Judith Kulb, Oboe
My musical education started at a fairly early age. When I was five years old, my parents signed me up for piano lessons. It just so happened that the small Southern Illinois town in which I grew up, Centralia, had an extraordinary piano teacher. He required all his students, no matter what age, to take six months of music theory classes before he would begin one on one piano lessons with them. I remember going to theory classes in the basement of his house where there were small children-sized picnic tables. On these little tables were chalkboards with musical staves on them. We learned how to write chords both in the treble and bass clefs. We would then go up and play them on the piano. We also learned how to write scales, chord progressions, key signatures, and had instruction in ear training. It all seemed so much fun (we got cookies!) Oboe lessons (my mother’s idea) came later at nine years of age with the local band director, a trumpet player. My introduction to opera also came at an early age. My mother, who was a teacher, cleaned our house on Saturdays. She loved to listen to the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcasts as she cleaned. In order to hear the opera performance over the whir of the Electrolux, she had to turn the volume way up. In retrospect, I imagine a lot of our neighbors had their introduction to opera as well. Another childhood musical memory is of my Aunt, a mezzo, being a regional Met finalist. She sang two arias from Carmen!
I joined the Lyric Opera Orchestra in 1981 playing second oboe to then principal, Gladys Elliot. Every rehearsal and performance with her was a lesson in musicianship, oboe, and camaraderie. In 2003 I was appointed Principal Oboe. I also serve as Assistant Principal/English Horn in the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. Previously, I held the position of Co-Principal Oboe/English Horn with the Kansas City Philharmonic, performing as a soloist on both oboe and English Horn. Solo appearances have also been with The Music of the Baroque Orchestra, The Bach Week Festival, The Chicago String Ensemble, The Lisker Music Foundation, and on English Horn with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. I have participated in the International Bach Festival of Madeira, The Pine Mountain Music Festival, and numerous Chicago based musical organizations.
I hold a Bachelors and Masters Degree from the Indiana University School of Music where I was a student of Jerry Sirucek. My other teachers have been Robert Bloom of the Bach Aria Group, Laurence Thorstenberg of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
One of my most memorable experiences at Lyric was a few years ago when we were rehearsing Otello. I came home from rehearsal to find a cute little Siamese looking cat with a harness on at our front door and thought surely she was lost. I thought I would take her to the vet to see if she was microchipped. All I had to do was pick her up and put her in the cat carrier. Well, she bit me quite hard on my right hand. That evening when I was practicing Otello—one of the most devilish oboe parts in the opera repertoire-- my hand swelled up to where I couldn’t play. Long story short, I went to the ER, got a shot, antibiotics, and was told I wouldn’t be able to play the dress rehearsal the next day or the concerto I was to play with another group in two days. I did play the Otello dress rehearsal the next day and the Concerto with the help of a lot of Advil and ice. It was not my best playing, but…… And yes, no one claimed the cat, and we still have her today!
I wish I had an interesting hobby, but most of my time outside of the orchestra is spent working on oboe reeds---small unstable pieces of panda food. I do love to listen to various singers on youtube late at night when I am in my studio working on reeds. I love to pick an aria, then listen to 4 or 5 singers’ versions of it and see which one I liked best and why. Also, singers’ master classes---I love to listen to singers for how they create musical line and phrasing. My Lyric Orchestra colleagues are also a constant source of inspiration. I never take playing in the Lyric Orchestra for granted and am grateful for being a small part of something very special.
My husband, a clinical psychologist, and I have two grown daughters. One is a teacher and the other is living and working in Prague---a very fun and musical place to visit!