GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome to “Mad About Music” where my guest today is United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood.
When President Obama began considering whom he should appoint to the Supreme Court, she was the first person he interviewed. She was on everyone’s short list. He ultimately picked someone else but as a Judge on the United States Court of Appeals, one step below the Supreme Court, she remains a formidable force in shaping the law.
A liberal, she has been described as an “unflinching and spirited intellectual counterweight” to the conservative heavyweights on the Court, but at the same time well known as a consensus builder, often rallying other justices around her position. But it is her musical achievements that we will be exploring today. She may well be the most accomplished musician sitting on the Court. Her instrument is the oboe and she is a member of several Chicago amateur orchestras including the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra. Diane Wood, welcome to “Mad About Music.”
DIANE WOOD: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
KAPLAN: Now let’s begin with what I would call your music trajectory. Today you’re considered an accomplished oboist but how did it all begin and how did it all evolve?
WOOD: It began when I was quite young when I learned to play the piano being taught by my grandfather. Then I became a clarinet player in school and I stayed with the clarinet for about ten years and continued throughout that period of time with the piano until I went to college when I picked up the guitar and ran a coffee house for a period of time and then there was a period of time when I got too busy to do too much other than play the piano, but when my children were about six or seven years old, I picked up the oboe.
KAPLAN: Now I read that was quite late in your life actually, but let’s go back to school because I thought I read somewhere that you not only played the clarinet but you played in the marching band at the University. Is that true?
WOOD: I played in the marching band through high school not at the University. At the University of Texas I sang in a group called the Longhorn Singers which was one of the university singing organizations.
KAPLAN: I see. Now oboe players are often described as a sort of a special breed and I’d like to read a quote to you from someone who wrote an article -- I think it was the Los Angeles Times where they were trying to support your candidacy for the Supreme Court. And this is what she wrote: “Playing the oboe means living your life entirely at the mercy of tiny wooden double reeds that crack at inopportune moments and you’re supposed to make them yourself as though you were a 19th century artisan. It means blowing so hard into them that you risk a brain aneurysm every time you try to hit a high D.” Is it really that hard?
WOOD: It’s challenging. But there’s a good thing about the reeds too which is that any time it doesn’t sound quite the way you think it should, you can blame the reed.
KAPLAN: I see. Now she also concluded that oboists have one thing in common. “We’re just about the most judgmental people on the face of the earth” which is why she thought you’d be a good judge on the Supreme Court. What do you think about that?
WOOD: That’s probably correct. I’m thinking of the other woman who plays oboe with me at the Chicago Bar Association Orchestra and she and I have decided that the trumpet players are incorrigible and that the strings actually need a lot of extra work, so maybe we are judgmental.
KAPLAN: I wonder why are there so many oboe jokes usually about the oboe not being able to play in tune.
WOOD: That the ill wind that no one blows good?
KAPLAN: Well the one that I heard was: how do you get five oboes to play in tune? Shoot four of them.
WOOD: Right. Well it’s very temperamental. It’s a function of course the quality of your oboe, it’s a function of how good your reed is and it’s a function of the pressure that you are putting on the reed as you shove the oboe into your mouth and push it back out again with your embrasure.
KAPLAN: Now, speaking of tuning, I mean the oboe of course plays a special role in the orchestra. It sounds the note around which all the other instruments have to match to be in tune, so you get a solo don’t you at every concert. It’s just one note but are you nervous when you have to do it? Have you ever flubbed one?
WOOD: Well, I’m not usually nervous. I think the times that I would be most nervous is if I were trying out a new reed and I do actually cheat as many oboe players do and I have a tuner so I can make sure that I’m staying at a 440A, some people like 442As or a little bit brighter, but I stick with 440.
KAPLAN: All right, well then let’s turn to your music list, a very interesting music list -- it doesn’t surprise me that it starts with the oboe, in fact an Oboe Concerto.
WOOD: The reason I picked the Marcello Oboe Concerto is because this is the first oboe solo I ever played with a full orchestra behind me. I had as I said taken up the oboe at a somewhat older age when I was in my late 30s and had painstakingly brought up my ability to play and began to play with orchestras. And I love the baroque style, I love this particular concerto because it means a lot to me – my oboe teacher selected it for me and the second movement in particular I find quite lovely and so that’s why I chose it for this list.
KAPLAN: The second movement of the Marcello Oboe Concerto with soloist Ray Still and the Academy of London led by Richard Stamp – the first selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice and accomplished oboist, Diane Wood. The Marcello was the first oboe concerto she ever played. Now, you know you mentioned that you took up the oboe in your late 30s. Now do you think if you hadn’t played the clarinet you would have been able to do it? By which I mean most people starting at that age simply cannot learn an instrument well enough to become proficient. So do you think you could have done this without your experience with the clarinet?
WOOD: I think that playing the clarinet both helped and wasn’t terribly helpful. It helped because it had taught me how to control my breath, it had helped because I was used to the general feeling of a wind instrument but the first thing my oboe teacher told me after I met him was to forget everything I knew about playing the clarinet because the oboe, in his view, was completely different. So this may just be because oboe players are like that or maybe he was right but a double reed is actually quite a different challenge than the single reed.
KAPLAN: Well I’ve never heard you play but I think it’s fair to say that for someone at 38 who starts to play an instrument like the oboe or even the oboe to get good enough to play in an orchestra is an enormous musical accomplishment. Now let’s talk a little bit further about you as a musician. The conductor of the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra describes your playing as “sober and practical.” Would you agree with that?
WOOD: He’s probably right. I think that what he is usually observing is the fact that when I go to a rehearsal I have not usually had a lot of time to practice in advance and I am very focused on what I am doing, trying to be sure that I’m holding up my end of the bargain as it were and so in that sense I suppose I could see why he would call me sober and practical.
KAPLAN: Does that leave out the idea of emotional and passionate?
WOOD: I don’t think it does and I think in that particular Orchestra the part I usually play is the second oboe part and so I’m not having fun with the really elaborate solo lines. In one of the other orchestras I play in I do play the first oboe part and it’s great fun and I enjoy it a lot and I probably let go much more in that orchestra.
KAPLAN: Sober and practical. Could that be a description of you?
WOOD: Well, I don’t think so. I just finished teaching a class at the University of Chicago Law School and it seems to me my students and I had quite a few laughs so maybe not entirely that – it sounds so boring.
KAPLAN: What about as a listener. I mean does music often move you? Does it ever make you cry?
WOOD: It can bring tears to my eyes and I am not a crier. Some people cry at every sad movie and I am not one of those people but music certainly can bring tears to my eyes.
KAPLAN: Now this same conductor also mentioned that when you were in the news as a possible Supreme Court nominee, the press started showing up all of a sudden at rehearsals in hot pursuit of interviews. What was that like?
WOOD: That was very strange. We had a concert last year in which we did the Haydn Creation and people were shoving microphones in my face and they were asking for little bits of information and I really tried not to talk to them too much since I didn’t really have much to say to them but it was a very odd way to be.
KAPLAN: Now, I’d like to ask you about a different kind of performance, the performance in the court room. When Supreme Court Justice Scalia was on the show I suggested to him that his behavior during oral arguments was tantamount to a performance because he asked the most questions, he interrupted the lawyers the most and he cracked the most jokes. In that context, how would you describe your performance at the courtroom?
WOOD: I am a very active questioner too and I might add that Justice Scalia has been a friend of mine since the days when I moved to Chicago in the very early 1980’s and I know how he works in the courtroom. I enjoy a very active interchange with the lawyers.
KAPLAN: He of course is from New York, not Chicago, and so are many others on the court. How do you feel about this sort of evolving monopoly of New York lawyers on the Supreme Court?
WOOD: Personally I think it’s too bad that there aren’t more people from Chicago or Texas but they have all been around. I know them as individuals and they’re all fine people.
KAPLAN: OK. Well let’s return to your music list and this time its Bach.
WOOD: It’s Bach in part because Bach for me symbolizes a lot of musical evolution for myself. I began with the Bach Inventions as a piano student and enjoyed seeing how somebody could work with polyphony the way that he did and moved on to the Brandenburg Concertos just for my listening enjoyment -- some of them use the oboe and others don’t but I chose Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 because it does have some lovely oboe passages in it and it also is such a fine achievement of Bach.
KAPLAN: The first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields led by Sir Neville Marriner. Music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood. When we return we’ll explore the influence of music on Justice Wood’s opinions.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood. OK, let’s now talk about music in your life. Beyond playing, how often do you attend live performances of either the symphony or the opera or even chamber music?
WOOD: I’m a very regular attender of both opera and symphony. For many years now I have gone to all eight operas that Lyric Opera of Chicago performs as well as the three operas that the Chicago Opera Theater does. They tend to be what I call a little edgier. They’re very interesting productions and I’ve been a subscriber for many years to the Chicago Symphony. I go to other things on a more occasional basis.
KAPLAN: Now, when you’re drafting opinions do you have music on in the background, and if you do, which composer do you prefer?
WOOD: I sometimes have music on in the background but my problem with having music on in the background is I find I would much rather actually listen to the music then focus on the opinion that I’m writing on so that I have to turn it off, but when I do have it on I would say – I’ve got a big stack of CDs and sometimes it’ll be more contemporary things, the Eagles or somebody like that, sometimes it will be symphonies. I have a whole set of Beethoven symphonies but I can get quite distracted if I’m listening to them.
KAPLAN: I mean, just by comparison, since I’ve had both, Justice Scalia and Justice Ruth Ginsburg on the show. He tends to listen to Bach and she likes Mozart. So, we continue to find out how music enters the courtroom. Now, I understand you enjoy jigsaw puzzles. Do you also do the crossword?
WOOD: I do the crosswords religiously.
KAPLAN: Now I wonder if you know, because I didn’t know until Will Shortz, who is the crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times was on “Mad About Music,” he revealed that the instrument that shows up the most in the crossword puzzle is -
WOOD: The oboe.
WOOD: Great letters.
KAPLAN: Great letters - three vowels and its short.
WOOD: That’s right.
KAPLAN: Can you do the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle?
WOOD: I usually can. My husband and I sit down and see who finishes it first.
KAPLAN: I meet people – very few who can do the Saturday puzzle. I’m good to about Thursday. Do you carry an iPod with you?
WOOD: I do have an iPod.
KAPLAN: And do you - are you always adding things to it or do you have your favorites on there?
WOOD: I just have my favorites on it. I’m not a big adder. My children tell me I don’t use it as well as I should.
KAPLAN: Now I’d like to talk a little bit about interpretation. You mentioned before that you go to the opera quite often, sometimes more traditional productions, sometimes more adventurous, and in the endless debate about how to interpret the Constitution, I read somewhere that you wrote that: “Judges should not confine their interpretation to the narrowest reading of the score – of the text.” I mean do you feel the same way about opera? Is it OK for directors to take great liberties, completely disregarding the composers often clear staging directions as so often happens today?
WOOD: I probably would stick more to what the composer said but I would also want to see how much room the composer left for interpretation. It seems to me having looked at scores it’s not a paragraph about what each line is supposed to represent and I have seen some operas very successfully staged with very spare staging or maybe a modern context. I saw a version of Tannhäuser which was set in the 20th century which actually worked pretty well, a little bit to my surprise, I might say but -
KAPLAN: Well we know Wagner couldn’t have intended that. Right?
WOOD: Of course. He definitely didn’t. It depicted Tannhäuser as a religious, fundamentalist evangelical type.
KAPLAN: Back to your music and in fact it will stay with opera because it is opera – and it’s Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
WOOD: Yes, I chose Don Giovanni and I actually chose Mozart for sentimental reasons. As I was raising my children I tried to expose them to fine music including opera and I had a tape that had Mozart’s famous arias on it, and somewhat to my surprise the children developed very strong likes and dislikes for different arias. So they liked very much the one I have chosen, “Madamina.” They didn’t like so much another one from The Magic Flute, “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön,” they liked “Papageno” from The Magic Flute and so on. So “Madamina” was one of their favorites and I used to ride along in the car and translate all the words for them and they thought that was just the funniest thing that they could see so I selected “Madamina” to symbolize this education of my children in opera.
KAPLAN: How old were they when you were playing this for them?
WOOD: Oh, about 4, 6 and 8. They were young.
KAPLAN: I mean, a rather bold thing to play “Madamina” which of course is Don Giovanni’s servant reciting all his sexual abuses and transgressions and -
WOOD: But they loved the idea that there were 1,003 already in Spain.
KAPLAN: “Madamina”, the well-known aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, sung here by Fernando Corena with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Josef Krips. This aria in which the Don’s servant recounts the history of Don Giovanni’s sexual conquests was chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood, because it was a favorite of her children already at a very young age. You know, I’m beginning to conclude that being a judge and loving opera seems to go hand in hand. Most of the justices for example on the Supreme Court are regulars at the Washington Opera and you attend every production at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. Now are most of your colleagues at the Court of Appeals passionate about music?
WOOD: Most of them are. I can think of only a couple who don’t regularly attend musical events.
KAPLAN: So maybe there’s something to my theory. Well, we now come to that point of the show we call the “wildcard” where you have a chance to select some music and explain why you selected it that is not classical, not opera, it can be anything and I must say we’ve had some very wild “wildcards” on the show, so what did you bring today?
WOOD: What I selected was a song from the Broadway – very old Broadway play Kismet, “And This is My Beloved” and the reason I chose it is because my own early education of music involved a lot of Broadway. I was living in Westfield, New Jersey at the time and it was a great treat to go into New York City to listen to a musical. I went to see My Fair Lady, I went to see Camelot, I went to see other things – but my parents had an album, an old 33 album that had songs from various shows and this was one of my favorites. And as it turned out many, many years later there’s a production of Kismet as a whole with opera singers actually, but this song is on it and I think of those early days of going to the Broadway plays when I hear this song.
KAPLAN: “And This is My Beloved” from the Broadway play Kismet sung here by Ruth Ann Swenson, Samuel Ramey, Dom De Luise and Jerry Hadley with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Gemignani. A musical memory from the childhood of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood. When we return, we’ll talk with Justice Wood about the music she selected for her wedding.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood. You know, you’ve talked so much about music you’ve listened to but I’d like to ask you about music in a different context. People often remember music because it was a first piece they heard, something at a graduation, a wedding. Do you have something in this category?
WOOD: Well, I can tell you about the music that I chose when I got married to my husband. This was my wedding presided over by my friend and colleague Dick Posner. And I chose two things from Mozart: one the wedding music from The Marriage of Figaro in the middle of the opera and the other from Don Giovanni when Zerlina is getting married to Masetto which is very cheery music although a little bit funny for a wedding if you think about what happened at that point in the opera to Zerlina and Masetto. But it’s very cheery and I enjoyed it.
KAPLAN: We’re talking a lot about the oboe on this show today and I’d like to continue that because I’d like to know whether another aspect of this instrument interests you and it’s often described as music on period instruments or historically informed performances. Does this do anything for you as a musician?
WOOD: Well, I’m interested to hear the instruments that the composer would have had in mind at the time the music was written. I know there’s a great debate about whether that’s the only legitimate way to listen to the music or whether say doing a Beethoven Piano Concerto on a modern piano is really equally valid and I’m pretty ecumenical about that. I love hearing them on either kind of instrument. I’ve enjoyed going to some wonderful music museums. I particularly think of the one in Paris where you can hear the instruments through the years exactly as they sounded and I do think one gets some insight into the composer from the original instruments.
KAPLAN: I mean I share you view about that. I personally think for example that if Bach, whose music was written for the harpsichord, and I quite like it on a harpsichord, but I’m sure that if Bach had ever heard a Steinway D piano he might not have composed for the harpsichord anymore. All right, well, staying with instruments we should talk about another instrument, the English horn, a sort of cousin of the oboe, a darker sound, it’s often an instrument I think of lament. Which is more challenging to play because you play them both?
WOOD: I think the oboe is actually a little harder to play. The English horn is a little bit bigger but the reed isn’t quite as fussy and it’s a little bit harder for me anyway to keep the instrument in tune in the higher registers for the English horn. But in general just the breathing and the getting the air through the horn seems a little easier on the English horn.
KAPLAN: I mean it seems to be most effective when it deals with music of great emotion of lament. Would you share that view?
WOOD: Oh yes. I think it’s a very poignant sound; it’s very almost minor sound.
KAPLAN: All right, then this would be a good time to listen to your next piece because it’s Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” No. 9 which features perhaps the best known English horn solo in the symphonic repertoire at least.
WOOD: Yes, I love the second movement of the “Symphony from the New World” and I actually like the entire piece and I’ll just share with you that one of the reasons I like it is because it’s called “From the New World” and I think it was one of the first pieces that caused me to try to reflect what we expect of classical music in modern times. Why would somebody who wasn’t an American write the “Symphony from the New World;” what were Americans writing; should there be the distinction that we think of between classical music and jazz and other kinds of modern music and I think all of those thoughts cause me to enjoy the “New World Symphony” but also think how interesting it was. Now of course the English horn part is spectacular and I would listen to that any time.
KAPLAN: Have you ever had the chance to play it?
WOOD: Not in a symphony, no.
KAPLAN: We’ll have to let the American Bar Association know what comes next.
WOOD: That’s right.
KAPLAN: The stunning English horn solo from Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony “From the New World,” the Vienna Philharmonic with Herbert von Karajan on the podium. A solo my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood, would love to have played one day. Let’s talk about favorites. Do you have an oboist in mind who you might regard as the greatest oboist in history?
WOOD: Wow. That’s a big question. I suppose the oboist whose work I’ve heard the most is the man who for many years was the principal oboe player at the Chicago Symphony, Ray Still, who himself collaborated quite a bit with the man who is my oboe teacher, Carl Sonik. Then for a period of time we had Alex Klein, who unfortunately was not able to continue being the principal oboist at the symphony and now we have Eugene Izotov, who I think is wonderful so there are a number of excellent players. It’s always interesting to me to see the difference. Some people prefer a brighter tone; some people almost seem to go for a reedier tone and I think there’s a certain amount of personal taste that dictates that.
KAPLAN: Now, when you picked the Marcello Oboe Concerto before you said it was because it was the first piece you had played - not necessarily your favorite. Do you have a favorite concerto?
WOOD: This is not going to sound original but the Mozart Oboe Concerto is probably my favorite.
KAPLAN: How about your favorite conductors? These can be people you observed at the Chicago Symphony or the Lyric Opera or on records where you can imagine not their movements but the sound that they’ve created. Do you have favorites?
WOOD: Well, there are a number of favorites. I think that Sir Neville Marriner has been a fabulous conductor and I’ll listen to anything that the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields has put out, Sir Andrew Davis who’s been with the Lyric Opera for many years is another great favorite of mine.
KAPLAN: Both British. Both British. And what about opera singers?
WOOD: Opera singers – again there are really many. I was listening actually on my way over here to Bryn Terfel who I think is wonderful singing now. Samuel Ramey is a favorite. I just saw Frederica von Stade in one of her farewell concerts in an opera called Three Decembers written for her by Jake Heggie at the Chicago Opera Theater. I thought she was wonderful.
KAPLAN: So those are your favorites. Let’s come to composers in a different way because I get the sense you’re quite eclectic in your tastes about music from a composer’s point of view. Are there composers you just don’t connect to, well known composers.
WOOD: Not too many. I think if I were to identify a group, the post World War Two composers I have more trouble connecting with. I remember my oboe teacher once saying, you know, he didn’t really want to perform music if it wasn’t beautiful. And I find it hard to find what they’re getting at.
KAPLAN: So would that also show up for today’s music, contemporary music
WOOD: Some of the contemporary music I actually think is moving around back to music that I think I at least find more accessible, music that I find coherent, that I can see the logic of where it’s going or I can see how it holds together somehow
KAPLAN: Are you able to mention any particular names of contemporary composers whose music you like
WOOD: Well, there’s Three Decembers. Jake Heggie who wrote that, I thought that was a lovely piece and it was quite contemporary
KAPLAN: Well, let’s go to something next which is completely accessible and its Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade, the final work on your list.
WOOD: Yes, I chose this piece because again it was something that I have been familiar with for many years, from the time I was in high school and actually probably even before that since as a child I enjoyed reading the Arabian Nights stories and then I encountered this. And what I loved about it was the way it does tell a story. It depicts the various characters beautifully, it’s very evocative in terms of the different movements and the different stories that she’s telling and it’s got that Russian, sad yearning tone to it a great deal. So I chose Scheherazade because it was one of the early pieces from that repertoire that I knew about. There’s another reason I picked this piece which is because when I moved from New Jersey down to Houston, right before my junior year of high school, in the process of enrolling in my new school, I was asked what’s your favorite music. And being a very literal kid, I thought they’re asking me a particular piece of music and I’ve got to write something down. So I chose Scheherazade. And then after that, later on that day, I thought I’m sure they weren’t asking for that. They probably wanted to know, you know, did I like the Beatles or did I like, you know, jazz or something. But I chose Scheherazade because I was very fond of it.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the riveting conclusion of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra led by their music director, Valery Gergiev, the final selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” United States Court of Appeals Justice, Diane Wood. You know, we’ve talked quite a bit about opera on this show today and I’d like to explore an aspect of opera I discussed on prior shows with two of your colleagues, both Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. I asked them to pick a composer who would be ideal to create an opera out of the drama that took place in the court in Bush vs. Gore – which everyone knows was about counting the votes in Florida and their vote on the Supreme Court might have even determined the outcome of that 2000 Presidential election. It had many elements of an opera plot: drama, highly charged recitatives, passionate arias, fate, even charges of duplicity. Now Judge Ginsburg thought Verdi would be the perfect one (with Wagner as her runner up) while Justice Scalia preferred Mozart. So, what would your candidate for this be?
WOOD: I would not pick Mozart. I think my candidate would be Bizet.
KAPLAN: Do you want to offer any reasons why?
WOOD: The reason I would say Bizet is I think exactly as you said, there was a great deal of passion, not only in the part of the immediate actors, say on the Supreme Court, but on the part of the people who went to Florida to participate on one side or the other of the vote count. And on the part of the country as a whole people felt very strongly about what was going on and I think -
KAPLAN: The country was the chorus.
WOOD: The country was the chorus, yes. And Bizet has wonderful choruses. And I think, when I think of Carmen or when I think of some of Bizet’s other pieces, I think that there’s a real dynamism to the writing that makes me think of Bush vs. Gore.
KAPLAN: OK. All right. As we head toward the ending of the show, we come to one final section dealing with fantasies, musical fantasies. And here all guests have to respond to this in an honest way. Now in your case it’s a little bit difficult because you are already accomplished in some aspects of music, so we have to rule those out. And the question really is if you could be a superstar in music, in any field as a composer, as a conductor, as an opera singer, as an instrumentalist playing some instrument you don’t now play, what would it be?
WOOD: I would learn to play the French horn. I think that has a beauty that is unique when it’s played very well. It’s a different mood altogether than the oboe which I do play and I love, but I think the horn would be spectacular to know how to play well.
KAPLAN: Well, you seem like someone who makes fantasies come true. Justice Wood, you’ve been a wonderful guest today and thank you for appearing. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”