Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guh-Guh-Goat

Zoe loves her new set of alphabet books (thanks, neighbors!), the format of which is very simple.


We opened the U book and the first picture was a unicorn. Zoe knows nothing of unicorns, but she was confident. "Goat!"

"What is that picture, Sweetie?"

"Goat!"

"What is that letter?" I was pointing to the big U, which is in fact a letter Zoe knows. She can pick it out of the refrigerator magnets and alphabet blocks, and label it easily.

"Goat!"

"But, Zoe, what is the letter here?"

"Guh-guh-guh-Goat", she said, looking at me as though I was an idiot. Little girl knows the drill, all right.

But in this two-year-old cuteness I read the completely normal human response of ignoring the facts that don't coincide with the "truth" we hold in our heads. I see it everywhere - in our politics, in our religions, in our day-to-day interactions. And if my brilliant daughter isn't immune I can't possibly be, so I wonder what it is I'm missing.

The older I get, the more I try to keep an open mind, and to see all sides of an issue (or reed-scrape, or oboe brand, or turn of phrase). What belief do I still cling to against evidence to the contrary? What obvious truth is my mind closed to? Where is the big U suggesting that I rethink my Goat?

I am opening my mind. I want to know what I don't know.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Making Changes

This afternoon I will be driving out to the College of DuPage to record my Lofstrom Concertino. This terrific piece was commissioned for me back in 2006 by Kirk Muspratt and the New Philharmonic, and I premiered it with them and with the Northwest Indiana Symphony in 2007. Although I've had a few performances of it with piano since then, it's been mostly on the shelf, until a month or so ago I was informed that the composer, Doug Lofstrom, wanted to record it for release. HOW EXCITING!

So I've been working to get the piece back under my fingers, which is fine, and I've been working on changing my reeds, which is making me feel like I don't know what I'm doing.

At the beginning of summer, I was focusing on articulation. I'd pretty much solved the double tongue techniques I was worried about, but wanted a more secure way to approach entrances, especially low ones.

I spent the early part of summer experimenting to release the notes inside my mouth instead of forcing them out forwards. In the process, my reeds became much more responsive, which was a change I welcomed. I've made the "rooftop" - the inverted V at the top of the heart - increasingly shallow, in order to make the articulation completely reliable. And I like the way that feels, BUT although I can play these reeds down to pitch, it always feels like I'm reaching down to get there. In other words, I can't blow up to the pitch with security, but rather have to keep everything gentle and mouth it down. This is not the way I prefer to play.

To correct this, I'm trying very intentionally now to raise the height and the steepness of the rooftop. From a ranch style dwelling to a Tudor one, and from a two-story house to a three. The reeds sound more covered and full, and in the most successful cases I almost have to work to get above 440. In the process, however, I am losing aspects of the articulation I've worked so hard on. The pitch stability is there, but I have to shove to get the notes to start and I've lost some of the clarity and brilliance of the sound.

These are tiny differences - a millimeter or less - in my scrape, but what a huge difference they make!

Because I make so many reeds for my business and myself, I work fast. To make a change like this I have to sloowww down and think, think, think. Otherwise, before I know it I'm trying a finished reed on the oboe, and it's exactly the same as every other reed I've made. If I want to experiment I have to make a plan and then mindfully execute it, which takes a long time.

And summer is just the time to do it - but TODAY I need to not be a work in progress, but a prepared, professional soloist. I'll check the reeds in my case, choose the best compromise between pitch and articulation, put my performing hat back on, and GO.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Zoe is TWO

Zoe turned two on Monday. She's been "two" for months, really, in that she's been pushing her limits (and our buttons) as hard as she can, and has proven herself more than willing to throw fits if she does not get her way. But this week makes it official.

Recently she's started spontaneously saying Please, Thank You, and Sorry at the appropriate times. I'm so startled I frequently forget my line (You're welcome, Zoe, for example). She is interested in letters and words, and whenever she notices some will launch into the alphabet song without warning. She gets a little muddled in the middle, but always ends triumphantly: "Now I know my ABCDEFGH - Nex time Sing Ah Me!"

The Ah construction is an invention of Zoe's own. Instead of differentiating all of those complex prepositions and their idiomatic English uses, she says Ah. (Sit nex Ah Mommy! Give phone Ah Daddy! Mommy walk Ah Zoe!) It's passed effortlessly into common usage in our home. (Steve, are you coming Ah bed Ah me? No, I'll be Ah computer for a while.)



She's started to develop some caution, which is a very new thing for her. It's a relief that she's becoming less apt to fling herself into danger's way, but somehow I feel like we've lost something, too. I always admired the fearless enthusiasm with which Zoe tackled new situations. From the time she could walk we could drop her onto an unfamiliar playground and she would instantly head for the tallest slide and zoom up and down it until we dragged her away. Now she hesitates. She often turns around and comes back down the stairs, holding tightly to the railing until she reaches terra firma. Last year I swam with her in the Atlantic Ocean and numerous lakes and pools. This summer she is utterly freaked out by sand and water. Two years old seems too early to look back fondly and miss the good old days, but there it is. Little girl is growing up.

What I want to say here is how wonderful she's made my life. What I want to say is how much harder and more complex it is now than it used to be, but that I would never, never, ever go back to a time before Zoe. But I have read these words before, a million times, in other people's blogs and poems and memoirs, and I have no new insights to add. I am a complete motherhood cliche - glowing with pride and adoration and exasperation and exhaustion (little girl does NOT sleep well on the road). Everything they say about how great this is - is true.

Happy birthday, little Bean. I love you. That is all.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Upcoming Webcast!

http://operamusicbroadcast.com/2011/07/12/rockland-the-opera-world-premiere-live-video-webcast-july-17th-at-3pm-edt/

Our Sunday afternoon opera will be live-streamed at the above link! 3pm EDT.

Since writing my last post I have to say I've fallen ever more in love with the music to Rockland. This is gorgeous stuff, and how often do you get to watch a world premiere Finnish opera? Tune in!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Upcoming Opera

I am performing with the Pine Mountain Music Festival this week, in Houghton, Michigan, and we are premiering an opera. Rockland, by Jukka Linkola, is about a 1906 mining strike in the Upper Peninsula.

As is often the case when I play opera, I have only half a sense of the piece. I know what is going on in the pit, and I can more or less hear the singers, but certainly I can't catch enough words to follow the story, and I can't see any of the stage action or sets.

What I know is that the music is very listenable. It sounds kind of like a Sibelius-influenced John Williams without the catchy hooks. There are some really beautiful moments. The orchestration is a little heavy and we have to work a bit to play softly enough for the singers, but it's not terribly difficult now that we've been through it a few times.

What I know is that although Rockland may not be the next La Boheme, I am so pleased to be a part of this project. It is wonderful to me that even in this age of electronic music and self-produced albums designed for iPods there is still room for a large-scale work of classical music. There are still people who believe in opera as a living art form. There is enough support to get a brand new piece conceived of, written, rehearsed, and produced, with professional singers and musicians, and real sets and costumes. The piece has been six years in the making - opera takes that long - and is deeply interwoven with the history and the people of this beautiful area.

What I know is that as much as a hassle as it is to get up here - ten hours of driving with a two-year-old - and as much as I wish we were making more money or gaining more fame by being here, I am so grateful to be at this festival. This is a working week that feels like a vacation because of the spectacular surroundings, light schedule, and friends old and new. Steve and I have come up almost every year since 1998, and although we only stay here on the Keweenaw peninsula for a week or two each summer it has become a very special place for us. Long may it last!

Performances are Friday night and Sunday afternoon, and more information is available HERE.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Inspiration From Another Genre

We went to Burlington during our Vermont trip and heard my brother, James Hearne, perform in a local coffee shop. James is a talented singer-songwriter from Philadelphia and a terrific performer. He had planned ahead and set himself up with this gig during his vacation, which is exactly the sort of thing I might have done if I'd thought of it.

James has great stage presence and a charming public personality. His pacing from song to song and over the course of the set was spot on, and he has a lot of variety in the songs he writes and performs, from real guitar-pounding barn-burning numbers to very intimate, gentle ones, to narrative songs, to songs with great hooks, and all with clever, interesting lyrics that get even better the more you hear them. He owned the room from the moment he started.

My brother and I live far apart, and this is only the second or third time I've heard him play live. I loved seeing that in our very different genres our performing styles are so similar.

Minus the smart lyrics, his is the kind of performance I love to give. I want the audience to hear the variety of sounds I can produce and to be moved in different ways with each number. I want to communicate with them through the music, and also to speak so that they can get to know me. I want the overall experience to be coherent, compelling, enriching, and exciting. And for some reason not all classical recitals feel like that.

I was so impressed that he could arrange a performance like this on his vacation. There's something flexible about being a guy with a guitar that is not the case for an oboist alone. I can certainly play a program of solo oboe music, but the oboe can get tedious pretty fast, and there's only so much repertoire. The addition of piano offers a larger variety of color and style options, but then I'm dealing with another person, who needs to be scheduled, rehearsed with, and paid.

Also, the number of bars and independent coffee shops willing to host and promote a folksinger dwarfs the number interested in an oboist. So there's a huge amount of performance flexibility there that is not available to me.

I cannot complain, though, as what my career has over his is established paying jobs. I make my living playing in the orchestra, making reeds, and teaching (i.e. talking joyously about) my instrument every day, and he pretty much has to work a soul-sucking retail job (my words, not his, James's bosses!) until he hits it big. Everyone please go to his page and promote him, incidentally - he's worth it!

I loved the friendly but intense feel of his concert. I loved the smart, elegant lyrics he writes and the compelling way he sells his music. Watching James perform I was impressed by the way he owned the room. Often when attending other people's concerts I fidget and wish I was up there performing myself. I just know I could be doing it better. In this case, though, it was such a treat to watch my little brother do it so well. I can't wait for my next show!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Great Oboe for Sale

UPDATE:  This ended up being a long story - but the oboe is SOLD and no longer available.  Thanks everyone who inquired after it!

I am selling my one-year-old Yamaha 841 Custom oboe. It is made from Brazilian Kingwood, and is one of the prettiest oboes I've ever seen. I purchased it new last year and broke it in carefully and thoroughly. Never cracked, and expertly tuned by Carlos Coelho, this instrument is in better-than-new condition. It has been played in orchestra, and quintet, and on television.

The 841 is a fully professional oboe with all of the bells and whistles, including a third octave key. The brand is relatively new, but several prominent US orchestras, including, I believe, Philadelphia and Baltimore, use Yamahas in their oboe sections.

This oboe has a beautiful, even scale, and would do a lot to correct a tendency to saggy intonation, especially in the upper register. Its sound is vibrant and exciting. Physically, the key work is very well made, and I have had no mechanical problems with it aside from a slight tendency to collect water in the octave keys. Feathering instead of swabbing has been an excellent solution to that.

My favorite thing about this Yamaha is the way it feels to play. It is quite a bit lighter than my AK Loree, and feels lively under my fingers. ALL of the notes work well, right away. The low register is effortless. The high register is effortless. The slurs are effortless.

I am selling it because I have found that although it is beautiful it is not "me". I wrote about this HERE. And we are buying a house, so I need cash more than I need this oboe. I will be selling one of my Lorees later this year, as well.

The price of a brand new Kingwood Yamaha is $5625. I am asking $5100 OBO, and am happy to send it out on trial.

Please contact me with any questions or concerns. jennetningle@gmail.com or 773-450-4581.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Climbing the Slippery Slope

It's a slippery slope. One day you wake up a little late and don't go running. After all, one missed day certainly won't matter. The next day you do run, but it's kind of hot out and you go a little shorter, or a little slower than you had planned. Listen to your body, you say. The next day, because you ran yesterday, you can totally justify not running because you don't really feel like it, and before you know it you are running 3-mile weeks when your training schedule (which you haven't looked at in quite a while) suggests 18-20.

You start the habit of eating ice cream with the baby right before bed. She needs the calories, and sleeps better with food on her stomach, and a little bowl of ice cream covered with fresh strawberries is practically healthy. All those antioxidants! Then you run out of strawberries, but the ice cream is still there. Then Zoe goes to bed early but you still justify a nice big bowl, because you're a runner. (Sort of.)

Before you know it your clothes don't quite fit right and an easy 5-miler feels like hell and it just sounds like way too much work to get back to that effortlessly healthy place you came from a few short months ago. You never made a decision to eat daily sweets and stop exercising, but the bad habits sneak in and there you are.

I spend a lot of time trying to think beyond the physical limitations of the oboe. I don't want to be merely a good oboe player, I want to be an exciting musician. In pursuit of that, I do not fear an occasional mistake. I do not shun a sound that is less than pretty - I need to have a variety of colors in my palette and to be able to play outside the box. Pretty is important, but it's only one of the amazing sounds the oboe can make.

But it's a slippery slope. I forgive little mistakes in my practice room if I'm working on the big picture of drawing the audience into a difficult piece. My big musical vision can ignore a little missed attack or a raw interval. Recently I've had a lot of performances and auditions, and I was focusing on presentation, and nuance, and planning my speeches and costumes. And because I had been thinking about this more "elevated" sphere, and because I only have so much time, I had gotten away from what I need to do to play the oboe - just play the oboe - well.

It is time to correct the path I've been on, and the solution is not to force myself right back into my previously planned routine and expect that I can do a series of hard workouts and play all of my new repertoire with perfect form. The answer is to admit that I've fallen off track and do remedial work for a little while.

Mercifully, I am on vacation for a week. My family is here, and we are in a gorgeous place, and there is no urgency in our days. It's the perfect time to reset my habits.



I am practicing for short sessions every day, focusing on fundamentals. Soft attacks, fluid vibrato, exquisite intonation. I am running every morning, but allowing my legs to dictate how far I go. Just baby steps to get me back in the habit of regular workouts. When I get home I can add my speedwork and mileage goals back in, but here I just need to remember how it feels to get up in the morning and run.

This is day 3, and I can already feel the benefit. I ran faster and more fluidly this morning than I have in weeks, and easily surpassed the distance of my previous two outings. I have a secure handle on the oboe problems that have been plaguing me - the work I've been putting in with tuner, metronome, and reed-knife combined with rest and a lessening of the self-imposed pressure to be AMAZING EVERY MINUTE is having the desired result. By the time we head for home, and for our next big project, I expect to have my ducks in a row.

Oh, and for the record my eating habits are not the slightest bit reformed. But that IS what vacation is for, right?