Friday, February 9, 2018

Doing Less

This was supposed to be a terrible week. I was going to have five late nights and 6 early mornings all in a row, and I had 17 students on my books and on three of these nights I was going to have to teach right up until the instant of my departure time, book out of the house or college, and drive like a maniac to be on time for my rehearsal.  Obviously, I also had to make and mail a hundred or so reeds over the course of the week, because that's always true.

I've lived this week before, plenty of times.  It's just the thing that happens when a particular kind of gig schedule bumps up against my daughter being in elementary school, and both coincide with the completely regular teaching that I have - and enjoy - and rely on financially for the off weeks.  I know very well both how frazzled and frantic I feel as the week is going on, and what a zombie I am by the end of it, running on insufficient sleep night after night.  I know how it feels to drag myself through the weekend concerts, playing defensively to keep from messing up instead of really digging into the artistry and working to excel. I'm used to it.

This is the first such week THIS year, though.  And 2018 is a year in which I had resolved to find better ways to balance my life. But (of course) I had not done anything proactive to improve this situation, going in.  Weeks like this are just par for the course, I thought.  I assumed.

But here's what happened.  Monday Zoe woke up coughing, and too sick to go to school. And Steve was working, so I canceled my college students and had a lazy day at home with her.  She rested, I practiced, caught up on reeds, wrote. I had three private students that evening before rehearsal, but one canceled because of the snow.  I did have a terrible, frazzling commute, and it did take me until nearly 1:30 to get home in the storm, but it had otherwise been an easy day.

Tuesday morning it was clear that Zoe was going to stay home again, and it was still snowing, so I canceled two more college students and slept in with her. Had a relaxing day practicing and making reeds, and even took a nap. In the afternoon, I was to have had three students at my house, but the first one called in sick and I proactively canceled the third so I could commute calmly and safely through the snow.  Rehearsal felt great.  I don't LOVE a Rachmaninov symphony, but I enjoyed myself a lot.  Day two of the cycle, and I was still striving for excellence.

Wednesday morning it was snowing and school was canceled altogether.  We slept in.  Zoe was still resting.  I should have had four students, but one called in sick and I canceled the fourth because of commuting and snow.  Wednesday night's rehearsal felt terrific.  I am not used to having real energy by this point in the week, and I was almost giddy with the pleasure of it.

Thursday Zoe went to school.  This meant that after getting to bed at 1:30 I did have to be up with her at 7 - but I'm getting addicted to this good sleep thing now, so I drove her in in my PJs and went back to bed.  It helped that I wasn't frantic about reed orders, because I was caught up from earlier in the week.  I practiced, I ate healthy meals.  I'm completely on top of my business right now, plus well rested and energized.  I've run on the treadmill three days this week.  I've practiced well every day.  I am writing.

Thursday's rehearsal was canceled for snow, which means that I was able to go to bed by 11 like the old civilized person I am, and be well equipped to rehearse and perform today assuming those things don't get canceled as well.

So.  Between the flu and the snow, I've had to take a lazy week - and it's been VERY artistically fulfilling and has felt VERY healthy and VERY comfortable and grownup.

This is exactly the feeling I sought when I resolved to find more balance in my life.  I needed my days to feel more spacious and relaxed, so I could be more creative, so I could be more productive, and so that I could give my full attention and intensity to the work I was doing.

I can't count on the flu and the snow to take care of me every week, though. The challenge now is HOW to make my life feel more like this more often going forward.  It must be possible - it was SO EASY to cancel things and make myself an easy week when circumstances forced me to do so.  I think I need to stop fighting this so hard at other times too.

Photo by Jonathan Knepper on Unsplash
I'm a collector of projects.  I'm a starter of things.  I like doing stuff.  Given a slow month, I immediately take on new students, or add commitments.  Given an empty week, I'll take a gig.  I like to work.  But I have to say I like the feeling of this past week a whole awful lot.

Maybe it's NOT necessary to teach right up to my departure time. Maybe late nights SHOULD be followed by extra morning sleep. Maybe we would all be better served by a week off periodically.

Maybe, just maybe, doing less is the key to being better.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Memorizing SLOWLY

I had a breakthrough with one of my younger students last week, and it reminded me of one of my favorite practicing tricks - one that I had forgotten as I threw myself frantically into my Mendelssohn tasks last week. 

I could tell that he'd been focussing obsessively on the rhythm and tempo of a particular section.  It had a FIVE-tuplet, and a SIX-tuplet as well.  First Tuplets of his life - this was worth obsessing over. Unfortunately, he was now in that weird short-circuity brain place where he couldn't put all of the notes in the pattern at the speed that was the only speed he knew to go, and the more we tried to slow it down the goofier his fingers got, because all he could think about was the transition from 4 to 5 and from 5 to 6 that he'd been working on.

So we used my favorite trick.  Play it slowly, I said - so slowly that you cannot make a mistake.  I don't care about the rhythm, I don't care about the tempo - just one note after another, as slowly as necessary with NO mistakes.

He did.  Sometimes he had to sit on a single note for more than a full second, thinking about the next one - but he got through the passage, note by note, with every one correct. 

Do it again, I said.  Don't even think about the rhythm, and if you are ready you can allow yourself to play faster, but go as slowly as necessary to play every note right.

Do it again, I said.  Let the music ease toward the rhythm you know, but stay as slow as you have to, because I want all of the notes to be beautiful.

We went around several times.  I was not interested in putting him back in the stress place from which he could not (but thought he could) play.

He played so beautifully.  By the end of a few minutes, the rhythm was approximate  and the tempo was close - we weren't performance ready, in other words, but we had created a version of those few measures that he could be proud of, and build on, and grow from, and finesse later up to speed. 

I had forgotten how much I love slow practice. Not the deadly turn-your-metronome-on and keep-grinding-through-until-your-lips-melt kind of slow practice, although that has its (very occasional) place - but just this game of Let's Play Beautifully.  Let's Take Care of Business.  Let's be gentle with ourselves and not make the music go fast until it's ready to.  And, in my case, Let's just see how much of this is actually memorized and how much of it is just habit and if I get stuck, can I think my way out?

Update:  Mendelssohn memorization is progressing.  Slowly. 



Friday, February 2, 2018

Five Minute Reedmaker: Tools: The Mandrel

In my new mini-series on tools, I guess I'm working my way through the relatively straightforward ones first - while I build up my courage to tackle knives and shapers, which EVERYONE has strong opinions about.

In this episode I tackle the truism that all of your tubes must fit your mandrel (MUST? Really?  REALLY?), I show the distinctions between a few different styles of mandrel, and I offer a cheat so English horn reedmakers can save themselves a little $$.



Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until the end of the year.



Saturday, January 27, 2018

I'm Back!

I have been absent from this blog for nearly a month.  I was resting.  And working on other projects.  But I've missed long form writing, and I've missed YOU, so I'll be more active here again as we move forward.

Here's a thing that's happening - I'm playing tonight with the terrific Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and having a blast.  Mozart 41, and a new commissioned world premiere by Chen-Hui Jen, an up and coming young woman composer.  (Why is this description so hard to write?  I think it is cool that she is young, female, and a composer, and won a commission, but somehow every way I write it sounds condescending, which I don't mean.) And a Shostakovich Piano concerto that I'm not on, but that sounds amazing.

It's fun to play with a group that is new to me.  The habits are different. The way the woodwinds shape and end their notes is a little different.  It's an enjoyable challenge to fit in and match.  I always think that playing second oboe to new people calls for more flexibility than my normal principal roles do, and I love how interesting it feels to make my sound match someone else's and to make my vibrato a little different, to match, and to think about being an inner voice rather than a prominent one.  I wouldn't want to make my living as a second oboe player, but I LOVE it every now and then and I always learn a lot. 

While I've not been writing much here at Prone Oboe, I have been more active on my Facebook page - and if you're interested you should check it out.  It's not quite clear to me right now whether THIS site or that one will be the MAIN hub, the one that gets EVERY piece of content I post - so just to be safe you might want to follow both.

I've also started another Facebook Page, this one devoted to my long-standing love of the Tarot, and its usefulness as an instrument of reflection in a creative life.   I'm posting weekly cards, little stories, and details of the structure and function of the deck and of various spreads and HOW the whole thing works, etc - and you can message me from there for a reading if you would like.  Lots of people have no interest in the Tarot, but if you are mildly curious you should maybe come visit me at Crux Finder Tarot and see what you think!