I was listening to The Essential Willie Nelson recently while driving home from Tennessee. And the great thing about the collection is that you quickly forget how weird and annoying his voice is, because the songs are so beautiful and so diverse and so well presented. But every now and then he does a duet, and you hear someone else sing – someone with an actual voice. When Willie enters again, the sound is jarring, a little painful – and so awesome. For example, THIS. And THIS.
He’s such an oboe. Those entrances sound like the way it feels for me to come in after a beautiful clarinet, flute, or french horn solo – the oboe has a harsh edge after the round, warm quality of the the other instrument. I have to remind myself to embrace the sound of the oboe and not try to hide. I love how unabashedly Willie Nelson uses the nasal bray of his own voice as an asset and how he draws us in despite ourselves.
And this is exactly what I want to do. When I give a solo performance, it’s a solid hour of oboe playing, and I hope that my presentation and the variety of material are engaging enough to not make it feel like that to the audience. On my spring recitals this year I will be collaborating with a superb cabaret singer, Justin Hayford, and as I try to plan the arc of the performance my only worry is that the change in genre and sound – from Romantic era showpiece to American Popular Songbook – will be awfully abrupt. I think, though, that Willie’s approach may be the best one. He just sounds like he sounds, and makes us love it. We’ll see if I can pull that trick off myself.