Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Fun to Practice

I LOVE practicing West Side Story. 

I realized today, as I was working through the fugue portion of "Cool" in the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, that I was reluctant to leave my folder at rehearsal tonight as I would always otherwise do.  I know the part, I've performed it many times, but I feel like I could work through these weird tritones and swing rhythms and aggressive flutter tonguing every day without getting tired of them.  It's not that I need more practice, it's that I don't want to stop playing.

It's not merely that I grew up knowing this music and that it's nostalgic for me - my mother played hundreds of musical theater records in our home and although I can sing every word to every song in that Great American Songbook my heart does not thrill when I play Oklahoma on the oboe. 

Bernstein is special.  Smart.  The melodies are SO beautiful, the angles and turns that the harmonies take are SO striking.  I never, never ever get tired of it. 

And playing it is difficult in the best way. 

On the same concert we are playing Elgar's Enigma Variations.  I love this piece, it's pretty all the way through, but in my part there are not long continuous melodic lines to grab on to.  There are not extensive technical passages that require my practice and attention.  No, what's hard here is finding the exact right velvety sound for the entrances, making sure that my slurs are gentle, that my lines have an appropriate warmth without being overwrought.  Legitimately difficult tasks, but not that much fun to practice alone. 

We are opening with John Adams's Lollapalooza.  It's a very neat piece, a high energy minimalist work, in which the challenge is primarily CONCENTRATION.  With a few minor exceptions nothing is technically difficult, but counting the rests and not falling in holes is a significant challenge and will require intense concentration for the entire duration of the piece.  My practicing here has consisted of metronome work and math and pencilled hatch marks to help me keep my place in the beats.  There's something enjoyable about this, sure, and the end result will be COOL, but after this weekend I won't miss practicing it.

But West Side Story is the right kind of challenge, the kind that keeps adding new layers that I can rise to.  Today I found an accent I'd never noticed before.  I can ALWAYS work to make my slurs smoother, my high notes more resonant.  There are low entrances, high su
stains.  Glissandos and flutters.  The intervals are inherently interesting - I love tritones and sevenths.  I'm not just ducking in and out of the lines, but playing substantial passages.   It's FUN.

You should come to our concert.  You'll have fun, too. 

Saturday night, 7:30pm, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at Notre Dame.  Details HERE.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Five Minute Reedmaker: Tone

OMG the Five Minute Reedmaker is Back!

Here’s what I’ve been up to:  I have a few videos ready to drop - I think I’ll put them out on Fridays.  I don’t know if Season Two can take us all the way to the end of the year, as Season One did before.  There may not be that many more topics to consider.  But I love you guys so I’ll try.

The playlist is still up on Youtube, but I’ve ALSO curated Season One onto my own website.  I never can figure out the best way to organize things in a Youtube playlist and this way you can see all of the videos really easily on one screen.  I think this will be helpful.  Perhaps you will let me know if you like it.

Now onto today's video...

I say this all the time - DON’T choose a reed for its tone.  DON’T keep scraping for sound, scrape for function.  Get the reed to work.  The sound will follow. 

But the sound is not UNIMPORTANT, right? 

Tyler wrote to me:  Your videos are great! (Thank you, Tyler! ) Do you think you could do one on tone and how scraping different sections of the reed affects it? I know it's a loaded, complicated topic, but anything you give will help a lot.

This is a loaded topic, first of all because a good tone means different things to different people, and secondly because different people might play the same reed differently.  The shape of your mouth is a factor, how far in on the reed you like to have your lips be, how mouthy you choose to be on the reed.  But I think we can agree on some elements that go into a good tone - core, stability, and flexibility.  Focus.  Sweetness.  Diffuseness. 

That’s a lot of elements, actually.  As I started writing them down I started thinking of more and more.  And this is why the question is complicated. 

But in this video I look at the most COMMON cause of a bad tone and work through two manifestations of it.





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 I run out of ideas, at which point Season Two will end.



Saturday, September 1, 2018

Never Trust an Oboe, Part 2


(Part One HERE)
(Similar story HERE)

Mercifully, THIS one didn't happen to me.  But my poor student was playing an audition for his orchestra, and reached up with his right hand to turn the page of his music.  And heard a "plink".  And when, a split second later, he returned his hand to his oboe to continue playing, he found that his entire thumb rest had fallen off onto the floor, leaving only the post it had been mounted to.

With his hand now contorted uncomfortably, he finished the audition - ably, I am sure - and tracked down the crucial little piece of metal.  Evidently the screw that secures the adjustable thumb rest into its most optimal position had come out - never to be found again - so the thumb rest itself now can escape at will.

He devised a workaround - teflon tape to keep the thing in - but let this be a lesson to all of us.




Seriously, the oboe is not your friend.  It's like a cat trying to slip out the door - it's just WAITING for an opportunity to betray you.  Don't get complacent.


Never trust an oboe.

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.