Classically Trained: Living a soloist's symphonic dream

December 16, 2010|By Bradley Zint
  • Jessica Pearlman is the the principal oboe player of the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony.
Jessica Pearlman is the the principal oboe player of the… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

LONG BEACH — Today if somebody asked, "Is there a doctor in the house?", Jessica Pearlman wouldn't raise her hand. But had her life taken a different course, there's the possibility she would be performing surgery instead of Beethoven.

That's because Pearlman, the principal oboe player for the Pacific Symphony, was at first en route to be a doctor.

"I wanted to be a scientist and I wanted to go to med school," Pearlman said. "That was my whole dream."

To achieve that dream she began studying neuroscience at Oberlin College. Pearlman even interned at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the neurology department for a summer.

Fortunately studying medicine didn't force the 26-year-old Long Beach resident who's from Half Moon Bay — a tiny coastal town south of San Francisco — to give up her musicality that began at age 7. She did both at Oberlin. It was the perfect choice: a college with a world-class conservatory and top-notch pre-med program.


But after four years — and bachelor's degrees in oboe performance and neuroscience in hand — Pearlman was at a crossroads. She was in the lull between post-graduation and applying for med school, thoughtfully considering going the burgeoning doctor route or aspiring musician course.

Eventually she decided to face the music dream and go for it. She loved playing and wanted to pay respect to her many teachers who nurtured her skills all those years.

"With music, it's an all-or-nothing thing," Pearlman said. "You just can't half-way do it."

So she continued her world-class music education, finishing a master's at Juilliard. All the while, like many aspiring professionals, she took audition after audition — about 15 — usually on English horn. Sometimes she got into the finals or semifinals. Sometimes not.

"There's something addicting about taking auditions," Pearlman said. "You want to get better. You want to pass more rounds. You want to get to the finals. You want to win the job."

Orchestral auditions are anonymous and blind — to the point that the musicians play behind screens and judges or committees can't see them. They only hear them.

"It's one of the most bizarre experiences," Pearlman said. "When we play, we usually play for someone, unless you're practicing at home, but you usually have an audience. So it's so disorienting to just look into the screen."

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