Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Pleasure in Doing It

Sometimes I just like having run. After your shower and your coffee it feels good to have run, earlier in the day, and to feel that gentle ache and tiredness in the muscles that comes from having used your body productively. I don't always enjoy running while it's happening, and I HATE the snow.

But running in the snow is such a pleasure.  It's exhilarating.  It's freeing.  It feels like being a kid again, with the icy wind in your face and the triumphant feeling of doing something all by yourself.  Anyone can go out for a jog when it's 65 and sunny, but I was out this morning, in 22 degree weather, with the snow all blowing up in my face, and I met another woman running  - and as we passed each other we both raised our arms like Rocky and cheered for each other, and for ourselves, just filled with the
gleefulness of being in the club. The club of crazies.

This pleasure, the joy of winter running, is hard to come by.  It's HARD to power through the resistance of leaving a warm house.   No part of your body wants to go out there.  No matter how persuasively you try to tell yourself that you'll enjoy it, you know that it's worse outside than inside.  But once you start, for 30 minutes or so it's the best thing ever. 

Similarly, you have to overcome some resistance to practice the oboe.  Soak up a reed, put the thing together, play the first few notes and sometimes you just say "UGH, so this is how it's going to be today."  The pressure feels bad.  The first sounds of the morning are not beautiful.  And it's tempting to put the thing away and go back to bed. 

(Just me? I bet not.)

But there's a reward if you keep going a little bit. If you power through a few minutes of warming up, and you get into a piece of music you like.  Or one that has an interesting challenge.  Or one that makes you feel like someone else.  Or one that makes you feel like yourself.  At those times, the pleasure is not in having practiced, it's in practicing.  When you're in the zone, and you're focused, and you're overcoming resistance - just a little - there's nothing like it and you don't want to stop. 

And it's that magic, that in-the-zone feeling, that only-I-am-in-the-intensity-of-this-moment feeling, that keeps us coming back.  Some months I'm less of a runner, some days I hate the oboe - but I always come back. The pleasure is really in the DOING of it. 


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.