Friday, February 22, 2013

Beauty of Sound

I don’t exactly know why this week has turned into the Beautiful Sound week.  Shouldn’t every week, really, be a Beautiful Sound week? 

Many of my high school students are going to State with their solo pieces this weekend - which means that the piece they worked on all last semester and auditioned successfully on three weeks ago has had three more weeks of polishing following a nice ego boost, and every one of them came into my studio and knocked my socks off technically.  Every note is in place for these kids, and the dynamic plans and shapes are there for the most part.  But what they’ve forgotten in the pressure of solving all of the details is the sound. 

They are not alone.  My conservatory-bound senior, about to reach the end of a grueling audition tour, can play every bit of his program. He’s learned two or three new works since we started working together in September, and added etudes and excerpts and arias along the way.  He needed the reminder, too.

And I have my big set of recitals starting this Sunday.  (Remember?  Details HERE).  When I was practicing yesterday, I came to the shocking realization that I was playing technically well, and I hope engagingly, but that in focusing on how to express my musical ideas I, too, had not been paying attention to the sound coming out of the oboe.

In EVERY case this week, when I suggested that a person bring attention to the quality of the sound, it improved instantly.  This is not a new skill, nor one that requires additional hours of practice to implement.  Make a beautiful sound, I say, and off they go, beautifully.  Attacks improve, too, and releases, and intervals and pitch, with these few simple words.

In other words, it is easy.  Why do we ever play without it?

Sometimes because adding beauty is so easy I forget how important it is.  I listen to musicians for their musical communication, and I listen through or beyond the outer sound and rasps and occasional hasty attacks, and I assume that every one else does that too.  But I am not sure that that is the case.  Are there listeners who ONLY hear the surface sound?  For whom the beauty of the sound is a major factor in judging the quality of a performance?  I’m sure there are.  It’s so easy to add on beauty and sometimes we just forget to bother. 

I have known players - pros as well as students - for whom the beauty of the sound was the most important thing.  And sure enough, they sound beautiful, but a beautiful sound with no musical storytelling or ideas makes a flat and lifeless performance.  I do not prize tone quality above all other factors, and CERTAINLY I believe that the color and therefore the sound itself should change from piece to piece, or even phrase to phrase. 

But in conjunction with good technique and compelling phrasing, there is no reason that we shouldn’t always pay attention to the sound we are producing.  Possibly the difference between a good player and a great one is how seldom the great one has to be reminded. 

I figure it counts if I remind myself before anyone else does. And this is why I teach - so I can catch myself, too.

Good luck this weekend, everyone - and Play Beautifully!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Women of the Wind!


Friends, Readers, Casual Internet Passers-By,

I am delighted to announce my winter program: Women of the Wind!

It's an oboe and flute duo recital, featuring myself, Martha Councell-Vargas, and pianist Ketevan Badridze.  Martha and I have been talking for years about collaborating on a program, and working on this one with her has been an absolute joy!  You know that feeling when you’ve been friends with someone for a long time but never really worked together professionally, and then you get together and read a duet and it’s like you are two halves of the same person and everything is easy because you really feel the music the same way and have the same goals and also are beautifully in tune?  It’s like that!

Join us to explore gorgeous, tempestuous, intelligent, beautiful music by 20th and 21st Century female composers.   From the Coronation of Princess Isabelle to the chuckwalla lizard of the Mojave desert, these works are sure to transport you.  You don't know them - yet - but you'll leave humming them just like we do.

The details:

Sunday, February 24, 2013, 3:00 pm CST
Valparaiso University
Duesenberg Hall

Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 7:30 pm EST
Western Michigan University
Dalton Center Recital Hall

Saturday, March 2, 2013, 3:00 pm EST
Notre Dame University
Snite Museum: Annenberg Hall

All of these events are free and open to the public.  Please join us!






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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gershwin

I was hanging out with the fabulous Justin Hayford last weekend, and he mentioned his complete indifference to the music of the Gershwins.  And he knows what he is talking about- he has released four albums singing music from the era, and recently did a hugely popular benefit concert in Chicago featuring Gershwin songs.  Like me, he was raised in a family of music lovers whose tastes were formed in the 1940s and never progressed past the Beatles.  He’s also one of the smartest people I know, so I was inclined to think he was on to something.

But tonight we had our first rehearsal for our all Gershwin pops concert this weekend, and what I realized is that I have no critical distance when it comes to this stuff.  The rhythms and yummy harmonies are part of my childhood, they’re in my blood, and I can’t judge Porgy and Bess or An American in Paris with any of my educated brain.   I just absolutely love them.

So - come hear us this Saturday night.  We’re playing Rhapsody in Blue with THE MAYOR at the piano, for crying out loud!  He rehearsed with us tonight and sounds better than any sitting public official I’ve ever heard.  We have singers coming in to do Porgy and Bess, and I promise you’ll cry and I haven’t even heard them yet.  And American in Paris makes me wish desperately that I played the trumpet. 

I love my life.

Details HERE.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Getting Older, Getting Better

So we have a concert tonight in Northwest Indiana, and may I say, I am so happy to be getting older.  I distinctly remember a time when it would have stressed me out to be playing Daphnis and Chloe, with its 12 pages of awkward solos and WICKED hard technique, or Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, with the fiendishly delicate high solos and scary rhythmic holes to fall into and WICKED hard technique, or the Korngold Violin Concerto with lengthy complex rests to count and nonintuitive exposed entrances - but not now. 

If I am not actually playing EVERY note of the Ravel, I’m coming close, and if I don’t hit EVERY one in the moment, at least I know that I can do it in my practice room.  I am able to sit back a bit and think about musical choices and tone colors in the solos, instead of merely hoping and praying that the notes will speak.  I can enjoy the presentation of our soloist, the excellent Corey Cerovsek, instead of counting with all of my might and all of my conscious mind to get to my next entrance.  I can notice the shifting pitch centers in the orchestra instead of always being caught up in them and swept away from reality, and I can make choices to join or to resist when the group rushes or drags against the pulse. 

It’s hard to describe just how liberating it is to know that I know what I’m doing.  It’s not exactly that I won’t make a mistake or play something out of tune or miss a note - but that it feels like it’s all in perspective.  I probably won’t be the sole reason the concert is ruined, and probably the concert won’t be ruined at all but will go just fine.  Our rocky dress rehearsal last night doesn’t make me anxious for tonight.  It’s great music and we have rehearsed plenty and it will be fun. 

I think this is different from being cocky or overconfident.  I still know that I suck, and I am always working to improve.  But playing in the orchestra?  I can do that.  Doesn’t matter if it’s hard.  I can do that. And that’s a feeling I didn’t have when I was 22. 

Everything has gotten easier over the course of nearly twenty years of professional work.  I remember being terrified and traumatized by Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta the first time I played it, but last week in South Bend we had simply a blast doing it.   The Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, similarly, was a maze of hard notes when I encountered it 12 years ago, but now as a grown-up I can grasp the compositional techniques, the formal structure, and the patterns within the technical passages, and nothing feels as hard. 

The fact that my life is overwhelming, with far less time for practice and reflection than I would like, does not take away from the fact that I am MUCH more competent at my job than I used to be, and it’s a great feeling.  I love my life.

Northwest Indiana Symphony Concert tonight!  Details HERE.

Friday, February 1, 2013

SPEECH!

What a week.  It's been busy in a lot of ways, but the evenings have been particularly intense as the South Bend Symphony gears up for a serious Masterworks program.  The work ethic in our rehearsals has been very high, and everyone has brought their A game - and still it's a hard program.  I can't wait to present the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, and Liszt's first Piano Concerto.  Saturday night at the Morris.  Details HERE.

The symphony Board threw an event last night for current, former, and hopefully future members and donors, including a Young Professionals Network, and they had some cocktails and then sat on the stage for our rehearsal to enjoy being up close and personal with the orchestra.  I was asked to speak at the event, and to introduce people to the concert experience, which I did with pleasure.  Here's the text of my speech, which I PRETTY MUCH remembered all of as I spoke...

Hello, Everyone.

My name is Jennet Ingle and I am the Principal Oboist of the SBSO.  As such, it is my job to tune the orchestra, and I get a lot of questions about it so I thought I’d start by telling you all about this activity, which opens every concert and rehearsal. 

Although the principal oboe gives the tuning note, we speak about the concertmaster tuning the orchestra, and this is a holdover from early ensembles.  Traditionally, the first violinist acts as the leader of the orchestra whenever the conductor is not on stage, and since a conductor cannot be bothered by such a mundane thing as tuning, this task falls to Zofia Glashauser.  At the beginning of every session, she will stand up, which is our signal to be quiet, and then she asks me for an A.

We use the note A because all string instruments have an open A string, so it’s the most efficient choice to get everyone onto the same page.  We use the oboe NOT because I have some sort of magic always-correct A, and not because, as myth would have it, oboes can’t tune their instruments so everyone needs to tune to us.  The sound of the oboe is easy for everyone to hear, and the tone is very clear and pure, so that’s why the job has traditionally fallen to us.

Now, I don’t necessarily know where a perfect 440 A is every time, so I do use a tuner on my stand.  My instrument is very flexible so I could place the note HERE, or HERE, or HERE.  The tuner keeps me honest, and the orchestra appreciates that.  Because the A is the first note an audience hears, it is sometimes the most stressful solo on the concert.  I want the attack to be pleasant sounding, not like THIS, and I want the tone to be beautiful, of course.  I have to give the right A but I don’t want to be fishing around for it, in public, like THIS.  So I have to hear it in my head before we start, and place it where I want it, and hope that the reed cooperates.

Once I play the note, the winds will tune first, adjusting their instruments by pulling their joints in and out.  The brass take the second A, moving their tuning slides to match me as closely as possible.  Finally the strings will tune, using tuning pegs at the scrolls of their instruments as well as fine tuners on the tailpiece.  You’ll see this happen at the rehearsal, and at every performance we play.  We could do it backstage, or individually in private with our own tuning devices, but this public tuning has been a part of the ritual for hundreds of years, and probably won’t change this year, at least.

As you attend our rehearsal tonight, take the opportunity to really unabashedly watch us.  I think that the most inspiring thing about a full orchestra is seeing this mass of humanity - 80 or so people - all working as hard as they can for a common goal.  To play these instruments at a high level has taken us years and years and tens of thousands of hours of work. 

Look at how hard we are concentrating on this difficult music.  Watch the strings, and how physical their activity is.  Notice how fast their fingers move in technical passages, and how hard they work with their strong bow arms to create loud dynamics. 

Take a look at the winds and brasses, and notice how differently each person relates to his instrument. Watch how much we have to fiddle with them when we aren’t playing to keep all of the delicate mechanisms functioning - we are on-the-fly mechanics, sometimes, as well as musicians.   Now realize that all the sound you hear is created by the breath, and what it must mean to have that much control.  Notice the extremes of loud and soft and ask if you could ration your air through a long pipe with that much power, for two and a half hours. 

Realize that the brass instruments only have a few valves each - so that every note they play is created by one of a very few combinations of fingers and a precise amount of tightening or loosening of the lips and facial muscles.  Think about being kissed by a brass player and how much strength and control he must have in all those tiny muscles. 

Totally independent of the music we are playing, which is indeed great, I think I could watch an orchestra for hours, just marveling at the feats a human body is capable of.  I hope you enjoy and are inspired by our rehearsal today. I hope you come back on Saturday to hear the polished, completed, thrilling performance of four difficult and beautiful works.  I hope you’ll come over and over, because it is our pleasure to have you here, and we need you here.  Without an audience, we are just practicing.

Thank you so much.