EXPOSED! Life in the orchestra with Dinah Woods, cor anglais




Have you ever wondered what life is really like in the orchestra? Welcome to EXPOSED!

Throughout 2017, we’re teaming up with musicians and arts administrators from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra to take you behind the scenes, and show you what it means to pursue a career in a challenging and fulfilling industry.

Dinah Woods grew up in Castlemaine, travelling to oboe lessons at the Bendigo Music Teachers’ Pilot Project. She continued her studies at the Victorian College of the Arts, completing a Bachelor of Arts in 1990. A busy freelance career followed, including engagements with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and the Australian Pops Orchestra.

In 2001, Dinah took up the position of Second Oboe and Principal Cor Anglais with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Since moving to Hobart, she has also performed as a soloist with Virtuosi Tasmania, Hobart Chamber Orchestra, and as a guest with the Elanée Ensemble on a Tasmania and Victoria tour. With the TSO, she has performed for the Sunday Live program on ABC Classic FM several times – including the Mozart Oboe Quartet and Pasculli’s Omaggio a Bellini for Cor Anglais and Harp – and in 2005 played as soloist in Albinoni’s Concerto in D minor.


How did you make your way into a position with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra?

I spent about 10 years freelancing in Melbourne post-study at the VCA playing a variety of gigs – Australian Pops, Orchestra Victoria and MSO – playing in wind quintets, and other chamber music and teaching. Meanwhile, I did quite a few auditions, coming close in some and eventually being successful in the one for the TSO in 2000. I passed my trial in 2001, and moved to Hobart permanently in 2002.

What did you imagine life would be like with the orchestra, and how have you found the experience in reality?

I imagined it would be rewarding and exciting to be playing good programs regularly through the year, and I have found it to be so. After freelancing and having to take just about any gig that was offered, I greatly appreciated having the regular work, playing with such a good orchestra, and knowing what was coming up in the roster each year.

How would you describe your typical day backstage and in the rehearsal room? 

While the programs, music, and therefore the intensity of rehearsals can vary a lot, I suppose there is such a thing as a typical day:

  • A brisk walk into work
  • A 20-30 minute warm-up, sitting beside David Nuttall (Principal Oboe) with a bit of chat and catching up in between
  • Tune
  • Rehearse
  • Morning break
  • Rehearse
  • Lunch
  • Rehearse
  • Afternoon break
  • Rehearse
  • Finish at about 4pm

Apart from hearing and sensing a work coming together, I love the camaraderie in the section – the banter, the witty (perhaps) asides that get exchanged – it can all add up to an enjoyable day.

What do you feel are the strongest expectations placed on you inside the orchestra? 

To be a strong support to my principal when playing second oboe, and yet to be able to assume a more soloistic role when playing cor anglais. I suppose I meet these expectations by finding both roles equally rewarding.

Was there ever a time you thought the challenge of your role would be too great? 

​I have had many exposed and challenging moments within the orchestra, and I think I have approached every one with a paradoxical combination of excitement and self-doubt – but haven’t considered giving up.

How do you cope with live performance pressure?

Try to focus on the music that is being played collectively rather than just on my role in it.

How would you describe the chemistry in your instrumental section, and how do you work to support each other in your team? 

We are very supportive of each other in the wind section – as I said before, plenty of banter, foot shuffles after solos, and compliments after concerts.

What do you wish audiences could understand about what it means to play in the orchestra?

That it is a full time job – i.e that the time spent rehearsing all together is only a fraction of what we do – that there is a lot of preparation going on at home and in the practice room.

What is the thing you love most about life in the orchestra?

Being a part of a large number that becomes one living organism bent on producing the best performance they can of a piece, which is at its most rewarding when it is great music as well.

What is one piece of advice you can offer young musicians looking to commence their orchestral career? 

That there are many ways of getting there. Some study formally for many years, some don’t, some go overseas, some get jobs young, some take years. Play and listen to as much music as you can, and maybe there’ll be an audition one day when it all comes together.

See Dinah Woods perform cor anglais with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Simple Gifts, 2.30pm June 25 in the Federation Concert Hall. Features new music by Australian composer Maria Grenfell.

We’re also excited to share with you our new EXPOSED! series archive, which you’ll find in the TSO website. Have a browse!


Do you have a burning question about what life is really like in the orchestra?


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