Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: The Weather

If you live in a place with seasons, you will notice dramatic changes in your reeds a couple of times a year.  (I'm sure I write about this twice a year, EVERY year - but I found one post HERE for sure) Changes that require some fundamental reworking.  I find that I struggle with these every year, but when I got a request from Dean to make this video I got my act together and came up with some strategies that may help you - and ME - in future seasonal shifts.



Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until the end of the year.



Saturday, December 2, 2017

Projection

I heard a student's sophomore recital last week, and noticed that although she played all of the notes and technique well, chose appropriate tempos, and used her own reed - which is all FANTASTIC for a sophomore - her playing was small and felt static from where I sat in the audience.  This surprised me - in lessons I find her a lovely player who makes real musical shapes. Then, this past week, I had a college conductor speak to me about another of my students - he's sounding great, he said, but it needs to be bigger.  I was surprised.  This student did not appear to me to have a small sound. 

Then I realized that it was once again time to talk about Projection. 

Projection, according to Merriam Webster, means:  control of the volume, clarity, and distinctness of a voice to gain greater audibility. 

When you tell a student to play more, to project, the most frequent thing that happens is they blow harder.  They get red in the face trying to play louder.  They yell, metaphorically speaking.  Or they defend themselves, pointing out that the music says Piano at that point.

But in fact it's very possible to play p or pp in a projected manner that everyone can understand, and it's possible to blow f and still not have it communicate out to an audience.  It's not about decibels, it's about intention and clarity.

Of course, as oboists we have enough trouble producing real dynamics in the first place.  Compared to a clarinet, or bassoon, or even a flute, we have a tiny decibel range.  That double reed only goes so soft before it cuts out altogether, and especially with American reeds we cannot get too loud before the sound splatters and spreads.  Many younger students have literally two levels to work with - On and Off.  Perhaps I exaggerate a little.  But it's hard to find nuance on this instrument, at a certain stage of development. Professionals are good at using color, vibrato, and body language to suggest more drama than we are actually capable of.  But students can forget that your softest softs still have to travel past an entire string section and a conductor to reach even the closest audience member. 

But this is not so complicated, and you know already how to do it in your own body.  You can stand close to someone and have a casual, friendly conversation, piano.  Or you can stand 12 feet from them, or in the next room, or onstage while they are in the back of the hall, and you can continue that friendly conversation, in a piano style, in a way that they can clearly hear.  If you get irritated you can raise your voice -  that's a different color, more of an mf than a p.  You can yell, and be forte or fortissimo.  And you can easily pitch these variations based on the distances you are standing apart from each other. 

When I demonstrate this trick in lessons, we move farther and farther apart, and then laugh when we walk back together and show each other the much bigger, projected voice we had been using to speak to each other down a long hallway.  It's got more diction, more clarity, and far more support from our lower bodies, and it happened so naturally we didn't even think about it.

Obviously the same thing works on the oboe.  But in a one-on-one lesson we are usually standing  five feet from each other, and I forget to talk about the need to project your voice outward in performance, and the result ends up being tiny tiny oboe players out in public. 

So - I'm correcting this now.  Sharing for my students, and for me, and for YOU.  When you're practicing in your room you're accustomed to playing for yourself only - but experiment with this concept.  See how much you can fill the room without yelling.  How much sound can you sneak into your piano dynamic and stay in character?   How clearly can you shape the phrase that you have in your mind?  It's the musical equivalent of speaking really slowly for a person you think isn't getting it.  Overdo the phrase. Spell it out for us.  Sneak onto the stage by yourself and practice speaking to the back of the hall, then play to there.  Contrast it with that comfortable mumble you use when you're just talking to yourself. 

Then go, my pretties, go out into the world and PROJECT a great big beautiful oboe presence.  I challenge you to be the star of the show. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: The Heart

I'm getting close to the end of this project.  It's been really fun, and I will keep making these videos as ideas occur to me or as people ask questions or send me reeds to analyze - but the end of this year is the end of my weekly publishing schedule.  Thanks for all the support and feedback along the way!

In this episode: 

What is the heart?
How thick is it really? 
What happens when it’s too thin? 
What happens when it’s too thick? 
How can you tell if your problem is in the heart or elsewhere? 





Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until the end of the year.




Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Stability

I’m responding today to a note from Jonathan about stability.

Stability in an oboe reed is a big concept, and varies greatly from person to person and style to style.  I have some ideas, though, and share them cheerfully.

In this episode:
What is stability?
Where does it come from?
How much of it do you want?
What do you do when your reed is TOO stable?
Too flexible?

Click HERE for the video, if you don't see it below.





Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 


Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Tale of Two Concerts

Thursday night I gave the second performance of my Fall Recital.  I loved my music, I was happy with my choices.  I owned the stage.  I played to the full extent of my ability, my audience was on board and enthusiastic.  I felt that I was in complete control of the room, the material, and the oboe the entire time.  I got great feedback, and I also just knew that I had done well.  I could feel it.

The previous Sunday I gave the first performance of my Fall Recital.  It felt to me like an unmitigated disaster throughout.  Right from the beginning I was missing some low attacks, but by half way through my second piece I thought I might die.  My arms hurt from tension.  My mouth ached. I could barely hold my face around the reed.  And there were three more pieces to limp through before I finally managed to escape.  I was embarrassed, sad, and disappointed in myself - what kind of musician am I if I can't even play through an hour of hard music without getting tired and missing notes and attacks and if I can't even hold it together to play music that I am well prepared on and love?  I spent two thirds of that hour wishing I was off stage.

These performances were three days apart.  I didn't become a different player between the one and the other. I didn't practice, or not much.  Yes, there was some mindset and self-talk involved - once things started to go south, anyway - but in both cases I was prepared and excited to go on stage.  In both cases I was adequately caffeinated.  As much as I hate to admit it, the difference came down to Reed Choice.

Reed Choice has been a pitfall for me in the past. (I have learned this before.  I've written about it before.  I talk to my students about it. Somehow it remains a pitfall.)  I am a prolific reedmaker and I have a case full of good reeds, sufficient for basically any situation.  But once I make the final choice and walk out onto the stage, I only have one. When that one turns out to be inappropriate for the task at hand, there are consequences.

In my first performance, I chose my reed for its sound.  It sounded beautiful.  I had played a few orchestra concerts on it, and I knew I loved it on the stage.  My new Howarth sounded HUGE with it.  And when I ran through a single movement with my pianist, pre-recital, I was perfectly happy.  I could play so LOUD, and it was so ROUND, and so DEEP. 

It turns out, through - AND I KNOW THIS - that in a small recital hall with an audience I needed more nuance than a big orchestra reed could provide.  It turns out - AND I KNOW THIS - that counting 30 measures of rest, playing one heartfelt solo, and counting 20 more measures is nothing like playing an 18 minute solo oboe piece in which I am always playing.  It turns out - AND I TELL MY STUDENTS THIS ALL THE TIME - that if my mouth has to work hard to control the reed, the tiny muscles of the embouchure will wear out fast, and even if I change to an easier reed at intermission the damage is already done.  That first performance for me was a complete fail. All I felt I had going for me was costuming and showmanship, because I could not play the oboe.

In my second performance, I chose my reed for its function.  It did not have an especially pretty sound, and that sound did not expand around me and ring all of the corners of the room.  This reed was much more closed, so I had to open my mouth up to play it.  Tension made it worse, so my natural response was to relax.  It had a smaller sound, so I had the low dynamics I wanted, but there was enough flexibility that when I opened up and blew more it could get bigger.  It held its own pitch up, so I did not have to bite to bring it into line.  I would not have chosen this reed for the orchestra, but for this space it was perfect -  this was a reed that played itself, freeing me up to make music, emote, and concentrate on the joy of what I was doing. 

And you know - after a minute of playing I didn't notice the sound of that reed anymore, or at least it didn't bother me.  (And listening back to both performances, I can't hear a difference!)  What I noticed was the pleasure I felt playing without pain, and the enjoyment of having an audience I didn't have to hide from, and the ability to let the music just flow through me in that best way possible.  And I played the entire program, and never once did my face fall off the oboe. 

So - not to make it all about reeds like everything else I seem to be posting lately - it's all about reeds.  Or Reed Choice, anyway.  The lesson: DON'T choose your reed for sound, choose it for function. 

I have one more performance TODAY, at 3:00 at First Presbyterian Church in Michigan City IN.  Come on out and see how I do with my Reed Choice!

The red reed is the one that gave me success

The blue reed is the one that left me high and dry.




Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: English Horn Reeds

In this episode:


  • How to use your oboe mandrel to wind an English horn reed
  • Measurements and structures of an English horn reed
  • How and why to put wire on
  • How and why to put the little tube on the end


Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Finishing

Once your rough-scraped reed crows, WHAT THEN? How do you take a reed from beeping to playable?  How do you balance it?  The Five Minute Reedmaker helps, with this basic framework:

opening and response
structure
symmetry
balance



Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 


Friday, October 27, 2017

Deciding

I was chatting with a friend this week and she was lamenting being too busy to write.  It’s exactly the way I’ve been feeling, and something I rarely hear a musician say.  We always complain that we haven’t been practicing - in fact, I think I said precisely that back to her - but mostly we musicians don’t talk about our other forms of creativity, and that’s a sad thing, 

Even when I can’t make time to practice, I play the oboe every day.  When I’m sitting in rehearsal I try to bring mindfulness to my work, so it’s not just walking through notes and rhythms but actively trying to be artistic, to be interesting, to play with integrity, to be great.  This is why I can let practicing go on a busy day - it’s not that I don’t need it, but I can scratch that itch at work, while simultaneously doing something someone else wants.  I’m a multitasker from way back.  

Writing though, is a thing I can’t do while I’m making reeds.  Or when I’m in rehearsal.  Or very effectively while driving.  And somehow this creative task is an outlet that I really need.  I think more clearly when I write.  I fill the rest of my time more efficiently.  And I feel better when I’ve gotten my thoughts out of my head and onto paper.

Last week I drew the Two of Swords as a card representing my week, and the moment it came up I knew that it was telling me to Decide.  My stress in that particular moment was about not having enough time to prepare for my November recital, around a week filled with long meetings and non-playing days and fall break for Zoe.  So I Decided that being an artist was important to me, and I Decided that putting in the work was important to me, and I got out my planner and made practice times for myself around all of my other obligations.  I sacrificed working out, I sacrificed writing and creative time, I compromised on sleep, and I got some legitimate practicing in and I’m feeling better now.  

This week is different.  I know I’ll be practicing (recital in November, you know). I haven’t bothered to draw a new weekly card, because I know what I need.  I’m going right back to that Two of Swords, and I’m DECIDING that making time for my own creative work off the oboe is important.  

No one has all the time they need.  It's so easy to disappear into the relentless busyness of the day to day and let the important work fall by the wayside.  But even in a frantic week of a busy month, there are some minutes.  There are even some hours.  You can find them if you decide to make it a priority. 

Now that I’ve decided, it’s just a matter of going back into my planner and following the steps to make it happen.  This is comparatively easy.  I’m moving forward, decisively, in the mission of being me. 


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Reed Strengths

This week's video is about my sorting process:

  • How I organize my reeds to be Medium, Medium Hard and Medium Soft
  • What those designations mean to me
  • How I work on a reed to change its level of resistance
  • What areas of a reed you might work in to make these changes for yourself  
  • How to make your reed easier - and how to trick it into being more resistant again

Featuring: More Sharpie Drawings!



Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Shaping

My friend Muhammad wrote:
Dear Jennet,
I'm very interested in knowing how you shape your cane. Some people shape the the top of the ears of the tip and some to the right snug to the bottom. Would you do a video about it explaining why you do what you do in that process?
So - I was asked to talk about the technique of shaping, which initially surprised me a little.  Shaping oboe cane by hand seems like a simple matter - it's a straightforward task that I don't give a lot of thought to as I'm doing it.  But then, the same day, I saw this clear and helpful video by Jonathan Marzluf and realized how many details in this process we do differently, and I understood how people could be confused.

I would like to be clear that I am not contradicting Mr. Marzluf's methods. They are great, and smart, and clearly work for him!  I have my own way of doing this and I’m happy to show you here - because seeing alternatives is important, and helps you to make the choice that’s right for you.





Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Knife Techniques

This is possibly my favorite video so far - I enjoy thinking of different ways to describe the various scrapes and gestures that I use in constructing a reed.

Among the topics covered:

How your hand position might be working against you
Why your left (non-dominant) hand is the more important one
Why you should Pull the cane off rather than pushing
"Petting" the cane
Centering your scrape in the channel
Cross-hatching to smooth notches and walls
"Lifting" a nick out
How to keep a scraping disaster from worsening
The CURL, and a visualization for tip construction

That's a lot for 10 minutes!





Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 



Sunday, October 8, 2017

New Beginnings

I love beginnings.  If I could start a project every month I probably would - I have at least three in my mind right now that I'm holding back on consciously so I can keep making time for the ongoing ones that I enthusiastically started over the past few months and years. But usually these are solo projects. 

Last month I met with a composer to read some tarot cards.  We are working on the early stages of a project that might eventually become something real. 

You know that I have long loved the tarot.  This is a thing I've mentioned many times before.  I read for myself all the time and use the images and the structures in the cards as a way to activate my intuition and as a means of self-exploration.  

You know that for my IDRS recital I worked hard on a solo oboe piece based on the Major Arcana of the Marseilles Tarot. It was a piece I was thrilled to find in a publisher's back catalog - because a difficult and intimidatingly modern work for solo oboe based on the Tarot was basically made in heaven just for me - but although I did perform it I never quite got IN.  I loved the concept, and I conquered the technique, but it never turned out to be the piece for me, or one that I could love. 

I still adore the Tarot and I still play the oboe.  I want a signature piece to represent that overlap for me, and that's what I chatted with this composer about over the summer.  We decided to meet three times, at the Autumn Equinox, the Winter Solstice, and the Spring Equinox, to throw cards which might ultimately give us insight into the concept and form and structure of the piece.  

The busier I am the more I try to ensure that my time is being used well.  I turn down gigs that seem to be too much angst for the gratification I will receive - if the contractor appears to not have his act together, or if I suspect that I won't be used to my best potential, or if I anticipate a weak musical experience that will make me feel bad about myself.  I turn down work that doesn't pay enough, because I'd rather make nothing and have the time to spend with my family and my own projects.  (Though I'll take work that looks to be the RIGHT kind of challenge even if the money is poor or the driving is ridiculous.)

This project, in contrast, is nebulous.  Will this certainly be a thing we bring to completion?  No, not certainly.  If we do, will it absolutely  be my new favorite piece of all time?  Not necessarily.  Am I confident that the money for the commission will come from somewhere or that the ultimate cost will feel like money well spent? No.  But - Is it enjoyable and inspiring to start somewhere, and to explore what comes of the collaboration?  Absolutely.  

We are meeting because starting a project is the only way to get to the middle and finally to the conclusion of it.  We are meeting because by drawing cards together we can read them together, and come to a mutual understanding about the ultimate shape of this journey.  And we are meeting because it's fun for two creative women to come together late at night and explore ideas.  

Stay tuned.  This is something I'll keep you posted on.  


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: The Windows

Last month I was in a Reeding Circle with two of my regular attendees.  It was an exciting event because BOTH of them had major reed breakthroughs and made multiple really good reeds in a row, just as we sat there together!  Secondly, it was interesting because BOTH of them had the exact same problem in their very different reeds - they hadn’t taken enough out of the windows.

In today's Five Minute Reedmaker video, I discuss this undersung area of the oboe reed.  I show how to use it, how to scrape it, and WHY. 





Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 




Monday, October 2, 2017

Every Little Bit Counts

I was three hours from home and I had just finished playing Adrian Mann's Canzone Vecchione, a totally charming little duo for oboe and double bass.  Phillip Serna, my collaborator, is a terrific colleague, and his enthusiasm for performing and rehearsing and improving and working rivals even my own.  Although this was an unpaid performance for about 17 people, on a Double Bass Day recital, the performance was a great pleasure. 


I did not, however, have any great expectations about audience building, or career advancement, or anything big-picture coming out of this event.  A few bassists and their parents would hear me, I figured, and that would be the end of it. 

Excitingly, though, as I passed through the lobby on my way back to my car, I bumped into a former student. I had known, but forgotten, that he was studying at this university. He had been on my website and noticed this performance at his college, and decided to attend. He had brought his roommate, a music student at the school.  They had both enjoyed the event.  We chatted for a few minutes and I was so happy to have seen him. 

I took some reminders from this encounter.

Number One:  Always assume that there are people in the audience who care about the oboe, who know me, who have an interest and are following along and ready to be engaged.  The world is not made up of strangers and you never know who is out there.

Number Two:  Always keep your website updated. I’m pretty good about it, generally. But I tend to assume that my relatively static homepage is not visited much.  People come and buy reeds and leave again.  The performances I'm excited about I promote actively, but I can be lazy about the little event listing section.  (BTW: you can see that little event listing section on my website, or view the link from the top of my blog page.  I'm that well organized, at least.)

This small performance was a thing I could easily have left off.  Again, three hours from my home, six minutes of music, on a double bass recital. I had no reason to think that anyone would follow me there, or be remotely interested in my presence. I was doing this as a favor to Phillip, and because he’s going to come up and play it with me next week at Ravinia.

But no, in fact – someone visited my site. Someone was local and chose to come out. Someone enjoyed my performance, and told me so. You never know who you’re going to reach, or who you're going to touch. Every little bit of effort counts and makes a difference.

Thank you, Braydon, for the reminder!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Clipping

Clipping an oboe reed is such a tiny task, and you might do it dozens of times as you construct and polish each reed.  Are you doing it safely? Do you know the trick to neatly undercutting the lower blade?  Or WHY you would want to do so?  The Five Minute Reedmaker can help.



Here's my previous illustrated blog post about that undercutting process.

Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of things to talk about. 


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Batch Processing, and Quality Control

Yes, I can make a reed in five minutes.  And I can play it.  But this is not my ideal way to work - the cane needs time to settle between soakings, and I find that my stability and longevity improve dramatically when I take MORE time rather than less to get to my finished product.  What I actually tend to do is work batches of cane - from pre-gouged to blank, to rough-scraped, to finished, and to polished - over the course of several days.

In an email, Beth asked: I’d like to hear your ideas about quality control during each step of the process, from cane selection to final scraping.  What would cause you to discard a piece of cane, or a blank, or scraped reed?

Her question seemed to go along beautifully with this video, already in the planning stages, so I've covered quality control along with my Four-Day, Under-Five-Minutes-A-Day, step-by-step Batch Processing video.



These Five Minute Reedmaker lessons post once a week on Youtube.  You can subscribe to me there, or keep watching this space for updates.  Soon I'll figure out a way to mount them on my own website as well.  I’d love to hear what else I can help you with, and what my next short video should address - let me know!



Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bringing Joy to the Work

This gig did not start out promising.  We had a LOONNNNGGGG three hour rehearsal the first night with no soloists, on a fairly dull and repetitive score, filled with heavy irrelevant playing.  We are all coming off summer break, and I'll tell you, I've been practicing, but I was not prepared for 40 pages of long tones and periodic loud interjections.  My face was falling off by the end.  This was a rock and roll concert, a symphonic arrangement of The Who's Quadrophenia.  I did not know this music.  But listening to the symphonic arrangement of its background music I was unmoved.  I was sitting among people who can be... cynical.  I was heading that way myself.

But the next afternoon our soloists arrived.  Alfie Boe.  Billy Idol.  Eddie Vedder. And Pete Townshend.  And things immediately improved.  They could not have been more delightful - because they were all SO INTO IT.  The rehearsal was a full run through, a few hours before the concert, and they could have been forgiven for doing mic checks, marking through two songs, and leaving to take a nap, but in fact they sang it and danced it, full out, worked earnestly together with the conductor to improve elements of it, and asked us to try a few things again so they could be better.

This was the complete opposite of our first-night mood.  I missed a couple of entrances in the rehearsal (not the concert!) because I couldn't take my eyes off these men having the time of their lives, not fooling around but just genuinely doing their best job singing and performing this music they clearly loved.  I didn't love this music, but I loved THEM.  I appreciated and respected their work, their intensity, and their JOY in the performance.

(This was a great show.  Tour information for Classic Quadrophenia is HERE - but be warned that a video autoplays so don't click if you can't be loud.)

This is a day I can learn from. First of all, if I'm not feeling the joy in the work I'm doing, I need to figure out who is.  Is it the conductor?  The soloist?  The composer, arranger or producer getting their music played?  Is it the audience?  And if I can't see anyone loving it, can I find a way to be the one who loves it?  Can I be that leader, the bringer of delight to the experience?

And if not, should I have taken the gig at all?  That's a choice I can make, too.

This was a message I needed today.  It's one I'll carry through the next few months of busy, and hopefully keep coming back to when things get dark and busy and I feel tempted to phone it in.  Why not care about the work?  Why not enjoy it? Why not LOVE it?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Understanding and Constructing the Tip and Transition

This week I am releasing TWO videos.  They go together, but I couldn't bring myself to combine them - it's ridiculous for the FIVE MINUTE Reedmaker to appear to take TWELVE minutes on a single concept, however important. Hence, two videos.

The very tip of the reed is the most crucial area, and the easiest thing to ruin as you scrape.  It is by far the thinnest section of the reed, so it's terribly sensitive to errors - a micron's worth of thickness in the wrong place, or a single grain unnecessarily removed on the side can wreck the whole thing.

In this first video I draw and discuss the various dimensions I consider as I create the tip and transition.




In this second video I demonstrate four different methods of GETTING to that good transition and tip.  Four different knife techniques, in ascending levels of difficulty and danger.



These Five Minute Reedmaker lessons post once a week on Youtube.  You can subscribe to me there, or keep watching this space for updates.  Soon I'll figure out a way to mount them on my own website as well.  I’d love to hear what else I can help you with, and what my next short video should address - let me know!



Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Capacity for Flourish

Steve and I were watching YouTube last night and we watched an hour long interview with renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about fountain pens.  Because we love fountain pens.  And science.  And because at heart we are old, old people.

And Dr. Tyson, bless his heart, was so adorably, geekily delighted with his collection of Space-themed fountain pens, and although the interviewer was trying to wrap up he kept showing us more and more pens and talking about their nibs and the ink he chooses to put in them and why he always has to have a pen that posts, which is a term I had not known but means that the cap has to fit on the back of the pen while you are writing.  He insists on this because otherwise the pen is too small and insubstantial for his large hand and for his comfort.  And he demonstrated writing with one of his pens, and the interviewer pointed out that he holds it a long way back from the tip.

And Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "If you hold it too close, the capacity for flourish is reduced."

LOVE LOVE LOVE this.

Because of course it is.  You can put words down on paper if you are holding the pen right up by the nib, but those words are going to be made up of tiny cramped letters.  And maybe tiny cramped letters don't necessarily imply tiny cramped thoughts - but maybe they encourage them.  Maybe if you are writing using only the muscles of your fingertips you have to channel all of your creativity through the tiniest possible part of your body, whereas if you can take that metaphorical step back and write with your wrist, your arm, your shoulder, your body - maybe more of YOU can get through.

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I TALK ABOUT WITH MY STUDENTS ALL THE TIME.  THIS IS LIKE THE OBOE.

If you play the oboe with your face and your hands, there's a limit to what you can get.  If you manage everything from your embouchure, you can get finesse.  You can be very accurate and sound very pretty, but you don't get FLOW and you don't get CONNECTION and you don't get COMMUNICATION and you don't get FLOURISH.

Those things come from the AIR.  They come from trusting the oboe and blowing THROUGH it and allowing your whole body to participate in making the music and sending it out into the world.

We're still in the early weeks of our teaching year, still just starting to gear up - but I can say confidently that the words, "More AIR, less MOUTH" have come out of my lips at least a dozen times so far.  And that's BEFORE I watched the Director of the Hayden Planetarium be joyful about his pen.



Thank you for the inspiration, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: The Beep and the Crow

What can you learn from your reed before you even put it in the oboe?  We have two great tools - the beep and the crow. There's a lot of confusion out there, though, about these diagnostic tools.  A case in point is an email I received recently:

Josue wrote: Every time I read about crowing the reed in books, or talk about it with teachers and colleagues, they say the reed must crow a pitch of C. However, I notice some of my reeds that crow on C are actually flat in intonation. I notice also that the beeping of those reeds (when you put the reed as if you were actually playing) is flat too.  And in the other way, some of the reeds that beep in C are actually crowing in C#.
Is this difference in pitch between beeping and crowing normal? Should the beeping and crowing have the same pitch? Or which one is more important to obtain a good intonation? Should I keep the C pitch in the beeping or in the crowing?

What's he even talking about?  The Five Minute Reedmaker explains.  And demonstrates.  In only seven minutes.



These Five Minute Reedmaker lessons post once a week on Youtube.  You can subscribe to me there, or keep watching this space for updates.  Soon I'll figure out a way to mount them on my own website as well.  I’d love to hear what else I can help you with, and what my next short video should address - let me know!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Back to School - Onward and Upward!

It's teaching time again. I've had 16 first lessons in the past two weeks - almost all continuing students, but in each case the first lesson of a new school year and the first after a long summer break.
Every year I find it helpful to reflect on the past and set goals for the future, so I always ask something like, "what do you want to work on this semester?"  And usually the response is something like, "I don't know - um - technique?"

This year I began to change it, and I asked, "What are you good at now? And what do you want to get better at?"

First, I observed that EVERY student, without exception, ignored the first question and answered only the second.  Second, I was surprised that EVERY student gave me a clearer, more focused response to the new version of my question than the old version.  Even though no one was willing initially to come out and say that they did things well, having that anchor to their internal storytelling caused them to answer far more thoughtfully.

Having a new goal in place is great for them, of course, but it also gave me an immediate focus for each lesson.  It informed the etudes and solos I decided to start them on.  It informed the warmup exercises I suggested for them.  It informed the way we worked on scales, which is pretty much ALWAYS the first bit of the lesson - instead of asking for a D scale, I asked some of them for a D scale with crystal clear articulation and more front to each note.  I asked some for a D scale in which they were hyper analytical about intonation.  I asked some for a D scale with focus on embouchure, and on how much they were doing with their mouths.  Look at how high your fingers are! Is that necessary?  We played scales with extroverted and introverted vibrato.  We did scales fast and slow.  It was a good set of first lessons.

And this exercise was dramatically helpful for me, too.  As a teacher, I think I excel at the in-the-moment lesson.  The student standing in front of me gets my energy and attention, and I can nearly always IMPROVE something for them over the course of the lesson.  Where I am not so great is the big picture.  I spend too much time in the moment, not looking ahead, and I allow teaching days to exhaust me to the degree that I shut down all thoughts about my students when they AREN'T in front of me.

So my resolution this term is to put in just a little extra energy at the end of the day - each teaching day - to reflect on what we did, and to set an intention and put a plan in place for the next week.  My goal is to have a slightly broader sense of the big picture for each student, and to re-energize myself by planning, as I do in other aspects of my life and work, and to be able to raise EVERYONE, including myself, to a next level.

Happy Back to School!

Good luck to us all.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Cane Preparation

I had a request for this next video topic:

Anish wrote: Hi Jennet! :) I was wondering if you could do a video sometime on your preliminary processes with cane- you seem to get a reed vibrating beautifully very quickly from the get-go and I am curious as to what you look for when selecting cane and what you gouged to etc before you even tie the reed.

Maybe I'm the wrong person to answer these questions - I am NOT fussy about cane.  I did a project a long time ago for a colleague, in which I worked through multiple pieces of cane from dozens of different batches she'd purchased long ago, trying to determine which bags of cane were worth keeping and which should be discarded.

What I learned is that EVERYTHING makes a reed. Sometimes I have to work a little harder,  if the cane is reluctant to vibrate. Sometimes the diameter doesn't suit me well, and I have to mash the opening down.  On rare occasions, it's true that the cane is too wormy or too shreddy to be scrapable - but that's a very obvious flaw, that anyone can identify, and not visible from the outside of a tube anyway.  So if I get cane that can't be scraped I throw it out, but otherwise I make a reed.

And that said, there are some factors that I keep in mind, that are important to me - and here is a video describing my early-stage processes and how I prepare my cane for shaping and winding.



These Five Minute Reedmaker lessons post once a week on Youtube.  You can subscribe to me there, or keep watching this space for updates.  Soon I'll figure out a way to mount them on my own website as well.  I’d love to hear what else I can help you with, and what my next short video should address - let me know!


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: The Long Scrape

The long scrape seems like it should be a gimme.  You have to get the bark off before you can start to truly scrape the reed, and it doesn’t seem like it should matter too much HOW you do it.  But I find that a good, consistent long scrape technique can really set you up for success in the remaining construction of your reed.

The function of this initial scrape is to remove the bark from the lay of the reed, AND to start some pathways for the vibration.  Oboe reeds are made up of slopes and stops, or ramps and steps, and my preference is to have a good long slope in place foundationally, so I can start working on my reed from a place of vibration and add stops, rather than working from a stopped place and scraping forever to try to encourage vibration to start.

When I put this initial long scrape in, I have three big factors I keep in mind.

The first is that the reed has two planes on each blade.  If you think of the curvature of the cane like the arc of a circle, and picture that the face of the reed you are looking at crowns at 12:00 and ENDS at 10 and 2, you want to focus your scrape at 11 and 1, never directly down the center at 12.

The second thing to keep in mind is that although you can remove bark easily with your knife, you can never put it back. So as you make this preliminary scrape, be conservative with your work near the edges. Although you may ultimately remove the bark in the heart area, at this early stage you can certainly leave bark all the way up to the base of the tip.  It's safer that way.

And the third dimension to take into consideration is the overall slope.  Although I am not at all trying to construct the rooftop transition into the tip at this point, I do want to go ahead and get rid of as much wood as I safely can.  Why kill myself trying to scrape everything off carefully and delicately later when I can hack lots of it off sloppily right now and save the time?  So although I am a little bit careful in the heart area, I am not a bit cautious at the tip, and I want everything sloping THROUGH the reed so the vibrations can start right away.

If I do my job right, I should be able to beep the reed right away when I open it, although it will be NOWHERE NEAR A REAL REED YET.



These Five Minute Reedmaker lessons post once a week on Youtube.  You can subscribe to me there, or keep watching this space for updates.  Soon I'll figure out a way to mount them on my own website as well.  I’d love to hear what else I can help you with, and what my next short video should address - let me know!

Next week: Cane Preparation and Gouging (Thanks, Anish, for the idea!)


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Integrity

When I see a slur that isn't an easy one on the oboe, I'm apt to cheat.  In my practice room I work hard on slurs like that, but in the moment, when people can hear me, I might add a little tongue to ease the transition, or add a few fingers to make the arrival safer.  The re-articulated result may not be exactly what the composer intended, and the fake fingering might not sound precisely like the other one would have, but it's close enough to fool an audience and it keeps me safe.

At the end of a phrase, to avoid the embarrassment of hanging over after other people have cut off, I might taper my note off just a little early.  I might play the final note very very softly to make sure it doesn't stick out.  I might use a muted fingering for the same reason.  These are orchestra tricks - they keep me safe, but they won't sound good when I'm playing by myself, and they're not good musical choices, and they don't feel honest.

This summer I'm learning my way around my new oboe and working very intentionally on INTEGRITY, and I'm trying to disavow these tricks.  When I played a few weeks ago with the great Judy Kulb, I listened admiringly as she played every phrase all the way to the end.  She always plays the last note as beautifully as the middle ones, even when the line is not exposed or not important. And everyone around her meets her there, because her phrase is just that compelling.  I want that.

I cultivate an air of casual ease, and in the spirit of that casualness I do not fear mistakes - but the mistakes I make on the oboe are mistakes, not inability.  The things that I actually think I might not be able to do, though, I work around, and cheat to avoid.  It's scary to sincerely try to do things that are difficult.

The word INTEGRITY is written above my music on my stand.  It's written in my practice journal.  I'm using my warm up time to be sincere and intentional about the most basic notes, intervals, and sequences.

But I noticed Saturday night in our outdoor concert that despite my best intentions I sometimes still cheat.  My habits are so ingrained that I still find myself lengthening fingerings for safety, and pulling my punches at the ends of lines.

This is not aligned with the best possible version of me.  I can do better.


Similarly, I cultivate an air of openness in this blog, in my life - I talk about lots of things - and I'm not afraid to talk about politics but apparently I am terrified to talk about inequality and privilege.  It's scary to say things that are true - that are that deeply true - and it's scary to open myself up to possibly saying things that are wrong, or inappropriate.  I'm nearly two weeks late talking about the events at Charlottesville - I've deleted every draft I've written - because somehow I am so uncomfortable just saying the things I feel.  And I have the privilege as a white person in a creative field to pretend that this filth doesn't affect me. It's a blog about the oboe and I don't have to stand up and say that Black Lives Matter.  I've been hiding. I've been to some marches and some protests, but I'm not showing up the way I should.  And I'm still uncomfortable.  I don't want to say it wrong. I don't want to make a mistake in something this important.

But let's just be clear.  Black Lives Matter.  People of color are also people, who do not but should have the same opportunities and freedoms and protections as everyone else.  Trans people are people.  Queer people are people.  Women are people.  Jews are people.  People are people and I love people and I deplore hatred, violence, and bigotry.  It shouldn't need to be said, but apparently it does.  I am an ally to those who are under attack and I will not JUST keep quiet and write about the oboe.

I will, of course, keep writing about the oboe.

But to keep quiet about the terrible forces arising in this country is not aligned with the best possible version of me.  I can do better.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reed Repair Shop #1, and a new Five Minute Reedmaker video

Just a quick note today.  I've posted my first Reed Repair Shop video, along with my FOURTH short Five Minute Reedmaker reed lesson.  My goal is to help people who feel insecure about their reeds, people who need just a little more clarity on certain aspects of reed making, and people who ARE reed makers but have gotten themselves into a slump in some way.

Reed Repair Shop #1: Anthony's reeds are pretty good!  They work, they play in tune, and they look like reeds.  His stated concerns were tone and response, and I think I was able to offer some good suggestions.

watch Anthony's video HERE  or below.


Would you like me to look at YOUR reeds?  Check out my offering HERE.

My fourth Five Minute Reedmaker video is a walkthrough of winding - the process by which the cane is attached to the staple.



Let me know what you'd like to see me cover on a future episode!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Two New Reed Initiatives

I've been working hard on these next roll-outs.  You probably know from reading this blog that I've been running an Oboe Reed Boot Camp every summer since 2012, and that a couple of years ago I started offering Reeding Circles - social reed-making get-togethers - each month during the year.

The limitation, in both cases, is location.  There's not a huge mass of oboists where I live, and it's hard to get a large enough group together - anywhere, really - to make a traveling Boot Camp worthwhile, though I do love the concept.  (Do you have five or more interested oboists and a free weekend?  Get in touch!)

But there is a need.  People do have questions, and frustrations.  Reedmaking and teaching are things I am good at.   How, I wondered, could I help people beyond my own students and my own community?

There are two ways, I think. One is a series of video lessons on reed-making.  I'm calling it The Five Minute Reedmaker, and I'll be releasing one video each week on You Tube and at some point soon connecting those to my own website as well.  You can see the first few of them here.



You will note that they are very low-tech - but that's part of their charm, right?  You can tell I'm a real person because although my reed skills are real, my videography kind of stinks.  That said - if you can't see what I'm doing or if you have questions, let me know! I want to be helpful.  What other topics would you like to see?

The other, and the thing I am most excited about, is Reed Repair Shop.  Who among us, Oboists, has not hit a brick wall at some point in our reed making?  Who has not found themselves staring at a case full of reeds that all seem to have the same problem that nothing fixes?  Or, to flip it, has made six reeds that all look and feel DIFFERENT, and wondered what one consistent mistake has caused all of the craziness?

I've been there. Sometimes an outside eye is all you need.  Often there's one piece of advice that solves all of your problems.  Or an observation that you could not have made because you are too close to the problem, and too frustrated.  Sometimes you just need some nonjudgmental feedback from someone else.  I can be that someone.

Reed Repair Shop should be the next best thing to a one-on-one session. Send me three representative reeds that you have made and don't love.  I will look at them, give you my impressions, work to improve them, and capture this process on video for you to see.  I will send them back to you, hopefully improved, with advice to take you forward.

Why three?  I figure that any one reed can be irredeemably bad.  Bad cane, bad gouge, bad shape, a single bad mistake.  It might not be your fault at all, and my diagnosis might not solve your bigger problem. But three reeds that you've made are going to show your scraping habits, the areas you consistently mishandle, or SOMETHING consistent that we can talk about, and three reeds should be enough to draw a larger lesson from.

How does it work?  You order online, and I will send you shipping materials, postage paid.  When I receive your reeds, I'll make time within a week to diagnose them, fix what I can, and put together a video.  I'll mail the reeds back and post the video to YouTube.

My preference is to post that video publicly, so that others can learn from your session, too - but I don't need to use your real name if you don't wish.  Reeds feel so personal!  I can preserve your privacy and keep your secrets...

These new innovations are live now - Reed Repair Shop is available on my website, and my first two Five Minute Reedmaker videos are on YouTube.

Let me know what you think!

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Needed Reminder

I talk a lot about warmups.  How important they are. How you can do all of your practicing on warmups and get better at the oboe.  How sometimes scales and long tones are all you need.

That's not totally true, though, or at least not for me.  Abstract oboe practicing is important but it's not the only thing.

We went to a party and it solved all of my oboe problems.

I have been struggling lately to know who I am in my playing.  We came home from IDRS three weeks ago - while there I drew inspiration from everywhere and had loads of very good ideas about how to improve myself and ways I could choose to sound.  I did not have any real practice time in which to realize these good ideas.  I also bought a new oboe which feels and sounds very different from my current one.

Then we immediately went on vacation for two weeks, and I came back to a huge reed backlog which I've just now mostly cleared up.

And then for a week I played oboe d'amore - the small, spunky, adorable cousin of the English horn - with the Grant Park Symphony.  The great thing about that gig is that I could be in denial about my actual oboe playing.  The d'amore doesn't have to sound like anyone else, because it's its own adorable thing and there's only one.  This week I'm playing all English horn, and having a blast.

But at home, when I practice, now, I have no idea what I sound like.  Or how I play, or how I WANT to play, or even what I need to work on.  I'm out of the habit of just picking up the oboe and sounding like myself, and while I'm ready and eager to make changes, there has to be a ME there to change.

My intention had been to work on fundamentals this summer.  To take my time learning my new oboe in scales and long tones, make lots of lovely reeds, and enjoy the slow pace of things.  But it's been making me nuts.  Abstract oboe playing isn't my bag, or not for long.  I need it, it has to happen.  Patient long tones do make me better, and scales are helpful and etudes are tremendous.  I like a nice ten minute warmup that hits these fundamental skills, but playing actual music is what I need in my life.

Monday afternoon we went to a chamber music party.  I did not want to go.  It was in Chicago, far from home, and we had to get ourselves in the car in the early afternoon and wouldn't get back until late.  Of course I wanted to stay home, do laundry, make reeds, catch up on my life - which is somehow still just out ahead of me in spite of the relaxed summer schedule - but we went.

As soon as we arrived I was SO glad we were there.  I played Haydn, Mozart, Poulenc, and Britten, with great colleagues, while eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves - and suddenly I had the thing I had not had, which was CONTEXT.

Playing my new oboe with other people, and using it actively to make phrases, effects, colors, and dynamics told me in a very few minutes what hours of patient abstract practicing had not.  Playing actual music, like riding a bicycle, is something I don't forget how to do.  Making real music uses all of those fundamental skills, of course, and in the middle of the season I crave the time for calm sessions of long tones to keep myself accountable - but I can't keep myself interested with warmups alone.  

Playing in tune has nothing to do with matching a tuner, as much as I like my tuner app.  It has everything to do with fitting into a chord, into a group, blending, leading, matching sounds.  Making precise attacks and pristine releases is meaningless in a vacuum, but having the oboe speak right with the strings and disappear like smoke at the end of a sustained taper - to make JUST the right effect at JUST the right time - is magic.  It's WHY we practice.  This party was exactly the thing I had needed to remind me.

In other news, I LOVE my new oboe. Looking forward to many more REAL MUSIC experiences with it going forward!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Jennet Ingle on Crushing Classical

Are you listening to the Crushing Classical podcast?  Tracy Friedlander has been doing really great things ever since she started it - maybe less than a year ago?  It's become a conversation about the intersection of music and entrepreneurship, and about how you can make your career be what YOU want it to be. Which, as a concept, is right where I live.  I'm delighted to see it come up in my feed every week - and THIS WEEK'S EPISODE FEATURES ME!

I did this interview back in the spring, right at the tail end of my busy season, and when the episode launched yesterday I was very nervous about listening to it.  I mean, of course there's the sound of my own voice, which always causes me to cringe, but even more to the point, I had no memory of what I talked about.  Vaguely I remembered blabbering on about my reed business, and telling the embarrassing story of our first foray into real estate, and laughing a lot with Tracy, who is delightful and easy to talk to. But really, those last couple of months of the spring were a blur and I could have said anything.

But I steeled myself, and listened to the episode, and was pleasantly surprised at how well Tracy framed and steered the conversation to make it seem as though I was on point. It came out sounding pretty cohesive.  It was fun, and funny.  And maybe interesting.

I certainly recommend the podcast which you can find at iTunes or in your favorite podcast app, but if you want to start out by listening to ME, you can do that HERE.  


Sunday, June 25, 2017

The End of My IDRS Conference

I have no words.  It's been too much, too great, too inspiring, too stimulating, and finally too exhausting.

Over four days in Appleton I heard two of my students outdo themselves performing in masterclasses.  I helped one find a bocal, and joyously encouraged another to purchase an English horn.  I bought an oboe.  The Ingle Oboe Studio is SUBSIDIZING this convention, I've  just realized!

I've been blown away by player after player, piece after piece.  I'm returning home with a new eagerness to play better,  do better, be better.

I saw my teacher.  I saw my mentors.  I saw friends and colleagues.  I saw former students and current ones.  I've made contacts for the future, and had beautiful conversations in the now.  I sold some CDs, and met some reed business customers and blog readers.  

I performed, and some of it went really well, and I know now how I'm going to improve that program going forward.

The thing that made the greatest impression on me this time around was how FRIENDLY everyone was.  It's not JUST that many of us see each other only once a year at this conference.  It's not JUST that we all are sympathetic to anyone trying to make it work on this instrument that we love - people forgive water in the keys, resistant reeds, unexpected noises, and celebrate the performances that transcend the instrument.

It's that the great and famous players, the teachers, the amateurs, the students, are all just folks. You can fall into a conversation with anyone as you wait for the next concert to happen or sit in the cafe taking a break from the exhibition floor.  And we all had common ground, and everyone was open to learning, and everyone wants to know what equipment you are playing on and what you like about it.  How your orchestra is doing.  What you're working on professionally.

I'm friendly, and I trust and love humans as a generality - but I don't have this kind of easy, open camaraderie with random people in the post office line, and I wouldn't approach just any celebrity to speak about my appreciation of their work.  But at the convention we are just people, all working on it together, and I loved that sense of community.

When the great Alex Klein came out onto the stage on Friday night, he was in the midst of an extended and public setback, which I will not go into here. The musical world has been abuzz.  There are many thoughts and many rumors.  But his arrival on the stage was greeted with the longest ovation of the entire conference.  His performance - from memory - of the Silvestrini Etudes was thrilling, imaginative, amazing, magical.  And the reception from that audience was tremendous.  It was an outpouring of love, respect, affection, and validation.  I was a part of that ovation, that audience, and the experience brought tears to my eyes.  In the double reed world, you can have setbacks, but we don't forget what you have done and been for us.  The oboe players - they have your back.

Friday, June 23, 2017

My IDRS Conference Day Two

Today was another amazing day at Lawrence University in Appleton.  I sat riveted as Aaron Hill put four students through Ferling Etudes in an enjoyable and inspiring masterclass.  One of my students played for him and I was SO proud of her, and delighted to hear his suggestions to her.

I love attending masterclasses because I always hear so much that I can use! Sometimes it's suggestions that I can incorporate into my own playing, sometimes a turn of phrase that I love for my own teaching, sometimes a concept I had not considered.  I loved, for example, the way he released a student's tense throat by having her intentionally repeat the bad thing before finding the good thing.  I loved the way he worked on rubato - he had a student conduct by "bouncing a basketball that you always expect to come back up" and then fit all of the notes into the bounce.  Lovely, right?  And actionable.

I heard the great Nermis Mieses present a spectacular Silvestrini solo piece that was full of the most interesting sounds I've ever heard an oboe make.  So expressive, lovely, and HARD!  I'll be buying the piece, for sure- because I want to make those sounds - but I don't know if I can grow up and sound like Nermis.  I can aspire to, though.

Most of the time I spent at the exhibits.  I'm working hard on my project of buying a new oboe.  I've never shopped at the convention for an instrument before - it's overwhelming because of the sheer number of options available.  On the first day I played almost every oboe in the room - it took hours - and made a list of my top six or so.  Then I had to leave so I wouldn't go crazy.  Day two, I focused on those top six, narrowed them down to two, but then accidentally found two more.  The step I found the most helpful was hooking up with a colleague who played each of my choices for me - hearing them with my actual ears instead of filtered through my own body and my own  perceptions of playing was very enlightening and enabled me to eliminate a few choices.

Friday is the day, though.  I plan to take my top few choices out of the room and play some real music on each of them in a quieter space, and then pull the trigger and buy one.

Getting this task accomplished will free me up to pursue my other agendas - thread, profilers, consigning my Loree for sale, sheet music, EH tubes, helping a student find an English horn...

And, obviously, I'm focusing on my recital which is Saturday morning at 10:30. I have to admit that I'm not feeling good about it right now - I have heard so much GREAT playing and so many AMAZING pieces, and my program feels small and underprepared in comparison.  Hopefully it will come together between my Friday rehearsal and my Saturday performance...

More later.  I LOVE this conference!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My IDRS Conference Day One

The International Double Reed Society is holding its annual conference this week in Appleton, WI.

I arrived on campus Tuesday afternoon, having missed the first day of recitals, just in time to settle in and attend the first evening's Gala Concert.  Six soloists, six concertos - and a lot of inspiration.  I want to have the sweetness, dynamic range, and effortless projection of Peter Cooper, and I want to be as superhuman as Jose Antonio Masmano.  And I want to play his concerto, over and over again every night - Legacy, by Oscar Navarro, was a knock-out piece.  Just stunning.

I woke up early on Wednesday morning, went for a walk, drank my coffee, and headed straight back to campus to hear more performances.  Celeste Johnson was just about perfect - I loved her sound, her intonation, her repertoire choices.  Courtney Miller performed a recital as a duo with a dancer/choreographer, and the project was beautiful, breathtaking, exciting.  Joseph Salvalaggio presented two educational works he'd developed himself, and I wondered what I had been doing with my life.  As I left his performance, I was overcome with a wave of imposter syndrome, and a level of panic set in.

I'm performing Saturday morning at this conference.  It's a brand new program for me - only about 25 minutes of music, but difficult stuff that I haven't had the chance to workshop in front of people before.  (I'll be developing it into a full recital to tour in the Fall).  I am excited about it but good GOLLY there are a lot of great players here, and I was not at all sure that I could measure up.

But action counters negative emotions, or so I've always found, so instead of playing with my phone for 15 minutes before lunch time I found a practice room and soothed my nerves with some calm, steady long tones.  Start the note perfectly cleanly, as softly as you can.  Could it be softer?  Could it be clearer?  Could it be more perfect?  Crescendo for 8 slow beats, diminuendo for 8, and let the note disappear like smoke rising from a candle.  Could it have been better?  Do it again. Is that all the forte I have on that note?  Is that as nice a taper as I can make?  How about the pacing - is it as even from 8 to 1 as it was from 1 to 8?

I didn't touch my actual repertoire until much later in the day, after dinner, but I did feel immediately better.  More stable, more level-headed.  And while I'm still not so sure how my performance will go, I do know that I can play the oboe, that I am prepared, and that here at the Double Reed Conference I am among friends and allies.  No one is actually perfect, and everyone is just trying to do the best they can and be the best they can be. I'll fit right in.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I'm Back!

This past season ended hard. My last two weeks of heavy work were...heavy.  I was mentally bruised and physically exhausted. I didn't have the energy or the willpower to practice, to write, to put food on the table in any caring way.  But that was mid-May, and we've been recovering since.  I have needed and luxuriated in the time.  At this point, I'm finding myself in a great phase of practicing both the oboe and the tarot.  This is the thing I love the most about summer - just having the time and space to dig in deep.

Last week had long been intended as MY week.  I had four days away from home and I'd been looking forward to it for months.  As always, I was overambitious about the way I planned to use my time.  I packed three books, four magazines.  Running clothes.  Three tarot decks.  And 25 minutes worth of difficult solo oboe repertoire that I couldn't play yet, to be performed in two weeks time in front of hundreds of oboists at the IDRS conference.

Mind you, I was in central Illinois to perform with the Peoria Bach Festival, which is not an insignificant time commitment.  But anytime I'm away from my home and my family responsibilities I just KNOW that I'll be able to achieve greatness .

I accomplished a lot.  Of COURSE I'm not exactly ready yet to perform, but the program is coming together.  I got a lot done.  Somewhere in the middle of Friday, though, when I was struggling to drag myself back out of the sunshine and down to my basement practice room, I sat at a picnic table by the river and drew the Five of Swords and Ten of Cups from the Wild Unknown deck.


The combination was immediately resonant.  The Five of Swords is traditionally  about a victory that doesn't feel like one, a short term win that may be a long-term loss.  This deck's image of the earthworm cut in half - the enemy vanquished but arising again twice as powerful - reminded me of the pitfalls of unproductive practice time.

Sure, you can make yourself practice, but if you aren't enjoying it, aren't actually interested and curious and enjoying the journey, you'll be learning bad habits, or practicing grimness and anger into your music.  That felt too close to my last month for comfort.

I don't want that.  I want the openness, joy, and abundance of the Ten of Cups to be a part of my practice time as well as  part of my playing and my performance.  I want to approach the oboe with the right mindset.

So I finished my walk.  I came back to my host's house, took a shower, got a cold drink - and approached the oboe fresh and refreshed.  I took some time to meditate before I started to play.  I began with long tones that brought focus to my brain as well as to my sound.  And then I had a spectacularly productive session, loving the music that I was working on.

Could I have gotten there without that message from the cards?  Sure.  It was an obvious insight.  But would I have thought to sit down, take some deep breaths, and consider how I intended  to practice?  And ponder what was wrong with my mindset?  And decide how best to get back in?

I love summer. I love the oboe.  I love the tarot.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Traveling With a Reed Business

Summer is about vacations, and breaks, and relaxing.  But people who rely on my reeds and services can't always wait while I ogle national monuments - if you need a reed you need me to be sitting at my desk!

When the orchestra and teaching season dies down, and school gets out, Steve and I like to travel, and we hope that as we move into fuller ownership of our happy middle age we will do more and more of that.  But you can't just up and leave a business for months at a time.  I've been reading about the lifestyle of "digital nomads", and I want it - but I can't quite be as nomadic with a reed business as someone whose entire income happens in cyberspace.  Which is not to say I can't be nomadic at all.

I'm in Peoria this week, performing with the Peoria Bach Festival.  It's a busy, active week of rehearsals and concerts, and I'm living in a host's home, and I couldn't truck my entire reed studio down here.  But I'm using this gig as an experiment - how little can I get away with carrying for a week away and still mail reeds on time and keep no one waiting?

So far I have the STUFF down to one small tote bag and my regular oboe case. The bag contains my gouging machine, which packs small. (It's in the lunchbox pictured here!). A small bag of shipping supplies.  My collection of shapers and a bag of staples and a bundle of pre-gouged cane. The minimum number of tools I could function with - knife, plaque, small block, mandrel.  My tiny diamond sharpening stone.  A small C clamp and some shelf liner designed to protect the surfaces I work on.  And I think it's going to work!   So far this week I've not gotten any orders I couldn't fill - though finding the time during this busy festival to work is a separate challenge!

If I were out camping in the wilderness, or in a motel or Airbnb, then printing labels and packing slips might be a challenge - I want to look into tiny portable printers for our future trips - but for now I feel pretty well equipped to travel lean and light and STILL serve my customers.


Of course, this all slightly negates the idea of a VACATION, which I still need and am committed to. It's unclear at this point how much of our three week break will actually be spent out of town, and I'll update the info on my website as things evolve - but as I travel with my family to the Grand Canyon this summer I will NOT be making reeds.  Everyone deserves a few days off!