The secret lives of our profs

Kayla Wilson

Professor of Music and Teacher of Oboe Howard Niblock, who hails from a family of musicians, nearly did not become one himself. In fact, before Niblock started college, his father tried to talk him out of pursuing music as a career. However, he ended up rebelling and ended up just like his dad.
It seems like he had little choice but to become a musician, despite what his father told him. “My dad’s a composer and a violinist and I grew up with music surrounding me,” he said, adding that his mother also played the violin. His parents picked the oboe for him after a bad piano teacher left him with distaste for the instrument. “My parents said if I quit playing the piano, I’d have to play something else,” he said, explaining the oboe decision.
Niblock did try very hard to rebel against his “fate of becoming a musician,” as he put it, and he actually initially intended to be an engineering major.
He changed majors three or four times before graduation, and ended up with degrees in philosophy and English. While he played the oboe all throughout college, he did not start studying it until grad school. After finishing his master’s, he found himself at a crossroads, applying for teaching jobs for which he was not entirely prepared and ultimately deciding that he needed to go out east if he wanted to have a performing career.
Right before he was about to sign a lease for an apartment in Boston with some friends he got a call from his father. A little while before this, Niblock received a letter from Luther College that had gone out to a lot of people. The letter stated that Luther had applied for a grant to fund a position to teach double reeds and interdisciplinary humanities, a position which was perfect for him.
He sent in a response and then set out on his East Coast adventure. His father was calling to inform him that Luther had been so impressed with this response that they were offering him the job. “They practically offered me the job without me auditioning — I did have to audition — so I gave up on the East Coast and went to Iowa.”
While this certainly did not fit in with his expectations, the experience had a really positive impact. “It taught me to be open to twists and turns and serendipity, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
“At Luther, I didn’t like everything about it, but I liked it,” he said, adding that it did not have a greatly demanding atmosphere. Niblock also was not in a tenure-track position, so he started applying for different jobs.
“I applied at big state schools, got it, and hated it.” Soon he was on the job market again and ended up applying at Lawrence. “It’s like the perfect place for me,” he said. “It is demanding musically, but with such a supportive atmosphere. And I get to do liberal arts things with my English and philosophy degrees.”
Niblock is currently finishing up work on his new CD, which will be available in the fall. He described it as “all stuff from recitals over the last few years that no one heard of.”
Obscure music is one of his favorite kinds of music to play. “I really love to play good music that nobody’s familiar with and then give them a new experience.”
His other favorites, he says, are Bach’s arias. “I get as much satisfaction out of playing those as anything.” He couldn’t pick a favorite piece of music, unable even to narrow it down to a certain type.