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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Upcoming Concert: Brahms and Beethoven

“This is the music that made me be a musician.  I could have been a vet but THIS music pulled me into music.”
“This is too pretty to play piano.”
“It’s just one of the most beautiful pieces.  Ridiculously beautiful.”

These are actual comments - from before and during our rehearsal - by my actual colleagues.  Grown up, professional, working musicians who have been around the block a few times and don’t lightly get starry-eyed about just any South Bend Symphony concert.  

We are playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a piece which is incredibly popular and beloved, for the reason that it is great, great music.  This will be probably my fourth or fifth time performing this work. Still, when I pulled my music out to prepare, I got excited.  It’s so dramatic, and so beautiful, and so perfectly and effectively written for the instruments so we don’t have to strain to be heard and everything just fits. It’s a rare treat.  

We’re playing the Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn, which is just sheer perfect loveliness from start to finish.  I’ve never actually performed it before, and it’s even more fun than I expected it to be.

AND there’s a Bach Orchestral Suite as the concerto, featuring our own principal flutist, Leslie Short.

As you know I like a little edge to my classical music.  I’d rather play 20th century masterworks than 19th century ones in general, and I love a world premiere.  But if you are going to present a totally standard program of beloved familiar standard works, by all means let it be THIS program, in which every bar of every piece is WONDERFUL.

If you live here and you have not heard the South Bend Symphony perform, this Saturday night would  be a great entry point.  Details HERE.  



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oboe Reed Get Togethers

Reed making is a highly personal experience.  You strive to make the reed that makes your own instrument sing, and through playing on your reeds you learn how to make what you need to play your reeds.  Although I can play perfectly well on another person’s reed, and I certainly make plenty of reeds for others, it’s inherently a solo project.  You make them alone, you play on them alone, and sometimes, alone, you can get a little crazy.

But the craft itself doesn’t require solitude.  In fact, some of my most positive experiences have involved other people.  Someone else’s ear or opinion on the sound you are making, someone else’s proposed technique to solve a problem - you can learn a TON from each other, and obviously enjoy a great social experience at the same time.

I’ve taught and participated in many reed classes, and had many great one-on-one reed sessions with colleagues.  Sometimes I have information or techniques that help the other people, sometimes they provide an AHA moment for me - but inevitably we get good reeds made, and have a friendly and uplifting time.  

I’ll soon open registration for my summer Oboe Reed Boot Camp, which is 12 hours of small-group fun and productivity in June and again in July.  


But for NOW, may I point out to you the pleasure and productivity of my Oboe Reed Get Togethers!  I’m offering them monthly, every month that I don’t have a Boot Camp.  Everyone is welcome, from professionals wanting a little company to amateurs wanting a little help to students wanting to get started. We can all benefit from a little feedback, or a full on reed lesson!  I have tools available for use on site - knives, plaques, mandrels, shaper tips, etc - and cane and tubes available to purchase if you haven’t brought your own.  All of my thread colors are on the table.

Admission is free to my current students and to last summer’s Boot Camp participants, and $15 to everyone else.  AND I have some coming up tomorrow and Tuesday.  And more in May.  Details HERE.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Another Bach Story

This has never happened to me before.  Last night we were to rehearse the concerto for our Northwest Indiana Symphony concert this Friday - the gorgeous Bach Double concerto for Oboe and Violin.  It’s a piece I’ve played about a jillion times before and ALWAYS enjoy.  It’s fun to collaborate differently with different violinists, and to hear what they do and to react to their phrasing, especially in the sinuous, sensual slow movement.  And sometimes funny things happen, funny because they weren’t my fault.

But last night I was the only soloist at the rehearsal.  Our violinist had accidentally been double booked and couldn’t attend - so with the conductor and my orchestra colleagues we ran through the Bach Double…single.  

And you know how much I love to perform, and to play in front of an orchestra.  Just drop a hat, and I’ll play a concerto.  And the more soloistic and exposed the better.  But EVEN I have to admit that the Bach Double Concerto is a better piece of music when there are two soloists.  

On the up side, there were no balance problems.  We could hear the oboe the whole time.  

However, it is frequently the case that the oboe line is MEANT to be accompanimental, or is reacting and responding to the violin line, and without him there I just kind of sounded like a crazy lady talking to myself.  Or worse, like a pedant repeating the same meaningless motive as if trying to get it JUST right.  The third movement, which I think of as baroque-style rock and roll, is just plain silly without the fancy technique in the violin.  And that was a little disappointing, really, because I had always thought that I was an equal contributor to the excitement - but no.  I just keep pecking out my little eighth notes and waiting for the cadence.  

I found the experience HIGHLY amusing.  

We’ll have a real run through Thursday night before we perform Friday, and it will absolutely be worth hearing, once it’s completed by an outstanding violinist.  The concert will also feature Mendelssohn’s Thrd Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, which is super fun.  Details HERE.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Re-Preparing

This month I am working on two concertos that I already know.  I’ll be performing the Bach double concerto for oboe and violin with the Northwest Indiana Symphony- on April 17- and Eric Ewazen’s gorgeous Down a River of Time at the end of the month at a semi-private event.

Since I’ve played both pieces before, multiple times, it’s easy to underestimate them.  To pick up the oboe for a practice session and noodle a little, and spot check the hard licks, and assume that I am ready to go, since both pieces HAVE BEEN memorized and under my fingers before.  Of course, when that was the case I was a different player, at a different place in  my life, with different things on my mind.  When I was working on them before, I was working on learning them, or memorizing them, or playing them within the context of a different concert, or recital, or with different colleagues.  On a different oboe, for that matter.  

I have vivid memories of being on stage with the Ewazen, performing it effortlessly from memory.  I have to remind myself that that experience was the culmination of months of work, and that I didn’t just pick up the oboe and find myself able to present the arc of the piece with skill and ease.  I wasn’t born with all of the licks under my fingers and in my deep memory.  I do expect that the learning curve will be much shorter this time around, but I can’t expect it to be non-existent.  

So I need a good to-do list, to remind myself of the work that needs to be put in.  Before I go on stage with these pieces, I need to:

Listen carefully and analytically to my previous performances and decide whether I’m still happy with those interpretations.  In the absence of conscious choice, I will probably default to those options - so I should make sure I’m still committed to them.

Listen to other excellent recordings.  I own two recordings of other oboists playing Ewazen, and at least seven of the Bach. I wouldn’t be surprised if more had become available since the last time I downloaded. This is important, not to learn the pieces necessarily, but to remind me that there are more ways than one to turn the phrases or articulate or run the tempos. In the same way that my old recordings might remind me of things I liked or didn’t like, other people’s recordings might open other possibilities.  There’s never just one way.

Look hard at my overall dynamic and emotional plan for each movement.  Do I still know where I’m headed all the time, and do I have a clear plan for my high points and low points?  Are there dynamics or instructions in the parts that I’d glossed over while performing from memory the last time?  As soon as I go off book things start to turn more and more into mine and less into the composer’s. I had better be making some very smart choices. 

Work through each movement, slowly, for intonation and technique.  I wasn’t playing on my Bulgheroni oboe the last time I performed Ewazen, and I’ve reworked a LOT of my high note fingerings since selling my Yamaha.  I need to make sure that I can effortlessly utilize those new versions in context. 

Record myself playing each movement.  Listen back to make sure the things I think I’m doing are getting through, and that I haven’t developed any weird habits that might be getting in the way of my performance.

Play each piece all the way through, at least twice in a row.  Both works have a major endurance component to them, and I don’t want to be caught off guard in rehearsal by the length or intensity of the playing.  I can’t be falling off the reed by the end of the piece, not in front of an audience.  Run throughs prepare me for the pain that I WILL be feeling, but also help me to know where to save my face and conserve energy by backing off and riding on the orchestra’s sound. The more familiar I am with the arc of the piece, the more I can manage my own energy needs to correspond.  My technique here is Run, Spot, Run - run the piece, go back to fix the spots that I wasn’t happy with, then run it all over again.  

And, obviously, if I intend to play the Ewazen without music, I need to be playing my memorization games with it.  Fingering through it as I run or drive my car.  Singing the tunes to myself.  Putting in some time on score study and reminding my conscious mind about the form of the piece and the exact number of  bars of rests and the first notes of my entrances.  

None of these things will take an extraordinary amount of time, but they can’t be ignored. Any time you intend to play the hero in a concert setting (even half a hero, in the Bach!) you need to be prepared to be bulletproof.  Coasting on past preparation is not sufficient.  

Here I go!