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Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…
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My Favorite Things: Printer Edition

Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom -Leonardo da Vinci
The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution - Igor Stravinsky
Sometimes constraints actually create success. Not being able to swim made me run.And running taught me the discipline I needed as a writer - Malcolm Gladwell I bought a printer this summer.I bought it specifically to carry in the camper with us when we took our long national parks vacation.It was the smallest, lightest, simplest printer I could find that did what I needed - it printed in color or black and white on letter size paper, period.With it, I was able to run my reed business from the road, and it took up barely any space, and weighed almost nothing, and it was also white and cute. I loved it for the freedom it gave me - to mail reed shipments from anywhere - and for its adorable design factor.
I had a printer, of course, at home.My big busine…

I Love Auditions

I love auditions.No, I do, really.First of all, I like the game of it.Fifty people come to the hall, one leaves victorious.The drama is deeply fun.
I love playing auditions.Picture it - you get to walk out onto an unfamiliar but beautiful stage, the home stage of an orchestra better than yours. You have the entire space to yourself.Gazing up into the rows of darkened seats, you can take deep breaths and choose the perfect moment in which to break the silence.You can stand there for up to fifteen minutes, playing all of the BEST and most famous solos for your instrument, to an audience that is listening intently and wanting you to succeed.You can take these solos at the tempo you choose, in the style you like.No conductor is trying to alter your vision of the piece. It’s all for you.
I love sitting behind the screen, too.It’s fascinating to listen to other people audition, and to hear what their preparation has brought to the table.Humans are amazing, right? I love watching the Olympi…

Reed Habits

How do you change your reed making habits?
Even if you feel like a reed beginner,I can promise that you have developed some habits, for good or ill.  This is how our bodies work, right?  If the way you hold your knife on day one gets you close to the scrape you want, you’ll hold it that way again.After even ten minutes the process feels a little less foreign, and you are apt to keep repeating the same tricks.But if you remain aware of what is going on, you can start to make decisions about how that increasing consistency is helping or hurting your process!
I’m thinking specifically of two students I have, with easily identifiable reed issues. One consistently leaves a moat, or a thin region immediately north of her rooftop, between the heart and the rest of her sloping tip. The other allows the center of the tip to be thin, especially while working on the left side of the blade.  We’ve identified the problems. We’ve agreed that we don’t want them there.Somehow they keep coming back.

The Magic of Words

After my concerto performance last June, I was chatting with a lovely woman from the audience.“It’s not like you’re blowing through the oboe,” she said.People are always interested in the AIR, and I had just finished talking about circular breathing with someone else.So I was sure I knew what she was about to say, but I was wrong.“It’s as though you’re sending your very soul through it.”
Needless to say, this statement floored me.Because it was so poetic and lovely, and because it made the work I had just done - a real physical effort, right? - seem like a greater good, somehow.Because it actually felt incredibly resonant to the way I think about the oboe, and about air and breathing and support, and was just such a perfect and efficient way to say the thing I always struggle to describe.
On the physical side, I relate very well to the verb “sending”, compared to the word “blowing”.To blow feels adversarial, like blowing OUT a candle, like blowing AT something external to you. It f…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …

Psychology of the Oboist

Here's a thing that happens ALL THE TIME.  A student misses something - a low attack, a slur, a high D.  People miss things, no problem.  But then they miss it again.  Immediately, I stop and say, What's happening there?  Is it an oboe problem, a reed problem, or you?

Almost without fail, they say it's them.  Their own personal failing that made the note not speak.

And bless their hearts, it's in a broad sense true, right? When my Tough Love Hat is on,  I have to point out that every reed problem is your own fault - you made it, or selected it for today's task, or let it get to this decrepit state, right? And not paying attention to your instrument's adjustments is a lapse on your part, too.

But in the immediate sense,  it nearly always turns out that that problem was NOT the student being careless or sloppy. Very often, it's the mechanism of the oboe or the construction of the reed that is sabotaging things, and THAT is a screwdriver or a knife problem, ra…