The People of Compose Yourself: Dom Kelly, Oboe

Posted by Philip Sheppard on June 10, 2015 at 7:30 AM

Interviews in print: Members of the orchestra

Dom Kelly - oboist [questions by Marilena aged 10]

How old were you when you started playing? Why did you choose to play the oboe?


I was eight. My mum is a flute teacher and she was rehearsing in her wind quintet in the lounge (flute, oboe, clarinet, french horn, bassoon) and said "Hey, do you fancy trying Marion's oboe?" I never looked back ... unless I wanted to talk to the bassoons that is ;-)

How does an oboe work?

CY-people-dom-kelly-oboeWell it doesn't always!!!!!! It has a tiny reed at the top, in fact two bits of reed that are as thin as paper, which vibrate to make a sound which travels down the wooden tube, a bit like when you put a blade of grass between your thumbs and make that buzzing sound - we try to make the oboe sound a bit more refined than just a buzz though, a bit more like a clarinet than a duck is always preferable!

I've heard you have to carry a set of knives around with an oboe, why is that?

CY-people-dom-kelly-dom-1To defend myself! ...Not really, it's to make those reeds I was talking about paper thin. They're made of cane, like regular garden cane you see being used to hold up runner beans, so there's a lot of wood to scrape away before they work properly! Also, in different climates, they sometimes dry up so you have to scrape them more. The knives are like our builders tools! When we travel around the world with orchestras, we're meant to put them in our suitcases as they are razor sharp and could pose a threat if we took them in the cabin of an aircraft. However, sometimes we forget and accidentally keep them in our hand luggage and, sometimes, the scanner doesn't always pick up on them...!!!!!!!

You have a reputation for wearing crazy shirts. How did that start?

CY-people-dom-kelly-dom-3Well I have to confess, my cousin's wife, Sally Kelly is one of the chief designers at Liberty who make some of the world's most incredible print fabrics. Her prints are amazing. So for my birthday once, she actually designed a print and named it after me, the DOMINIC PRINT - and here it is!

Nowadays, the whole orchestra have "shirt-off" competitions, which means the conductor sometimes has to wear sunglasses! This is an example of when one of our cellists beat me - I was gutted [an English expression meaning very sad...]!


Where's the most exciting place you've ever played?

A tiny paradise island in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Seychelles. I played the Mozart Oboe Concerto there, outside (it's still hot at midnight there!) in a gala concert on a big outdoor stage by the beach under palm trees. Playing Baa-Baa Black Sheep on Tellytubby Land is probably a close second though!

As well as playing the oboe, you run the orchestra that records Compose Yourself. What else do they do?

Well we do heaps of recordings in studios like Abbey Rd, AIR & Angel Studios, so music for film, tv, adverts, pop records, production music. There's quite a variety and no two projects are the same, which keeps us all on our toes! You can see more here if you're interested :

When my sister plays the oboe, it sounds like a duck. What can I make her do to sound more like you?

Tell her to take up the clarinet!

Dom's top 5 pieces:

  • L'Horloge de Flore - Françaix (I love the concept behind it of flowers opening at different times of the day)
  • Marcello, Albinoni & Vivaldi oboe concertos - that era was frankly sacred and the Italians 'had it'
  • Strauss oboe concerto - a masterwork

Topics: Instruments, Music Education, Orchestra, Creativity