Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Integrity

When I see a slur that isn't an easy one on the oboe, I'm apt to cheat.  In my practice room I work hard on slurs like that, but in the moment, when people can hear me, I might add a little tongue to ease the transition, or add a few fingers to make the arrival safer.  The re-articulated result may not be exactly what the composer intended, and the fake fingering might not sound precisely like the other one would have, but it's close enough to fool an audience and it keeps me safe.

At the end of a phrase, to avoid the embarrassment of hanging over after other people have cut off, I might taper my note off just a little early.  I might play the final note very very softly to make sure it doesn't stick out.  I might use a muted fingering for the same reason.  These are orchestra tricks - they keep me safe, but they won't sound good when I'm playing by myself, and they're not good musical choices, and they don't feel honest.

This summer I'm learning my way around my new oboe and working very intentionally on INTEGRITY, and I'm trying to disavow these tricks.  When I played a few weeks ago with the great Judy Kulb, I listened admiringly as she played every phrase all the way to the end.  She always plays the last note as beautifully as the middle ones, even when the line is not exposed or not important. And everyone around her meets her there, because her phrase is just that compelling.  I want that.

I cultivate an air of casual ease, and in the spirit of that casualness I do not fear mistakes - but the mistakes I make on the oboe are mistakes, not inability.  The things that I actually think I might not be able to do, though, I work around, and cheat to avoid.  It's scary to sincerely try to do things that are difficult.

The word INTEGRITY is written above my music on my stand.  It's written in my practice journal.  I'm using my warm up time to be sincere and intentional about the most basic notes, intervals, and sequences.

But I noticed Saturday night in our outdoor concert that despite my best intentions I sometimes still cheat.  My habits are so ingrained that I still find myself lengthening fingerings for safety, and pulling my punches at the ends of lines.

This is not aligned with the best possible version of me.  I can do better.


Similarly, I cultivate an air of openness in this blog, in my life - I talk about lots of things - and I'm not afraid to talk about politics but apparently I am terrified to talk about inequality and privilege.  It's scary to say things that are true - that are that deeply true - and it's scary to open myself up to possibly saying things that are wrong, or inappropriate.  I'm nearly two weeks late talking about the events at Charlottesville - I've deleted every draft I've written - because somehow I am so uncomfortable just saying the things I feel.  And I have the privilege as a white person in a creative field to pretend that this filth doesn't affect me. It's a blog about the oboe and I don't have to stand up and say that Black Lives Matter.  I've been hiding. I've been to some marches and some protests, but I'm not showing up the way I should.  And I'm still uncomfortable.  I don't want to say it wrong. I don't want to make a mistake in something this important.

But let's just be clear.  Black Lives Matter.  People of color are also people, who do not but should have the same opportunities and freedoms and protections as everyone else.  Trans people are people.  Queer people are people.  Women are people.  Jews are people.  People are people and I love people and I deplore hatred, violence, and bigotry.  It shouldn't need to be said, but apparently it does.  I am an ally to those who are under attack and I will not JUST keep quiet and write about the oboe.

I will, of course, keep writing about the oboe.

But to keep quiet about the terrible forces arising in this country is not aligned with the best possible version of me.  I can do better.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reed Repair Shop #1, and a new Five Minute Reedmaker video

Just a quick note today.  I've posted my first Reed Repair Shop video, along with my FOURTH short Five Minute Reedmaker reed lesson.  My goal is to help people who feel insecure about their reeds, people who need just a little more clarity on certain aspects of reed making, and people who ARE reed makers but have gotten themselves into a slump in some way.

Reed Repair Shop #1: Anthony's reeds are pretty good!  They work, they play in tune, and they look like reeds.  His stated concerns were tone and response, and I think I was able to offer some good suggestions.

watch Anthony's video HERE  or below.


Would you like me to look at YOUR reeds?  Check out my offering HERE.

My fourth Five Minute Reedmaker video is a walkthrough of winding - the process by which the cane is attached to the staple.



Let me know what you'd like to see me cover on a future episode!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Two New Reed Initiatives

I've been working hard on these next roll-outs.  You probably know from reading this blog that I've been running an Oboe Reed Boot Camp every summer since 2012, and that a couple of years ago I started offering Reeding Circles - social reed-making get-togethers - each month during the year.

The limitation, in both cases, is location.  There's not a huge mass of oboists where I live, and it's hard to get a large enough group together - anywhere, really - to make a traveling Boot Camp worthwhile, though I do love the concept.  (Do you have five or more interested oboists and a free weekend?  Get in touch!)

But there is a need.  People do have questions, and frustrations.  Reedmaking and teaching are things I am good at.   How, I wondered, could I help people beyond my own students and my own community?

There are two ways, I think. One is a series of video lessons on reed-making.  I'm calling it The Five Minute Reedmaker, and I'll be releasing one video each week on You Tube and at some point soon connecting those to my own website as well.  You can see the first few of them here.



You will note that they are very low-tech - but that's part of their charm, right?  You can tell I'm a real person because although my reed skills are real, my videography kind of stinks.  That said - if you can't see what I'm doing or if you have questions, let me know! I want to be helpful.  What other topics would you like to see?

The other, and the thing I am most excited about, is Reed Repair Shop.  Who among us, Oboists, has not hit a brick wall at some point in our reed making?  Who has not found themselves staring at a case full of reeds that all seem to have the same problem that nothing fixes?  Or, to flip it, has made six reeds that all look and feel DIFFERENT, and wondered what one consistent mistake has caused all of the craziness?

I've been there. Sometimes an outside eye is all you need.  Often there's one piece of advice that solves all of your problems.  Or an observation that you could not have made because you are too close to the problem, and too frustrated.  Sometimes you just need some nonjudgmental feedback from someone else.  I can be that someone.

Reed Repair Shop should be the next best thing to a one-on-one session. Send me three representative reeds that you have made and don't love.  I will look at them, give you my impressions, work to improve them, and capture this process on video for you to see.  I will send them back to you, hopefully improved, with advice to take you forward.

Why three?  I figure that any one reed can be irredeemably bad.  Bad cane, bad gouge, bad shape, a single bad mistake.  It might not be your fault at all, and my diagnosis might not solve your bigger problem. But three reeds that you've made are going to show your scraping habits, the areas you consistently mishandle, or SOMETHING consistent that we can talk about, and three reeds should be enough to draw a larger lesson from.

How does it work?  You order online, and I will send you shipping materials, postage paid.  When I receive your reeds, I'll make time within a week to diagnose them, fix what I can, and put together a video.  I'll mail the reeds back and post the video to YouTube.

My preference is to post that video publicly, so that others can learn from your session, too - but I don't need to use your real name if you don't wish.  Reeds feel so personal!  I can preserve your privacy and keep your secrets...

These new innovations are live now - Reed Repair Shop is available on my website, and my first two Five Minute Reedmaker videos are on YouTube.

Let me know what you think!

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Needed Reminder

I talk a lot about warmups.  How important they are. How you can do all of your practicing on warmups and get better at the oboe.  How sometimes scales and long tones are all you need.

That's not totally true, though, or at least not for me.  Abstract oboe practicing is important but it's not the only thing.

We went to a party and it solved all of my oboe problems.

I have been struggling lately to know who I am in my playing.  We came home from IDRS three weeks ago - while there I drew inspiration from everywhere and had loads of very good ideas about how to improve myself and ways I could choose to sound.  I did not have any real practice time in which to realize these good ideas.  I also bought a new oboe which feels and sounds very different from my current one.

Then we immediately went on vacation for two weeks, and I came back to a huge reed backlog which I've just now mostly cleared up.

And then for a week I played oboe d'amore - the small, spunky, adorable cousin of the English horn - with the Grant Park Symphony.  The great thing about that gig is that I could be in denial about my actual oboe playing.  The d'amore doesn't have to sound like anyone else, because it's its own adorable thing and there's only one.  This week I'm playing all English horn, and having a blast.

But at home, when I practice, now, I have no idea what I sound like.  Or how I play, or how I WANT to play, or even what I need to work on.  I'm out of the habit of just picking up the oboe and sounding like myself, and while I'm ready and eager to make changes, there has to be a ME there to change.

My intention had been to work on fundamentals this summer.  To take my time learning my new oboe in scales and long tones, make lots of lovely reeds, and enjoy the slow pace of things.  But it's been making me nuts.  Abstract oboe playing isn't my bag, or not for long.  I need it, it has to happen.  Patient long tones do make me better, and scales are helpful and etudes are tremendous.  I like a nice ten minute warmup that hits these fundamental skills, but playing actual music is what I need in my life.

Monday afternoon we went to a chamber music party.  I did not want to go.  It was in Chicago, far from home, and we had to get ourselves in the car in the early afternoon and wouldn't get back until late.  Of course I wanted to stay home, do laundry, make reeds, catch up on my life - which is somehow still just out ahead of me in spite of the relaxed summer schedule - but we went.

As soon as we arrived I was SO glad we were there.  I played Haydn, Mozart, Poulenc, and Britten, with great colleagues, while eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves - and suddenly I had the thing I had not had, which was CONTEXT.

Playing my new oboe with other people, and using it actively to make phrases, effects, colors, and dynamics told me in a very few minutes what hours of patient abstract practicing had not.  Playing actual music, like riding a bicycle, is something I don't forget how to do.  Making real music uses all of those fundamental skills, of course, and in the middle of the season I crave the time for calm sessions of long tones to keep myself accountable - but I can't keep myself interested with warmups alone.  

Playing in tune has nothing to do with matching a tuner, as much as I like my tuner app.  It has everything to do with fitting into a chord, into a group, blending, leading, matching sounds.  Making precise attacks and pristine releases is meaningless in a vacuum, but having the oboe speak right with the strings and disappear like smoke at the end of a sustained taper - to make JUST the right effect at JUST the right time - is magic.  It's WHY we practice.  This party was exactly the thing I had needed to remind me.

In other news, I LOVE my new oboe. Looking forward to many more REAL MUSIC experiences with it going forward!