In the Club with: Megan Kyle
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
For our second episode, we are very happy to welcome oboist Megan Kyle!
Tell us about a recent concert you performed in or attended that you particularly enjoyed.
The last live concert I attended before we all started social distancing due to COVID-19 was particularly special. It was a site-specific piece by the Canadian composer John Oswald for an excellent Buffalo venue called Asbury Hall. Asbury Hall is part of
Babeville, a historic church in downtown Buffalo that was bought by Ani DiFranco and Scot Fisher in the ‘90s to save it from demolition and transform it into a multi-venue arts facility. Asbury Hall is the largest venue, the former sanctuary of the church, and Oswald drew on its long history for his piece Auditornada.
The piece incorporated a virtual version of the pipe organ that used to be housed in the sanctuary, a choir of local Buffalo improvisers led with Conduction-style gestures, and four solo vocalists. It made reference to the many different musical activities that have existed inside the space over the past 150 years, and was an extremely effective immersive experience. I’m so glad this concert made it under the wire before isolation began—it was one of those events that makes me proud and excited to be part of the Buffalo arts community.
Who are some composers or ensembles you’ve been enjoying listening to lately?
One of the silver linings of the otherwise-horrifying COVID-19 situation is the fact that many incredible music institutions are making videos of performances available for free. My husband and I have really been enjoying the free access to the Berlin Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. We saw John Adams’ Nixon in China the other night, which was something I’d always wanted to see. And on another night we watched Berlin perform Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia for eight voices and orchestra, which was so cool. Sitting down together in the evenings to watch concerts—way more often than we did before we were isolating—has been a consolation.
I’ve also been trying to listen more to non-classical music recently. Sometimes, between listening to recordings of music that I’m working on and listening to podcasts when making reeds and doing other tasks around the house, I totally neglect other music. I’ve been putting the album Oncle Jazz by Men I Trust on a lot. And the other day I heard Kiwanuka by Michael Kiwanuka for the first time, which I think is going to be in steady rotation for a while.
Is there a moment or experience that got you hooked on contemporary music?
My first immersive experience in contemporary music was in college at Oberlin, and this is where I really got hooked. But the experience I always think of as a precursor to that was the Pennsylvania Governors School for the Arts. PGSA was a state-funded five-week summer arts program for Pennsylvania high school students (I’m from a suburb of Philadelphia originally) that, very sadly, no longer exists—it was defunded by the state legislature a few years after I went.
There were so many amazing things about that program, which fostered a great collaborative atmosphere among the various arts disciplines and was an incredibly eye-opening creative experience—it’s what made me decide to pursue music as a career. But one of the most unusual aspects was the emphasis on improvisation. All of the music majors took a mandatory (at least, that’s how I remember it) free improvisation class. I remember there was even a free improvisation component of the audition for the program. I was uncomfortable improvising, and it wasn’t easy. But that’s where I first learned to listen in a new way and contribute to a group dynamic. It started me down the path I’m now on, where improvisation and listening with open ears are both key to what I do.
I was a fairly traditionalist classical music student before then. Somewhere along the line between Governors School and Oberlin, plus listening to lots of prog rock from my dad’s record collection, I felt like a switch went off in my brain and I learned to love unexpected and unfamiliar sounds, and realized how many sonic experiences were possible. It was the first time I appreciated sound as an artistic medium with a seemingly infinite range of expressive potential.
What drew you to the oboe? Any favorite extended techniques you’ve gotten to use?
I don’t think I was really aware of what the oboe was or how it sounded until I heard it in a school assembly in third grade. I loved the sound right away, and my original dreams to be a flutist evaporated.
I particularly love to explore the electronic-like, glitchy side of the oboe. Su Lee’s piece for this week’s podcast has that aspect, too—of creating digital-sounding environments using acoustic instruments—which is probably part of the reason I’m so drawn to it.
There’s a technique that I recently learned, used by Tonia Ko in her solo oboe and electronics piece Highwire (written for Olivier Stankiewicz, who introduced her to the technique), that became an instant favorite. It involves pulling the reed partway out of the reed well, which opens up a wide array of sonic possibilities. With variations in embouchure and airspeed you can produce everything from muted subtones to raucous multiphonics (with the benefit of not having to learn new multiphonic fingerings—so, very rapid multiphonic passages are much easier) to high discrete overtones that sound like electric guitar feedback.
This sound world also relates to one of my other favorites, which I discovered by accident one day as an undergrad, that by partially or fully covering the bell with your foot and playing the lowest notes on the instrument you can get some gnarly multiphonics and feedback sounds.
Outside of music, what other sorts of art or entertainment media do you enjoy?
I’ve always loved dance—I did ballet as a kid and have done modern dance as I’ve gotten older. I love watching dance performances. But recently I’ve been studying aerial dance! I started taking dance trapeze classes almost a year ago. It has been completely thrilling, and a very fun way to get stronger. I’ve also really appreciated having a hobby that’s totally separate from the oboe.
Thank you so much for joining us, Megan!
Oboist Megan Kyle performs as a soloist, improviser, chamber musician, and orchestral musician, tackling standard repertoire and new music with equal enthusiasm. She regularly performs as a guest musician with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. As a chamber musician and new music specialist, she performs with the Buffalo-based new music ensemble Wooden Cities, serves as a performer for the interdisciplinary arts initiative Null Point, and is a founding member of the oboe/piano/violin/cello quartet The Evolution of the Arm with Evan Courtin, Michael McNeill, and Katie Weissman. As part of the duo Senso di Voce with composer and vocal performer Esin Gunduz, she explores sonic and thematic resonances between the early music of western Eurasia and contemporary music through improvised and composed works. She teaches oboe at Houghton College, SUNY Geneseo, and SUNY at Buffalo and performs as a member of the Geneseo Wind Quintet.
Megan has several albums recently released or upcoming. WORK, released in April 2019, is the first in a series of three albums currently being released by Wooden Cities. A forthcoming film by Buffalo Documentary Project documents the recording process of WORK. A solo album of works by Meredith Gilna, Ethan Hayden, Jeffrey Stadelman, Luciano Berio, and Iannis Xenakis will be released by Infrasonic Press later this year. Also upcoming is a debut album of original works by The Evolution of the Arm.
Headshot photo by Megan Metté; Senso di Voce photo by Alana Adetola Arts Photography.