Thursday, September 27, 2012

Action Goals: Oboists and Toddlers


Zoe’s been going to preschool for nearly three weeks now.  And it’s been amazing for her, and I can really tell how much she’s learning, but it hasn’t been a seamless transition.  The issue is peeing.

Zoe was potty trained over the summer, and is reliable at home.  She got alarmed in the first week by the automatically flushing toilet in her classroom.  It is very loud, and she can’t predict when it is going to go off right under her, so after being scared once or twice she just decided that she wouldn’t use it any more. 

This worked out all right for her for a day or so.  But we began to notice that she was coming home with damp pants, because three and a half hours PLUS a twenty minute walk home is too long for a very little girl to wait.  Then, almost immediately, she began to have accidents in the classroom.  We warned her that too many accidents would get her suspended, but evidently by this time that sounded pretty inviting - no more early mornings, no more scary potty - so she had some more. 

Steve and I were tearing our hair out.  We tried rewarding dry panties, we tried being angry at wet ones.  We talked with her about the big picture of why school is so important, we talked about how BIG girls used the potty, we tried being understanding, we tried being firm.  We went to school for Movie Night and she and I spent half an hour in the restroom together figuring out how to outwit the automatic john.  (Ask me about the solution sometime - I’m pretty proud of it!) And still she would come home in different clothes than she left in, and still the teachers were frowning when we picked her up, and we were past the limit of permissible accidents and coasting on her charm and obvious readiness to learn and participate in school.

Then I remembered what I’ve learned from my teaching: Outcome goals don’t work.  I want to get a Gold on my solo.  I want to be first chair.  I want to get into Juilliard.  These are nice motivators, but not helpful day to day, and possibly not in your control, right?  You could do all the work and still get Silver because the judge didn’t like your ornamentation.  You could be amazing but be fourth pick for a class of three at your conservatory of choice.  The actual outcome in all these cases is out of your hands.

What you can do, though, is commit to an hour of practice every day.  You can decide to work mindfully on a specific technical challenge to solve it.  You can create and stick to a dynamic plan in your solo, and you can work to exaggerate it even when you are nervous.  This kind of Action goal is something you have complete control over, and it will get you toward your lovely, motivating Outcome goal, and it is a concrete thing you can DO. 

Perhaps Zoe needed an Action goal.  “Dry All Day” is too big and abstract for a three-year-old.  But I sent her to school yesterday with instructions to use the potty twice.  Once right after breakfast and one additional time.  We talked about counting to two.  We talked about the (leftover Barret Night) cookies she could have at home - one if she peed once and two if she peed twice.  I reminded her as she walked into school. 

And she came home dry and glowing with pride.  Talking about her friends and her activities instead of sulking and guilty.  She enjoyed her well-earned cookies and was a delight all day long.  Day one was a smashing success.  Day two (today) was equally perfect.

I know she’ll get this and ultimately have success at school.  No one is still wetting their pants in sixth grade - she will be rock solid soon, I bet.  The challenge for me was to think like a very small child and break the steps down sufficiently.  She is apparently not so great at listening to her body and making the right choice in time.  But Little Girl can sure count to two, and if you give her something specific enough to do she can do it.  I have high high hopes for the future - and I’m back in love with Action goals!







Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Upcoming Concert

We’re finally starting up again!  I’ve been jealously watching the Facebook feeds of all of my friends whose orchestras launched earlier in September than ours did, and waiting impatiently for the South Bend Symphony’s first concert - and finally it’s here.  We perform Saturday night at the Morris. 

The first half of the program is very oboe friendly - Dvorak’s Roman Carnival Overture features a big English horn solo, and the Bizet Symphony in C is an oboe diva’s dream come true, with lovely moments in every movement and a big spectacular beautiful solo in the second.

The featured piece on the concert is Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island, which is more a theater piece than a traditional symphonic work.   It should be a crowd-pleaser, featuring video and actors from the Civic Theater in addition to the attractive music we get to play.  Not so much a big deal for the musicians, but tremendously enjoyable for the audience, and hopefully a huge seller.  Let’s get this season off to a great start!

Details HERE.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Playing Like We Mean It

Last night I was watching Itzhak Perlman on The Colbert Report, and couldn’t get over how easy he made it look to play difficult music on the violin.  Kind of almost too easy.

Perlman has had a long and storied career.  He’s the real deal.  And I don’t want to say that he was not taking his Colbert performance seriously.  If he wasn't, whatever - this was just a three minute encore piece after a puffball interview on late night comedy TV. 

He has impressive technique - there are lots of notes in the work he played, and they were all there.  But to watch him play is somewhat off-putting - if the piece is difficult, shouldn’t he be working a little harder?  If he really doesn’t need to break a sweat or even sit up straight to play it, do I feel like he earned my attention?  The answer is that, as a VERY casual observer (flat on my back on my couch) I didn’t perceive that he cared about the music he was performing, or about his audience, and purely from a performance standpoint, I was disappointed.

I’ve been musing about this topic recently anyway, because Barret Night is next week.  This is the first big event in my teaching studio this year - a performance masterclass featuring short etudes.  It’s hard for students to give compelling performances - between the struggle just to realize the notes and the nervousness of standing up in front of an audience, and the physical difficulty of actually playing non-stop through a page or half a page of music.  Some of them were very hard to persuade - they are SOOOO anxious about it.

There is little danger of any of them standing up and phoning it in.  No one is at a point where they own their oboe studies that much.  They’ll be fighting for survival, I imagine, and as hard as that can be to watch it at least smacks of effort.  I work with high school students on trying to break through to an appearance of effortlessness which, when it is achieved, is very attractive.  The sense that you are singing through the oboe and not doing pitched battle with it certainly helps your audience relax, and does great things for your own heart rate as well. 

Watching Perlman last night made me think about my own performances, though, too.  One of the most frequent comments I get after recitals is, “You made it look so easy.”  I have always taken that as a compliment, and never really thought deeply about its implications.  I do work very intentionally at keeping my body and face relaxed when I play.  It’s less exhausting that way, and also looks more pleasant.  When people watch me, are they missing that compelling sense of engagement, energy, and WORK that makes music exciting?  Have I gone too far to the Perlman side?

I’m fascinated by the question, and will be exploring it in my practice for the next few days.  And perhaps in my demo performance at Barret Night I’ll strive for a range of intensity in my affect as well as my dynamics.  Let’s see what we get!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's Not Magic

My favorite moment from  yesterday was the look of awe and astonishment on my student’s face when he successfully played a passage that had been eluding him all week.  He’d been working hard - I could tell because of how quickly the problem was solved and how shocked he was at the eventual ease of the solution.  His reaction came straight out of the days of blood, toil, tears, and sweat that hadn’t quite gotten him there - if he hadn’t been fighting hard all week he’d have assumed that our magical fix could have come to him if he’d just practiced harder.

And of course it was no magic.  He had put in his time with the metronome on a difficult measure, and I took him back off the machine and we went slow, then fast, then skeletonized the passage and analyzed it, and broke it up into little chunks and worked on them, and changed the rhythm, again and again, and finally played it from back to front and then strung it together at tempo and blew his mind.  It only took a few minutes - on top of the week he’d already spent banging his head against the wall of tempo - to solve the problem.

There’s nearly always a way to solve an elusive technical passage.  It just takes some patience and creativity.  I’ll devise a practice technique and use it for as long as it continues to improve me.  As soon as I stop advancing, I will devise a new one.  Sometimes I’ll run at top speed up to the last note I can manage accurately and well, freeze on it, and then run on.  In the next pass I’ll try to run one note longer.  Sometimes I’ll slow WAAAAAYYYYYY down and work interval by interval for super-duper-excellent quality.  Sometimes I’ll pick out the important notes and practice them separately so I know exactly what line I’m trying to bring out of a busy texture.  Sometimes I’ll play a 16th note passage as triplets, or sextuplets, redoing the math as I go along until my head hurts.  Sometimes I’ll mentally rebeam everything and play with my metronome on the off-beat, or with it clicking twice too fast or three times too slow. 

There’s no magic.  It’s just about being willing to step away from a standoff and approach a problem from another direction.  If you can’t play the measure, can you play three notes?  How about the next three?    Could you play it if it was all slurred?  If you placed accents on the beats?  How about if the accents are off the beats?

I don’t have a ritual set of solutions that I try every time, in the same order.  It always depends on the problem and on the person.  I have a lot of ideas to draw on, but I don’t have a monopoly on coming up with them.  Just stay loose, stay creative, and keep working!



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Listening to Zarin

On my way home from Goshen College the other day I was listening to Alec Baldwin’s podcast interview with Zarin Mehta, the recently retired executive director of the New York Philharmonic.  And the thing that stood out to me was how deeply Mehta loved the music.  He didn’t have to - he is an administrator and not a performer.  But he was there at the concerts, and fully engaged in listening and enjoying the art. 

He spoke of several concerts the Philharmonic had played that had moved him deeply, and of soloists and composers who were exceptional.  He spoke of his family’s history with classical music and of his own evolution as a lover of the arts.  This is so different from my own approach, and it shamed me.

I get bored listening to CDs - the same nuances and transitions over and over, and rarely any mistakes, or any surprises.  Since regular concert attendance is pretty much out of the question for me - between my busy evening rehearsal and concert schedule, the three-year-old, and the limitations of South Bend - I haven’t really spent any time listening to classical music for pleasure in years. 

But I love a concert. I just keep coming back to the essential humanity of the experience.  There’s nothing more inspiring to me than a person working hard and performing to the very best of his ability.  And a symphony orchestra is fifty to eighty HIGHLY skilled people, working their respective tails off to present a masterpiece composed by another person, in a composition process that may have been the work of years or decades (or minutes, for Mozart). Independent of the quality of the music-making, that amount of work and effort - week after week - is amazing and wonderful.

It’s good karma to attend other people’s concerts, and to listen to them.   For whatever reason, I am out of the habit of hearing live music, and yet I expect attendance at my own events.  I ask people to come out over and over. 

Since hearing this interview, a fire has been rekindled in me.  The web is full of live music, by great orchestras and soloists, and I have listened to a concert a day since Zarin (I call him Zarin) guilted me into starting. 

Although the internet makes it possible to enjoy live music at home, there is something magical about a concert experience, and I am not getting that online.   But still, somehow, concert recordings are more meaningful than studio recordings, because I know what goes into those.  I can picture myself in the oboe chair and hear the orchestra around me, and I can imagine myself making choices in the moment and then I can compare those to what I am hearing on the recording.  It’s fun, educational, and excellent karma.

No, I am not actually paying for a ticket, and I realize that people like me, listening at home without purchasing anything, are helping to drive real orchestras out of business, but keeping better abreast of the field is a huge start for me.  We do donate to arts organizations, we will be teaching our daughter to appreciate music, we work in the field every single week - and when it is possible we will again attend live performances.  This is what I can do now, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do it. 

Thank you, Zarin Mehta, and thank you, Internet, and thank you, twenty-first century business models which cause great live music to be archived online and available on my schedule!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fall Newsletter

All the stuff going on this season...

Jennet Ingle

 

Welcome to Fall 2012!


Hello, Newsletter Readers!  I found myself sitting at my computer planning updates for those who like hearing me perform, to those who like my reeds, and to those who take lessons from me - and decided to replan one nice big update for everyone who is the slightest bit interested.

Incidentally, if you are reading this and it did NOT arrive conveniently in your inbox, from me, and you would like to periodically (every couple of months, totally unspammily) receive something like it, please click HERE and add your email to my mailing list.  Once you are on it you will never be forgotten, which I cannot otherwise promise.  Sign your oboe-loving friends up, too!

Everything is in development and everything is in motion.

Quintet Performance October 18

I am looking forward to a full recital with the South Bend Symphony’s Wind Quintet.  We’ll be at the Snite Museum of Art on Notre Dame’s campus, at 5:45 pm on Thursday, October 18.  The group will perform gems from the quintet repertoire, with a focus on the music of France.

The Symphony Quintet is one of my very favorite things about my position here in the SBSO.  We have a wonderful, intimate musical interaction, fun repertoire, and a strong personal connection as well.  Most of the shows we do are educational in nature, but somehow they never get boring with this group. 

I can hardly wait to rehearse and perform an hour-long program of legitimate rep!  For details click HERE.

And More Performances

Looking ahead to the spring, I will be giving a joint recital with the lovely and talented flutist Dr. Martha Councell-Vargas from Western Michigan University.  Martha and I have been friends for a long time and are thrilled to be collaborating this year. We’ll do a program of works by female composers, and mostly living ones at that.  Performances will take place at WMU and at Valparaiso University in late February.  All details will be on my website as they become available.

I have another program in my mind - a mixed chamber music performance which I’d love to do in an intimate venue here in South Bend.  This program is purely speculative at this point, but rest assured that when it happens you will hear about it.

Jennet Ingle Reeds

is in the midst of a Back-to-School Sale!  I am offering 10-15% off all finished reeds through September 30.  In case that doesn’t keep me busy enough, I have also introduced English horn and oboe d’amore Blanks and Sort-Of-Scraped Reeds.  By next month I plan to add processed cane to my offerings - keep an eye on that website!

Barret Night!

At the end of this month my private students will meet as a group for the first time in a performance masterclass called Barret Night.  Each will play a few etudes for assembled family, friends, and oboists, with the goal of increased comfort in public performance.  We’ll compare notes and award prizes, then play some more and eat cookies.

This event is specifically designed to get us over the hump of walking out in front of an audience, speaking, and performing.  It's a skill that can transfer to all areas of life -  think of teachers lecturing, businesspeople addressing meetings, secretaries having to lead the office in a chorus of “Happy Birthday - and is obviously crucial for a musician.

In addition, when we learn etudes and studies only well enough to get by in lessons, we miss that magical last step - the step in which we turn an assignment into a piece of music.  Only real performance practice does that, and if ISSMA Solo and Ensemble is the only time that a student performs in the year, he or she won’t improve very fast.

I've done this class before, but not in several years.  I hope to have mini-recitals and oboe studio events much more frequently this season. We will have fun!

Copyright © 2012 Jennet Ingle, All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How Much to Change

Teaching is back in my life!

I’m on my second week of lessons at Valparaiso, and it is always exciting and fun to welcome a new freshman class into my studio.  The first few lessons are a getting-to-know-you time for both the student and myself, and by this point I have to start developing my plan of attack.  My challenge is to figure out how much to change.

When I start young students, I can mold them in the right direction from the beginning.  Not that that always works -  but by the time I send them off to college I at least trust that they know how to blow and what the fingerings are in the high register.  Incoming freshmen have LOTS of habits formed by other people.

Some come in with their fundamentals all in place.  They can play the oboe and just need a little encouragement and an ear to bounce phrasing choices off of.  Maybe some reed advice.  Those are the rare ones.  We always have fun.

Far more often, I have students come in who have not taken lessons before.  Or who have for whatever reason developed very peculiar habits.  Some are biters, who chew the reed into submission and play sharp.  Some are tense - so tense that they can barely function as oboists.  Some are unabashed non-practicers.  Some have evolved a rock-hard embouchure that works 100% of the time - as long as their reeds are wide open and no one asks them to play softer, in tune, or with finesse. 

With these students I have to tread a little carefully.  They are not children, and no matter how much better I think my approach is, I can’t just launch in and remake them on day one or week two.  For one thing, they still have to be able to play in ensembles.  If I destroy their functioning setup then they have weeks of struggle ahead with their conductors and colleagues listening.  For another, college is a time to develop your own style.  I don’t need my students to be carbon copies of me - I’d prefer them not to be, in fact - so I have to watch my own responses carefully. 

There are plenty of oboists out there, making their livings with (gasp) a different reed style than mine.  Not everyone holds their mouth just the same way, and obviously there are plenty of legitimate ways to interpret any given phrase.  Once I get into the rhythm of teaching, it’s easy to just boss people around.  This is what I try to fight against in myself. 

It’s easy to say that my way is right and to make students finger, blow, and phrase the way I do. But my physical approach to the oboe is based on my own physicality, and I can’t just change what some one else has developed because it doesn’t look right to me. I have to be able to point to a specific way that my idea is better, and have the student agree, before I do that kind of dirty work.  It really should be broke before I fix it.

And yet, the ensemble conductors like it when their players have a uniform concept of sound. It is nice for them when all of their kids can control the instrument, play in tune and in time, and at least acknowledge printed dynamics.  We grown-ups all more or less agree on the goal, and want to get there as quickly as possible. 

The fun is in getting the new players there without just restarting them from zero.  The fascinating part of the challenge is to work with what is already there, and add the missing elements, through the back door if necessary.  I need to work with the equipment they walked in with, and the skill set they have, and bump them up to College level in a matter of weeks.

I love to play the oboe, but in many ways teaching is my favorite part of my career.  I get to use so many different parts of my brain - analyzing what I see and hear, inventing solutions, putting those into words and metaphors that work for different people, balancing demonstrations and descriptions with letting them work things out by themselves, and doing all of those things in half-hour sessions, one right after the other all day.  I come home exhausted and exhilarated.

I love my job.