Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Earned This One

I earned this cold.  I earned it by burning the candle at both ends all semester long, staying up late to write or wind reeds even though I had to be up early to teach, forcing the second practice session instead of the nap, caffeinating instead of exercising to get through my afternoon lessons. 

Finally, I earned it by giving in and teaching my final student last week, who was obviously ill and mucusy, instead of sending her right back out to her mom’s car with a Christmas cookie and a smile as I briefly considered doing. 

As a performer I don’t think twice about going to work sick.  I have played concerts with a bottle of cough syrup beside me that I drank like water.  I have played with broken ribs and recently excavated wisdom teeth.  It takes a pretty serious illness to keep me home, because that’s what it means to be professional. There isn’t a co-principal oboe waiting in the wings to slide into my seat and cover my job, and when I play freelance gigs it’s an article of faith that I will be there, early, come rain or shine or just about anything.  If I’m not there I don’t get paid, and maybe I don’t even get hired back.

HOWEVER, if it’s about being one-on-one in a small room with students all day long, I am much more likely to cancel.   If you as a student are thinking of coming and sharing your germs with the captive presence of your teacher, I would say think again.  Your music study won’t suffer that much by missing a single week, and your teacher will appreciate it.    A word to the wise!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Upcoming Recital

Jennet Ingle

What's Going On?

I am giving a recital at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago on January 6, at 12:10 pm.  This program will be a shorter, more traditionally classical version of my upcoming Moveable Feast performance. It is free and open to the public.

This Chicago program will feature a veritable travelogue of works, drawing the listener along with me to Tunisia, Naples, and Scotland, along with the wide-open spaces of our own nation.  I am also featuring the Bach G Minor Sonata, as a personal home-coming.  I grew up hearing and internalizing  the complex counterpoint and fugues of J. S Bach, and in many ways his works for a musician - especially an oboist - feel like coming home.  It's a piece that terrifies and thrills me, and I am eager to present it in beautiful and historic Fourth Church.

What Else is Going On?

The full version of A Moveable Feast, starring myself, Paul Hamilton, and cabaret singer Justin Hayford, will be presented on:

January 22nd at 3pm at Valparaiso University.  I will soon have repeats of this neat program scheduled in February in South Bend and Chicago.

I am still working on an East Coast Tour of last spring's CHROMA program, anchored by a performance on:

Sunday, April 29th at 3:00, at Delaware County Community College outside Philadelphia.

I am giving a noontime recital at the Chicago Cultural Center on July 23rd, 2012.  I have no idea what will be on it, yet.  But we'll have fun.


Where Else Can I Read About You?

I am on the web at www.jennetingle.com, and I blog about my adventures at www.jennetingle.blogspot.com.  If you are not on my email list, please do join it HERE - I will not send spam but I will keep you well informed about my upcoming performances.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Zoe's Musical Beginnings


I've mentioned before that I started out on the piano by figuring out melodies.  Connecting notes and trying to learn how they worked.  I'm fascinated to observe that Zoe's initial approach to the instrument is totally different from mine.

She sits at our new piano and plays random notes, and tells us what to feel.  If she is playing slowly then the music is sad, and we should cry. When we are "crying" she either gets up and hugs us so we feel better (so awesome!) or bangs faster, to indicate that the music is now happy and we should dance. 

Her other piano game is accompanying herself - she plays "chords" in alternating hands while she "sings" the ABC song or Camptown Races or Sesame Street.  She makes us sing along.  She loves it when we clap at the end. 

When I was little I wanted to know how music worked. Although I make my living as a performer now, I learned about the interpersonal aspects of music later.  Her immediate interest is in how others react to her music.  How it can elicit emotions.  How it can bring people together. 

I can see where all these elements come from. The accompanying is because Steve plays guitar and piano for her all the time, and the intentional stirring of our emotion is from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - she LOVES the scene where Schroeder plays a medley of WWI songs and Snoopy reacts with dramatic emotion to the changes in character. 

But as a child I saw and experienced the same sorts of things and still turned into me and not her.  She's so different from me and I made her.  I love that and I have no idea how it happened.   Is every child this miraculous?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Working On It

I am still thinking about a method for getting my energy and focus better directed so that I might finally win a big audition. 

Several people have recommended books - Zen and the Art of Archery, The Inner Game of Tennis, Performance Success, The Power of Full Engagement - and these are all books I own and have read before, enjoyed, and drawn inspiration from.  I've got them pulled out and ready to refer to.

My December has not been generous with time either for practicing or for reading and intellectual speculation.  So many Christmas concerts, so much travel, so much stressing out over the phone with Steve in Tennessee, so many reeds due.

But what I am doing is performing.  I've had a Nutcracker or a Pops concert or at least an orchestra rehearsal almost every day since the 1st of the month, I'm treating this as an opportunity to really analyze what's going into my performances.  How often do I really focus well, and what did I do to get there? 

Here are some things I have noticed so far.  Things I can physically control. 

Posture actually makes a dramatic difference. If I slump in my chair my mind wanders. Not that I slump in  auditions, but I love my new awareness that I can control that tendency in rehearsal or performance.  

When I am at my best my actual focus is broader than I had assumed it would be - I see more of the page than just the line I am playing, and hear more than just myself.  Knowing that, I can choose to force that wider lens when I am feeling overwhelmed. 

I'm experimenting with deep controlled breathing between pieces to maximize my recovery and stay present in my body. 

I'm also trying to manage my coffee consumption.  Not to eliminate it, no, no, NO.  But to be aware of how many cups I have and how long before I play and what seems to be optimal.  I've found on previous occasions that I can be too calm for a concert.  Because stage fright is not fundamentally a problem for me I normally have some coffee on the way to a performance.  I figure that a paying audience is entitled to a slightly heightened version of me.  I'm not sure I've drawn any conclusions yet, besides that multiple cups on an empty stomach are not a great choice. Duh.

This is obviously analysis I could have done 10 years ago - but I've always basically been good enough.  Good enough to get where I am, good enough to not worry about the nitty-gritty of performing. It's easy to play exactly as well as I play and hard to be better. But now I want it.  My self talk has always been that I am constantly driven to improve, but I am beginning to think that sometimes I work very hard to stay in exactly the same place. I needed that recent kick in the pants to get moving again.

At any rate, I am committed to my new project.  I am teaching myself to trigger the time warp I need and to stay out of my own way so that I can perform more consistently than before.  I am enjoying dipping back into my performance books and paying attention to my process more than I had been doing.  I am inspired by the work I am doing.  I love my life.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Upcoming Concert

Our annual Home for the Holidays concert takes place tonight and tomorrow afternoon, here in the beautiful Morris Performing Arts Center.  I've been playing Christmas Pops all month, in various towns, and despite the repetition and schmaltz I always enjoy these concerts.

There is something so nice about a community tradition like this.  I love to see all the people at the symphony who come only once a year.  Families all dressed up in red and sparkles.   Everyone out at the same time, enjoying the ornate hall and the festive atmosphere.  At this once-a-year pops concert I don't even chafe at all the normal symphonic rituals - the walking out and bowing, the formal tuning procedure, the standing up and sitting down.  I kind of enjoy this showing off of our traditions.

So come on out, if you live nearby.   It's fun to slow things down and turn off your phone for a couple of hours to enjoy the magic of the season with the Symphony!

DETAILS HERE.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Fear the Bach

I admit it.  I am scared of J.S.Bach's big G minor Sonata.  And I'm not totally sure why.

I've performed it before, back in 2002, and it went fine.  There's no horrible backstory to make me dread it. 

It's beautiful.  I like the themes, and the interplay between the oboe and the piano.  Or, actually, between the two hands of the piano and the oboe.  The three-line counterpoint is complex, and interesting.  The second movement has a lovely melody that is almost romantic.  The third is a fun fugal romp in cut time, followed by a terrific 12/16 section that can't decide whether to lilt or gallop. It's fun to play.  So I don't dislike the piece at all.

Endurance is a factor in this work - it does go and go and go, for 15 minutes, and Bach does not give me a lot of comfortable long rests in which to regain my composure, but I have played more grueling pieces- the second Schumann Romance, for example, and the Strauss Concerto, and I don't fear those as much as I do this work. 

The technique is tricky at times.  Just a little un-oboistic in its intervals, and sometimes at its hardest when I am most oxygen-starved, which is just mean.  But heavens, I've played many many pieces that were much harder.  Even on this same program, there are licks in Pasculli and Tomasi that I am far more likely to miss than anything in the Bach.  So that's not it, either.

All of those elements factor into my fear, but I think my biggest problem with the piece is that I don't understand it.  That monumental first movement just keeps ticking along, for 7 minutes or more, and I struggle to grasp the big picture of the piece.  All of the counterpoint is flawlessly written, well crafted, and intelligent, and certainly there are a few cadences I can grab onto.  But I can't seem to find a narrative arc to sell to the audience, or to myself.  I hear the motives, but they seem to repeat at random intervals and I don't have a sense of the movement as a whole.  There's sort of a high point, but then there's sort of two or three of them, and there doesn't seem to be any real reason that it should end where it does.  We play and play, and then we stop.

I think it is this discomfort with the form of the piece that makes me fear it.  I have listened to plenty of recordings, but none that make me lean in and groove along. Each player does a beautiful job of playing each individual measure, but the piece ultimately goes nowhere.  And that is how I feel playing it too - unsatisfied.  I am so narratively driven that I feel very uncomfortable just dinking along enjoying the ride.  I think this piece may just be too cerebral for me.

So I have a whole set of recitals coming up, some of which are not even officially scheduled yet, and this Bach will not be on most of them.  Besides my obvious concerns, I'm not sure it resonates with  my theme as nicely as some other pieces might. 

But I WILL perform it on my first program, at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago on January 6.  Because I refuse to live in fear. 





Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Successful Accent?

Remember how Yamaha made me better?  Here's another awesome example of the same phenomenon.

I have a very young student who has been struggling to get her oboe playing off the ground.  She's hampered by the dreadful instrument rented to her by the local music store. 

The "oboe" she has does not sound good, which is not too unreasonable as few fifth grade oboists sound good on anything.  Regrettably, it also does not work.  If I adjust it carefully myself, turning all of the little screws (which are loose and wobbly in their holes anyway) to their most perfect positions, and then put a good reed on and CRANK my fingers down really hard, I can make that thing play almost all of the notes it should.  When she does it, the oboe basically thumbs its nose at her and refuses. 

As a result, the feedback loop she needs is totally severed.  When she looks at her music, and translates the dot she sees into an F, say, and remembers the fingering, and then tries to produce the sound, it doesn't come.  So she works harder and harder to make it speak, and even if it eventually does she has totally lost her train of thought.  There's no way for her to get through even the most familiar piece of Christmas music without getting stuck and frustrated.  We've been working together for a few months and have made very little progress.  I try to keep it fun, and to take the focus off the page and invent fun games and exercises to increase her fluency, and we have a good time in lessons, but she comes in the following weeks back to square one.  She can't reproduce the success at home, and is consequently having a hard time.

Fortunately, her mother is also a music teacher and understands these issues.  They are actively seeking a new instrument.  It's a bit delicate, of course, because oboes are expensive.  You don't want to spend a fortune until you know she's committed to the instrument, but she can't make any progress or have any fun until she has a horn that works.  But she says she wants to, so last week they brought a couple of new instruments in to try.

These oboes were Accents - if you've never heard of that brand be glad.  They are comfortably in the realm of what a parent of a not-really-motivated child is willing to afford, and they have an impressive amount of keywork so they look like a really good deal.  But I dread seeing 14-year-olds come in with these.  They have such dreadful bores that everything is out of tune all the time, and the attractive shiny keys are not well made and frequently bend and shift and go out of adjustment so that notes won't work.  I played them, cringed, and advised against purchasing one.  She would have outgrown it almost immediately.

But here's what happened.  We played the whole lesson on the Accent, and she practiced with it at home for the trial week until her mom had to return it.  This oboe was not a good instrument, but compared to her Signet rental it was amazing, in that it worked.  When she fingered an F she got one, and she could play the low notes, and the high ones, and the sharps and flats too.  And as a result she could play recognizable tunes, and suddenly it got fun, so she practiced. 

When she came in for her next lesson, on her old oboe, she was a rock star.  She had the confidence of someone who could play Pat-a-Pan, and play it well.  She could play We Three Kings.  She could play Silent Night. I even convinced her to sight-read, a little.  In so many ways she was a different player than before, even on the rickety old oboe that barely functioned.  She was the boss of it. She could overlook the notes that didn't come, and most of them actually did.  She knew she was doing it right because the Accent had taught her how to tell.

We've started looking into some used Foxes and Yamahas, and the  family probably will buy a nice intermediate instrument soon, but meanwhile the loan of an oboe that worked made it possible for her to play, and learn, and get confident, and grow.  This is the happiest experience I've ever had with an Accent oboe!
 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Piano


We just bought a piano.  I feel like such a grownup.

Now, despite taking lessons from third grade through eleventh, and despite graduating from a conservatory with a two-year piano requirement, I cannot play the piano at all.  If it were just about me we would not have bothered.  A piano is a BIG piece of furniture, and it weighs you down and ties you down.  It's a commitment.

But I remember having a piano in my house when I was growing up. Unlike a keyboard, or a record player, or even a radio, which an adult has to operate for you when you are small, a piano is always right there.  I spent hours just fooling around on it, and picking out tunes, and figuring out how it worked.  I could play the M*A*S*H* theme by ear before I entered school, and could pick out melodies from Disney movies or Broadway shows.  I determined that there is only one place on the keyboard that you can start Chopsticks and have it work out with no black keys.  I discovered a dominant seven chord all by myself - G-Bb-C-E - and played it every time I sat down because it sounded so cool. I didn't discover any of the other inversions or any other keys - harmonies have never been my strength - but that one was mine and I felt a kinship to it.

We always sang around the house but it was the piano that taught me that pitches are specific and not nebulous. You can start a song on any note but the intervals after you start are fixed, and they look different in different parts of the keyboard but you can always find them.

In other words, before I ever began to take formal lessons and before I had even heard of an oboe I had an intuitive sense of keyboard theory and a visual way to understand high and low notes and an ear for melody, and I want Zoe to be able to play with a piano in the same idle, figuring-it-out-for-herself way.  She doesn't need to be a musician, but I need that option to be available for her as it was for me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Willie!


I was listening to The Essential Willie Nelson recently while driving home from Tennessee. And the great thing about the collection is that you quickly forget how weird and annoying his voice is, because the songs are so beautiful and so diverse and so well presented.  But every now and then he does a duet, and you hear someone else sing - someone with an actual voice.  When Willie enters again, the sound is jarring, a little painful - and so awesome.  For example, THIS.  And THIS.

He's such an oboe.  Those entrances sound like the way it feels for me to come in after a beautiful clarinet, flute,  or french horn solo - the oboe has a harsh edge after the round, warm quality of the the other instrument.  I have to remind myself to embrace the sound of the oboe and not try to hide.  I love how unabashedly Willie Nelson uses the nasal bray of his own voice as an asset and how he draws us in despite ourselves.

And this is exactly what I want to do. When I give a solo performance, it's a solid hour of oboe playing, and I hope that my presentation and the variety of material are engaging enough to not make it feel like that to the audience.  On my spring recitals this year I will be collaborating with a superb cabaret singer, Justin Hayford, and as I try to plan the arc of the performance my only worry is that the change in genre and sound - from Romantic era showpiece to American Popular Songbook - will be awfully abrupt.  I think, though, that Willie's approach may be the best one.  He just sounds like he sounds, and makes us love it.  We'll see if I can pull that trick off myself.





Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Slowing Time Down

When I am performing and things are going really well, time seems to slow down.  I am completely in control of my playing and of the music coming up, and I own the air around me.  This is not some mythical "runner's high" that only hits once in a blue moon, but a fairly normal occurrence.  Over the past few months, though, I have realized that it's not okay to just wait for that zone and hope it comes.  My out-of-the-zone performances are not bad - I can always play the oboe - but they are not good ENOUGH. 

Cases in point - recent auditions in Milwaukee, Utah, Indianapolis, Cleveland.  I go in, and in my first round I am unsinkable. I know what I'm doing, how to do it, and I perceive exactly what the situation requires.  If I make little mistakes they don't matter.  The silence between the excerpts is mine, just as the sound is when I begin to play.  In each case I am pleased but unsurprised when I advance. 

But each time, I return for the semi-final round as a different player.  Everything seems to happen too fast, from the moment the proctor collects me from my room.  It is hard to catch my breath between excerpts, tiny errors seem disproportionately crucial in my mind, I make more of them.  Although I remain competent, I can't quite find my way to the magic.  And the results always live up to that expectation. I don't make the finals.  I don't win the job.

And this is not because I am not good enough, talented enough, or prepared enough to have these gigs.  It isn't.  The me who plays in total control and owns the room is the same me.  I can access that me in performance regularly.  That me IS what I do. 

I am a slow learner - it took 4 identical experiences in a fairly short time to drive the point home. I always assume that THIS rough audition is an outlier and that the next one, with no new effort on my part, will be better.  But I get it now.  The point is to access that slowing-down-time place at will.  I need to find a focussing technique that works for me, and practice getting intentionally into that zone.  I rarely feel nervous on stage or in the audition room.  Calming myself has not been my goal, so practicing mental centering has always felt somewhat pointless.  Now I see why I would want it. 

Now that the goal is clear, I can work on it.  I can devise a plan.  I can conquer the challenge. 

I'd love to hear what techniques have worked for other people in solving this issue.  And rest assured that when I have established my approach I'll be letting everyone know about it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nutcracker this Weekend

This weekend I am playing Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker in Fort Wayne, with the Philharmonic and the Fort Wayne Ballet.  Musicians sometimes get a little Nutcracker-ed out, or at least we used to - I can remember seasons where we performed 6 or 8 or 27 repeats over the course of the season, and the 2 1/2 hour ballet does get a little old by the end of the run.

The music is great, though, and it's never a gimme - it's tricky enough that I really have to pay attention, and every year when I get the book there are some details I need to look at.  This season I'm playing the second oboe part for the first time ever, so that should be an interesting wrinkle in this piece which I know so well from the principal chair.

With the recent economic downturn Nutcrackers are being cut back all over the country.  Many ballet companies are performing it with recordings, or with piano. That's certainly less expensive than paying a full orchestra.  Many groups do a reduced orchestral version, with two players or even just one in each wind section instead of three, and with a smaller string section.  Some communities have eliminated this holiday tradition entirely.  We haven't used live music here in South Bend for at least 5 years, and last year I didn't get to perform it anywhere.  This is sad. 

I remember going to Nutcracker presentations as a little girl, and being wowed by the story and the music and the beautiful effects on the stage and of course the dancing.  I remember my parents taking me up to lean over the side of the pit and see the musicians at intermission.  The first time I ever played the piece I was terrified, because the music is quite hard, but when I saw all of the children leaning over the pit to look at US I almost wept. I want Zoe to have the same experience, but won't take her to hear the local recorded-music performance on principle. 

All this to say that I am delighted to be working this week, and happy to play one of my favorite holiday pieces again, and optimistic that someday the tradition will return in more places. Meanwhile, please do check out these performances on Saturday and Sunday in Fort Wayne. 

Click HERE for tickets and more information!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ewazen Concerto This Very Weekend!

Here's the notice I just sent out about this weekend's event.   If you would like to be on my email list, please do join it in the right sidebar - I will never send spam but I will keep you well informed about my upcoming performances, with occasional emails like this.  Of course I do always mention them in this blog too, but sometimes people prefer info to be RIGHT IN THEIR INBOXES...

What's going on?

This Friday night, November 18 at 8 I will perform with the Notre Dame Symphony Orchestra at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.  The piece is a great favorite of mine, Eric Ewazen's Down a River of Time.   If you haven't seen this orchestra you are in for a treat, and if you haven't heard the Ewazen then LOOK OUT!

I am truly looking forward to this performance and hope to see you there!  Ticket information can be found HERE.  Please feel free to forward this notice widely!


What is this gorgeous concerto about?

The title of this piece comes from an essay by Richard Feagler from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  In it, the author reminisces about a boyhood Christmas and about all of the people - relatives and friends - who have since passed on.  I did not particularly like this essay - it was too sentimental and folksy for my taste.  But the image, of a river of time rolling unstoppably forward - of all people being swept along on that river - is a lovely one.

Linda Strommen commissioned this concerto in 1999 in memory of her father who had recently passed on.  During the writing of the piece, Ewazen's father also passed away, so the work has every excuse to be extremely sad - but it's not.  It is more of an exploration of the way that the passage of time affects us all than an elegy for the departed - a celebration of that river of time and of all the highs and lows that life has to offer.

The first movement, "…past hopes and dreams…", gives us soaring oboe lines over a pulsing, rippling accompaniment. It starts in 8/8, which could be interpreted as plain old 4/4 time like every other piece ever - but instead Ewazen subdivides it as 3 + 3 + 2 which feels very watery to me - always moving forward but with eddies and swirls holding it up.  It has a nostalgic quality, which speaks of the fleeting nature of hopes and dreams. 

The second movement, "…and sorrows…", is really the heart of the piece.  Even this movement is not truly sorrowful, but about sorrow.  It is a soliloquy, or monologue, for the oboe - the accompaniment has very little melodic material - and although the opening material does return at the end, most of this movement is through-composed, which means that we do not hear one or two themes developed over and over but rather a new idea every few bars.  The effect is of a stream of consciousness.  We also change moods frequently, and I am reminded of Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross's famous stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  They don't appear in that order, or that clearly - I can't point to one moment and go, "Ooh!  Bargaining!" -  but I think this movement tries to reflect on the complexity of human emotion.

Acceptance comes most fully in the third movement, "…and memories of tomorrow".  Here the music is optimistic, joyful, and buoyant; if the first movement was nostalgic for the past and the second considers those we have lost, this third movement looks forward to the next generation and at what may come in the future along our river of time.  If I may read into it, I would suggest that Eric Ewazen is looking forward to it as much as I am.



What else is going on?

I am preparing a spring recital program which will debut in January.  Because that's how optimistic I am about the weather in the Midwest.  The theme is Travel, and a catchy title  will be announced soon.  The fabulous Paul Hamilton and I will feature music by Ibert, Tomasi, and Pasculli, among others.  Preliminary dates include:

Friday, January 6 at 12:00, at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago
Sunday, January 22 at 3:00, in Duesenberg Recital Hall at Valparaiso University

I am still working on an East Coast Tour of last spring's CHROMA program, anchored by a performance on:

Sunday, April 29th at 3:00, at Delaware County Community College outside Philadelphia

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Practicing Tomasi


I love practicing, and I thought it might be interesting to walk you through my process as I worked through a really tricky technical passage this week.




I spent a good forty minutes working on this line.  This two measures, I should say.  The piece is Evocations, by Henri Tomasi, and I plan to perform it on my spring recitals (which begin, optimistically, in January this year).

Besides being chromatic and leaping uncomfortably back and forth over the break, the lick is really fast, and the notes under the slurs are notes that don't want to be slurred to on the oboe.  The pattern is clear, but the intervals are not especially comfortable.

I have approached this section before and turned away discouraged, but this time I was determined.  I put on my get-it-done cap and set to work.

I frequently use this triangle to structure my technical practice.  I adapted it from Kenny Werner's Effortless Mastery, and refer to it when I teach, as well. 

Presuming that the goal is to be able to do all three things - play the passage perfectly, up to tempo, and all the way through - the way to work on it is one side at a time.  It is easy enough to play it perfectly and up to tempo if you only do a beat at a time or two at a time, and easy to play it perfectly all the way through if you go slow enough. Then you keep easing toward that third point, and when you hit a wall you change sides.

I started with All the Way Through Up to Tempo without worrying about Perfectly.  I just wanted to see where things stood.  After I determined that I couldn't even really fake it all the way through at tempo, I returned to the other two sides and devised a plan. 

First, I scrapped the slurs.  They are extremely un-oboistic and were getting in my way - I would miss the note even when I fingered it correctly and that kept breaking the feedback loop that I needed.  I had to hear the correct note when I did it right.  A future step will be re-engaging with those slurs.  I may put them back in - obviously my goal is to play what the composer wrote.  Or perhaps my gift to the audience will be leaving them out so that the passage works.

Then I leaned in real close hoping to find some sort of scale-wise pattern I could cling to. Minor sixth and major seventh leaps are fun and exciting but not as readily effortless under my fingers as scales.  I discovered that the second, third, and first notes of each triplet are a descending do, ti, la from a major scale.  So, starting on the second triplet eighth of beat two, I see F E D, F# E# D#, G F# E, etc.  The octave leap is no big deal on the oboe compared to trying to playing this passage without the helpful scales.

So, armed with my patterns I pulled out my metronome.  I set it at 72 - the marked tempo - and mentally rebeamed the pattern so the scale-wise segment happened on the click (F,e,d,F# instead of C#,f,e,D).  I found that I could easily play two of those in a row, but I stalled out at three.

I turned my metronome down to 54, at which point I could play the whole two bars in my rebeamed format.  Played it at 56 , 58, and 60, then went back down to 54.  At that tempo, which by then felt slow and easy, I played the passage as written (still without slurs), and also backed up to the bar before so as to get a running start at it.  All well.

I clicked my metronome up three clicks - to 60.  Played my rebeamed 2 bars.  Clicked back down two, to 56, and played the ink.  Up three, rebeamed bars, down two, played a longer passage as printed.

In this way I worked the passage up to and beyond the marked tempo.  I was confident in my work because I understood the patterns involved and I had trained my fingers and brain to play them at any tempo.  Forty minutes is a long time to spend on two measures of music, but it's time I won't have to spend again, and if I keep reinforcing that good work in my daily practice I will be able to deliver the goods in performance. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Learning By Doing

We have been traveling to eastern Tennessee regularly ever since Steve and I started dating - about 16 years ago, now.  It's a gorgeous part of the world, but I've never paid more than a passenger's superficial attention to it.  Steve drives, I read a magazine or play with my phone, and every now and then he draws my attention to a particularly stunning vista.  End of story.

This time around, though, we had to split up a few times.  Zoe needed a nap and a snack, Steve wanted to stay with his father, so I was in charge of driving little girl back to our home base at Nana's house.  And I couldn't get over how beautiful that 20-minute commute was!  Rolling hills, winding roads, mountains off in the distance, fall colors, cows and goats in pastures right beside me.  When I had to do it alone, and engage myself in driving and navigating, I couldn't believe how much more I saw.

Also, I suddenly sort of understand the route between Steve's dad's house and his mom's.  Rural East Tennessee does not operate on a grid system like the cities I am comfortable getting around in, and any road I turn onto could go anywhere as for as I can tell.  But now that I've done it twice by myself I could do it again easily.  One solo trip was more effective than 15 years of riding shotgun in terms of my personal orientation.

The same thing applies to other skills that I have learned.  Spackling a wall.  Creating hyperlinks in my website.  Making a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin.  All easy things, but when I first read the instructions or watched the how-to videos I was bewildered.  I had to dig in and get my hands dirty, and then the process became obvious, easy, second-nature.  I learn best by doing, and by making my own mistakes.

All of which makes me think that I talk WAY WAY TOO MUCH when I teach.  I only have a half-hour or forty-five minutes per week with many of my students, and while  I often feel great about the work we do, I am sometimes guilty of talking through a practice technique without letting the student try it sufficiently.  Or of singing through an interpretation without having the student work through it herself.  Or of lecturing on the importance of warmups and demonstrating them on my instrument.  Sometimes five or ten minutes can go by without the student actually playing the oboe, and if my experiences are any guide that is not the most effective way to learn. 

So this is my official reminder to spend more time in lessons asking questions rather than giving answers, and encouraging experimentation rather than teaching the "correct" way to produce the results. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winter Reeds

It's nearly winter!  Oboists in northern climates are quaking in their boots right about now. 

This is an ugly time of year for reeds.  The little boogers are extremely sensitive to changes in the weather, as you might expect.  You know about the wooden doors in your house which swell in the summer and shrink in the winter, and our tiny pieces of cane react the same way.  Only the reeds are calibrated and hand-scraped to 100ths of millimeters, and a micron of additional thickness in the wrong place can destroy the response or intonation or tone quality.  I am accustomed to the usual daily shifts - the oboe feels different every time I pick it up, and it's a challenge I am happy to rise to.  It is normal for me to use my knife even on a finished reed, and tweak it for the day and the venue. The two big seasonal changes, however, are harder to deal with.

I don't know why it's now, instead of three weeks ago or next month - the weather doesn't seem to have changed that drastically in the last few days - but I know that suddenly nothing in my case works.  I have old reeds in there from June and July which felt like they had maybe one service left in them, but also reeds from last week, and the reed I played the Chen on, and the backups for that, and reeds that I've played successful second oboe and first oboe on - and suddenly they all stink.  The sound is thin and sharp, and they don't seem to vibrate with any depth, and no matter how much I scrape they don't get better.  Just worse.

So I'm looking at turning over all of the reeds in my case, and it's not yet totally obvious how I'm going to do that.  Though I've been doing this for many years, I never do seem to remember  exactly what I need to alter to accommodate the change of season.  Wider shape, I seem to recall, and longer tip, maybe?  I mainly just try to react to the cane and feel what it wants, but to do so I do have to break some summer reed habits.  My blanks are probably tied on too long, and when I start scraping I may be too aggressive in the cut-in, or too long in the lay.

By next week - by Friday, I hope - I'll have a collection of playable reeds, and this awkward time will just be a distant memory.  Sometime next April I'll be struggling to work out how to make reeds just like the ones sitting in my case right now, and grumbling about it, no doubt.

I love the oboe.

A Rough Week

Last week was a rough one.  Last Sunday, while on vacation in Tennessee, Zoe rolled out of the bed and broke both bones in her arm.  Steve took her to the emergency room down there, of course, and we spent an afternoon with the orthopedist here once they got home.  She's fine - in a hard cast, happy as a clam, and scheduled for a full recovery in a few weeks.  Still, stressful and expensive.

On Wednesday night, while driving home from our gig in Fort Wayne, we hit a deer in Steve's car.  We weren't hurt, and the car was drivable so we got home just fine - but now that vehicle is in the body shop until the end of the month.  Insurance is picking up the huge tab but of course we are paying the deductible and adding on a windshield repair that had been needed.  Stressful and expensive.

After the week of work in Fort Wayne, I pulled my car into the driveway and turned it off.  The next morning it wouldn't start, and after an unsuccessful jumpstart and a tow truck we determined that the timing belt had broken.  Four days in the shop. Just got it back.  Stressful and expensive.

We are on our way back down to Tennessee now, to pay our  respects to Steve's father, who is ill.  Not particularly expensive, but certainly stressful. 

Here's the thing, though.  I love my life.  I love it. Nothing bad happened in any of the situations we encountered last week, or at least there will be no lasting harm.  Money is just money. It's terribly sad that I may not see Steve's father again after this week, but today I am on a road trip with my family and it's a beautiful day.  I'm traveling to Utah on Sunday for an audition and playing the Ewazen concerto next Friday, so I'm busy with wonderful oboe stuff, and although Zoe hasn't been sleeping well I feel fantastic. 

I think that before we had Zoe I would have gotten very upset about all of this nonsense.  I would have felt tight and panicky and freaked out a little bit when we suddenly went from a two car family to a zero car family in a matter of days.  I might have been too anxious about practicing for my audition and my concerto to make the time to travel south, or at least I would have struggled with it a little.   

But a baby seems to put things in perspective. All the little stuff is just little stuff.   Life is good.  Happy weekend to us all!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Upcoming Concert

This Saturday I am performing with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.  The big piece is Sibelius's Symphony no. 3.  Had you ever played Sibelius 3?  I hadn't, nor had I even heard of it.  Turns out it's a gem - a lovely little 30-minute work with Sibelius's characteristic dark colors and fluid melodies.  I'm enjoying myself immensely.  At tonight's rehearsal we'll add the guitar concerto - Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez - which is a long time favorite of mine.  All in all a fun weekend.

I'm playing principal on this concert, and I'm really noticing the rest of the orchestra more than I do when I play second.  That does make sense, as I am now responsible for matching and joining the other winds and the full group instead of just the first oboe.  My focus should widen.  But in another way it is slightly dismaying.  If moving over just one seat to the center can make a significant difference in how I perceive the orchestra, and raise my awareness of the personalities and nuances of the solo players, what is it really like for the audience?  They aren't nearly as close to the action as the second oboe chair, or even the back of the violin section.  Is all the excitement I feel in the center of the orchestra being delivered out to the seats?  Do they get it? 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Playing Second - and Learning!

So here's a question.  Am I doing it wrong, or is it just that every person does it differently?

This year I've been playing much more second oboe than ever before.  I've been fortunate - both Fort Wayne and Milwaukee are down a member in their sections, and have been calling me to fill in until they hold their auditions, so I've lucked into more of this high-quality work than usual.  And playing second is a very different task than playing first.

When I play principal my job is to be a soloist.  I set the oboe sound that the section needs to match, and my approach to the piece is what everyone else reacts to.  Of course I am responsible for joining and matching the rest of the orchestra, particularly the other woodwinds, but I have a lot of freedom to play the music the way I hear it.  Even when I play English horn, although I am technically the third voice of the oboe section, I mostly play by myself.  It's a different instrument, it has its own solos, and I listen to different orchestral voices when I play it in tutti passages.

Playing second oboe, though, my job is to match the principal exactly.  I have to sound like she does, articulate and end my notes at the same time and in the same way, and mirror her dynamics (one iota softer) precisely.  Sometimes there is an independent line, but even there I need to keep it right in the same box.  A little second oboe solo is not an excuse to go all Jennet.

What I'm finding fascinating is how differently people can approach the same music.  Not wrongly, definitely not.  I have LOVED playing with the various principals I've worked with lately - I always gain  insight from their approach.  But it surprises me sometimes that I can't quite predict, even in a standard piece that I know well, how long someone's note will sustain, or exactly how soft the entrance will be, or how gentle the attack, or how full the sforzando.  And the fact that I find myself guessing or not quite correct sometimes makes me wonder if I (as a principal, I mean) interpret things sloppily.  Maybe if I were really good I would play my parts exactly like Sandy Stimson does, or Margaret Butler, or Bob Morgan.  And then when it came time to play second I would know exactly how to match them, because we'd all be doing it "right".

Merely writing that last paragraph made me realize how ridiculous this train of thought is.  Of course everyone plays a little differently - that's the whole point of live music! 

I love, though, that I can draw inspiration now from the way other principals do their jobs.  When I was just out of school, I looked at a second oboe gig as a placeholder, a little money-maker while I waited for the principal work to come my way.  Now I see it as a fabulous opportunity to learn!  There's a different vibe in the section from each of the people I've performed with lately.  Partly it is about how they hear the oboe's role in the orchestra.  Some are consistently fairly prominent.  Some are blendier and only come out when it's really really important.  Some people are tense and on the edge of their seats, others sit back and just do the job.  Some are hands-on with their sections, asking for this attack softer, or this D better in tune.  Others do their jobs and trust the section to do theirs.  Each time I return to my orchestra from one of these other groups I feel I bring a little something back. 

So, Colleagues, if I've been a little schizophrenic this year, just know that I am trying things on for size.  I'll be a unified whole at some point.  Maybe I'll eventually learn how to do it right.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yamaha Made Me Better

The Yamaha oboe has made me better.  No doubt everyone is tired of hearing me rhapsodize about this instrument, but it's revolutionized my approach. I can just play, and if I do my job right it does its job too.  Believing that my oboe will work every time makes me relax. I have always feared low attacks, but with this instrument, my new reed style, and my new articulation technique I don't any more. 

The exciting revelation, though, came very recently.  My Yamaha cracked while I was playing 3rd oboe and English horn in Milwaukee several weeks ago.  I quickly sent it down to Carlos Coelho, who pinned it, sealed it, and put inserts in the tone holes. I got it back as good as new, and played it for several more concerts, including Extase this past weekend.  When I pulled it out Monday morning, the pre-existing crack had opened wide and a large new one had materialized.  My pretty oboe is on a truck now, on its way to service.

So now I am in Milwaukee again, playing second oboe on my Loree.  And it's fine!  I can play low oboe just as well on this oboe as I could on the other, and it works.  Something about my newer, calmer, more confident approach to that register has actually proved to be the whole answer.  Clearly I needed the crutch of the Yamaha to teach me how to produce reliable low notes, but having learned the skill I can transfer it back, with good success. 

I can't wait to get my fun oboe back, but I'm confident and happy with my older instrument now, too.  If I have to play on my Loree for a few weeks I am fine - now that the Yamaha has made me better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chen Wrap-Up - Moving Forward!

Here I am again, in the phase immediately after culminating the project.  Sometimes this is an empty time, but right now I'm flying high and too busy to be sad.

I LOVED playing Chen's Extase on Sunday.  I love being on stage under any circumstances, and I'm utterly committed to that great piece, and I really loved my dress.  It was a wonderful day of being a star and I wish every Sunday could be like that. 

I was surprised and delighted with the reception the audience gave to the Chen.  I knew that it was a great piece, but was concerned that our relatively conservative Sunday afternoon audience would struggle to listen past the pitch-bending and the loud percussion.  I imagined them walking out, or at least leaving at intermission.  So the Maestro and I spoke before we started, and introduced the piece, the tune, and the techniques.

We played it - we were good.  The orchestra was wonderful, and I was pleased with my playing. I missed one obvious gliss up to a high Ab that didn't speak, but there was plenty of time left in the piece for them to forget and I showboated the heck out of the final cadenzas.  We got a huge standing ovation, and many many people came up to speak to me afterwards, some visibly moved.  (Others just complimented my dress).  I was proud of my work - the past 11 months of practice culminated just the way they were supposed to, and I'm a far stronger player for having learned this difficult piece. 

It's a little sad to put Extase away now.  I'm looking actively for more performance opportunities, but at the moment it is back on the shelf.  There's an empty spot in my practice day.

That said, my next step is obvious.  I have to bring Ewazen's Down a River of Time  to performance level in 3 1/2 weeks. I love the Ewazen, and I know it - and it's even pretty fresh in my brain as I have been listening to it and teaching it for the last month.  Now all I have to do is play it on the oboe…convincingly… and soon.  I'm running movements now, and will do some recording this weekend so I can hear what I'm doing wrong - or right.  I'll be going over the memorization on all of my runs from here on, and by next week I plan to do full run-throughs.  I'm fast-tracking my preparation, and loving every minute. 


Friday, October 21, 2011

This Is It!

Today is the last day before I get to play Extase with the orchestra.  We have two rehearsals tomorrow and one on Sunday before our Sunday afternoon performance.  And I love this part!  At this point, my work is done.  I can't improve my playing any more now - I've been living with the piece for 11 months and I know it as well as I ever will.  If I spend more time on it now I will only get tense and tire myself out, and since I still have Prokofiev 5 to play tonight I have no interest in that.

I have taken my instrument apart and cleaned and oiled it.  I have a case full of reeds.  I did a trial run with the dress today - checked the fit, hemmed it, decided on shoes and undergarments.  The babysitters are hired. It's 4:00 and all I need to do is rest until my concert tonight, and then enjoy the heck out of tomorrow and Sunday. 

And I cannot wait.

Click HERE for concert details and tickets.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Upcoming Concerts

This week the Northwest Indiana Symphony has a great concert.  Prokofiev 5 is one of the truly great symphonies - tragic, heroic, funny, hopeful - a huge range of human emotion can be heard in this gorgeous, tricky, troubling piece.  I have loved preparing it and rehearsing it, and we'll perform tomorrow night.  Their glossy promo is below.  I am not sure why it is so oddly narrow. 

Also this week, we did education concerts in Northwest Indiana, and are in the middle of a set of education concerts here in South Bend, so effectively I have spent every minute either working or in transit.  It's a pleasure, on the one hand - I love to play.  On the other hand, though, this is utterly exhausting.  Two services every day is not an unreasonable amount of work - many professional orchestras maintain that kind of schedule for months.  Most, however, don't maintain venues 75 miles apart.

This is a week in which everything is busy at once.  I have a big reed shipment due out today.  There was a contract ratification meeting to attend in NISO, and today there are meetings of the  SBSO Board and the Performance Opportunities Committee, both of which I serve on.  I have taught 11 lessons (the other people are mercifully on Fall Break), and have I mentioned the Great Big Concerto I am performing on Sunday? 

I love my life, because I get to do so many different things, and I am passionate about all of them.  Most of the time I can keep a reasonable amount of balance between home and work.  But when this many of my "hats" are all on at once it is hard.  Just hard. 

October 29 is my next day off, and I am already dreaming of the blissful sleeping and laundry that I will do...

The Symphony presents Peter & the Wolf, October 21. Visit nisorchestra.org for more information
SUBSCRIPTIONS STILL AVAILABLE
COMPOSE YOUR OWN SERIES
Pick only the concerts you wish to attend.
Options are available to Pick 5, 4, or 3 concerts.

219.836.0525 x200 • 1040 Ridge Road, Munster

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Zoe is 27 Months Old!




Zoe called for me at 4:30 in the morning.  She had wet through her diaper, and was happy to talk about it.  As I was changing her she said, I'm very wet.  Then, What a wet Zoe! And finally, as I was stripping the bed, What a wet little girl!

I don't know quite how to characterize the change in Zoe this past month.  She's been verbal for a while now, so the complete sentences, including (some) pronouns and articles are not new.  What feels new is the way she interacts.  Instead of labeling things or asking for explanations of things she sees, she is talking about them.  We can have conversations about things she remembers, or people who aren't present.  It's a subtle difference, but a real one.  Suddenly we converse - things she says lead to responses on my part, which lead to new responses on hers.

She talks now about wants, rather than needs.  "Maybe go to playground?"  "I want a slide!"  "We go to Tennessee - maybe Katie come?"  "Mommy, don't go!" 

I can ask her open-ended questions and get responses - what are you eating at Nana's, rather than Are you eating carrots?  What did you dream about, rather than Did you dream about a robot?



She is imaginative.  We go for walks and she is a giraffe, a bunny rabbit, Big Bird.  She "paints" the wall by licking her hand and moistening it - a perfectly logical combination of what Daddy does and what the cat does, with the same apparent result - a shiny wet wall.  If I sit down on the floor she brings a blanket (or napkins, or scarves) to cover me, brings Tigger to keep me company, and puts me to "bed", stepping quietly out of the room and closing the door behind her. 



Her new thing is birthdays. Over and over, every day, she will bring me a toy or more often a refrigerator magnet, wrapped in a dishtowel, and sing Happy Birthday to me, all the way through, and stand by excitedly, bouncing up and down, while I open the present and exclaim over its wonderfulness. 

This is not a trait I recognize.  Honestly, Steve and I stink at gift giving.  I still make fun of him for the year he insisted that my birthday present was the Murphy bed we installed in the condo.  Which I researched, contracted for, and paid for out of my personal checking account.  Even now, I tend to find myself panicking on the day before a holiday and getting the first thing I see and dreading the moment it is opened, thanked, and politely set aside.  Also, I never have any wrapping paper and usually use photocopies of orchestra music which looks all artsy but really just means I didn't have wrapping paper.

Little girl, however, is all about the gifting.  Her dishtowel wrapping is just about as neat as my version (and she's TWO) and she truly seems to love the whole process.  The more magnetic numbers she can get into the package the prouder she is.  And I have to glow about every one. 

My Goodness, you shouldn't have!  A Seven! A Two! AND a Four!  THANK YOU, Zoe!

She is so much more a person than I ever dreamed a two-year-old could be.  She is so much more different from me than I expected.  She is so utterly marvelous that I can't get enough. 




Happy 27-month Birthday, Sweet Girl!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's Not About Me

I have been reworking my reeds lately, and I am ecstatic with the results I am getting.  The tone is more covered but not less exciting, I feel, and for the first time in years, my pitch naturally sits down at 440, the "correct" orchestral pitch level.  In the past I have made my embouchure as open as possible and formed my approach around needing to push the pitch down, while all the time wishing that I could just blow satisfyingly against the resistance of the instrument and sing up to the pitch instead. In my practice room, when I was alone and working on notes and direction I pushed, and in the orchestra I backed away. I couldn't be consistent.

Now with my newly beloved Yamaha oboe and my new reed style I can make the sound I want AND play at the pitch level of the piano, and of the orchestra.  I can give an A by blowing up to the pitch instead of reaching down for it. (The A is always given at 440 - but some times that is harder to achieve than others.)

So as I warmed up for a recent gig I was pleased with the way I was sounding. I checked my pitch with the tuner before rehearsal, and gave a great A.  I then put my tuner away, because we play by ear and not by eye when we are in context, and proudly made my first entrance exactly where I knew it should be.  And I was flat.  Uncomfortably flat.  And abashed.

See, an orchestra doesn't always play at the pitch the oboist gives.  That's not news to me - I know the groups I play with tend sharp, and suspect that that is the reason my own pitch has been creeping so high in the last few years.  Somehow, though, I assumed that it was my responsibility.  After all, I do give the tuning A for rehearsals and concerts.  As a leader within the wind section, if I am comfortable at a high pitch level others may tend to join me there.  I figured that if I could solve my own problems it would make me a better colleague, and enable everyone around me to bring the pitch down.  To where, I imagined, they had always wanted it to go. 

Turns out, though, that I am not nearly as important as I think I am.  I give the same A=440 that I always have, and the fact that it feels easier to me makes no difference to anyone else.  Once we start playing, the rising pitch of the group can quickly leave me behind, on these excellent new reeds that hold my pitch right where I want it and make my tone smoky and beautiful. 

The first time I encountered this I held my ground through the whole first half of rehearsal.  Perhaps in time everyone would see how correct and great I was, and come back down to meet me.  But no.  At the intermission I changed back to an old-school reed, and while I resented the sound and the overly delicate attack, I had realized for myself what I always tell my students - if you're the only one who is right, you are just wrong.  The job is an ensemble position, no matter how principal oboe-y you are. 

It was an excellent reminder.  I am compromising more now - making my reeds for the sound and the response, of course, but scraping them to be a little more flexible.  Because IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT ME!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Upcoming Concert, and a Speech You Missed

We're performing tomorrow night here in South Bend, and playing the score to a silent movie - The Phantom of the Opera!  I've done shows like this before, I think they're cool, I like the music we are using.  I only regret that we cannot see the screen from where we sit.  That's not because the artistry will suffer, but only because I want to watch. 

Last week I joined the Executive Director and the Music Director of the SBSO at a downtown Lunch and Learn event to talk about the Chen piece that I am performing in a few weeks.   It was a pleasure to do - I love to talk about the oboe - and hopefully we opened the door to some new listeners!  Here is more or less what I said:

Hi, I'm Jennet Ingle.  I am the principal oboist with the South Bend Symphony.  And the Northwest Indiana Symphony and sometimes the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra.  I teach oboe at Notre Dame University.  And Goshen College, and Valparaiso, and privately at my home.  I have a professional reed business, and with the SBSO woodwind quintet I take educational presentations to schools, retirement communities, rotary clubs, and libraries.  I perform solo recitals and concertos as often as I possibly can, and in a few weeks I am performing the Chen concerto, Extase,  here in South Bend.  Which is all to say that I make my living as many professional musicians do these days.

All of my income is derived from music, but it comes from a number of small organizations, all of which are struggling for resources in this current economy.  My personal mission, therefore, is to be an ambassador for classical music, and particularly for newer music.  More people like this music than think they do, but many are intimidated by the idea of attending a concert.  They think they won't understand what's going on, and that they will be bored.  It's important for me to help them by being articulate about what I do and helping them to find a hook into even the most contemporary works.  I want to make beautiful music interesting. 


I am wildly excited about the piece I'm performing on the 23rd.  Extase, by Qigang Chen, is spectacular for the oboe. It is energetic, thrilling, beautiful, wild, intimate, and, eventually, ecstatic.

Qigang Chen is Chinese by birth but has lived in France since 1984, and was Olivier Messiaen's last student.  The piece reflects a characteristically French brilliance in the use of the western orchestra, especially in the woodwinds.  At the same time, it sounds very Chinese.  The big melody is based on a traditional Northern Chinese love song, and the solo oboe part is inspired by an instrument called the Suona, which is a sort of double reed trumpet.  (The suona actually originated in Turkey and came to China via the Silk Road, but has long since taken its place in traditional Chinese music.) 

The solo part, while difficult, is extremely well suited to the capabilities of the modern oboe.  It showcases every trick in my repertoire, and some which I had to learn for this performance.  During the 15 minute piece I must circular breath, bend pitches, glissando, double tongue, and even make sounds by inhaling through the reed.  And despite all of that, the piece is coherent, listenable, and even beautiful. 

And I have a great gown. 






At this point I did a bunch of demos, to wild acclaim.  I cannot WAIT to play this piece in public, and I hope people come. 


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Preparing Chen

I am preparing Extase, by Qigang Chen, for a performance on October 23.  This will not be news to readers. 

Now that I am just a few weeks out, my preparation is changing.  For months I've been sweating the big technical passages.  Double-tonguing, especially in those lower left hand notes that want to crack anyway, was not previously a strength of mine.  Actually, a year and a half ago I would have said that I couldn't double-tongue at all.  It's taken a lot of patient work and a major overhaul of my reed-making to get to where I am now. 

Since late summer I have been working hard on the memorization of the piece.  A lot of runthroughs, a lot of listening, a lot of formal analysis and score study. I know the piece very well now, and have a clear understanding of what happens when.  My current plan, though, is NOT to play from memory.  There is no piano score, so I haven't been able to run it through in any sort of collaborative way.  If I had a way to feel out the entrances and holds and counterpoint while out of the spotlight I could easily pull it off, but I am finding the mostly intellectual task of memorizing bars of rest and arbitrary points of entrance a little beyond me in the time I have.  I am so glad for the time I've put in, though - I feel very strong and clear-headed for the performance. 

In my earlier preparation I never focused too much on the long circular breathing passages.  During these pages of music, I play for an absurd amount of time without stopping or taking my face off the oboe.  Throughout these long stretches I have fingered glissandos which I did have to put some work into, but the breathing technique has long been comfortable for me.  What I've discovered in my recent playthroughs, though, is that I get tense when I play extended passages of 32nd notes, or do a great deal of pitch bending, and this does affect my embouchure and my endurance.   So my work now is cut out for me.

I've marked off the four longest passages, and labeled them "endurance blocks", which I think might also be the brand name of some sort of marathon bar.  I play all four every day, trying to relax my body and to find the most efficient position for my embouchure muscles so I don't fatigue too rapidly.  After I work through those four sections, I take a short break and run the whole piece. In this way I practice working through the discomfort so that my endurance improves as well as my efficiency. It's killer, it hurts - and it helps.  By October 23rd I plan to be bulletproof.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Upcoming Concert

This weekend I am performing with the Heartland Festival Orchestra in Washington, IL.  The group is a relatively new arrival on the scene - it did not exist when I used to work regularly in central Illinois.  What I know about them I know because they have an impressive web presence.  I certainly see more of them in my Facebook feed than any of my actual orchestras, and now that I am here in this small town I see their posters and publicity up everywhere.  Other regional orchestras should be paying attention to this!

The concert itself is an absolute pleasure for me - I'm working with friends and colleagues that I haven't seen in years, and playing Beethoven, which is always a treat.  On the downside I am four hours from home, missing my family.  But does every gig not have its upsides and downsides?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Teaching Ewazen

I almost always have a solo program of some sort that I'm working on in addition to my orchestral concerts.  And I have occasionally needed a new piece for a student and had nothing on me besides my own music - so sometimes I will teach a piece I am simultaneously working on myself. 

I don't like it.  For one thing, it can be hard for me to hear another person's interpretation when my own is so vivid in my head.  So I might correct the student's phrasing to mine instead of listening for and accepting the thoughts they have about the music.  For another, I don't like showing them up by performing a work that they have in progress.  It just feels mean.  Maybe it doesn't make them feel bad about themselves, but I can't help feeling a little guilty. 

But I'm having a great time right now.  I'll be performing Eric Ewazen's concerto, Down a River of Time, with the Notre Dame Symphony Orchestra in November, and I have two oboe performance majors at that school.  The conductor's suggestion was that they should both learn the piece, too.

I was hesitant at first, obviously.  But I am very impressed with the way he is handling this.  My students will play the piece with the orchestra in rehearsals, which obviously is great for the strings as they learn it.  How much fun would it be to rehearse concertos WITH SOLOISTS every afternoon, rather than patiently counting through bars and bars of meaningless accompaniment? He is planning to have each of them record it in the final weeks of preparation, which is fantastic for them.  I didn't come out of college with a recording of myself playing a major concerto with orchestra, but they will. When they actually hear the performance, they will know all the ins and outs of the piece, and be extremely educated listeners.  This is a win-win-win situation.  It wouldn't have occurred to me, and I give full credit to Dan Stowe for it.

And it's great for me, too.  Each student has a very different approach to the piece, which is fun for me to hear, discuss, and consider.  I haven't started yet on my own full-scale preparation (obviously I've played it several times before) but in teaching it I am doing a lot of analysis.  I am honing my own plans and reconsidering some phrases that I hadn't previously put a lot of thought into.  Having to put my own musical intuitions into words is, as always, extremely valuable for me.  Generally, once I can articulate the problem or the solution or the story, solving it on the oboe is the easy part.  Making a coherent plan is the challenge, and right now I'm working on that off the oboe - or at least off my oboe - and feeling a lot of benefit. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Upcoming Concert

This weekend I am playing John Adams's Harmonielehre with the Milwaukee Symphony.  As usual, the orchestra sounds magnificent, conductor Edo de Waart is utterly inspiring, and I am pushing myself to play better than my best to keep up with those around me.  I feel so fortunate to be able to sub in this orchestra, because their commitment to excellence, as individuals and as a group, is a rare gift. 

I've said it before, but it is  a tremendous luxury to put the time in on a difficult piece like this - not just the time necessary to get through it, but the time to learn it and play it well.  As budgets shrink throughout the symphonic world, per-service orchestras like mine make do with as little rehearsal as possible.  The norm has become juuust enough rehearsal time so the concert doesn't fall apart.  We come as prepared as possible, and spend all of our time making sure we understand the transitions and the tempi, and then perform.  In Milwaukee there is time to discuss balance, intonation, motivation, and blend.  It is a treat to do this kind of work. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Oboe Update

So I had this oboe.  I bought it because it called to me through the internet.  I liked it, then I liked it a lot, then I liked it less.  I decided to sell it.  Two people tried it, and both seemed to like it but declined to buy it.  It came back and sat on my shelf for a few weeks, until I pulled it out to see what I still had.

And suddenly it's the best oboe in my collection!  I love it for my Chen concerto because it is so easy to double tongue even in the lower register and to pop high notes out and to sustain a note forever.  I love it to play second oboe because it is so easy to sneak in low and quietly.  I love it in my recent Big Band concert because the keys feel so small and neat under my fingers that I can lay down the complicated jazz rhythms without having to fret about my fingers - I know that's a weird statement but if I don't have to worry about the oboe I can focus much better on the music.  I loved it even in a big masterworks concert full of romantic music - that's where my love affair with it had come to an end previously.

When I see a low note, I know what to do on this instrument.  If I set up my embouchure correctly and use enough air, the note comes.  On my Loree, that solution works perhaps 85% of the time.  Hoping really hard is an important element of making entrances on the Loree, but if I just do my job the Yamaha meets me there.  When I reach for an awkward interval, the Yamaha says, Great, Boss, how soft do you want it?   The Loree says, Make me.  On this oboe it is possible for me to be (almost) completely the Unfussy Oboist that I aspire to be.

What does this tell me?  Certainly I was too hasty when I gave up on the oboe before.  Perhaps my summer of reed and intonation work has improved me to the point that I can optimize this instrument.  Perhaps I'm just a different person now, or maybe all the playing I'm doing on the instrument lately is making it more like me.  I know full well that a Loree oboe doesn't come into its own until the second year - I always love my oboes best at that time - and maybe I just wasn't willing to give my Yamaha the benefit of the doubt for long enough.  I need to be more patient.  I LOVE my new oboe!



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Upcoming Concert

This weekend in South Bend we finally open our official season with James Beckel's Toccata for Orchestra, the Korngold Violin Concerto, and Brahms Symphony No. 1.  And I feel pretty good about this program.

Brahms 1 remains one of my very favorite orchestral works.  It has everything - fatefully tolling tympani, gorgeous oboe, horn, and violin solos, a deeply joyful major key string chorale melody, and a rock solid ending that leaves no doubt about when the audience should applaud.  I played this piece for the first time in Youth Orchestra in high school, and I never get tired of it. 

It's one of those warhorses that is truly overplayed, though.  I have only been with South Bend for 5 years, and I know I have performed it here at least once before.  There is so much great repertoire out there, and I am hard-pressed to explain why we would repeat a piece this soon.   Do people really want to hear the same pieces over and over again?  Across America, orchestras are struggling to maintain their aging audiences and reach out to younger people, who rightly see the symphony as a museum piece.  Why not perform newer works, contribute to the development of today's composers, and give support to local musicians?

Fortunately, in this case our music director has in fact done this.  The Toccata for Orchestra is a relatively new, relatively local work, composed in 2007 by James Beckel, Jr, a trombonist and composer from Indianapolis. It is lively, fun, and should be an enjoyable treat even for the Brahms lovers.  The Korngold Violin Concerto is beautiful and romantic, but has some edgy moments, and is certainly not nearly so commonly played as many other concerti.  I've never done it before, myself, and am looking forward to it quite a lot. 

Hopefully there is something for everyone on this concert - why not come and check us out if you live in the area?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It Feels Sooo Good.

We moved over the weekend.  And we'd been working on this move - around all of our normal work and teaching and baby-wrangling - for a good month beforehand.  So for weeks there has always been a new busywork project at hand.  Packing boxes, wading through phone trees calling utility companies, buying paint and blinds, changing locks, pricing appliances, scraping bathtub caulk, gutting said bathtub, hanging a new surround, installing curtain rods, lugging boxes around, searching fruitlessly for the one cable that would actually make Sesame Street possible - everything else in my life has been on hold.

At this point it feels like I have always been running around multitasking with projects all around me in various stages of incomplete.  I walk into the kitchen and remember that I was about to hang pantry shelves.  I go in search of the drill and find it in the bathroom with Steve, who immediately recruits me to hold a big piece of plastic up to the tub so he can make arcane marks on it.  When I escape I find that Zoe has pulled all of her books out onto the floor and wants to read them all at once.  We read and I can sense a nap coming on, so I hurry to the kitchen in hopes of getting some lunch into her before she konks out.  There I notice the pantry shelves that I was about to hang. Also a bag of groceries that I dimly remember buying and meaning to refrigerate, a hand sander sitting idly next to the patch of spackle on the wall, and the silence which means that the washing machine has finished its cycle and the clothes need to be transferred. 

Until about a week ago I was at least managing to practice daily, and I had sacrificed running and writing for pleasure a good week prior to that. I know everything will settle down, but it certainly hasn't yet.

That's why it was a wonderful treat to drive over to Valparaiso yesterday for my usual long day of teaching.  Imagine - from 11 until 6 all I had to do was focus on one person at a time.  Figure out how to solve the immediate problem that person was struggling with.  The obligation to uni-task felt as welcome as the cool-down walk at the end of a hard workout.  I could finally calm my scattered mind and relax into a job that I know how to do.  Eight lessons and a coaching have never felt so refreshing. 

Back at my house now, I still feel grounded and capable in a way that I haven't for weeks.  Jarring me out of my normal routine made me realize how much I love it, and even though we still have to finish the unpacking process I am much readier to cope with it after one day of enforcing my normal brain discipline.  I've been reminded how to focus and how to cope and I'm ready to face the chaos once again. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Upcoming Concert

I am playing with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic this week, and we are doing Mahler's 4th Symphony.  I have never played this piece before, and I am having a fantastic time - the orchestra sounds great and it is a pleasure to play such a large-scale piece. 

This music is such an enjoyable challenge to play.  It is sooo romantic, and every bar - every beat, sometimes, has a different character.  The colors change constantly.  Every minute is fascinating, and challenging, and beautiful.  As a player I am engaged all the time. 

It's a treat, too, to discover this great work from the relative safety of the second oboe chair.  I can sit in the middle of the action and listen and enjoy everyone else's musical ideas and gestures while my job is merely to make the oboe work in the low register.  And I can do that without too much stress, so I'm having fun. 

I really hope the audience enjoys this piece.  Although I love playing it, in my preparation I have struggled to pay attention as the recording rolls along.  Somehow for me Mahler never really seems to come to the point.  Every minute is amazing but I don't feel the big arc of the story. 

I like a clear narrative, and I like to say what I came to say and move on along.  I get terribly impatient if a novel goes on too long a tangent from the story line, or gets embroiled in description.  In some ways this Mahler symphony feels that way to me.  Gorgeous and interesting minute by minute but after an hour I'm not sure why I bothered.  But people read Proust, and other wordy novels, and people LOVE Mahler, and Wagner, and Bruckner.  It takes all kinds and I am so glad that it does! Without enthusiastic listeners I would never get to do what I do.