The Bosnian A'tudes: An Interview with Lindsey Kleiser

Age: 27

From: Dayton, OH

Instrument: Oboe/English Horn

Job Title: Co-Principal Oboe, Sarajevska Filharmonija

Favorite Brew: Beer girl, through and through, Hefeweisens in particular

Carrie Rexroat-How’d you get started in music?

Lindsey Kleiser-When I was a little girl it was the normal oboe thing where we all start with different instruments. I started with piano, and then in 5th grade or something like that I picked up the clarinet, but after a year or so my band director wanted to switch me to a different instrument, either bassoon, french horn or oboe. I brought in a recording of the William Tell Overture and I was like, “this is what I want to play!” He said, “oh that’s the english horn so you have to start on oboe”  and I said, “do I have to?” *laughter* I fell in love with oboe and english horn after that.

CR-When did you know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?

LK-I think I always knew that I wanted to be a musician. My parents started all of us when we were young on soccer and piano. The idea was that we weren’t allowed to quit a sport or music until we were 18, but if we wanted to replace it with something else we could. I never dropped anything, I just kept adding onto it. So by the time that I was in high school the big decision was am I going to go into oboe, or was I going to go into piano and I realized that oboe was where my heart was.

CR- So how did you end up in Bosnia?

LK- I studied Russian in college and started to get to know a lot of the Eastern European and Balkan students I worked with. Communication was sometimes hilarious and a bit tricky but we made it work and I made a ton of friends from all over.  All of these Slavic languages kind of coming together with a bit of English and I ended up becoming really good friends with the Balkan kids. I kind of just fell in the love with the Balkans, especially after I’d gone to visit my friends in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. I had this love of all things that I had seen there.  When I mentioned this to my professor, he was very enthusiastic and supportive of my love of the Balkans. He happens to be from a Serbian family (small world!)  When I was about to graduate, he told me that I should look at auditioning for the Sarajevska Filharmonija. They had announced an opportunity to play principal oboe with them for a season and he told me to go for it.  I auditioned and came here for the program but I really wanted to stay so when a contracted oboe position opened up, I auditioned for that and now I’m here having fun making music with this orchestra.

CR-What year did you start?

LK-I came here in 2012 and I’ve been here ever since.

CR-Are you planning to stay here long term?

LK-It’s a question mark because I would like to get my Masters. I love the performance experience. It’s a unique experience to have to be so independent at the moment.  Sometimes I think about how nice it would be to be part of an oboe studio again, to have a professor again and to have someone to help inspire and focus my playing. It would be really nice. We’ll see what happens.

CR-That’s exciting. If you did go back to the States to get a degree, would you ultimately want to wind up back over here in Europe?

LK-Wherever the wind takes me. I want to work, so wherever I can work, wherever I can keep developing my musicianship, I’m going to go. I think I would prefer Europe, I really like living here, I like the living style. Not to say that I don’t like the US, it’s very hard to be away from family, but I’m lucky because they are so supportive of my decision to travel and be a musician.   

CR- OK. What’s something that you’ve had to adapt to culturally other than language? What are some things that you’ve learned and how’s that developed since you’ve been here?

LK-At first glance there are a lot of cultural differences to pick up, but at the core I think things aren’t that different. Yes the food and some of the style, some of the language and the way it’s designed, there’s a way of thinking about things slightly different, but as I got to know more Bosnians, people outside of the orchestra, outside the other Americans I came with, meeting their families and everything, that feels the same as it does in the US. One big difference I really liked about here, and I have some very close friends in the States that I have friendships with like this, but here it’s much more common that when you make friends you make time for them, to sit down every week, to sit for coffee longer than 10 minutes, not to grab to-go. People here sit down and actually ask the question and truly want an answer when they ask, “how is life, how are things going?” It’s one of the reasons I love being here.

CR-So having had this cultural and musical experience, what are some words of advice you can give to someone who’s considering cultural exchange programs?

LK-It’s all about connecting with people. We all have a bit of the homebody in us in this industry, and I that’s really important to have that time to yourself, to be able to work by yourself and on yourself, reflecting inwards on your music, your practicing, and your life. But you have to make connections within the orchestra and connections outside of the orchestra. It’s not the easiest thing to find a balance but it’s absolutely necessary. You need relationships because you need something to draw on when you play in order to be empathetic, to connect. Music is all about the relationships with people you work with, relationships with the audience, and with yourself and I think as long as those relationships are good you can make beautiful music together.

CR-Definitely. The thing I feel like has been difficult for me here is that I can never really connect emotionally to a large number of people because of the history of the country and what’s it’s been through. I’ve never been through anything like that, and the emotions they tie into music making don’t reflect the emotions I tie into music. It’s a different kind of nuance, a different influence that’s adding to what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. But it’s helping me gain a new perspective, trying to understand where someone’s coming from.

LK- I think that’s hard wherever you go, and here can sometimes seem like a very drastic difference with the history of Bosnia, with things that you need to be aware of. It’s impossible to truly understand unless you were living through what many of our colleagues went through. But that’s where empathy comes into play again, you may not always be able to understand but it’s important to try to empathize with how that affects the work situation. International people have come here before and just gotten frustrated beyond belief, but it’s because they did not succeed in putting themselves into a position in trying to understand. They skipped a step and didn’t ask themselves why things are the way that they are. And when you fail to empathize, you completely cut yourself off from your colleagues in being unwilling to even give it a second thought. And it’s not that you just excuse the way things are, I just think that if you want to contribute or make things better in any environment you’re going into, the only way you can have a chance of finding a compromise is by first trying to understand the situation and trying to empathize with the people around you. Only then can you move towards a solution in a productive way.

CR-Definitely, it’s trying to notice what the ‘cause’ of the ‘effect’ was. Whether or not we want to admit it it’s important to understand why people are the way that they are.

LK-Yes. You have to find something to connect with people on otherwise it’s impossible to make music. Absolutely impossible. I like to think that it’s possible to work with anyone as long as you put in the effort, even if at first they’re not necessarily willing to work with you. It doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends, but as musicians, we don’t have another option. If we want to make music we have to try and understand the people that we’re working with, try to understand the audiences that we’re playing for, and try to understand ourselves and figure out what emotions are tied in with what we value and appreciate.

CR-Definitely. It’s been interesting to learn how to do that here. We all need to be open to learn and not shut ourselves off

LK-That’s why I love music you know? Because this is the perfect tool for understanding your audience, your colleagues and understanding yourself. It is the perfect tool. There is no person that good music can’t reach, and there’s no way to make any message stronger than music. So, if you really work to create music in the right way, there’s almost nothing that you can’t do.

CR-What’s some of the best advice you were ever given?

LK- I was lucky enough to have a great professor in undergrad, Mark Ostoich.  He really made the oboe studio feel like a family.  We were always in an environment where we both pushed each and supported each other.  He made sure we knew that music was based on collaboration, a team effort, not a competition.  Also he was very adamant that we find a way for our music careers to fit us.  He made sure we knew that we weren’t studying oboe to get one type of job in music and encouraged us to go for being a musician in the way that fit us best.  Also you can tell he really loves every second he plays oboe, and having a professor that truly loves music and teaching, that in itself encourages students to find that kind of joy in their music and career.  I’ve been very lucky to have grown up as a musician with fantastic teachers and colleagues in my life.

CR-Interesting. So how do you define what inspiration is?

LK-I think it’s something completely different for all of us, and it’s very important to what we do. It can be hard times, wonderful times, people you’ve met, performances you’ve heard, and all of those things hit home for me at different times in different pieces. I have been very lucky in my life to have an amazing family, wonderful friends, my siblings, and colleagues. I get inspiration from those people in my life who just make me feel comfortable being myself. It’s not to say that’s the only thing, obviously you can draw inspiration and strength from bad things as well but I think for me inspiration comes from a mix of several different things.

CR-How do you define motivation?

LK- I think motivation is a matter of finding a way to enjoy what you’re doing. If I love what I’m doing, then I want to do it.  So for me, the core of motivation is just a matter of finding joy in what I’m doing.

CR-How would you define success? Do you feel successful?

LK-I think that success for me is to be able to keep making music. We’re not in this for the money obviously, I don’t know who is, it would be nice, but generally you don’t go for being a musician with money as the number one thing to define your success. Yeah, you need enough to survive on and as long as you can survive and love who you work with, and the music you’re making and keep loving what you’re doing, that’s success. Another form of it is loving everyone around you, surrounding yourself with all the good that you can. Your family or the people you make your family they’re the glue that holds everything together

CR- Any hobbies?

LK-I love to dance. I dance salsa, ooh I love it. It’s a hobby but it ties into the musical thing. I could dance for hours.  I’m a sci-fi nerd like nothing else too. Oh and I play soccer with a group of guys in the orchestra.  

CR-*laughter* So talking about all this stuff can bring up a lot of things, but if you could leave people with one thing or re-touch on something you really believe in, what would that be?

LK-No matter what, find a way to love what you do. I know how cheesy that sounds, but I think people forget this and it’s so important.  Keep yourself open to everyone, to going anywhere, to new kinds of music, to every kind of person you’re going to meet in your life. If you do that well, use it to love what you do and who you’re with.

CR-Thanks Lindsey!