of second grade when she was eight years old. She attributes her initial fascination with this wind instrument to her first oboe teacher, Ana-Sofia Campesino.

“Sophie, my first teacher, was the person who built the foundation of my oboe-playing experience. She taught me everything [and] got me started on the right path. I know that some students who don’t have a really great original teacher learn wrong and then can’t unlearn,” she said. “I’m so fortunate to have gotten started on such a great path by someone who knows so much about music and who is such a gifted oboe player.”

What Roth finds most appealing about the oboe is its sound, incomparable to the tones of other musical instruments. “The oboe is a really hard instrument to play,” she said. “But with enough practice, you can create this amazing sound that doesn’t sound like any other instrument at all. I think that composers strategically place oboe solos in orchestra pieces because the specific sound of the instrument can cause listeners to experience some serious emotion.”

Band director Mr. Steven Scott, who has known Roth for four years and is currently her instructor for Wind Ensemble, praised her natural leadership and energy as a musician. “Mara has a very strong work ethic with her oboe playing. Her practice habits are consistent and her preparation of her parts is always there,” he said. “I can always depend on Mara to be a musical leader in her section and in the ensemble. She regularly makes a positive contribution to the Wind Ensemble’s performance.” One of Roth’s fellow musicians, Sabrina Chen ’17, agreed with Scott: “Mara is an incredible oboist with outstanding technique and musicality. Her tone especially enhances the whole ensemble.”

In addition to being the principal oboist in the high school Wind Ensemble, Roth also holds this same position in the Rivers Youth Symphony Orchestra. She has also participated in the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) Senior District Festival during her sophomore, junior, and senior years, and was first chair for oboe in the MMEA All-State Festival in eleventh grade. This year, Roth was also accepted to the MMEA All-Eastern Festival, which took place from April 9-12.

Besides playing the oboe, Roth has also taken on the challenge of crafting her own reeds, the part of the instrument that vibrates to produce sound. The quality of the reed can affect pitch, dynamics, and tone. While reeds can be bought at music stores, many wind instrumentalists prefer to handcraft these parts themselves. “I spend so much time reed-making,” said Roth. “You can hardly ever get a reed to sound how you want it to, and even if you do, it only lasts for a short period of time. It’s very complicated and very uncertain. You could do the exact same thing to two reeds, and they would not sound the same. It can be very frustrating.”

In order to further her own personal study of the oboe and assist her in the art of reed-making, Roth takes private lessons with Mr. Robert Sheena, who is the principal English horn player for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra. “Mara has been my oboe student for about two years now,” he said. “In a nutshell, she has a lot of innate musical talent, a keen, quick mind and a serious work ethic. Also, she is undeterred by the frustrations of the oboe, particularly the necessary craft of reed-making. Regarding her talent level, not only does she have a good ear for pitch, but she naturally makes a great sound on the oboe, and that is something that can only be partially improved by my instruction.”

According to Sheena, Roth possesses a positive, healthy attitude in her approach to the oboe. “When she ‘hits a wall’ of difficulty in making progress, she is able to laugh at herself and the situation which only then strengthens her resolve to continuing making full effort, concentrate and try again,” he said. “Trying again is, of course, a critical component in mastering any skill, and if we get too frustrated with ourselves we will give up and get nowhere. This ability to take the oboe very seriously, but herself not too seriously, flows from Mara’s basic cheerfulness, love of the oboe and music and curiosity.”

In addition to playing the oboe, Roth runs cross-country and track and is involved in community service with her church. Despite participating in all these activities, as well as exceling in the classroom, Roth finds her life more balanced because she has so many activities to partake in. She provided the example that if she finds herself unable to concentrate on homework, she can turn to the oboe and practice for a while until her mind is ready to focus on schoolwork. “The trick of balancing things is to not have high stress levels. The trick of not having high stress levels is to have a lot of different things that you can turn to clear your mind so you can have a clean slate. It’s all a big circle and it all works out,” she said.

According to Roth, the rewards of being a musician are multifaceted: “First, you learn to progress towards a goal independently, which is a quality people should have from a young age. Getting a child started on an instrument at a young age teaches them the invaluable lesson of accomplishing something on their own,” she said. “Secondly, [you get to meet] new people through the music community. Most of my friends are musicians, and I feel like people who are in an orchestra or band all have very similar qualities. They all have the music, which they use to connect with each other, but there’s something about the discipline of practicing, taking time out of your day to pursue something outside of academia. I feel like everyone who does music is very motivated, very intelligent, and we get along great.”

In Roth’s opinion, one of the most important skills she has developed from being a musician is discipline, an ability she puts into practice in all other aspects of her daily life. “As a musician, I never have anyone forcing me to practice, and I don’t have anyone telling me, ‘You have to practice this much, this piece, this long, or make it until it sounds this way.’ I always have a goal inside my head, but I’m in charge of my own motivation,” she said. “In order to achieve that goal, I have to have self discipline, which then means that whatever I put into oboe is whatever I get out of it. My personal drive and perseverance is what determines my success. I guess that drive and perseverance isn’t based on people pushing me; it’s based on me pushing myself because whatever I achieve is whatever I put into it. I’ve definitely carried that over to my ethical approach to schoolwork. It’s definitely given me some perspective in terms of the relationship between effort and output.”

 (Noor Pirani ’15, Editor-in-Chief)

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