Friday, November 5, 2010

Baroque Music is Hard

Baroque music is hard to play. It's hard for an oboist, because the solo lines go on and on and on with very few rests. This is challenging partly because the tiny muscles of the embouchure get fatigued, but mostly because humans have to breathe.

The fatigue issue can be addressed by practicing for endurance - playing to the point of fatigue and a little beyond every time, which is of course impractical in my current life because I can rarely devote more than 20 minutes at a time to the oboe without someone needing something. The other arm of endurance, though, is efficiency. I want to keep my embouchure as simplified as possible, so that I'm not over controlling my reed. The oboe wants to play in tune, and the less I do with the tiny muscles of my face, the less I have to do.

The oboe reed has a very small opening, and although playing the instrument requires a lot of pressure, it doesn't actually involve a great deal of air. You can't actually expel all of your air through the reed before needing more, and it is easy to wind up stacking good air on top of bad. The air down in the bottom of the lungs is used up and full of carbon dioxide, and the good, oxygenated air that you've just breathed in is blocked by the bad air and useless and takes up more space in the lungs. Every subsequent inhale brings more air high into the lungs (but not deep down where it's needed) and you can be full to bursting with air but still feel frantic for oxygen. This is a simplification, of course, based on no real scientific knowledge.

If I have a long page of music to get through with very few rests, my natural tendency is to snatch a quick breath every time the opportunity presents itself, but that doesn't work for longer than a minute or so. I actually need to exhale and play on support alone for a short time. It feels so non-intuitive to breathe out while playing a wind instrument, especially when all of the cells in my body are crying out for oxygen. But to breathe in more than once is to get into serious trouble. I always have exhales and inhales - minuses and pluses - marked throughout my music, especially for this recital.

I have programmed an hour of heavy playing with one solo harpsichord piece in the middle so that I can regain my composure and prep my oboe d'amore. And I am ready to enjoy it!

Sunday, November 7, 2:00pm CST
6415 S. Woodlawn, Chicago
Free and Open to the Public

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