This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with KSO musicians. My goal is to move beyond what is published in our biographies to give you a more personal look at the musicians who make up the KSO.
Jay Oberfeitinger has been a percussionist with the KSO since 1995. I'd like to thank him for being willing to be interviewed for this blog!
KG: I feel silly asking you why you chose to pursue percussion because I think it is the coolest thing ever (besides the viola, of course) but, what drew you to percussion? Did you have a teacher who inspired you along the way?
JO: I actually started out on Trumpet. Still play, a little - along with most of the basic brass & woodwind instruments (leftover from my days as a middle- and high school band director...but I digress).....I had been playing trumpet for about 6 months when our family took a trip to the local shopping mall. Back then fully enclosed shopping malls were rare so this place was quite popular. The local regional orchestra - The Westmoreland Symphony - was giving a concert in the "public square" in the mall. We happened to come up behind the percussion section. I do not know what work they were playing, but it used a ton of percussion, and the guys in the section were scrambling around to the different instruments. I was transfixed. Once my parents were able to pry me away I declared that percussion was what I wanted to play.
As for inspiring teachers.....I have had several. My first teacher, Ray Szymarek, introduced me to the playing of the great jazzers - Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, etc. My undergraduate college teachers were huge influences on me as a musician. Both are retired from the Pittsburgh Symphony - Jerry Unger (who was associate Principal) and Stan Leonard (Principal Timpanist).
KG: How did you get the idea to start a band and orchestra program for home-schoolers?
JO: Well, I had recently moved my private lesson business out of the house into a dedicated space in downtown Kingsport. I had also left public school teaching and had begun college / university work - part time. Several home-schoolers began taking private lessons and were looking for a performance outlet. When one commented that the one thing she missed about "normal" school was having the opportunity to be in the band - forming the group was obvious. The group functions just like a school band - except they only meet once a week. They have practice chart requirements; the beginning ensemble uses standard school band method books; I give grades..The orchestra component has not really taken off though, not enough string players!..We put on at least two concerts a year. One near Christmas time and one usually in May. During the Christmas season we also go to the local hospitals and setup in the lobby and play. We also perform at several Assisted Living communities.
KG: In an average concert, how many different instruments do you play? What is the most you've ever played in a concert?
JO: Hmmm....on average, maybe two or three - cymbals, bass drum & triangle - for example. I think the most instruments I have ever played in one concert happened last week with the Symphony of the Mountains. We gave a Family concert as part of our Virginia concert series - I was the soloist in a novelty work titled "The Worried Drummer". This piece was popular back in the 50's and 60's and has been getting more play again recently. It is written for the soloist to race about the stage from instrument to instrument - just "barely making it" to play a note or two before zooming off to the next. In one 10 minute work I played: Timpani, Snare Drum, Triangle, Tambourine, Castanets, Sleigh Bells, Slap stick (whip), Bass Drum and Cymbals, Glockenspiel (bells) and Xylophone! Oh, and add Drum Set to that list for other parts of the concert! I was tired afterward!
KG: How does the percussion section decide who covers which parts? Do you ever run into each other when you're running around back there?
JO: Great questions! The "industry standard" is for the Principal of the section to make part assignments. In the KSO we generally use two methods. Most of the time the Principal (Clark or Bob, depending on the concert) will make the assignments. For Pops, things are a bit different. We usually only have 3 percussionists for pops - regardless of what forces the music actually calls for - so we have to get creative. Over the years Bob, Andy and I have worked out a system we refer to as "playing zone defense". We will group instruments together - mallets (xylophone, vibes, etc); bass drum / cymbals; snare drum plus others; hand percussion (tambourine, triangle, etc.) Each of us will cover one or more "zones" and we play as much of the parts as we can cover. This gets interesting as we really put our skills at playing multiple instruments simultaneously to the test. It is much different than most of the Masterworks repertoire - where you may only play one instrument for an entire work. That is also what makes works such as Petrushka so much fun - we all have to play several instruments in works such as that.
As for running into each other....well, it can happen, especially in pops shows at the first read-through. We sometimes have to plot out - actually choreograph what moves we will make - so everything gets covered without collisions! We have played together for so long now that it doesn't happen much....We all pretty much know how each other thinks!
KG: Do you have any hobbies outside of music that you'd like to share?
JO: I am a collector of U.S coins. I am an Assistant Scoutmaster for BSA Troop 387 here in Kingsport. Mountain and road bicycling are big favorites.....along with hiking, camping, canoeing and sailing (don't get to do that much, though). It is a bit odd, but I am also a big fan of the old, pre-computer, board-based historical simulation games, AKA wargames. These are games that re-create historic battles or even entire campaigns in a board game format. The rules are very complex, with lots of tables to consult for weather effects, combat results, etc. All are based on actual historic events and the game pieces usually represent the actual units that were involved. My two favorite games of the type are "Battle of the Bulge" which simulates the Ardennes campaign during WWII; and "Jutland" which re-creates the famous Naval battle of the first World War.
KG: What is your favorite piece to play? To listen to?
JO: OK, these are tough......I cannot pick just one favorite work to play....but some of my favorites are: Pines of Rome, Petrushka, Rite of Spring, Beethoven Symphonies - love those Timpani parts! - , Percussion music of John Cage.....I could go on.....
As for listening; my tastes are wide-ranging. When listening to music for pleasure - as opposed to listening for "work" - I tend to favor Big Band and Jazz (think Tommy Dorsey or Miles Davis) or Classic Rock (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd). I also enjoy Frank Zappa's music, and music of the Renaissance - especially for Recorder, an instrument I like to play as a musical "hobby".
KG: Favorite KSO moment?
JO: I would have to say the Pops concerts where we did bits of movie soundtracks with the actual film clips playing on a screen over the orchestra. (KG: that was my favorite pops concert, too, and the hardest I can remember playing!) JO: One of my "Walter Middy" fantasies is to have been a member of one of the studio orchestras at MGM,Warner Bros. or the like during the golden age of Hollywood movie making.
KG: Any disasters you'd be willing to share? (the car horn that broke at the first Masterworks concert this year comes to mind!)
JO: Oh, yes...what a way to start the season! Every Percussionist's nightmare is for something to break during a performance. The main culprits are cymbal straps and the thin cord (basically like fishing line) that holds triangles. Two weeks ago during a Young Peoples concert I had a cymbal strap break on the last crash of the National Anthem! I was left with a cymbal in one hand and just the strap in the other - watching the loose cymbal falling to the stage with no way to do anything about it! What a racket! Thankfully, we had another pair of cymbals for a different work so we used them until we got to a point in the program where no percussion was needed for a little while. Zipped backstage to our storage cabinet and the spare straps! I think it was close to a record time for tying a cymbal strap.
The oddest disaster of this sort was one I was in the audience for. During my college days, I was at a Pittsburgh Symphony concert and Don Liuzzi (now Timpanist in Philadelphia) was playing a very intricate tambourine part. Right in the middle of a particularly busy section of the part the shell of the tambourine broke. Now, that may not seem too bad - but tambourines are actually under quite a bit of tension. You might say that the instrument exploded! Bits of wood and loose jingles flying about all over the stage. Don stood there for a moment, then (since we don't usually keep spare tambourines on stage) just set the remains of the tambourine down on the trap table and sat down with a little shrug to the conductor as if to say "sorry, don't know what else to do.." I'm glad it wasn't me.
KG: Anything else you'd like to share?
JO: I will be giving a solo recital on January 10, 2010 at 3:00pm in the Renaissance Center Auditorium in Kingsport, TN as part of the Art Nights, City Lights concert series. Marimba works by C. O. Musser, Solo Percussion Music of John Cage and a duo for Percussion and Trumpet by William Kraft will be featured. I hope some Knoxvillians will make the trek to the Tri-Cities for the show!