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Instrumental on the ice

Speak softly and carry a big stick—two of them, if you’re Ryan Klein ’08. He holds a simplish hook of aspen in one hand and a considerably more elaborate tube of rosewood in the other—and puts them both to good use, if not at the same time.

Klein, a defenseman for the T’breds’ hockey team, is not your average puck chaser in that he’s also an accomplished oboist. He started playing hockey on a frozen backyard pond when he was five. “My father installed flood lighting from an overhanging maple tree. My brother and I would sometimes play into the early morning hours,” he says. Music-making came a few years later, when his grade school offered lessons on any instrument and Klein picked the oboe—in part to be different (“nobody else in Alden Place Elementary School played it”) and for another reason: “My family had a tradition of playing a recording of Tschaikovsky’s Swan Lake while we opened presents on Christmas morning. My favorite passage was (and still is) the opening to the finale of the first act, which features an oboe solo.” Smitten though he was, Klein was not aware that the double-reeded woodwind “was just about the most difficult instrument I could have chosen.”

For ten years, Klein has continued to press his toes into skates and put his fingers to keys, delving deeper into the nuances of these disparate interests. That Skidmore’s “down-to-earth” coach understood his “commitment to music on an equal level with hockey,” plus the college’s “highly regarded music program,” made choosing to come to Saratoga Springs a cinch, he says.

Even though Klein’s had a lot of practice playing both, oboe and hockey are not exactly a match made in heaven. “I wish I could find them complementary—it might make my life less hectic. But trying to be more poised as I break the puck out during a power-play cannot go hand-in-hand with remembering to exaggerate the contrast in dynamics in the Saint-Saëns Oboe Sonata.” What he likes about both is “how I can make a difference in a performance”—by playing in tune with the other players in an orchestra or wind ensemble, and by keeping five skating teammates in view “to know where to send or receive a pass in split-second time.”

Logistically, though, he tries to keep the two worlds separate (first and foremost because a wooden oboe might well crack in the cold, dry air of a rink). As it is, afternoon hockey practice ends at 6 and orchestra rehearsal begin at 7, “leaving little time for showering, changing, and eating dinner.” Sometimes conflicts are unavoidable. Last semester, for example, “the chamber music ensemble had a performance scheduled at the same time as a game against a nationally top-ranked team.” Klein handled the clash nimbly, playing a single period of the hockey match and then zipping back to campus for the concert.

He intends to declare a music major and is setting his sights on a related career (“teaching elementary-school music, performing in professional orchestras, and pursuing ethnomusicology are all of interest”), but Klein would also consider playing pro hockey for a few years. In the meantime, he’s still looking for an easy way to combine his dual passions: “My dream is to play the national anthem before I play a game. Maybe if I got a plastic oboe…” —MTS