Saturday, May 19, 2018

Creating Ritual

Today I’m thinking about Ritual.

This year, 2018, I have called my Year of Temperance, because my project is to find and feel more balance in my life. So I’m not just running from one thing to another all the time. So I’m not glossing over crucial moments in my life, always focussing on other tasks. So I don’t feel so frantic, and I have more white space in my mind to dream bigger and build bigger.  I like the concept, and the intention.  Five months in, I can't say I'm all that Temperate yet.  But I'm working on it.

On Wednesday I drew the Page of Pentacles as my Crux Finder Card of the Day.  I suggested to my community that we LOOK at our money, and our income streams.  On Thursday, by and for myself, I drew the Daughter of Discs.  Different deck, same card.  What exactly am I supposed to look at, Tarot? What is the message I need?

This card shows a young girl holding a coin up before her.  Gazing at it, exploring it, wondering at it, seeking to understand it.  The image in the card appears ceremonial, ritualized, but the child simply looks curious and interested.  I decided that I wanted a ritual to connect me with money and foster an abundance mindset.

It's not that I need to make more money - though I wouldn't say no - but that I would like to feel more at peace with the income streams I have and their overall continuity.  Musicians - freelancers in general - bring in money intermittently and from a wide range of sources.  Some weeks my income is primarily from performance, sometimes from teaching, sometimes from my reed business.  Some months are exceptionally lucrative, some nearly barren.  The money always comes from somewhere - that's my mantra - but sometimes it can be hard to trust in it.  The older I get, and the more responsibilities I have in my life, the more I need, right? So the flow of money through my life is important and relevant.

So on Friday I went into my journal, and I ceremonially wrote down all of the money that came in that day.  I had a number of checks and direct deposits.  I  thought about each of the people and organizations that had paid me, and about what I had done to earn that money, and I felt grateful for each check and for each gig and each reed and each lesson. I wrote down my feelings of gratitude, and honored the work I had done and the people who had trusted me to do it.

And I loved this.  I felt better when I had done it.  I felt more confident about the future, remembering how many different things I do and do well.  I felt more connected to my customers, students, employers. I felt more connected to my money, in a good way.  This is a Friday ritual I will keep.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Talking about Tchaikovsky

I always like to share what I do on this blog.  The South Bend Symphony closed its season last night with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, and the Maestro asked that four members of the orchestra introduce the four movements of the piece, before we played the symphony through.  He provided some formal notes but encouraged us to personalize our speeches with our own thoughts - and you never have to ask me twice to write stories and speak into a mic, you know? I’m shameless like that.

The first time I played Tchaikovsky 5 was after my junior year of high school. It was the first summer music camp I had ever been to, and I'm sure all of my colleagues here on stage can attest to a similar story. Your first music camp is when you first find your tribe, and the first time you realize that you're not a complete weirdo outcast. I met a whole group of people who like me vibrated with the sheer excitement of creating music, of pulling together to realize this symphony, the most monstrous thing we had ever undertaken.

And the thing I remember most is that after a full day of rehearsals and chamber music and masterclasses and bruising amounts of mental concentration and physical effort my new friends and I would gather in the common room of the dorm - a group of maybe 8 or ten of us - and pull out our Tchaikovsky parts and play through the symphony AGAIN just because we hadn't had enough EVEN YET. Just imagine the glorious dorkiness of this tiny skeleton crew of 15 year olds scraping and blowing and wailing joyously through this masterpiece just because we were all too excited to go to sleep.

You know, I'm all grown up and jaded now - but still I get a thrill when the fourth movement starts and the strings start playing our fate motive in E MAJOR, so warmly and positively. I still get chills when this movement gets fast and terrifying and the brass and clarinets have to howl over the whole texture to be heard. I still want to clap at the false ending in the middle of the movement - though I'm old enough not to get tricked - and I still haven't decided for sure if the piece actually ends on a note of triumph or of devastating frustration. Or both. Please enjoy this amazing work.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Wabi-Sabi

I was listening to Seth Godin's podcast on Wabi-Sabi and Quality and Right Effort, and I was moved by it. 

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term for the beauty of imperfection.  For the natural facts of impermanence, of incompleteness, of imperfection and decay.  The art is in accepting and embracing the beauty of flawed reality.

What could be a better metaphor for my entire career?

Performing on the oboe is special and magical BECAUSE the oboe is not your friend. There's always SOMETHING that goes wrong with an oboe - water, sticking keys, REEDS.  The reed is made from organic material with a mind of its own.  Even the very best, most beautiful sounding, most effortlessly responsive reed has flaws. It's really never going to be as perfect as you want it to be, and the barrier is not just the oboe or the reed but also the humanity of the performer.  What you see in a live oboe performance is the eternal struggle of human against a resistant inanimate object, and when things go well there's an element of miraculousness to it. 

I know in my heart that live performance is different than recording a CD.  I know that live performance is never perfect, and could always be better if only the performer was less fallible, less human.  And still I felt a little bit guilty and terrible when I left the stage, and when I first heard the recording that was made of my Mendelssohn Concerto performance.  Since then, and since listening to Seth, and since talking it out with some colleagues, I'm coming around to the principles of Wabi-Sabi. 

I am really really proud of the work I did on my Mendelssohn OBOE Concerto and of my performance with the Lake Shore Symphony Orchestra. It was so exciting. The orchestra, the conductor, and I were so well in synch, feeling the piece so well together, and I just loved my experience.  It was not perfect, though, and things happened.

But I AM proud of myself, and the orchestra, and this performance.  In this spirit, and now that you have read my full disclaimer, I'm going to share it. 

Here's the "highlight reel" - ten minutes of the parts I don't have to cringe about when people see.  I'm sharing this unabashedly all over the place. 



Here's the full performance.  If you would like to watch 30 minutes of mostly very good playing, with a missed high A and some water problems and a couple of finger-fumbles and a little bit of fatigue towards the end, I am proud to have you watch it.  Because the imperfections are what makes it human, right?  The flaws are part of the whole, and part of the beauty.

Please be kind.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Everybody's Got a Thing

I went in for my yearly mammogram last week. As you know, it's not exactly a painful procedure, but it's uncomfortable, and as I was being manipulated into the unwieldy machine I got to thinking about what a peculiar job it must be to jam women into awkward positions, over and over, every fifteen minutes all day.

So after we were done I asked the technician about that, and she LIT UP, the way people do when they FINALLY get to talk about the thing they are passionate about, and she talked about the advances in the technology since she was starting out, and the things this machine was capable of.  She talked about the women it has saved, from dying of cancer, of course, but also from unnecessary surgical disfigurement.  It was completely inspiring listening to this lady love her weird job, and I left feeling fantastic about the whole ordeal. It's great to see someone who is doing what they are supposed to be doing!

Two weeks before, I had my first Mendelssohn rehearsal with the Lake Shore Symphony.  It was a random Wednesday night, in the middle of a VERY busy month, and it was a full month before our performance (on April 15.  Come out and see us!)

That evening was not ideal for me.  I was in the middle of a TERRIBLY hard two weeks of work.  EVERY NIGHT was a late night, EVERY MORNING was an early one, Steve had gotten into an accident the night before and wrecked one of our cars, I had had to find myself a rental at 8am in order to get to my gigs that day.  All of the other repertoire I was playing that week was difficult, this concerto rehearsal followed two three-hour services of physically taxing music, and I did not feel prepared for Mendelssohn. I knew that I was on track to be ready by mid-April but this was a full four weeks out.  I was very stressed about this rehearsal, and I was very much sleep deprived.  When I pulled up in front of the venue I was almost ill with dread and my brain was foggy.  As I walked in I felt the grayness of fatigue closing in all around the edges of my mind.  This is not a good way to feel.

The orchestra was still rehearsing other music when I got in.  I assembled my oboe, slapped on a reed, and hoped it would work.  I had of course already played for six hours that day, so I imagined that it would be fine.  Although the reed you need to play a minimalist opera is not necessarily the same one you need to solo on a difficult and technical concerto...  The orchestra went on break.  My dread increased.  I visited with the conductor and concertmaster, digging deep to give the impression of good cheer.  The group reassembled.  They tuned.  We had the requisite jokes about whether I needed a tuning note (I didn't) and the requisite standard excuses from both sides - we're sight-reading tonight, I just came from two opera rehearsals, we're all a month out from performance - and then we started.

And it took me ZERO time - maybe three beats of the introduction - to LIGHT UP and turn into Jennet Ingle, Oboist again.  Gone was the exhaustion, the fatigue, the dread.  Gone was the disquiet about my preparation.  Gone was the certain knowledge that I would make mistakes and reveal myself to be inadequate.

This thing - playing real music with an orchestra, showing off my hard work,  being the star - this is what I do. This is what I was born to do. It is the way I feel the most alive. This is a thing I can rise out of any funk for.

And it's good to remember.  It had been maybe a year since the last time I was in front of a group - my Mozart Concerto with Northwest Indiana Symphony was the last time - but when it's really your thing you never forget how!

Just as my mammogram lady reminded me, everybody's got a thing.  I love my thing.  I can't wait for April 15!