Meet the Musician: Clarinetist Ashley Booher

Photography by Danielle Cho

What is your role in the orchestra and when did you join?

I am the bass clarinetist and “third” clarinetist of the orchestra. I won my audition on 11/11/11 (I’ll never forget that date!) and started in January of 2012. My first week was Mariinsky Ballet and we played Stravinsky’s Firebird. It was intense!

The bass clarinet is one of the more distinctively shaped instruments in the orchestra. What have you heard some people erroneously call it?

Oh, I’ve heard quite a bit of funny names for my it! Nutcracker week is always the most entertaining with all the children and families in attendance. I’ve heard saxophone, black saxophone, and black trombone. Black trombone was my favorite. I guess bass clarinet doesn’t come up in music class!

What are you most looking forward to playing this season?

I’m really looking forward to the season’s opener: Verdi’s Aida. There is a gigantic 2 minute and 30 second bass clarinet solo in Act 4. I’ve played it on auditions but never in real life. I’m really looking forward to playing it with the singers. It’s a mournful aria with a bass clarinet obligato line that accompanies the singers/characters Amneris and Radames. Amneris is pleading with Radames to not waste/sacrifice his life for Aida, whom he saved and his actions have landed him on death row. It should be quite moving. It’s the only time I play in the entire opera, which will be a weird experience. It’ll be lots of waiting around then playing an exposed solo. Outside of opera, I’m also looking forward to NYC Ballet’s mixed rep programs and ABT’s new ballet, “Whipped Cream.”

Do you teach clarinet privately?

I do! I have a few students who I teach at my home and I am also on faculty at Howard University. This semester I have about 5 students enrolled in clarinet lessons. I am coming up on my 3rd year of teaching at Howard and it’s been a really rewarding experience teaching at the college level. I only left college about 6 years ago, so sometimes it feels bizarre being the “professor.” I really enjoy imparting my knowledge and experiences to the students. Last year I got mistaken as a student by a faculty member and a student though. Hopefully as I age, that goes away! Ha!

What are some of your interests outside of the pit?

When I was in college, it was all consuming and it was really the only thing I did. When I started my job, I was left with tons of free time—the schedule is so much lighter than a DM student at Indiana University! I felt kind of lost at first, but over time I started trying to find ways to fill out my days in meaningful ways. I realized early on that the better I felt physically, the better I played musically. So outside of the pit I try to stay as active as possible. I run, do yoga, hike with my dogs and ride horses! Yup, you read that right: I’m a clarinetist who rides horses regularly.

What do you like about riding horses?

I first got into horse back riding as a potential new summer activity. I’ve always admired horses and enjoyed watching people ride. I’ve also always somehow been around at least one horse person my entire life and always admired what they do. My mother in law got her own horse (named Page Turner) about 5 years ago and let me ride him. It was my first time on a horse and I just fell in love. I just love the beauty of the animal and how they interact with each other and with humans. I’ve been riding regularly for about two years now. Recently I’ve been learning the dressage seat and have competed in school horse shows. I won a blue ribbon in a horse show with Toby this spring!

There are many aspects of riding that mirror that of music. When you are on the horse, there is a certain amount of mental and physical discipline that is required. Horses live in the moment and aren’t worrying about some random future thing. The rider needs to be in the “zone” mentally and physically to communicate successfully with the horse. I feel it’s the same kind of thing I experience with music. If I’m thinking of dinner while playing a solo, I’m going to mess up. If I’m thinking of dinner while riding a horse, my horse is going to be all over the place. I went to a horse clinic this spring and the clinician explained that horseback riding is an “active meditation.” While you are riding, you are actively in tune with your horse and body. You are living in the moment. I always feel so relaxed after I ride-it can be very Zen. I often call it my “horse high.” There’s no other activity that I’ve experienced that gives me that feeling. I just love being around these beautiful animals and I feel lucky I get to be around them and learn from them.

Our Assistant Principal, Lora Ferguson, retired from the orchestra in July. How will that affect you and David [our Principal Clarinet] this season?

Both David & I will definitely miss Lora tremendously. She is like family and is one of the nicest people I know. For the upcoming season, I think David and I will be working a little harder than normal. For me it’ll mean a lot more 2nd clarinet playing and for David it means he gets no breaks from playing principal. In the past the three of us would rotate the programs, so each person wouldn’t feel overworked. This season it will be on David and me to play every production. If there are three clarinets required on a production, we’ll have to hire a sub to play that part. It’ll be fun to play with new people this season, but there’s a special musical bond that happens when you play with the same colleagues every week. You know each other’s tendencies and can just “gel” your parts together.

David, Lora and Ashley. 2017 Opera Gala