Sunday, August 28, 2016

Oboe Reeds: Why Are the Blades Different Lengths?

When I clip my reed to shorten or balance it, I always offset the clip so that the two blades are slightly different in length.










I do this very intentionally, because we don't play the oboe straight away from our face
)____
)

But rather, angled downward

)
) \
    \
      \

So as I approach my mouth with the reed, I want the shorter blade facing towards me:

  \
\   \
  \   \

So that the longer back blade, or upper blade, can "catch" the air as it flies from my mouth into the oboe, and funnel it down into the instrument

=====  \
         \ \\ \
           \ \\ \

Instead of interrupting the air and forcing it away from the oboe

====]    \
               \  \
                 \  \

To accomplish this, I angle the reed against the cutting block as I clip

which forces the blades to offset, so I can clip straight down and wind up with an appropriately uneven result.



















Occasionally, to make the articulation a little zingier, I will clip straight, and try to minimize that difference between the blades.


But I seldom find that result to be perfectly pleasant.  It may solve the immediate articulation problem, which may be the thing I needed, but in my experience this technique sacrifices depth and warmth in the tone.











My close up photos might make it seem like there's a BIG OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE between the blades, but sometimes I have to hold them up really close and squint to figure out which side goes on my lower lip and which on my upper.



To solve that I always choose the side of the reed with the "crossover" in the thread to be the lower blade.  This gives me a visual and tactile clue as to which way to play the reed.  I can plop it in without looking and know that I'm doing it right - which in turn makes it really look like I know what I'm doing.  It makes me appear unfussy.



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ready to Record

This is the week.  I'm meeting Paul today for one final rehearsal, and we're driving down to Fort Wayne to spend the night so we can be ready first thing in the morning.  Tomorrow we record my CD.

I've been working on this project for a long time. My original Music That Should Have Been Written for the Oboe program happened in 2004!  Music That Should... Part 2 was in 2014.  I wrote the grant proposal that set this CD in motion in December of 2015.  This entire summer of 2016 has been devoted to reworking my repertoire and becoming Ever More Awesome.

And of course, the project will not be completed when the tracking is.  I need new photos, and graphic design.  I need to write the copy for the liner notes.  I need to get the thing reproduced, and distributed.  And I don't 100% know how to get all of these things accomplished, not yet.  But after this week I can know that the most delicate, touchy part of the process is over. I can have a THING to be proud of.  I can relax on this particular set of difficult repertoire and look ahead to new exciting music for the spring while I work through the next stages.  I have hopes that this album will be out before Christmas.

What have I learned?

I went into this entire project with  the goal of making myself better than before.  I figured that having to be CD perfect would really force me to work hard.  I've said this before, I think - but when I prepare for an hour long recital or even for a 25 minute concerto performance, I strive for perfection but I KNOW that it won't be perfect.  Live music is too exciting  to be careful with.  And a live audience - especially an audience that came out to hear an evening of OBOE MUSIC - deserves that excitement.  They deserve some showmanship, they deserve a show.  And I have big ideas and I choose great music and I want them to enjoy the show, and I don't feel like clinical perfection is the goal as much as awesomeness.

But on a CD, now, I think it has to be perfect.  Awesome, too, yes, but noticeable mistakes preserved for all eternity are not acceptable. So I've been working for perfection.

The thing that has liberated me in this process is that I don't have to play my hour of music ALL THE WAY THROUGH.  I can take small sections, and nail them.  In a long recital, I'm thinking about protecting myself, and saving energy and embouchure for the big moments.  In the recording session, I can give it all all the time.  At least, that's my plan.  I'm excited to point out that there is nothing in my material that I can't play in isolation.  There are passages I can't quite handle  while exhausted and oxygen starved.  But I can play anything by itself, in controlled conditions.  I feel like I've been preparing forever for exactly this project.

There comes a point at which you have to admit that you are where you are.  A month out, I generally assume that my reed case will be filled with greatness, because there's still time to make it and put it there.  A week before, this goal is still plausible.  But today, what I have is what I will have.  The selection IS better than it was a month ago.  My playing IS better than it was a month ago.  But is it perfect? No, it's still me. So I'm going in, optimistically and eagerly, prepared to play to my optimum level, and to present myself at MY very best.  I won't be better than me, but hopefully me at my best is good enough.



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Moving Gracefully

I wrote a post last year on the difference a power pose made to one of my high school students.  Standing in an authoritative position made her immediately less apologetic, more authoritative, more confident and competent.

I LOVED this, and I believe that as women we should be using our body language to telegraph our pride in ourselves.  I'm always coaching my students to take up MORE physical space as they play. To own the room if they are soloing.  To act like musicians worth listening to.

However.

Zoe recently turned seven and started second grade.  She also hit a growth spurt - although she's still a tiny girl, and small for her age, she has suddenly begun to have the mass of a real human, rather than a fairy or a sprite, and when she crashes her body into mine it hurts, and when she bumps into things they fall over, and when she walks through the room the floor shakes.  Just like everybody else, but not like her first six years.

Suddenly I'm always having to remind her to slow down, to be mindful, and to move gently and gracefully through the world.

After all, grownups don't fling themselves down on furniture.  Everyone knocks things over now and then, but grownups try actively to avoid it, and are embarrassed when they do.  Big people don't intentionally smash into other big people just for fun or to show their love for each other.  And we're trying to raise a grownup, ultimately, aren't we?  Someone who occupies space in a way that doesn't impede others?

I remember my mother being ALL OVER ME about this when I was younger.  Sit down gently!  Don't crash around so!  Approach your chair like a lady!  Don't tilt backward at the dinner table! And I hated it.  Why should I have to change my approach to the world?  Why is "ladylike" the desired objective? Why isn't it OK to just be me?

Now that I am constantly on Zoe for this same thing, I kind of hate myself for it.  The individualist, and especially the feminist in me, is furious that I keep using those words, graceful and gentle.  Why should I be using these words, which smack of traditional femininity, to my daughter in the 21st century?  Why can't she just crash around like she wants?  Then I think about the possible future in which she never learns to be self aware, and I keep picking at her.

I seem to be trapped inside the verbiage I was taught as a child.  I don't actually think Zoe needs to be more feminine.  My god, she's already the girliest girl I know.  She just needs to be more careful and more responsible with herself.

So why is it that all of my middle school and high school female students need to be coached to be BIGGER and Zoe needs to be coached to be SMALLER?   Is there a point between now and ninth grade at which I'll need to start going the other way?  Will this take care of itself?  Can I be more hands-off and let her find her own way into her own body?

I'm genuinely asking.  I want Zoe to stand proudly in her own body, I want her to be powerful in her attitudes to the world, and I ALSO want her to be graceful and self-aware and stop hurting me and breaking things.  Am I being the problem?



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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tonight's Concert - Mid-Century Greatness!

I'm having an absolute blast playing with the Grant Park Symphony this week.  Our concert tonight features two symphonies I've never heard before and one concerto I have long loved, and all were composed within 20 years of each other!

The Roy Harris Third Symphony is my least favorite of the three - composed in 1939, it feels to me like Copland but without the groove. Based on the comments on the You Tube video below, my opinion is not everyone's! It's a little too lush for my personal taste, but I am still excited to be playing an American symphony that is new to me, and an interesting and legitimate work.



Walter Piston's Second Symphony, on the other hand, is EXACTLY what I like, and I can't believe I didn't know it before.  It premiered in 1944, and the sounds and tonality remind me of Britten and Prokofiev who both were writing around that time.  The rhythms are tricky and interesting - it took me a fair amount of singing and tapping to wrap my head around them in my practice room - and they have the GROOVE that I was missing in the Harris work.  The piece has the kind of darker, edgy expressionism that I love, with a strict formal structure containing it, and although I am not a listener to classical music in general, I feel like this piece might actually linger on my playlist going forward.



After the intermission, we are playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto (from 1959) and this is a piece I've always loved.  Again, edgy, angular, angsty sounds and tonalities, combined with intense, exciting rhythms and THE CELLO.  Everything about this is great.




Concert at 6:30 tonight.  Details HERE.