Monday, September 23, 2019

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 Olympics for the same reason - the divers, figure skaters, gymnasts, ski jumpers, etc are artists as well as athletes, and although I know nothing of these sports I find that I can quickly learn to discriminate between the ones that are merely good and the ones that are astounding.  It quickly becomes clear what skills are difficult, and what separates the winners and losers. 

In an audition context, even when it’s not MY instrument being auditioned, I rapidly develop a sense of what skills are difficult for the instrument involved, and once it’s clear what I’m listening for I can sit back and root for them all. It’s amazing to notice how people choose to compensate for the difficulties.  And it’s fascinating to observe the qualities that will really make me sit up and take notice.  If a candidate comes in and begins immediately to make music, to do something intentional and beautiful and controlled - I’m on their side instantly.  I’m hoping they get through the tricky passages, I’m wanting them to succeed.  Honestly, I want everyone to succeed, but once you grab my attention by doing something beautiful, I’m all in for you. All I want is to hear great playing - and every ten minutes there’s a new person filled with new potential.  This is what makes it fun to sit on a committee. 

And for my own playing, I can really draw inspiration from the best players we hear.  What IS it that makes the difference?  Did you hear that PERFECT slur up to the high note? I bet I could do something like that! 

It’s even inspiring to notice what keeps the non-winners out of the running.  Very often it’s not about mistakes that happen in their lists, but simply a lack of attention to detail.  Sometimes particular slurs are sloppy, or articulations don’t quite sound clean, or phrases aren’t perfectly cared for.  The playing is FINE, but not great.  I love hearing these reminders to take care of my own house, right? To make sure that even in my day-to-day playing I am vigilant about the small sloppinesses that can creep up.  That I remain unimpeachable even in my BASIC, non-audition work.

I love auditions.  I love everything about them.  Don’t you? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

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.

This might be a controversial statement: You can change your habits!  I believe that you can construct a plan to get the result you want, and can rewire your habits, ultimately, so that you don’t do the same bad thing over and over.  But it’s so easy to go on auto-pilot when you are working on reeds.  The task is so tedious.  The familiarity so tempting. 

The only way I can do it - can make a significant change to the way I work - is to Think, Think, Think.  I look at the reed in my hand, and I remind myself what and how I intend to scrape and how that choice is different than my habit.  I might use pencil to mark the exact area I want, or the precise scrape I should aim for.  Then I do it, slowly. Paying attention to the task, to the goal, to my intention.  

This does take a little while, the first time.  I would even be super careful with it the second, the third, the fourth times through.  It’s funny how much easier it is to form a habit than to break one, right?  You didn’t even know you were making habits when you first started working on reeds, and suddenly you can’t seem to make a reed without a moat! 

But you can change.  

Maybe your problems are more subtle. It could be that your reeds look fine but are always sharp. Always resistant to moving between registers.  Always slow to respond down low.  These are real problems, and maybe you don’t exactly know how to address them, right?  They’re not as visibly obvious as a thin place in the tip or a moat above the heart. 

My advice?  Think Think Think.   

Form a hypothesis - if I take more out of the windows, will my pitch come down?  Then make that reed, slowly and thoughtfully, exaggerating the new idea that you had.  Once you make that reed, you may not have your solution, but you will have DATA.  

Hmmm.  My sound got more free and the opening feels more flexible.  But the pitch is still up.  

THAT’S GREAT INFORMATION!  

On your next reed, try something different.  Do it intentionally, put words on it before you start so you can identify the magic that leads to your eventual good result. You can rethink everything, from the gouge thickness to the tie length to the height of the rooftop to the size of the wall at the bottom of the heart.  Everything you were doing before is a habit, and you can change your habits.   

Think Think Think.  You can do whatever you want.

Friday, August 9, 2019

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 feels shallow, like something you do with just your MOUTH,  limited to the top of your body.  Sometimes the oboe does feel like an adversary, but this is not the way I like to relate to it.  Instead, if I can SEND or PUSH from within me, if I can feel as though I am producing the sound from somewhere much deeper than my head, it feels so much more personal.  So much deeper.  So much more me.  

(I would not necessarily use the word PUSH with a young student.  There are some real PRESSURE problems that could come out of that imagery.  I would say, SING it out from deep within yourself, or SEND the sound out on the air.  So don’t read my words and get weird, STUDENTS.  We’re just talking here.)

Indeed, in both a metaphorical and a very direct, physical way, I like to feel as though I am projecting myself out through the oboe, originating the sound deep within my body and using the instrument simply as the vehicle for sharing it.  When a performance is really in flow - when all elements are functioning optimally, when the magic truly happens - the communication is direct - not from my oboe to your ear, but from my soul to yours.  

In my EXTROBOE camp last weekend, I found myself using this description several times.  I was a little embarrassed sharing the story of the nice lady from the audience - because her description is SO poetic and lovely, it feels like bragging to talk about it at all.  But one person after another found a breakthrough in air, projection, FLOW when we began to explore that metaphor. 

Words matter.  There’s something there.  I love it. 


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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 Family.  Steve and I are good at making our own fun - we’ll go together to an out of town gig and enjoy a new location IN THE SPACES BETWEEN showing up for rehearsals and concerts.  We’ll love it.  We’ll go to visit my mom, or his - and sneak out for hikes or winery tours between eating official family meals and sleeping in guest rooms.  We’ll move Steve (for example) out to Oregon for a year and explore EVERY ROADSIDE ATTRACTION the whole way across the country and have great adventures.  

But none of those experiences were the same as this.  In an RV you always have your own space and your own schedule.  You can wake up in the morning and have your completely normal morning routine - drip coffee, outdoor yoga, journal, eggs - and know where everything is and not have to dig around in someone else’s kitchen or go out to explore a strange city in search of a drinkable dark roast.  You can rest AT HOME in the afternoon without having to make conversation with a well-meaning relative or make excuses for your vacation nap or hide your beer, or lurk in a library because you checked out of your hotel but still have hours to kill before work.  

And, in my case, you can bring along all of the tools, machines, and mailers that constitute your reed business, and continue to make and send shipments while traveling.  The volume of my business is reduced in the summer, but there’s always SOMEONE who wants something, and this year I was able to accommodate those orders instead of putting them off.  I was able to bring money in as we drove.  I was able to stay in business.  

And in this way, with all of these happy comforts of home, we took four weeks of vacation this year!  We did not grow to hate each other, or any other perfectly nice member of our extended family.  We did get to visit with friends and family, and we did get to explore, and shop and hike, and eat out in restaurants - but we got to do it on our own terms.  It felt like a real break and an amazing one.

This all feels so new to me.  I feel as though I’m growing into a new phase of my life, fast, and feeling a little weirdly guilty about it. Like, who am I to just TAKE a trip I’ve wanted to take, to just GO to a place I hadn’t been, for no reason other than wanting to?  

I’ve been trying to say this - trying to figure out a way to say this - for some time now.  I didn’t used to believe I could make choices like this.  I just assumed it would always look the same, that I would always be scrambling for gigs, waiting for the phone to ring, unable to leave home without an express invitation to do so.  Growing up, my family didn’t do trips that DIDN’T involve sleeping on a relative’s couch, that DIDN’T involve going to the same cabin on the same lake that we always had.  

I’ve seen other grownups taking grownup vacations and didn’t fully realize until now that I am also a grownup, that I could also make a choice about where and how and when I live, I work, I vacation. There’s a freedom that I see in my life now, a sense of possibility that is NEW.  I can do what I want.  I love it.  This is me, moving forward.