Saturday, September 25, 2010

Upcoming TOUR

I leave in a few hours to start my week of soloism. This afternoon I'm going to Chicago to run my Ewazen concerto with Paul one more time, and tomorrow I will perform the whole piece with piano at Lakeview Lutheran Church during the 11am service. I am delighted that the church is willing to host this performance.

I'll come home and teach on Monday, and then on Tuesday I'll drive to Quincy for my first rehearsal with the orchestra there. On Wednesday I'll be in Bloomington, IL, giving a masterclass and a reed seminar to the oboe students at Illinois State University. Thursday I will be in Springfield, giving a masterclass for the oboists from the community and the youth orchestra. This event is open to any woodwind players in the area.

Friday I'll be back in Quincy, speaking and playing for two student groups and a retirement complex and rehearsing that evening. Saturday I will give another masterclass for the oboists in Quincy, and then perform Down a River of Time at 7:30 in the evening. Sunday we drive home.

It's a little bit complex, logistically, because Zoe will be with me, and my mom will be coming along to watch her. But we've gotten as many details organized in advance as we can and we will make it work.

Details:

Sunday, October 26
11AM
Lake View Lutheran Church
835 W. Addison
Chicago, IL

SVYS presents Jennet Ingle in a Oboe Master Class
Free and open to ALL woodwind players
Thursday 9/30/2010
7pm
Hoogland Center for the Arts
420 South Sixth Street
Springfield, IL 62701

Master Class for oboists and those interested in learning more
Saturday, October 2
1:00PM – 2:30PM
Unitarian Church,
1479 Hampshire
Quincy, IL

Ewazen: Down a River of Time
October 2, 2010, 7:30 pm
Quincy Symphony Orchestra,
Morrison Theater
14th and Maine St
Quincy, IL

Monday, September 20, 2010

Upcoming Concert, and Confession

The Symphony season is finally starting up again! With the shrinking of all of my little orchestras' little contracts, this is an unprecedentedly late start - but at least we're off.

Friday night's concert with the Northwest Indiana Symphony features a collection of opera arias and choruses on the first half and concludes with Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Click HERE for more information.

I always enjoy playing opera and and will be particularly interested this time around as I am in the early stage of gathering material for my spring recital, "Art and Opera". If I hear something that will suit the oboe I can snag it, and if not I can still look for inspiration from the soloists.

The Firebird is one of the few repertoire pieces that has actually gotten harder for me since high school. I played it in youth orchestra, and at the National High School Honors Orchestra in New Orleans. (I know, big whoop. But it felt like a huge deal at the time. Watch out or I'll start bragging about my SAT scores…) At the time, I was blown away by the difficult technical material in the "Variation of the Firebird" and the "Infernal Dance". And right now all the flute and clarinet players in the world are rolling their eyes, since their parts are actually really really difficult and mine is just hard for a high school oboist. But this is my whole point.

The technical material for oboe in this piece is no longer a problem. But the slow solos get scarier every time I encounter this work. The intervals are easy and any of my 9th graders could play them, but for some reason the acoustical environment leaves me feeling terribly exposed and then I clench down on the reed and then the oboe doesn't go. I have played plenty of harder pieces with oboe solos that actually are significant, and I certainly do not fear the spotlight, but Firebird is just unnervingly delicate in my mind. But it is wonderful. I love it. I am looking forward to it. Please come.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Preparing for the Big Day

I am preparing my Ewazen concerto for performance. By this I obviously mean that all of the notes must be solid under my fingers, and the memorization has to be secure. In addition, I need to be physically ready to play through the whole piece effortlessly, and I need to be able to tap into its emotional arc right away, from the very first notes. At this point, two weeks out, my process consists of at least two complete run-throughs every day, plus a fingering/phrase-analysis run-through with one of my three recordings every time I get in the car and a mental run-through every time I go out running. I am working on keeping my mind engaged for the whole duration of the piece, and keeping my body language in character throughout. I am thinking about three things at all times - playing the oboe, and what is required to make it work; playing the piece, and what is coming next; and giving a performance, and how I should look and act to cast the spell for the audience.

I am working on the big emotional sweeps, and I am ready to be swept away on the tide of the music - the river of time, as it were - and to sweep my audience away with me. But in my run-through sessions now I'm losing some of the very fine details of control and perfection. All of the notes have to speak and the slurs have to be perfect and I have to manage the ends of all the phrases with elegance and all of that work needs to be beneath the surface - unnoticed by anyone but me.

I remember taking Pilates classes and realizing immediately that it was easy to do the exercises that Pilates requires. It was very hard to do them right. To really get the benefit I had to find and access very specific muscles, and relax and disengage the bigger, more obvious ones. A simple difference in posture would force me to use some of my core muscles that I previously had not considered, and looking around the room it was clear - once my eyes were opened to it - who was really understanding the deepest aspects of the work. Those people had a compactness to their movements, and a strength and meaningfulness to their gestures. The rest of us were indeed raising our legs to the same angle and bobbing our hands at the same rate, but the difference was crystal clear.

This beneath-the-surface-goodness is what I need to watch for in my preparation. As I perform I can go too much into the moment. I can sacrifice a lot of details for the big picture of the musical phrase, and I believe that this is effective in the moment for the audience, and certainly fun for me. BUT to really deliver a superlative performance I have to have part of my mind on the oboe itself all the time, and keep the details organized.

My plan for this is to pull out some excerpts and start thinking about my upcoming auditions. Whereas a big performance is about the big picture and setting a mood and holding it, an audition is about being perfect. In 10 minutes I have to present 6 different very short excerpts, and each has to be distinctive, controlled, and beautiful. It's a recital, but incredibly compressed. Every detail needs to be in place and each piece needs to stand alone as a performance, and in my preparation I think about my defense as well as my offense - giving the committee members nothing to reject even as I try to wow them to distinguish myself from those around me. I hope that adding that level of specificity to my daily work will help to keep me honest in my big performance.

Which is:
October 2, 2010, 7:30 pm
Quincy Symphony Orchestra, Quincy, IL
Ewazen: Down a River of Time
Click HERE for more information

Friday, September 10, 2010

Warming Up, Part 2 - Scales

I'm a sucker for a system. I rarely worked on scales when I was young, and it's obvious why - there are too many options. They can be fast or slow, tongued or slurred, one or two octaves or full range. There are majors and minors and chromatics, and if you want to get into arpeggios and broken chords there are all kinds of diminished and augmented and 7th chords you could play. All with different articulations, different speeds, different emphasis. I could spend days worth of practice time just trying to get a thorough scale workout, and therefore I never ever did. Too hard, too overwhelming. This is why I love a system.

With a system, you can trust that over time you will get everything done. With a system, you can put in a reasonable amount of time every day and notice improvement quickly. With a system, you don't have to waste time deciding what kind of technical work to do on a given day. Just take the next page of your system. Give it 20 minutes, and even if it's not perfect, if you've put good energy into quality practice, you have certainly improved something. It will be easier the next time you get to it. With a system I can trust that scales are a life's work. I don't have to be amazing today, because next month I'll see this same page and I can rework it then. I can make tweaks to the system as I go along, to focus on the things that I feel weakest at - but basically I can trust that I'll be doing something every day.

A system is a lifestyle choice, really. I know people who go on and off diets, and their weight fluctuates dramatically depending on what they are allowing themselves to eat. My own preference is generally healthy eating and regular exercise. I can choose to indulge here or there, or choose to rest instead of running on a given day - but basically I know that my lifestyle is a healthy one and work within that. Similarly, I do some kind of technical work on the oboe just about every day.

Currently, I do the scale patterns from the Taffanel-Gaubert book, with a system by Michel Debost. The scale pattern itself is simple - it goes through every major and every minor scale every day, each in an 8-bar pattern that covers two full octaves. The system, though, is a list of 60 different articulation and rhythm patterns to apply to the scales. Every day I play all 24 scales, working through the system, and then I mark where I left off and pick up again the next day back in C major. I have to make a few adjustments because an oboe is not a flute - I play the B and Bb scales down the octave and skip the most hardcore doubletonguing patterns - but basically this works for me tremendously well. I can tweak it occasionally to focus on double or single tongue or speed or smoothness or dynamic, but if I don't have a specific concern in mind I can just zip through the system. It takes me about 20 minutes to play the day's scales and when I'm finished I have slurred, tongued, moved my fingers fast and slow, and played every note on the instrument both loudly and softly. In two days I get through all of the articulation suggestions.

Before I picked up this Taffanel-Gaubert/Debost system over the summer I was working from Marcel Moyse's Gammes et Arpèges. That book has 480 different exercises - scales, arpeggios, and all kinds of broken chord work. Finger studies, mainly. He has a list in the beginning - numbering every exercise in a not-quite random order - 1, 134, 267, 400, 53, 186, etc. The great thing here is that you don't just start with major scales and gradually get into harder and harder material and give up. His suggested order mixes everything up so if I just do three or four exercises a day I get through the whole book in about 4 months and no one day is particularly more overwhelming than any other. Again, I modify the exercises as needed to keep things in my range. Generally I'll go up to high A, but if I'm feeling unusually feeble or if it's one of the really tricky broken chord figures I might drop a few more high notes and not beat myself up too badly. After all, with a system I know I will see plenty more high A's later and can work on them when I feel more fit.

I worked from the Whitney Tustin Daily Scales book in college, and that's the book I'm sending most of my students to lately. In his system you do two pages of scales every day - one page of chromatic and one of diatonic. All of the scales are full-range - from low B to high F - and written out for the oboe, which is great because here again no one day is much harder than any other. If you have to go all the way to high F for every scale then Ab major is really no scarier than C major (except I suppose for the left hand Eb…) On each page there are a variety of articulations that you have to work through, all with the same notes. So you would play a full range chromatic scale with each of 6 articulations, then an F minor scale, say, with each of 12 articulations, and then you are done for the day. In 4 months you have worked through every major and minor scale and you start again.

I also have some younger students who are working in Gekeler Book 2, which has pages of scales and arpeggios in the back. To them, I would suggest assigning 10 minutes a day to scales. Start at the first page of technical work, and spend that much time. Flag the place you left off and start there again the next day. In a few weeks you'll be back at the beginning, that much more competent and ready to reattack C major.

The importance of scales is not just that my fingers become comfortable in all of the various major and minor keys, although that is a huge benefit. The point is not only that I am at ease in the extreme registers of my instrument, although that too is very important. I use scales also to work on basic articulation and evenness. The oboe feels and sounds very different in its various registers. A low Db doesn't sound anything like a middle B or an octave G# or a high E, and those notes resist the air in very different ways, too. I use my scales to practice neutralizing those differences, or at least concealing them. It is essential to be able to tongue effortlessly at the same length in every register. I work to not allow tension into my body even when the fingerings are hard. I want to be able to "type" out any articulation in any register without affect or stress. That way I can sculpt my musical phrase in whichever way I choose, and not be forced into a lesser choice by my inabilities.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oasis

Yesterday she stood and stared blankly when people greeted her on the street. Today she waves Hi, unprompted, even to strangers way across the street who haven't noticed her yet.

Last week she developed her very own Silly Walk, a la John Cleese, with her left foot way up high in the air at every step. Since then she's been practicing walking backwards, and today she added a Groucho Marx strut with her knees and hips out in front.

All of a sudden yesterday we turned the page in her My First Animal Book and she saw the gorilla, and she beat her fists against her chest, just like I had showed her days ago.

She can slide all by herself now on the big twisty slide. She can climb all the way up the steep steps, sit down at the top, scoot to the edge, get brave, and slide down to where I am waiting. And when she can't quite get brave enough, which happens about half the time, she can turn around and climb back down the stairs.

I cannot get enough of Zoe. At 13 months she is endlessly fascinating. She learns and develops so fast I can barely keep up with the things she can do by herself.

And it is wonderful to me that I've been able to be with her almost constantly for the last month. We've spent the last few days meeting new babysitters to prepare for the craziness that looms ahead in the calendar, so I am acutely aware of the blissful oasis we're enjoying right now.

As things begin to heat up I'll be making hard choices every day about the best way to spend my time, and I won't have the luxury of getting everything done that I want to. My goal is to keep enjoying her. Although there will be long weeks of late night commutes and multiple daily quintet gigs and meetings and rehearsals and frantic cramming-style practicing, I want my time with Zoe to stay this magical. I want to watch every new skill as it appears. This is so much fun!