Cape Symphony Principal Oboist Jillian Honn

Cape Symphony Spotlight: Meet Jillian Honn

When you attend a Cape Symphony concert, the first note you hear may well be Jillian Honn’s. As Principal Oboist, hers is the clear, sustained note the orchestra tunes to before each performance. “That can be daunting… it’s an immense responsibility. Sometimes the scariest thing about a performance is the tuning!” she laughs.

Why do orchestras tune to the oboe? “There are a lot of theories about that,” she says, “but I think it’s just that the oboe has a penetrating frequency that everyone can hear.”

Originally from Dallas, Jillian did her undergraduate work at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. At 20, she won the Principal Oboe position at Syracuse’s Symphoria, which she says was “a little terrifying, and very enlightening!” She was with Symphoria for five seasons before moving on to earn her MM-MMA from Yale University. Jillian joined the Cape Symphony Orchestra in 2022, and we are very privileged to have her talent on our stage.

Jillian is based in New York City, where she works as a freelance musician and as the Production Coordinator for Contemporaneous, a highly acclaimed ensemble focused on performing and promoting new music. “Contemporary music is a passion of mine,” she says. “It’s exciting to work with living, breathing art. It makes me happy! Contemporary music is pushing boundaries: What is music? What is beautiful? There’s such wide variety out there.”

So, what’s a day like in the life of a freelance oboist and producer? “It’s all over the place!” she laughs, “but often, I first brew a nice cup of coffee and make reeds for a few hours.”

Hang on – “make reeds”? Yes, indeed. “Making reeds is the most important part of an oboist’s life,” Jillian says. With apologies to those in the know: professional oboe players make their own reeds from cane grown in the south of France, or in parts of China. Oboists import this material, and with specialized knives and forms, they cut, carve and shape it to the exact specifications they need. Reeds don’t last long, so this job is never done; when Jillian says she probably spends more time making reeds than practicing her instrument, she isn’t kidding. “Reeds are very finicky. Temperature, humidity, and air pressure all affect them. What worked in practice might not work in performance. I tailor reeds to produce the sound I need… the proper reed can mean the difference between a sparkly, beautiful sound or a dark and brooding one.”

Outside work, Jillian’s a self-described puzzle master – “jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, word games, strategy-oriented board games… I love them all!” – and she listens to all kinds of music. “I dislike very few things. I ask myself, ‘what does my brain want today?’ and go with that!”

Asked if she has a favorite Cape Symphony memory, Jillian recalls the Magic of Mozart concert, which was led unconducted by Concertmaster Jae Cosmos Lee. “That active collaboration with other musicians, across sections, with no one person in charge… I’m very, very happy we got to do that. It was all-out communication, so great for bonding.”

Indeed, anyone in that audience could tell you, the magic in the air wasn’t just Mozart’s. Come see it for yourself at a Cape Symphony concert – we think you’ll agree.

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