Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Misunderstandings

A week ago Zoe started having accidents at school again. We yelled, argued, wheedled, withheld treats, threatened punishments, and still she came home damp.  We reminded her about peeing in the potty, and she steadfastly said, NO, I prefer to go in my pants. 

That’s how she talks.

WHY?  I asked, incredulously.  Are you still afraid of the automatic flush?

No, she said, I am scared of the octopus. 

We had to do a lot of digging to get to the bottom of that answer.  We had seen Finding Nemo in the theater the week before, and a major plot point is that ALL DRAINS LEAD TO THE OCEAN.  The captive fish were praying to be flushed through the drains to end up back in the open water.  Turns out that Zoe thought that the toilet was a two-way street and was terrified that she’d meet an octopus or a huge shark when she went to the potty.

Well, we explained and explained about water filtration plants, and one-way drains, and Indiana’s discouragingly great distance from the sea, and I hope we were convincing enough.  Time will tell.


Meanwhile, we went to a doctor's appointment this afternoon, and since Zoe’s regular doctor was out we saw another pediatrician instead.  As the nurse checked us in and weighed Zoe and talked with her, my little girl was a delightful, cheerful chatterbox.  The moment the doctor walked in she panicked.  Clung tight to my neck and buried her head.  Cried.  Said, out loud, I don’t want this doctor.  I want a lady doctor.  I want to go home. 

We were mortified, of course, and shocked as well, because Zoe is fantastic with people.  I’ve never seen this kind of reaction from her, ever.  She was tense and tight and clingy throughout the exam, and wouldn’t cooperate and wouldn’t talk to him, and sniffled and sobbed the whole time.  I actually liked him and his bedside manner quite a lot, but she was having none of it.

I couldn’t get a straight response from her for hours afterward, but eventually, this evening, she confessed that she thought he was turning into a robot.

She’d seen the high-tech hearing aids he was wearing, and his perfectly bald head, and instantly concluded that he was a cyberman, like in Doctor Who.  From that moment on she knew he was coming to get her, so of course she wasn’t willing to relax and let herself be touched by the evil robot.  Would you?


It’s moments like these that remind me just how far from mature Three and a Half really is.  Just a few years ago she couldn’t even turn over, and had no communication skills.  She’s come so far and so fast, and is such a completely interactive little person, that I can forget how many things about the world she just has to take on faith.  TV is no less real than home - it’s IN our home, after all, and why should she know the difference between a Cyberman and Santa Claus?  Why is one more real than another?  Sesame Street teaches her that C is for Cookie, and Gill says that all drains lead to the ocean.  How should she know?

It is so hard to be three.

Holiday Concerts - and Jingle Jam!

Here we go - one final week of Holiday concerts.  I am finally beginning to be in the mood,  due perhaps to the recent relentless repetition of the classics or because I finally get to stop driving or because there is nearly an inch of snow on the ground. 

We'll be performing at the Morris on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, and prior to that we have the Jingle Jam at the mall on Thursday - a drop in Side by Side concert for grownups!  I cannot wait to see who comes out for this one.  There had better be oboists. 

All  details HERE.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Upcoming Events - and Jingle Jam!

And now we enter the second week of Christmas concerts, this one with the Northwest Indiana Symphony.  Thursday night concert in Merrillville, Friday night in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  Details HERE.  They’ll be fun.  They’ll be festive.  I have nothing more to say about these events.

Saturday morning I’ll be doing a mini Oboe Reed Boot Camp for some high school students in Naperville IL.  All the material from my fifteen-hour summer course condensed into three action-packed hours, starting at 9 in the morning.  How can it fail?  We’ll cover all of the skills but without the games, challenges, and individual work time.   I’ll be interested to see whether this works and what the take-away is for the students.

Saturday evening I’ll be performing with Johnny Mathis at the Akoo Theater in Rosemont IL. 

Sunday I’ll be baking cookies and sleeping deeply and for a long time.

And next week the holiday concerts start up in South Bend.  Best part?  YOU CAN PLAY WITH US!  Yes, Thursday evening the 13th, at the University Park Mall, we will have a Side-By-Side concert for adults!  Drag that oboe out of your closet, soak up your reed, and come join us for the Jingle Jam.  Details are HERE - if you register in advance you get tickets to the Pops concert as well.  How awesome is this?  Come out to the mall, get your shopping done, and play Christmas music with a professional orchestra!

This is a new project for the Symphony this year and I must say I am very excited about it.  Seems like everyone I talk to has a story about playing the viola in high school and wishing they hadn’t let it go.  Pick it back up next week!  This will be fun - and I will take it as a personal blow if no oboists show up.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Adapt or Die

I had a conversation recently with a dear friend, a wonderful professional flutist with a great job.  She was frustrated by her lack of success in a recent audition, and complained that some days she just couldn’t seem to make the flute do what she wanted.  The sound would be off and the attacks not where she expected them to be.  Maybe it was nerves, maybe just muscles and normal day-to-day human variability, but it had cost her more than one audition and she was at a loss as to how to address it. 

My first response is that that problem sounded like the exact one oboists face every day.  Each morning when I pick up the instrument my reed might be fantastic or might feel like two two-by-fours strapped together.  I might have total control in every register or might be fighting a recalcitrant instrument.  Most often there is some kind of tradeoff - I select the reed that plays well in tune but is risky on low register attacks, or I use the one that responds effortlessly but I have to constantly work to make the sound attractive.  You go into performance with the reed you have, not the reed you want, and there’s a certain amount of adaptability that an oboist needs to survive.

In other words, I NEVER can practice a piece a certain way and know that the exact same combination of embouchure and support and tongue will work every time.  The instrument itself, or at least the reed which is my interface with the oboe, is always different, and sometimes even changes in mid-session.  I CANNOT always do the same thing the same way and get the same result.

Therefore, even in performance, no matter how great the reed is that I have made and selected, there is always a level of make-it-work awareness going on in my head.  Reacting to the feel of the instrument may mean that I choose to tongue a note printed under a slur because I doubt that it will speak otherwise.  It may mean inserting a slur.  It may mean adding a bit more rubato to a line, just to ensure that every note actually resonates.  It may mean coming in a little louder than is optimal, just to be safe, and then scaling the rest of the line up correspondingly.  It may mean saving a crescendo until the very last minute because I know I won’t have the fullness I really want and need to peak at the right time even if it is less powerful.  Certainly I will be more or less rolled in, or even biting, to react to the pitch of the reed and the pitch of the group, and I will be constantly adjusting the opening of the reed in my mouth.  The oboe is always different.

I was reminded of this yesterday while listening to a student’s sophomore recital.  She was so well prepared, and knew her material so well, but simply didn’t give the performance she wanted because her reed turned out to be closed and resistant and made her tire too fast.  And of course it was!  You take the best reed in the world and go out onto a hot stage and try to play for 25 minutes while nervous, and it can’t help but change on you.  You need to find a new embouchure placement, roll in or roll out, reshape the inside of your mouth, or change your dynamic plan to accommodate the new reality.   By the end of the time, my mouth ached from vicariously trying to fix her problems, and I was made well aware that we had never talked about adapting to adversity. 

My student had done a great job, considering - she played all the way to the end and found a few magic moments along the way - but to the non-oboist, or the non-sympathetic listener, the missed attacks, shallow, sharp tone quality, and endurance issues clearly made her sound less good than she is, and I felt for her.  The performance was not representative of her preparation, but I’ve heard plenty of similar student oboe presentations.   The difficulties of the instrument get in the way of the music-making.

So, to my student, and also to my terrifically talented flutist friend, I would advise this.  Be ready for anything.  Don’t fix your interpretation and expect the same result every time.   If you can’t make the attack where you want it, put it somewhere else - intentionally and with style.  If the sound isn’t what you want, work with it, embrace it, and sell it.  The most fun thing about live music is thinking on your feet and reacting to changing situations, which is why no two performances are identical.   Practice on your bad reeds, practice when you hate your sound, practice in unpleasant acoustic environments, because learning how to make beautiful music against the odds is way more than half the battle.