Susan Kokernak listened to all kinds of music growing up, but as an oboe player her performing options were limited.
"When you take up the oboe it sort of leads you down the classical path," said Kokernak, a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts native and currently a teacher in the Niskayuna Central School District. "I listened to all styles, but there was just something about the sound of the oboe that I really liked. There was something about the tonal quality that just attracted me to that instrument."
Kokernak and her oboe will be performing with the Schenectady Symphony 3 p.m. Sunday at the GE Theatre in the group's third concert of the 2018-2019 season. Kokernak will be the soloist, and Glen Cortese, currently the artistic director of the Western New York Chamber and the Greeley Philharmonic in Colorado, is serving as the symphony's guest conductor.
Kokernak started subbing with the Schenectady Symphony back in 1995, two years after she started working in the Niskayuna district. Along with being the school's band director, she also teaches 5th and 7th grade band as well as the 7th grade stage band.
As for performing herself, along with being principal oboist for the past nine years with the Schenectady Symphony, she plays with the Capital Region Wind Ensemble and her own woodwind quartet called Fu'nf, which means five in German. On Sunday, Kokernak will be playing Tomaso Albinoni's Oboe Concerto No. 2 in D Minor Op. 9.
"I chose that piece because I especially love the middle movement," said Kokernak. "It allows you to put in your own ornamentation and kind of make it your own. It's an absolutely beautiful movement that I had performed in high school, and now after all these years I'm kind of revisiting it."
Kokernak says she was 9 years old when she fell in love with the sound of the oboe.
"I listened to a high school girl play the oboe, and that's all I ever wanted to do since," she said. "I remember hearing her play and I said to myself, 'I want to do that.' The tonal quality just attracted me to the instrument. My family was very active musically and went to a lot of concerts. My brother was also a musician, more of a rock musician, so I listened to all kinds, but I loved the oboe."
Kokernak lives in Niskayuna with her husband, Jim, an engineer at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, and their two daughters. The oldest is a freshman at the University of Virginia majoring in engineering and the youngest is a senior at Niskayuna who plans on getting into biomedical engineering. One plays the violin and the other the flute.
"They're following their father, but they still both play music because they love it," said Kokernak.
Kokernak also gives priviate oboe lessons at her home in Niskayuna, and says no one is too old to learn to play music.
"Learning any instrument is good for the brain," she said. "I have a private studio in my home and I get students from all over the Capital Region. I don't have any older students now but in the past I have."
A 1988 high school graduate who went to The Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut , Kokernak has no regrets about making music her sole profession. She is dedicating Sunday's performance to SSO's previous principal oboist, Gene Marie Green.
"I had some terrific teachers over the years, including Humbert Lucarelli who was based in New York but taught at the Hartt School when I was there," said Kokernak, who has also taught at SUNY Schenectady County Community College. "I'm very lucky because I feel like I have the greatest job in the world. I work in a terrific music department at a school with talented teachers and great students."
Cortese is the third of four guest conductors who will be auditioning for the role of artistic director for the Schenectady Symphony. He was a former orchestra leader at the Manhattan School of Music for 12 years, and has also conducted over 150 premieres.
Along with Kokernak's solo piece, the symphony will also perform "Ancient Airs and Dances" by Respighi, "Rumanian Folk Dances" by Bartok and "Serenade for Strings" by Tchaikovsky.
Tickets for the performance are $18. For more information visit www.schenectadysymphony.org or www.proctors.org.