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!