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Washington State University
CAS Connect August 2013

Instrumental Outreach

Music professor becomes ’ambassador for oboes’

Associate Professor of Music Keri McCarthy is using oboes to capture hearts and minds in Southeast Asia.

Thanks to CAS Meyer Project Award she received this spring, McCarthy was able to take two of the woodwind instruments to Burma, where they are virtually nonexistent.

Associate Professor of Music Keri McCarthy
Associate Professor of Music Keri McCarthy

“The oboe has never been adopted in Burma,” said McCarthy, a renowned oboist and Fulbright scholarship recipient. “They haven’t developed the integration of Western classical music into Burmese culture.”

In July, she presented two oboes and a bassoon to students at the Gitameit Music Center in Yangon. “I was very impressed with the quality of music making and enthusiasm of the students and faculty,” McCarthy said.

Building connections

McCarthy calls the project a grassroots way to build connections between the United States and Burma, which was under strict government control until reforms began in 2011 and is also known as Myanmar.

“Burma is unique,” she said. “The people I’ve met are very intelligent and the literacy rate is high, but it’s been very isolated.”

She plans to return to Burma next spring, while on sabbatical in Singapore, to see how the oboes are being received. She plans to publish an article in the International Double Reed Society journal that encourages people to donate oboes.

"Oboes fit in my backpack unlike, for example, a cello." - Keri McCarthy

McCarthy hopes her efforts will lead to a 10- to 20-year project in which she’ll extend oboe sharing—in a musical domino theory—to Laos and Cambodia, the two other Southeast Asia countries with the least exposure to double-reed instruments.

“Orchestras are being founded in these countries and they don’t have these instruments,” she said.

Communicating on a human level

McCarthy working with a student in Yangon, Burma
McCarthy working with
a student in Yangon, Burma

Asia is familiar ground for McCarthy. She taught in Thailand 2004-05 and toured the region in 2008 on a WSU New Faculty Seed Grant, and in 2011 on her Fulbright fellowship. She has given 30 performances in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, and Korea.

“Music is a form of communication that’s separate from the more political forms,” she said. “It’s a way for us to communicate with people on a meaningful human level.”

McCarthy will perform as part of the School of Music Faculty Artist Series on Sept. 19, at 8:00 p.m., in Bryan Hall Theatre. All proceeds from sales of tickets to Keri McCarthy: The Oboe in Its Natural Habitat will benefit the School of Music scholarship fund. General Admission: $10.00; senior citizens 60 years and older: $5.00; non-WSU Students: $5.00; WSU Students with ID: free. Tickets will be available in the lobby one hour before concert time.