Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pacing

I was watching Project Runway last night as I wound English horn blanks, and in the Finale, Part One, our designers had each prepared an 11-piece collection and were asked to display a small portion of it to the judges to see who would advance to the big final show. Most of our heroes chose to present lesser items from their collections, in order to save the "wow" pieces for the true Finale, and they were chastised by the judges for not putting their best feet forward. Since this event was an elimination round they should have brought their A games and played to win.

The parallel with orchestral auditions struck me right away. We go in with a huge number of excerpts prepared and we are asked to present just a few of them - 10 minutes or so - in each round. Unlike our designers, we can't choose which pieces to play, but you can always choose HOW to play. Some people speak of playing "safe" in the early rounds, and not making risky interpretive choices or going for extreme dynamics. These people speak of saving something for the finals, but this philosophy doesn't ring true to me. There are so many candidates for these positions, and it is so easy to disappear in comparison, and the only way I know to make it out of the early rounds is to play my heart out and commit to every single excerpt. And then to do it again for the next round. And the next.

In contrast, though, the running magazines all suggest starting slowly in a long race to preserve energy for a strong finish. And I used to do that in my 5K and 10K races, but I found that I ended the runs with energy left in the tank which I did not want. And that my times weren't all that fast. Sure enough, when I went out faster I still had the strength to finish strong, and I had a great sense of having left it all out on the course, and my times were significantly improved.

When I ran my first half-marathon back in June, I started out pretty strong. Not all out - I wasn't stupid - but I was coasting along at quite a good clip, and anticipating a good finish time because I knew I was faster than my goal pace. I had prepared and tapered well so I had lots of energy, and I was enjoying myself and passing people. All very well and good, but it turns out that 13.1 miles is a LOT farther than 6.2, and by about mile 10 I was done. I was fatigued, yes, but also feeling pain in my hips, knees, and feet. I slowed. Then I walked. I missed my goal time by only about 5 minutes, but it was not a particularly proud moment. It took a solid month to recover fully and run without pain. I can do better.

I am running my second half-marathon next weekend. I have a time goal, but also a physical one - I want to get to the end uninjured. Therefore, like our unfortunate Project Runway contestants, and UNLIKE my audition self, I will start conservatively and try to maintain my goal pace instead of showing off and wasting the finite amount of fitness and energy I have. I will leave something in the tank for the last mile. I will live to run another day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Moo

If I were suddenly dropped into a foreign country I would be highly motivated to learn the language. I would focus first on the things I see around me every day, and on the services I want the most. How to get food. Where to go for my basic needs. How to interact with the inhabitants.

Zoe was 15 months old Monday, and suddenly began to talk. She had been signing a little before now - just the important words, like gorilla and elephant - but now she can tell us what the dog says, and the cat and the cow. And the duck. And the horse. And the giraffe.

Why on earth does she start with the animal sounds instead of actual words? Is a cow going to give her a bath and put her to bed? Is the dog going to fetch her some grapes from the fridge and let her pick them off the stem herself? Will the cat comfort her when she cries? Will the gorilla catch her at the bottom of the slide?

I think that this is pretty normal - other parents proudly brag about their babies imitating sheep and snakes and monkeys (WHY can't Zoe do the sheep yet? What's wrong with her?) - but it makes no sense to me. What is the evolutionary use of speaking to imaginary cows instead of actual mommies and daddies? Why speak Duck and not English?

Babies are weird.

Upcoming Concert

This Saturday's concert in South Bend will feature James Dapogny and his Chicago Jazz Band. Lots of standards. Should be fun. Click HERE for details and tickets.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Piggies

Zoe and I were discussing her piggies in the bath last night when I suddenly remembered an incident from the dark times - last winter, when she wasn't sleeping and I wasn't sleeping and I had too many commitments and just kept getting dumber and dumber.

My mother was visiting, and started on Zoe's toes. "This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home…"

"Oh, she knows that one," I hastened to announce. In front of my mother I felt guiltily as though I wasn't teaching the baby enough. I wanted to sing to her and read to her and talk to her but there just wasn't enough time to do everything. We did the piggy rhyme, though, and no one was going to say we didn't.

"She likes the WEE WEE WEE part best," I bragged.

"They all do," agreed my mother, and instantly I was enraged. How dare she suggest that my six-month old was like other babies! Zoe was unusually brilliant and it was amazing that she responded to the end of the verse by looking up slightly and smiling!

Of course, now I can see that I was crazy. Even a dumb baby would prefer WEE WEE WEE to "this little piggy had roast beef," and no one was judging me. Or Zoe.

I know that my reactions were about hormones, sleeplessness, and my own personal history with my mother, who can push my buttons like no other. In general I try not to take things personally. But I wonder how often I overreact like that and DON'T remember to laugh at myself later?

Today in our first orchestra rehearsal I was not pleased with my reeds or my playing. I was struggling with the different dynamic scale and sound that a chamber orchestra requires. I had not been on such a live stage in a while. I felt exposed and judged. But I know that I can pull it together, and I suspect no one else was as critical of me as I was. I'm still looking forward to tomorrow's concert. And I'll say WEE WEE WEE all the way home.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Upcoming Concert

I am excited about this weekend's concert for several reasons.

One, I can't wait to see my colleagues in the South Bend Symphony again. I missed the first subscription concert because of my big Illinois tour and concerto, so this will be my first real work of the season with this orchestra.

Two, it turns out that Dvorak's Czech Suite is better than I remember from the last time I played it, which must have been in college. Just folk tunes, yes, but put together beautifully, and there's lots of good woodwind work in there. I've been listening to it for enjoyment as well as for preparation.

Three, I really enjoy working with Kirk Muspratt, our guest conductor. I like how demanding he is and how much quality he asks from the orchestra, and I like that I have to stay on my toes.

Finally, I cannot wait to listen to the Milhaud trombone concerto. I love to hear my colleagues featured, and I have always liked Reed's playing. I'm ecstatic that the orchestra is performing not just a trombone concerto, but a twentieth-century trombone concerto. It is this kind of adventurous and interesting programming that I crave and wish we did more often. I don't miss being in school and in the Civic Orchestra - it's way more fun to be a grownup and a professional - but I certainly do miss the regular exposure to new works hot off the presses. Ok, Milhaud is hardly "hot off the presses" - but the fact that I'm this psyched about an mid 20th century composer says a lot about the conservativeness of our concert season, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 17
3:00 PM
DeBartolo Performing Arts Center
Notre Dame University

Friday, October 8, 2010

Level of Engagment

In the masterclasses I gave last week a common theme seemed to emerge. I spoke with many people about reducing their level of engagement, or relaxing relative to the oboe and simplifying their phrasing and approach in order to make the most of the expressive possibilities of the instrument.

The oboe has a very limited dynamic range, by which I mean that there are comparatively few actual decibels between the softest and loudest sounds I can safely and reliably produce. In order to make a dramatic gesture where I want it, I need to establish my baseline toward the lower part of the instrument's range, and toward the lower part of my personal energy level. That way I always have possibilities open to me. I can always give a little more.

Many of the masterclass participants were very good players, but spent a large proportion of their time playing right up against the resistance of the oboe, with no room to maneuver. I encouraged them to take a metaphorical step back from the oboe, and bring the instrument to them rather than throwing themselves at it. I could hear an immediate improvement when they did this, and the reactions of the audience seemed to indicate that the result was real, and audible.

This concept is something that I work on in my own playing, and regularly talk about with my students. There is a cycle that we generally go through. Young students have to be encouraged to blow, blow, blow! It takes a while to convince them that the phrase happens all on the same continuous stream of air, even when they have to articulate and change notes. But once they get the hang of that we have to start backing them off again. The next level of maturity requires a degree of separation from the instrument - continuous support but not continuous intensity.

I am not sure that I've heard anyone else talk about this. I don't remember a teacher discussing it with me, and I don't think I've heard it addressed in a masterclass either. Which causes me to wonder, am I crazy? Have I hit upon something that no one else has? Am I making a fool of myself by continuing to harp on something that everyone already knows? Am I, indeed, a crackpot, and has this idea already been discredited over and over? Since these are clearly the only possible explanations, I have some concerns…

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Travels with Zoe

On the third day of our trip, Zoe woke up way before dawn. I tried to nurse her back to sleep, but she just jumped on my head for an hour or so and finally I gave in and got up. My mom got up, too - somehow, it seems, our struggles had not been quiet enough. I changed Zoe's diaper, which was an epic battle because she was not interested in lying down or cooperating. We went to the hotel lobby for breakfast, but she was too wound up to sit and eat so I spent 45 minutes chasing her up the little stairwell and replacing the conventioneers' signs that she kept rearranging. Once we gave up on breakfast we spent a significant amount of time opening and slamming the doors of the machines in the guest laundry. Since I had been hoping to get a run in that morning I finally proposed a trip to the playground. Zoe could wear herself out on the slides and I could run around the park. Win-win. It was only when we actually got out to the car, looking like we'd slept in our hair and bathed in oatmeal and bananas, that we realized that it was 7:45 AM. That's right, 7:45. As in, not even 8:00 yet. We strapped her into her car seat and laughed until we cried at the awfulness of that baby.

We ate at Panera every day. It was baby-friendly and we liked the food. Every day I ordered Zoe a different item from the kids menu, and every day she picked at her own food while she mooched from my plate. At one point she carefully selected a piece of lettuce from my salad. She put it in her mouth and then pulled it out onto the table. She picked it up and waved it about. (I ducked.) She sampled it again, and spit it out into her yogurt covered hand. She daintily sneezed on it and then dropped it back into my salad where it vanished completely. My mother and I collapsed with laughter. What can you do?

Traveling with her was frustrating, exhausting and logistically complicated. But she's on the road with Steve today, heading down to visit her Tennessee grandparents, and I cannot believe how much I miss her.

I've had a great run, practiced well, gotten my reed work done, finished unpacking, done laundry, made a pumpkin lasagna from a whole pumpkin, taught two lessons, and organized music for my upcoming recitals. I've written thank-you notes and paid bills. I have changed the beds and cleaned the catbox, walked the dog and brushed him and loaded the dishwasher. It's only 9:30 - as in, not even bedtime yet - and I can't quite believe how productive it is possible to be in a day with no baby.

I am glad for her to visit Steve's family, glad that we are able to be apart now that we're nursing so much less. I am looking forward to the next two days of UNBELIEVABLE AMOUNTS OF TIME! And I can't wait for her to come home to me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Big Tour Recap

I had a marvelous time this week. I was born to be a guest soloist. I rehearsed with the orchestra, gave masterclasses in three separate towns, did a radio interview, and spoke to schoolchildren and retirees. I performed little solo pieces and spoke semi-intelligently about the oboe and the Ewazen. The big concert itself was a blast, and I loved mingling with the public afterwards and with the board and donors at the wine and dessert reception. I dressed up for my appearances and handed out cards and glossy brochures about myself. I got loads of positive feedback.

I am completely exhausted. Because I was traveling with Zoe, I was never able to let my energy down except when we were all asleep. I've gotten over feeling guilty at home for working while she's with Steve, but I did feel that I needed to let my mom off the hook when I was available to wrangle the baby. Since Tuesday I have not touched a knife to a reed. I have not practiced except to warm up for 10 minutes before each event. I have not written a word in my journal or for this blog. I did manage to run three times, but got less than half of my normal weekly mileage in. This is not a sustainable lifestyle, in other words - but what a spectacular week!

Now things get back to normal. I have my usual student load but no orchestra concert this week, so I should be able to regroup pretty quickly and get my routine going again. The house is not too disastrous since there has been no baby in it for a week. I may even be able to cook! I have some recital opportunities to plot - more information as I get things confirmed - and my next big project is the Monster Half-Marathon in Chicago on October 31. Keep watching this space!