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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…
Recent posts

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…

Top Six Reasons I Love Teaching Online Lessons

I've been seeing so many complaints among my friends and colleagues about the quality of their Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom lessons. I have to say that while I acknowledge the limitations of the media, I actually really LOVE teaching online.
1. Lesson transitions are better. Sometimes when we are live, our chit-chat can take a fair amount of time, while people get their instruments out at the beginning, soak their reeds, and put everything away again. Online no one calls in before they are ready, and we can end the call at the end of the content and let everyone take care of swabbing in private. We use ALL of our allotted time efficiently online.
2. My personal focus is better. I have to listen hard to hear the details through the medium, and it keeps my mind from wandering. I think the tighter transitions help me with that, too. And I perceive the same from my students - it could be that my focus directs theirs, I suppose, but either way we’ve gotten a LOT of good work done …

Reed Mindset

In our dress rehearsal Saturday morning I became aware of just how GREAT my reed was. It felt so EASY to play the oboe.I could come in perfectly softly, with or without a strong attack.I could enter loudly and in tune, with or without accent.My pitch was centered, my tone was attractive.I could taper right off the ends of notes EXACTLY as I needed to.And all of these things just felt RIGHT.It’s so unusual to have a reed that I didn’t have to MANAGE, that I didn’t have to keep an awareness of in the back of my head, that I didn’t have to massage in certain registers or dynamics.I could just THINK a musical gesture and then DO it, without compromise.It was a fantastic feeling.
RIGHT IMMEDIATELY behind that awareness of my great reed came anxiety.How terrible would it feel when I inevitably had to return to a lesser reed?When this one died?How could I ever make something THIS GOOD again?WHAT IF my concert reed tonight was LESS GOOD, could I perform as well as I was doing right now? Shou…

Open Arms

In rehearsal last night, the concertmaster suggested to the strings that they play with a more open bow arm. I don’t know precisely what that phrase means to a string player - if it’s a technical term or more of a kinetic metaphor - but it immediately set my mind spinning.
When I am playing my best, I do feel open. I feel that there’s a lovely big halo of air around me, like the space surrounding me is part of the physical act. I feel spaciousness in my chest and softness in my elbows and I’m grounded through my chair or my feet but everything else is lifted and filled with air and space and ROOM. I have open arms.
This sensation - or the lack of it - stood out to me in my first Dreams and Visions performance last week. I have since listened back to the recording, and honestly things didn’t go all that badly - but I FELT bad in the moment. I started getting a lot of water in the instrument, I got flustered, and I got into my own head about it - and my usual expansive body awarene…

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.


What a LIBERATING concept!


When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.


I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…

Tall Poppy Syndrome

I’ve been reading about Tall Poppy Syndrome, since hearing SOMEONE mention it in a podcast interview.I’m embarrassed that I can’t source that podcast - too much travel recently, too many amazing podcast interviews.I have no idea who drew it to my attention.
Basically, though, it’s the concept that anyone who seems to be getting above their station needs to be cut back down.Someone who presents as better than other people should be brought down to size, because everyone ought to be equal. Don’t be sticking your neck out, don’t draw attention to yourself.
This shows up in orchestras a lot. An orchestra is rigidly hierarchical, and there’s only one principal flute, only one concertmaster.No one is surprised that a concertmaster gets to play a solo.But when a section player stands out in any way - starts a chamber music series, gives a recital, speaks at an event - that person begins to get the side-eye.Who does she think she is, right?
I don’t buy it.
It advances everyone if a member of the…