David Nuttall has played the oboe professionally for 50 years and was the TSO Principal Oboe for the past 15. We farewelled him from the position in December 2021, but in true David-style he has not ventured far. His commitment to music, advocacy, and mentoring has kept him connected to the orchestra and means we have the privilege of growing with him by our side. Brooke was thrilled to sit and talk with David about the transition that is ‘retirement’ (which, for a musician like David, is not your average golfing and gardening story).

Hi David, almost a year into your retirement as a fulltime musician with the TSO, what are the significant differences in your life?

David filming Daily Dose in 2020

The main difference is a lack of stress.

Performing at a high level is stressful, and I’d been doing it for an awfully long time as I joined the MSO directly after I finished my ‘official’ study - not that one ever really finishes learning. I played five years with the MSO, then I got a job teaching in Canberra, playing with the Canberra Wind Soloists, alongside touring the country and internationally as a casual musician. That was stressful at times, but not constant like it has been over the past 15 years as a principal with the TSO. Working fulltime as a principal equates to fulltime stress. Eventually I thought, gee I don’t think I really want to do this anymore.

Once I opened up and spoke with Caroline about my desire to retire, I mentioned that I’d like to keep in contact with the orchestra as I think the TSO is terrific and I love the music profession. I said to Caroline that I’d like to continue mentoring and she said, “well, why don’t you keep doing that with us?”

So, what are you working on with the orchestra this year?

David, Dinah, Roger and Brooke on tour for TSO To You in 2021

Well, I was humbled to be invited to join the TSO Board upon my retirement, which I gladly accepted as it’s a new way of looking at and supporting the orchestra.

Recently I worked in Burnie with Tim Jones to mentor local music groups including the Emusicians and the Burnie Concert Band. I love that I got to demonstrate the oboe, oboe d’amore and cor anglais as no one is currently playing them in either ensemble. I’d like to think that someone hears any of these instruments and thinks, “oh, I’d love to learn that.”  I’m also involved with organising the TSO Community Rehearsal coming up in November, and I’m looking forward to returning to Tasmania to take the woodwind sectional rehearsals in Launceston and Hobart in late September.  My involvement, thanks to Caroline’s interest, means we can talk openly about my coming back to the TSO to support specific future projects which I’m grateful for.

I am now also using my position as a TSO board member to advocate for the orchestra on a national scale now I’m living in Canberra.

I love the TSO; it’s a great place and I love the people. I hope to stay connected as a mentor. I’m so happy to come back (from Canberra) to support the TSO in the future. This orchestra is constantly trying to find ways to give back to the community and I think that is so important.

Now you’re not a fulltime musician, have you discovered space for new (or dormant) interests to flourish. If so, what are you learning about?

I don’t know about new interests particularly, but I do find I’m really enjoying just listening to music - instead of practising as a means to an end. Now I don’t have that other pressure my brain can stop being analytical and I can just enjoy the sounds and emotions of what music can do.

A few years ago, Larry Sitsky composed a 35-minute sonata for me as I complained that there weren’t so many big pieces for the oboe. The work is inspired by The Nine Songs, an ancient Chinese shamanistic text. He and I recorded it together and I also performed it in Tasmania with David Bollard. At the end of last year (2021) Larry decided to turn it into a concerto for me. It’s currently being typeset and will be published through TSO House, which is excellent.

Do you think you’ll perform this new concerto anytime soon?

I don’t know yet. I’m really enjoying not having the pressure of not making, and dealing with, oboe reeds (see our story with Tahnee van Herk if you want to know more about the intensity of reed making). To keep in shape on the oboe is really hard. I love that I’m now free to practise when and how I feel. I’m not saying I’d not go back to a practice routine if we decided to workshop Larry’s concerto. Who knows? Never say never. To be honest, I really am enjoying not so much oboe. Much less stress.

The oboe is not who I am. I’ve spent nearly 54 years playing the oboe and it’s a huge part of what I do – just not all of who I am. I was once described as a ‘lout who happened to play the oboe very well’ and there’s a certain element of truth in that. I love sport. I love watching sport. I used to do triathlons and was a rover in high school playing Australian Rules Football back in the day in Brisbane.  I only stopped playing football because I got my fingers kicked in and I made the choice to play oboe over attempting to becoming a professional AFL player. Whether or not I would have been good enough for the premier league, history does not reveal.

Lastly, how did you know this was your time to step away from the profession? Do you have any sage words for other professionals at this stage in life?

For me, I knew it was time as I’d had enough of the stress. This is obviously different for other people in other professions. How do you know? You just feel it inside, then it’s the question of being able to extract yourself from that position. Whether you can or not is individual. People now have the opportunity to change careers four or five times in their lives, so those endings are not the same as doing something for 50 years. I imagine the emotional connection feels very different. I don’t really have any sage words as I would never presume to try to tell anyone else what to do. I think other people will think for themselves, like I’ve done. We have our own answers inside.

Thanks for your time, David. We wish you well in Canberra and look forward to seeing you back at the TSO soon.