Friday, May 29, 2015

Everything is Awesome

I was going to call this post Ben Folds is Awesome, then it evolved into Mahler is Awesome, and now I'm thinking it's just all awesome...

Last weekend we performed for the 150th anniversary of the founding of South Bend.  Our Sesquicentennial.  Or something like that.  The South Bend Symphony played on a big outdoor stage, backing up Ben Folds, who was phenomenal.

It didn't surprise me that his songs were great.  I was pleased that the orchestral arrangements were expertly put together and easy to follow, which is not always the case.  I wasn't surprised that he was a superb live performer who really brought the audience along with him through every song.  I was, however, surprised and delighted at just how gracious he was to the audience about our orchestra.

Normally, when we have a guest performer, they own the stage for a couple of hours, and give the orchestra a bow at the end of the first act and perhaps say a nice word or two before the last number.  "Let's hear it for the South Bend Symphony! Yay! See you in the lobby for CD sales!"

In this case, though, Mr. Folds made the effort several times to point out the good work we were doing.  He called out compliments to a few soloists BY NAME during the concert, and made it clear that they were OUR players and not touring with his band.  He did a long improvised number, in which he featured all of the various sections of our orchestra and was clear about the expertise we brought to the table.  And, finally, he gave a TRULY EXCELLENT speech - out in front of the crowd, facing them directly, using the mic - about supporting their local symphony orchestra and why it is important and that it is important.

This is my thing, right?  I talk about classical music all the time.  I try to make clear that music making is an experience that is ALIVE, and that I am personally active in the field, and that what we do is real.  I love to be an advocate for my chosen profession, and I have long felt that it is EVERY musician's job to make it easy for people to love what we do.

So I tell you, genuinely, that Ben Folds, indie-rock star, made that speech better than I'd ever considered making that speech, and I am now inspired to get better at making that speech myself.  I think I probably don't say it enough and I probably don't yell it loud enough or to enough people.

For the record - come to the symphony.  Attend chamber music concerts.  Come out and hear live music.  It's an experience that is better in company.  It's better live.

This weekend I'm playing Mahler 5 with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, and although this is not my favorite Mahler symphony, if you come I can pretty much guarantee you an intense experience.

You will hear incredibly sensitive woodwind playing, expertly orchestrated to be perfectly audible. You'll hear triumphant, noble, climactic brass chorales and fanfares. You'll hear 50 string players pulling together in  unison, somehow lined up perfectly despite the technical difficulty of their parts. You'll hear the character of the music changing every few seconds, as the mood of the piece dances mercurially from one emotion to another. I love it, but a review of Mahler's music is not what I want to talk about.

What I really want to say is that the experience of attending this concert is more than just the piece of music itself.  It's seeing 80 people on the stage working incredibly hard for a common goal: to understand, interpret, and present the vision of Gustav Mahler, in all of its complex, emotionally fraught, messy, glorious fullness. It's being in the room, with hundreds of other people, having this experience together which will only happen once. This exact group of musicians will never present this exact program again in this exact way, for this crowd.

There's no knowing what might happen.

I find that so inspiring.

This is why I love my job.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Seeing Support

When I played Eric Ewazen's Down a River of Time a few weeks ago at a small house concert, the number one comment I got for the audience members - over and over - was "How does a little tiny person like you produce so much sound?" It struck me as a really strange thing to comment on. But this past week, as I played Porgy and Bess with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, I  began to understand it.

Because our large choir necessitated a complex arrangement on stage, I was seated very close to the front. We had two wonderful vocal soloists, and as I watched them from not very far away, I was reminded of how impressive good support is. Kim Jones, the soprano, is not a large person.  She would take a deep breath, collect her body, and produce an enormous, rich, vibrant, shimmering sound out of seemingly nowhere. It looked effortless.

I know what it feels like to produce that kind of air with that kind of support. It feels like your whole lower body is engaged and involved, and YOU can be relaxed because the intensity is coming from somewhere much deeper and much stronger.  Since your face and shoulders and neck are not involved in physically producing the sound, they are freed up to act, or to emote, or to just be normal looking and human. When I'm playing well, that's what it feels like.

I teach this, of course. I talk about it all the time with my students. But it's a hard thing for a student to grasp. We talk about it constantly, but I seldom see it up close. They're working on it, but they don't get there.  Generally, young wind players look uncomfortable, as though they are straining with their entire upper bodies to force air through the instrument.

From the outside, great support looks like nothing, but it sounds amazing. It sounds like you know what you're doing. It sounds like an unexpectedly giant voice coming from a little tiny person: almost superhuman.  I think that must have been what the guests at my salon concert were seeing and hearing. Performing in such an intimate space really let them see what I was doing, and I seem to have been doing it right.

Go, Jennet!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Being Nervous for Solos

Hello, my name is [XXXX]. I'm kinda new at the oboe and solos are my biggest problems. I'm also a freshman in high school so I'm not used to the large band group. I've had several solos but it's all still new to me. So is there any advice you can give me about playing solos or not being so scared to play them?

Hi, [XXXX].  I’m so glad that you got in touch - I love meeting oboists, whether virtually or in person!

Without knowing you, it's hard to know exactly what advice to give - but here are two (related) ways I might approach being nervous about solos.

The first suggestion is about the solos themselves.  Make sure that you REALLY know how to play them.  If you are struggling with rhythms or notes, that will make you even more nervous.  Bring them to your teacher, if possible. Practice at home, in private, so you can work out the kinks. Use a metronome and make sure that you understand exactly where the beats should fall.  If your solo starts off the click, make sure that you can place the pickup note reliably. In addition, practice counting the rest beforehand and coming in.  Sometimes the scariest part is just getting started, and no one ever thinks to practice One two three, Two two three, Three two PLAY, but that is also something you can take care of in the privacy of your practice room. Then, once you are so prepared that you can play the thing perfectly, five times in a row, with good air and a good sound, move to the next suggestion.

Which is to take a GOOD DEEP BREATH and to PLAY LOUDLY.  No matter what dynamic is printed in your part, if you are a freshman in high school playing in a large band you should be blowing a LOT of air through the oboe for a solo.  Your instrument is already quieter than most of the others, and it will sound wimpy and tiny unless you REALLY PLAY IT. If you blow good air you will produce a good sound that is naturally better in tune than the teeny pinched sound that FEAR produces.  Plus, if you have a good full sound and then you make a small mistake in your solo, you will sound like a good player who has made a mistake, and there's no shame in that.  Everyone makes mistakes.

I hope this helps - feel free to stay in touch if you have more questions!

Happy Oboe-ing,

Jennet

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Learn to Make Reeds this Summer!

Calling all oboe students, teachers, and parents!

Is anyone else frustrated with reed-making?  It seems as though there is never enough time during oboe lessons to really get a handle on this difficult skill, and during the busy season it's hard to make time to practice it, too. You can read and analyze as much as you want, but there’s really no substitute for practical experience making dozens of reeds under the watchful eye of a teacher.

This summer I will once again run my Oboe Reed Boot Camp.  I will assemble a group of oboists - beginners as well as advancing reedmakers - and really take the time to start off right.  We will do a full twelve hours of reed drills, games, and competitions, and have everyone turning out playable, finished reeds by the end.

Sometimes you may hesitate to scrape because you dread ruining an expensive piece of cane -  I supply all of the cane, thread, and staples, to maximize your courage.

This year I’m excited to add another layer of value to the Boot Camp experience - a session with a Guest Master Reedmaker! Gabriel Renteria is the principal oboist with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and teaches oboe at Western Michigan University. He creates OUTSTANDING reeds, open and projecting, which are balanced quite differently from mine. Like me, he has a comfortable, no-nonsense, non-magical way of talking about them. Those participants ready to look at a different perspective will enjoy working one on one with Gabe during his workshop, while anyone still struggling with basic construction and finishing steps can have me all to themselves at that time.

Finally, I’ve found that one of the peak learning experiences at Oboe Reed Boot Camp has been the opportunity to work with other colleagues.  When you try to diagnose or finish someone else’s reed, it can give you marvelous insight about your own. And, of course, as our pioneer ancestors knew, work is more fun with a group. Think quilting bees and barn raisings! This Spring I have been inspired to hold a series of monthly reed get-togethers, henceforward to be called Reeding Circles. Boot Camp participants will be entitled to free admission to these evening events for a full year!

I am offering two sessions this summer - Friday through Sunday, June 12-14 and July 24-26 from 1-5 each day. The first session will be in South Bend and the second at Valparaiso University.   Further information and open registration are available at my website: http://jennetingle.com/oboe-reed-boot-camp/. I am also offering an early registration discount until 30 days before each session begins.

I encourage you to let your colleagues, students, teachers, and friends know of this opportunity, and to contact me with any questions.

Upcoming Concert: Gershwin

The Northwest Indiana Symphony has an all-Gershwin concert this Thursday night.  An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, and the Porgy and Bess Concert Suite.  Our piano soloist is outstanding, and I have no doubt that the vocalists will be marvelous too (we meet them tonight).

I rave about Gershwin every time his music comes up for me, and this enjoyable week is no exception.  The music is great, the orchestra is sounding good, and I'd love to see the GIGANTIC Star Plaza Theater filled for this concert.

Details HERE.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Musing: Playing vs Talking

I had a wonderful time rehearsing the Prokofiev Quintet for our last Musicians for Michiana concert, at the end of April.  My colleagues were AMAZING, came with their A games, and were prepared and ready to work every time we got together.

I found that there was a big difference in rehearsal style between the wind players that I'm accustomed to working with and the string players in the group.  Strings just plain play more in rehearsal.  We'd run a movement, without stopping, and then talk about what we needed to do differently.  Then, where wind players would have either played a few tiny spots to try out ideas or just marked their parts and moved on, this group played the whole movement again.  And again, if necessary.  It surprised me a bit each time, though I was perfectly happy to do it and it ABSOLUTELY helped us to learn this difficult and unfamiliar work as an ensemble.

I think I attribute this difference to a couple of factors.

One is physical - wind instruments are tiring to play.  So much of what we do rides on a few tiny facial muscles, and those fatigue easily.  I'm not saying that I had any trouble playing Prokofiev over and over - just that that might be one cause of the generalized difference.

One is habit - in the orchestra, strings are used to playing continuously.  Winds are used to counting, and thinking, and analyzing.  We talk to each other quietly during rehearsal to work out the small ensemble issues we've heard - "are you playing those short or long?"  "we're not quite in tune there, can we try it at break?" "Can we all balance to the flute in that place?"  These issues are subtle, and usually involve a small number of players, because winds are used to playing as soloists.  The conductor spends time getting the sea of strings to act as a unified mass, which DOES require time and attention. We try to take care of ourselves so as to not waste everyone else's rehearsal time. We do not expect to play through all of our material over and over, and generally consider it time wasted if we're not trying new tweaks with every pass through.

For whatever reason, we all PLAYED a lot in our Prokofiev rehearsals, and had a blast learning the piece, and performed it very well.  Both systems seem to work, if differently - and it made me think about my teaching style.  I've been known to exhaust a student's embouchure within the first thirty minutes of a lesson playing and replaying long passages, but FAR more often I interrupt two lines in and talk for several minutes, after which we mark the parts and move on.  I like the thought of employing more variety in lessons, and making sure that there's plenty of playing interspersed with the philosophical musical discussions.

I love my job.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Upcoming Concert - Stravinsky and Copland

We are playing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring this weekend with the South Bend Symphony, and it's so much fun to work on!  Besides the fact that it is an AMAZING piece of music and that I love the primitive driving beats and creepy sounds, it's got some techniques that make me stretch my playing and I love that.

First of all, there's the flutter tonguing.  It's not that crazy a thing to do, but it doesn't come up that much in orchestral playing.  Effectively, I roll my tongue into the back of my throat and spin my soft palate, as if I was purring at my cat or growling at a dog, all the while playing the oboe.  It makes the notes gurgle and flutter.  What I'm finding challenging is starting and stopping that flutter - I can easily do the technique in isolation, setting my mouth up and preparing and then surging into the chromatic passages Stravinsky requests.

We're playing a reduced version of the score, with three wind players instead of five in each section, and the result is that more notes are in my part than I'm used to.  Toward the end of  the introduction I am effectively interweaving 4th oboe and 4th flute parts, and I have to move rapidly back and forth between flutter tonguing and regular playing, and it's significantly tricky.

Of course I've spent time on this passage with my metronome, and with the music in front of me, and gotten it close enough to pass (knowing also that this is SUPPOSED to sound like insanity throughout the orchestra and my part will not be heard).  But of course I want to be awesome, so I've turned my morning scale routine into an on-again-off-again flutter tongue challenge.  It's getting better.  I expect to nail the thing in tomorrow night's concert.

There's also a passage - new in this reduction - in which I am playing with the trumpet section.  I had thought upon reading through my part at home that it was another flutter challenge, notated a little differently, but it turns out that it's incredibly fast repetitive tonguing of 16th notes.  Fortunately, I have my double tongue pretty well under control now, but this is faster and more extended playing than I had previously ever had to produce in public.  Again, I'm working on it in the context of morning scales and warmups.  It helps to get away from looking at the page of music I'm struggling with, and de-emotionalize the technique in a warm-up situation.  I can calmly work on very fast double tongue all over the oboe, instead of only the Db I need to repeat, and it makes me GENERALLY better instead of merely specifically better.

I love this concert.  We're also playing Appalachian Spring, by Copland, which - when the intonation is just right - touches me so very deeply. The whole program is challenging enough to keep me on my toes and familiar enough to enjoy without undue stress. The ORCHESTRA, by the way, is KILLING it.  Everyone has their game face on and sounds wonderful.  I'm finding that I had underestimated some players in the group.  It's going to be a super show.  You should come.

Details HERE.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Summer options for High School Students

Are there any high school oboists reading this blog?  I wanted to let you know that IN ADDITION to Oboe Reed Boot Camp which will be in South Bend and at Valparaiso University in June and July and open to oboists of all ages, I will be teaching at two fantastic camps this summer.  

The Dake Summer Music Academy will take place here in South Bend at the end of June. It's five busy days of chamber music, seminars, masterclasses, conducting classes, and orchestra, all working closely with the great principal musicians of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.  I always enjoy this camp enormously, partly because my colleagues are SO good, and partly because I love coaching chamber music and meeting new oboists. The other great benefit of this experience is that it is SUPER affordable, although you do have to be able to commute there daily all week.  

I will also be teaching this July at the terrific Pine Mountain Music Festival in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. The Honors Orchestra Program, offered through Michigan Tech, is an amazing experience. ONE high school student gets admitted, and that one student sits second oboe, right beside me, in the orchestra for an entire week, and we learn BEETHOVEN’s NINTH SYMPHONY and perform it at an amazingly high level.  The campus is gorgeous, the musicians are friendly, and the conductor is great.  I love this festival.

Applications were due already, but I’ve just learned that there is STILL AN OBOE OPENING.  I’m attaching application materials in case anyone is interested.  It is, regrettably, a little bit expensive. But what an experience!  


Feel free to contact me - in the blog comments, or through my website, or at jennetinglereeds (dot) com if you have any questions about these events.