International Musician – December 2010
Most musicians know that the ability to improvise is a useful skill. Oboe and English horn player Jill Haley says she has built her career on improvisation.
Haley, of Local 135-211 (Reading, PA), began classical training on piano at the age of seven. In middle school she began playing flute, but soon took a different path. “I realized there were a lot of really good flute players and it intimated me,” Haley says. “My director suggested I try oboe. I liked the sound of it, so I stuck with that.”
She played through high school and college, eventually transferring to Temple University in Philadelphia to study with an oboe teacher. “I got exposed to the Philly sound and the way of playing” she says. As a student, Haley was able to stand in line each weekend for $2 tickets to The Philadelphia Orchestra. “Hearing the orchestra play every Saturday night was probably the most valuable lesson.You get that sound in your head,” Haley says.
Instead of joining an orchestra after graduating, Haley decided to start a band. “I was friends with a guitar player who was writing music and doing some work with another guitar player. I heard their duet stuff and I said,’Boy, I could make up some good lines over that.’I dont know why I thought that. I just decided it would be fun,” she says.
A trio called One Alternative was formed and they are still playing, 25 years later. Haley says the band is now finishing its seventh album, which is due out next spring. She says playing in a group that doesn’t center on classical music is great for improvisation.
Her skill in improvisation, in turn, has allowed her to have a diverse career as a musician. “Things have changed in the music business,” she adds. “I am just very happy that I have a way to play that doesn’t necessarily involve me being hired to play in orchestras because there are less jobs.”
In addition to playing with her band, Haley has performed on the albums of many artists, including working for 20 years in folk music. She also spent more than two decades playing with her husband, classical guitarist, David Cullen, who is also a member of what she calls Exploding Colors, an album they put out together, a highlight of her career.
She says working with her husband, her band, and other musicians gives her an outlet for expression, in addition to performing classical music. “I’m really happy I have this other way that I can have self-expression as an oboist and it’s opened doors for me to explore different types of music” Haley says.
Gathering from all her varied experiences, Haley recently recorded the solo album Glacier Soundscapes. She says she wanted to do something where she could make all of the decisions and began writing music for oboe and English horn. “At first I was naming the pieces afterplaces in the Midwest and then I decided to title them after spots in Glacier National Park” Haley says.
“I love national parks. I love that they’re here for us and that they’re protected for our enjoyment.” Fittingly, she dedicated the album to all those working to slow global warming.
While Haley says she loves working on solo projects, she also enjoys performing with orchestras and symphonies. As an oboist and English horn player, Haley says being an AFM member gives her opportunities to perform in regional orchestras, including those in Reading, York, Pottstown, Schuylkill, and Allentown.
“When I play a union show, I know the situation and circumstances,” she says, explaining why the Federation really makes the performances even better.”The conductor and the other musicians are at a standard that is comfortable for me to play at. It’s a little bit more relaxing.” Haley says she hopes to continue playlng occasionally in classical settings, but she also plans to continue her solo work. She is planning some concerts for the Glacier Soundscapes album, where her photos of the park will be displayed on a big screen while she performs.
“I’m hoping to do another solo album about another national park,” Haley says. “I’m committed to doing these solo albums.”
International Musician – December 2010