He had the will and the soul to be a solo voice in a singular ensemble—tough, audacious, an irrepressible personality. Other players knew his sound in an instant. Oboist Ray Still helped define the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 40 years, 39 of those years as principal oboe. Still passed away on March 12—his 94th birthday—surrounded by family.
Still was born in Elwood, IN, and grew up in southern California. He won his first job at 19 with the Kansas City Philharmonic, playing with that orchestra for two years until the outbreak of World War II. He served in the U.S. Army until 1946. In 1953 he played an audition for Fritz Reiner who hired him on the spot as second oboe of the Chicago Symphony. A year later, Reiner promoted Still to principal.
Still made numerous recordings and appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony, and at the Aspen Music Festival. He taught at Northwestern for 43 years. Ray Still taught a number of accomplished players including people who went on to play in the CSO, and in the Lyric Opera Orchestra.
Listen to Ray Still reflecting on the early days with Fritz Reiner: