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Coffee? COMMUNICATE.

Thesis: Communication is important. Letting the other person know your CONTEXT is a part of that.

Scene: We’re walking the doggo, so I can’t step into the co-op with Steve.  We’re all wearing masks, which as you know makes communication a little bit more fraught.

"I’m going to grab some coffee - what can I get you?"

"Kombucha."

"Coffee?" 

"Kombucha."

"Columbian?"

"No, Kombucha, please."

"WHAT? Cup of joe?" 

Bless his heart. He REALLY knows me.  In 22 years of marriage I have given him no reason to think that I would prefer a non-coffee, non-booze beverage under any circumstance.

I’m a complex person, and I reserve the right to change up my order on a hot day when something with a little pro-biotic tang sounds appetizing.  But he was confused, which I get. 


I was working with an Invincible Oboist recently, reiterating that the METER must be clear when you perform. It’s remarkable how much of my energy as a listener - especially…
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COMMUNICATING Through the Mask

I was just trying to pick up my kid’s prescription at the pharmacy.
No, it’s INGLE.EYE ENN GEE ELLL EEEE.
Between the mask covering half my face and the plexiglass barrier, I was almost reduced to charades as I tried to communicate a simple order.
And we’ve all discovered this lately, I’m sure.When you are wearing a mask and trying to speak with someone else, you have to enunciate MUCH more than normal.You have to slow down and say all of the words distinctly.You might have to rephrase, to use more distinctive sounding words.Expressive eyebrows are helpful.It takes EFFORT to communicate in this age of COVID.
But you know what? We HAVE this skill already.As performers, we know what it is to have to heighten our affect and PROJECT our intentions beyond our bodies.We know that although we FEEL the music deeply within ourselves, that feeling doesn’t necessarily translate to an audience unless we SEND it there.
Practicing in my room, I can mumble.I can let the work I’m doing with my fin…

When to Cheat

I got an email from an oboist a while ago, back before COVID.  After thanking me for the reeds I had sent, and complimenting the warm tone they had, they asked a question about the VERY FAST technical passages in the Polovetsian Dances.

 “There is a section of the piece where it is conducted in one beat, but is in 6/8 time. The eighth notes I must play moved so quick that at the tempo I just cannot keep up. My fingers don't move that quick.

 When you play a section like this what do you do? Don't play at all, but fake it with the reed in your mouth?”


 I had some thoughts on this, which felt universal enough to share.


 As you might guess, I’m not a huge fan of just LEAVING THE WHOLE THING OUT.  It just feels so dispiriting!  All around you people are PLAYING the licks, and you are the one giving up?  There’s always something you can contribute, even if it’s just a light downbeat every other bar or so.  You don’t want to try to be a hero and wind up dragging the group down if yo…

You are the Music

You ARE the music. YOU are the music. It’s not the oboe. It’s YOU.

Too many oboists live RIGHT up against the resistance of the oboe, blowing straight into the instrument and waging war against it DIRECTLY.  Using their mouths to try to compensate for the intonation or clenching their fingers to hold extra tight, I guess so it doesn’t get away?

But what if you didn’t have to go in there, into the fray? What if you could maintain a bit of critical distance? What if you could be the boss of the oboe, instead of its timid colleague?

Here’s how I think about it - or at least how I teach it.   Play a note, play it beautifully.  Now.  See if you can take a metaphorical step back from the oboe.  Focus the air inside your mouth BEFORE it hits the reed.  Now see how it feels different.

How much LESS work can you do, and get ultimately to the same result? Could you blow 20% less, and project actually  more?  Can you find the resonance in your own body, and just allow the oboe to amplify that? T…

Make More Reeds

I recently met with a former student who proudly described THE reed she was working on to me.  She’d gotten it to a point where it made a beep, but it didn’t really play on the oboe yet, but it HADN'T CRACKED!  I celebrated with her - but I limited my glee.  One slightly successful reed - in the past month - is a good start.  It’s further than she had gotten before.  
But that is no way to be abundant.  If it takes you a month to sort of make one reed, where’s the incentive to even start? No one has that kind of time, and you can’t make your living on one reed a month even if it’s a perfect reed.  
More to the point - the learning curve at that rate is basically a flat line.  Reedmaking is an art as well as a craft.  I can teach someone to construct a reed in a single session, and we can get to a beeping reed in that time. But the next part? The part where you finish it to your comfort and then go out in public and play on it?  The part where you analyze what you don’t like, form a …

Separating it Out

Last semester, my student came in with the Hoedown from Copland’s Rodeo. 

Let me guess, I said - the low tonguing passage?

Of course she assumed that she had a tonguing problem.  We always assume that.

I started by checking her oboe. There’s no point in beating yourself up to tongue a low D if your instrument is fighting you.  Turning screws is less work than practicing.  That could have been but was NOT the problem.

Then, in rapid succession, we isolated and improved her air, embouchure, and fingers.  Within 20 minutes we had solved the passage and moved on. 

All of these aspects of oboe playing get so tangled up as we work on difficult pieces and passages.  You can work on something as HARD and as EFFORTFULLY as you want, but it can’t really get better until you can isolate your issues and get to the bottom of them.

In our case, I started by taking the tonguing out and asking her to slur the passage. It sounded terrible.  We slowed it down and I asked her connect all of the notes on…

Keeping My AIR to Myself

I was out running this morning and I crossed the street to avoid a perfectly nice lady walking her perfectly nice dog.  We smiled and waved at each other - but didn’t dare to get close.  Runners in this COVID season allow a lot of space.  The air I use when I run comes right out of the bottom of my lungs, like my whole body is exhaling at once, and I’m aware, in a way that I never was before, about the cloud of exhale that surrounds me when I am breathing like this. About having to keep it to myself.

And then I got to thinking about the oboe. 

We use our air in a variety of ways, right? And we oboists have that trick, that superpower, of not ACTUALLY needing that much ACTUAL air to play the instrument, so I often see students trying to get away with HEAD air only. Blowing only from the neck up, letting their lower body NOT be a part of the process.  As you might expect, this leads to an unsupported sound, a fair amount of throat strain, a need for very soft, easy reeds, and a relative…