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.