In our childhood many of us were handed a recorder that enabled us to learn how to play music. Hardly any of us stuck to it, however, and some of us used it as a springboard to other types of instruments, like the flute or the oboe.
That’s exactly what Lisa White did.
“When I was 13, a teacher suggested that I take up the oboe, and not knowing the oboe from a bar of soap, I said yes,” said White, a graduate student studying music.
It was a suitable decision. White said that each instrument’s players have a personality type, and she fits that of the oboe’s: Diligent, hardworking and stubborn.
In high school, White played in the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra and the National Youth Wind Band, both in South Africa. She said that she really enjoyed playing in an ensemble, so when it came time to pick a college after high school, she knew music would guide her decision.
White’s father, an engineer, pushed for her to apply for an engineering degree, too. She struggled a bit in that field, and one of her teachers tried to help her not be discouraged.
“I’m not discouraged,” White said she told them. “I’m relieved I’m not going to study engineering and can go and study music.”
White ended up going to the University of Cape Town to pursue her musical career. It was there that she met a UNM professor who was there to perform one of his concerts and give a master class. He encouraged White to apply to UNM for graduate school.
“I really liked his teaching style, so when I was making applications to grad school, that was really a big encouragement. Knowing him made it a lot easier to travel overseas than to go to somewhere where I didn’t know anybody and knew nothing about,” White said. “Coming here, I didn’t know anybody other than him. But at least that was one person.”
White said that it was hard to deal with the homesickness, but being a musician helped her to find people.
“Coming here as a musician, you automatically get plugged into a community because you’re playing in ensembles,” White said. “You’re already making friends with the people that you’re playing with.”
Moving here finally allowed White to find music’s true purpose, too, she said.
“Obviously, I like music and I want to perform, and that was the first reason, but why? What is the reason for that?” White said. “I had to come all the way here to discover that, which was exciting. I realized that the point of music for me is to play for people so that they can experience wonder; they can experience joy. That’s my goal as a musician — to perform in such a way that it makes people alive.”
White said she loves the people here and the high standards that the UNM Music Department has.
“One of the nice things about being a grad student is that you get more freedom to choose the repertoire that you’d like to pursue,” White said. “All of the repertoire that I’m playing (in my upcoming concert) has been sort of an exploration.”
Throughout her musical education, White said she has learned that music always has two sides.
“When you think about music, when you approach music, learn about music, you’re constantly holding two things in balance,” White said. “You’re aiming for perfection, so that’s one side, but the other side is not being a perfectionist. (There’s) the challenge between pushing yourself and not burning out and doing music that you want to play.”
As for White’s future plans, she’s not sure exactly what she will do. She said she would like to play in an orchestra, but the prospect of freelance teaching the oboe back in Cape Town or staying in academia would be an acceptable outcome as well.
White said her artistic goal is to explore more of the South African oboe repertoire. Not many people play it, according to White.
For now, White said her upcoming recital will contain many pieces that are exotic, and all from the 20th century.
White’s concert will be on Thursday evening at from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Keller Hall.
Ariel Lutnesky is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Ariellunesky.