March 4, 2016
A Q&A with Roma Duncan
Minnesota Orchestra member since: 2003
Hometown: Grand Falls, Newfoundland, Canada
Education: McGill University; University of Michigan
What are your earliest musical memories?
My first instrument was piano. I remember performing in a concert when I was six—the piece was The Cuckoo and my outfit was a little maroon-colored dress. I remember very carefully following the stage manager’s instructions to bow after the piece and then stand still and wait for the curtain to come down. Unfortunately, I stood directly under the curtain, so they didn’t lower it and I was stuck there for a while. Eventually, the audience got a little giggly, so I just walked off stage. I’m glad there’s no curtain at Orchestra Hall!
Photo: Roma in her childhood home in Newfoundland, Canada—making music along with her mother on piano and daughter on violin
Who are your favorite composers and why?
My favorite composers tend to be whichever ones we’re playing at the moment.
If you could play a different instrument in the orchestra, which would you choose and why?
I’d love to know what it’s like to play bass. One of my absolute favorite things is playing a soaring melody high above the rest of the orchestra. The idea of knowing how it feels to do the opposite; to produce the lowest tones that support the ensemble is fascinating to me.
Also, so much of trying to play my instrument well comes down to tiny movements and adjustments. While all our instruments require precision, the bass players achieve this so differently—with such large movements and shifts. Honestly, the piccolo suits me far better, but it would be incredible to somehow experience creating both these extremes of our orchestral range, technique, and sound. What a perspective that would be.
Photo: Roma with her daughters, one a young violinist and one a young harpist, at the Lakes Area Music Festival in Brainerd, Minnesota.
What is your most memorable performance with the Orchestra?
My most memorable performance is still my very first one. I was playing my trial weeks (meaning Osmo and a musician committee had chosen me at the piccolo audition, but I still had to play trial weeks in the orchestra before they decided whether or not to hire me). As you can imagine, I prepared for these concerts by quite obsessively practicing and studying all the pieces on these programs. All was well until I arrived in Minneapolis for the first rehearsal. I remember walking down the big staircase backstage and seeing our personnel manager.
She smiled and politely informed me that the soloist was ill, so half the program would be completely different – Ravel’s Mother Goose and Daphnis Suites, pieces that are featured on every single piccolo audition. Once I realized she wasn’t joking, it did eventually occur to me that there really couldn’t be a better opportunity to see how I fit in this orchestra than to play some of the best piccolo parts there are. Mother Goose also opens with a beautiful 2nd flute solo, which I played in that particular concert, so I had the somewhat surreal experience of this gorgeous solo being the first notes I played in my first concert here.
Photo: Roma’s first ever professional headshot.
What is the most unusual venue and/or concert you have performed in?
A few years ago with the orchestra, I narrated the musical story, "Tubby the Tuba." It was a great experience, but I confess that I agreed to do it before I actually looked at the story, and I was quite surprised when I discovered that narrating this piece involves singing. It was a bit of a stretch for me to sing the "sad tuba" song and the "happy bullfrog" song. However, it was fun to step outside of my comfort zone to perform this with the orchestra. I can't tell you how weird it was to be standing in front of my colleagues singing into a microphone!
Also, I once performed with a woodwind quintet in a factory. I don’t know exactly what they made, but we all had to wear hard hats while we performed.
Photo: Roma with her daughters.
Do you have any thoughts or advice for audience members?
Get to know your orchestra. Come say hello to a musician before or after a concert. We love talking music. One of the incredible things about classical music is that every audience and orchestra member experiences the same concert in their own individual way. Sometimes, an unexpected viewpoint shared by an audience member can provide a fresh perspective for a player. And frankly I think it’s just more fun to listen to and watch the orchestra when you have a few familiar faces to look for.
Photo: A performance with the Minnesota Bach Ensemble, including members of the Minnesota Orchestra: former Principal Oboe Basil Reeve (second from left) and current bass player David Williamson (far right).