Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Seeing Support

When I played Eric Ewazen's Down a River of Time a few weeks ago at a small house concert, the number one comment I got for the audience members - over and over - was "How does a little tiny person like you produce so much sound?" It struck me as a really strange thing to comment on. But this past week, as I played Porgy and Bess with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, I  began to understand it.

Because our large choir necessitated a complex arrangement on stage, I was seated very close to the front. We had two wonderful vocal soloists, and as I watched them from not very far away, I was reminded of how impressive good support is. Kim Jones, the soprano, is not a large person.  She would take a deep breath, collect her body, and produce an enormous, rich, vibrant, shimmering sound out of seemingly nowhere. It looked effortless.

I know what it feels like to produce that kind of air with that kind of support. It feels like your whole lower body is engaged and involved, and YOU can be relaxed because the intensity is coming from somewhere much deeper and much stronger.  Since your face and shoulders and neck are not involved in physically producing the sound, they are freed up to act, or to emote, or to just be normal looking and human. When I'm playing well, that's what it feels like.

I teach this, of course. I talk about it all the time with my students. But it's a hard thing for a student to grasp. We talk about it constantly, but I seldom see it up close. They're working on it, but they don't get there.  Generally, young wind players look uncomfortable, as though they are straining with their entire upper bodies to force air through the instrument.

From the outside, great support looks like nothing, but it sounds amazing. It sounds like you know what you're doing. It sounds like an unexpectedly giant voice coming from a little tiny person: almost superhuman.  I think that must have been what the guests at my salon concert were seeing and hearing. Performing in such an intimate space really let them see what I was doing, and I seem to have been doing it right.

Go, Jennet!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Being Nervous for Solos

Hello, my name is [XXXX]. I'm kinda new at the oboe and solos are my biggest problems. I'm also a freshman in high school so I'm not used to the large band group. I've had several solos but it's all still new to me. So is there any advice you can give me about playing solos or not being so scared to play them?

Hi, [XXXX].  I’m so glad that you got in touch - I love meeting oboists, whether virtually or in person!

Without knowing you, it's hard to know exactly what advice to give - but here are two (related) ways I might approach being nervous about solos.

The first suggestion is about the solos themselves.  Make sure that you REALLY know how to play them.  If you are struggling with rhythms or notes, that will make you even more nervous.  Bring them to your teacher, if possible. Practice at home, in private, so you can work out the kinks. Use a metronome and make sure that you understand exactly where the beats should fall.  If your solo starts off the click, make sure that you can place the pickup note reliably. In addition, practice counting the rest beforehand and coming in.  Sometimes the scariest part is just getting started, and no one ever thinks to practice One two three, Two two three, Three two PLAY, but that is also something you can take care of in the privacy of your practice room. Then, once you are so prepared that you can play the thing perfectly, five times in a row, with good air and a good sound, move to the next suggestion.

Which is to take a GOOD DEEP BREATH and to PLAY LOUDLY.  No matter what dynamic is printed in your part, if you are a freshman in high school playing in a large band you should be blowing a LOT of air through the oboe for a solo.  Your instrument is already quieter than most of the others, and it will sound wimpy and tiny unless you REALLY PLAY IT. If you blow good air you will produce a good sound that is naturally better in tune than the teeny pinched sound that FEAR produces.  Plus, if you have a good full sound and then you make a small mistake in your solo, you will sound like a good player who has made a mistake, and there's no shame in that.  Everyone makes mistakes.

I hope this helps - feel free to stay in touch if you have more questions!

Happy Oboe-ing,

Jennet

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Learn to Make Reeds this Summer!

Calling all oboe students, teachers, and parents!

Is anyone else frustrated with reed-making?  It seems as though there is never enough time during oboe lessons to really get a handle on this difficult skill, and during the busy season it's hard to make time to practice it, too. You can read and analyze as much as you want, but there’s really no substitute for practical experience making dozens of reeds under the watchful eye of a teacher.

This summer I will once again run my Oboe Reed Boot Camp.  I will assemble a group of oboists - beginners as well as advancing reedmakers - and really take the time to start off right.  We will do a full twelve hours of reed drills, games, and competitions, and have everyone turning out playable, finished reeds by the end.

Sometimes you may hesitate to scrape because you dread ruining an expensive piece of cane -  I supply all of the cane, thread, and staples, to maximize your courage.

This year I’m excited to add another layer of value to the Boot Camp experience - a session with a Guest Master Reedmaker! Gabriel Renteria is the principal oboist with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and teaches oboe at Western Michigan University. He creates OUTSTANDING reeds, open and projecting, which are balanced quite differently from mine. Like me, he has a comfortable, no-nonsense, non-magical way of talking about them. Those participants ready to look at a different perspective will enjoy working one on one with Gabe during his workshop, while anyone still struggling with basic construction and finishing steps can have me all to themselves at that time.

Finally, I’ve found that one of the peak learning experiences at Oboe Reed Boot Camp has been the opportunity to work with other colleagues.  When you try to diagnose or finish someone else’s reed, it can give you marvelous insight about your own. And, of course, as our pioneer ancestors knew, work is more fun with a group. Think quilting bees and barn raisings! This Spring I have been inspired to hold a series of monthly reed get-togethers, henceforward to be called Reeding Circles. Boot Camp participants will be entitled to free admission to these evening events for a full year!

I am offering two sessions this summer - Friday through Sunday, June 12-14 and July 24-26 from 1-5 each day. The first session will be in South Bend and the second at Valparaiso University.   Further information and open registration are available at my website: http://jennetingle.com/oboe-reed-boot-camp/. I am also offering an early registration discount until 30 days before each session begins.

I encourage you to let your colleagues, students, teachers, and friends know of this opportunity, and to contact me with any questions.

Upcoming Concert: Gershwin

The Northwest Indiana Symphony has an all-Gershwin concert this Thursday night.  An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, and the Porgy and Bess Concert Suite.  Our piano soloist is outstanding, and I have no doubt that the vocalists will be marvelous too (we meet them tonight).

I rave about Gershwin every time his music comes up for me, and this enjoyable week is no exception.  The music is great, the orchestra is sounding good, and I'd love to see the GIGANTIC Star Plaza Theater filled for this concert.

Details HERE.