Through playing his oboe, Ian Mahoney has learned that perfection isn’t everything


At the middle school band concert, sophomore Ian Mahoney tricked everyone into thinking he was playing his oboe; when, in reality, he was pretending the whole time despite knowing the songs extremely well. 

“When we were putting together our instruments for my middle school concert, I dropped my oboe on the ground,” Ian said, “and it fell pretty hard to the point that one of the keys actually completely popped off and broke, so I couldn’t play the entire concert because I broke my instrument right before we went on. I still don’t know if anyone knows or noticed because I just didn’t play the whole time. Instead, [I] had to pretend by fingering the keys. Luckily, though, we were able to get it fixed the next day.” 

This unfortunate mishap was one story among many that Ian has endured from his time playing the oboe from sixth grade until present day. 

The oboe has been a part of his life for a long time—even though it’s a complicated instrument to learn. Ian loved it, though, and he wanted to continue learning from the very beginning. 

“I had an instant connection with playing the oboe,” Ian said. “Even though a lot of early oboe players tend to sound like ducks—that’s what they call it when we start off playing and just do not sound very good. However, I still remember our band teacher in sixth grade gave us this piece of music. It was ‘Pink Panther,’ and the very same day we got it in class, I practiced it so much at school as well as at home that I was able to perform it for the class. It was all very exciting for me because it was one of the first times I was able to show off playing my instrument.”

Ian has had a knack for the oboe since the start, but his improvement from back then to now is still major. As a result, he has had many accomplishments along with a hard-working, determined attitude to get him to where he is today. 

A prime example of how Ian has grown is that he is now able to hear the emotion and depth behind music while listening to it, but has also learned how to better incorporate and portray emotion behind his own playing. 

“Recently, my ears have been trained to hear when something sounds empty with not really any emotion,” Ian said, “and you really have to learn how to control your reed to draw out emotion in your playing. Otherwise, it will sound fake and sterile.”

When learning how to get emotion across in his own work, Ian was able to really focus on not only making the music sound good, but also how he wanted it to make other people feel while they listened to it. 

One way he learned this was by listening to famous artists and depicting how their work made him feel. 

“My teacher always has me listen to the professionals,” Ian said. “When I hear them, all I can think about is how I want to be that good someday, so that really pushes me. Along with that, I really enjoy piecing together the different parts of a song, and you get to hear it form into something beautiful.”

Listening to their work so much has also impacted what Ian plays as well because he is now learning more complicated and very famous pieces done by musicians he idolizes. 

Ian feels that, sometimes, learning extremely well-known pieces can be a hard and intricate task that takes a lot of practice. Yet, by the end, it is definitely worth it because the final product is beautiful. 

You don’t have to be perfect when you play, you just have to be good enough to be able to draw out that emotion.”

— Ian Mahoney

“I have been doing a lot of famous works lately,” Ian said. “Right now, I am doing the Mozart oboe, and it’s probably the most famous one. It’s not necessarily the hardest piece, but it’s definitely the most well-known, so that’s made it kind of daunting, but, at the same time, some parts of it are really jumpy. It’s just fun to play always—even if it’s still hard.”

Playing the oboe will always have its challenges—as all great things do—but Ian continues to take on the task and play admirably while doing so. 

Ian’s favorite part about playing is that it was never about being one hundred percent perfect as long as there is depth and emotion. 

“I want my music to make people feel something when they hear it,” Ian said, “because you don’t have to be perfect when you play, you just have to be good enough to be able to draw out that emotion. That’s really the biggest part of music; the main goal has never been to be perfect. [The goal] is to sound good while making people feel happy, sad, and all the emotions in between depending on the music.”