OSU senior Tad Biggs ’18 pulls out his iPhone and starts reading back a list of what he’s been listening to lately. You might expect from this dedicated oboist to hear a recitation of classical warhorses, famous orchestras and titans of the double-reed world that none but a select few have even heard of, but no: one after another, Biggs rattles off hip hop, R&B and rap artists popular (and otherwise) whose music excites him.
“Oh of course, I could play Mozart and Haydn all day. But I try to avoid elitism in music, because it [music] can be meaningful at a lot of different levels. Just because I can find meaning in some things doesn’t mean there isn’t meaning in other things,” he explains.
Tad, like most music students at OSU, is planning for a career as a music educator, and those little discoveries – like when he finds a new musician whose work excites him – are what drives his passion to teach. “Remembering those moments when you have personal revelations and then sharing that knowledge and seeing others ‘light up’ when they make those discoveries, that’s what I love about the concept of being a teacher,” Biggs says with an infectious smile as he continues rattling off a long list of inspirational musicians he’s “into” at the moment.
Arriving at Oregon State as a transfer student, Tad, who grew up just down the road in Albany, decided to enroll primarily to study with Fred Korman, who taught oboe at OSU for nearly a decade following a long and illustrious career as principal oboe in the Oregon Symphony Orchestra.
It was during his oboe studies that Tad found his true musical passion and decided to pivot his focus from solely performance to musicology, an area where he is particularly fascinated by the music of the Harlem Renaissance and African American composers who drew heavily on African Roots music in their western classical works.
“The music of William Grant Still was a pivotal moment. I heard Incantation and Dance for Oboe and Piano, and started listening to his other music – symphonies and chamber music – and couldn’t believe I’d never heard it before.”
Soon, Biggs plans to head off to a graduate level musicology program to continue his research in ethnic and racial studies inside of musicology. His specific interest in examining the effects of African diaspora on American classical music in the context of Black metropolitanism and Black art movements during the Harlem Renaissance will give him the chance to “use his position to elevate this music and help give it the attention it deserves.”
And with that parting thought, the ever dedicated oboist has to run off to yet another rehearsal. But before he leaves, he ponders:
So, what do Mozart, Haydn and Snoop have in common? Not a lot at first glance.
And at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a lot in common between the oboe and the Harlem Renaissance.
But when you embrace the core idea of studying the liberal arts – achieving a well-rounded education – you’ll make some interesting connections between disparate subject areas.
You never know what’s out there until you start looking and Biggs never plans to stop.
Story and photos by Zachary C. Person