WSU professor becomes ambassador for oboes


PULLMAN, Wash. – A Washington State University music professor is using oboes to capture hearts and minds in Southeast Asia.
Keri McCarthy has received a WSU grant to bring the woodwind instruments to Burma, where they are virtually nonexistent.
“The oboe has never been adopted in Burma,” said McCarthy, a renowned oboist and Fulbright scholarship recipient. “They haven’t developed the integration of Western classical music into Burmese culture.”
McCarthy received funding through a Meyer Project Award from WSU’s College of Arts and Sciences. She leaves July 23 to take two oboes to students at the Gitameit Music Center in Yangon.

“Oboes fit in my backpack,” she said. “Unlike, for example, a cello.”

Building connections
McCarthy calls the project a grassroots way to build connections between the U.S. and Burma, which was under strict government control until reforms began in 2011 and is also known as Myanmar.
“Burma is unique,” she said. “The people I’ve met are very intelligent and the literacy rate is high, but it’s been very isolated.”
She’ll be in Burma one week and will return there next spring, while on sabbatical in Singapore, to see how the oboes are being received. She plans to publish an article in the International Double Reed Society journal that encourages people to donate oboes.
Those efforts, she hopes, will lead to a 10- to 20-year project in which she extends oboe sharing – in a musical domino theory – to Laos and Cambodia, the two other Southeast Asia countries with the least exposure to double-reed instruments.
“Orchestras are being founded in these countries and they don’t have these instruments,” she said.
Communicating on a human level
Asia is familiar ground for McCarthy. She taught in Thailand 2004-2005 and toured the region in 2008 on a WSU New Faculty Seed Grant and in 2011 on her Fulbright fellowship. She has given 30 performances in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines and Korea.
“Music is a form of communication that’s separate from the more political forms,” she said. “It’s a way for us to communicate with people on a meaningful human level.”
Keri McCarthy, WSU School of Music, 509-335-7966,