Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2009

Public Face, Private Face

We are home from an amazing long week of Christmas visits, with four full sets of different family circles getting to coo over and handle Zoe and meet her and play with her. And she was amazing! As sociable and friendly at the last party as at the first, she smiled at everyone and was happy to be held and bounced or to show off her almost-crawling skills for HOURS. I personally begin to fade pretty quickly at a big gathering when I don't know people well, but Zoe remained the life of the party over and over, and for surprisingly long periods.

What I noticed was this, though. Every time she came back into my arms, whether after 15 minutes or an hour and a half, she'd get a little squirmy and a little fussy and want to feed just a little bit. Sometimes she'd nap. And I began to realize that I was the safe haven for her that made the rest of her social energy possible. Her public face was consistently delightful, but when she came back to me she could let the private fa…

Live Music is Best

As an addendum to my last Upcoming Concert post, I'd like to point out that it's WONDERFUL in this day and age to not only have live music in the Nutcracker pit but to be using Tchaikovsky's original complement of winds and brasses instead of playing one of the reduced versions that so many groups are having to resort to. It's difficult material, but everything fits on the instruments and the colors he gets from the orchestra are beautiful and unique. It's a treat for us, and I wonder how many of the audience members are aware of what a rarity this is becoming.

Before the show and at intermission the lip of the orchestra pit is full of parents and young children looking down at us, learning about the names of the instruments or just calling down to their friends and neighbors and teachers. That's an experience I remember from my childhood, but one which today's children are exposed to less and less. The dance company in my own community in South Bend has…

Who Can Do It All?

Last weekend I played "Barbie at the Symphony". It was an educational presentation in which Barbie appeared on a big video screen and interacted with our conductor and spoke about classical music and about the orchestra - all as they related to her and her various movies and products. That I didn't mind. Barbie has a right to promote herself. And I don't basically mind Barbie as a concept. I never played with Barbie dolls as a child - I was more of a tomboy - but I like any toy that promotes imagination and independent play and making up stories. The unrealistic body image thing is fine by me, too - everyone looks different and I think little girls probably understand that a doll is pretend and no two people look alike and that a little girl isn't going to look like a grown-up lady supermodel anytime soon. And if they don't understand that then they can learn.

Here's what bothered me, though. Barbie kept reappearing between pieces in her own perso…

Upcoming Concert

Nutcracker! I always love playing this show - yes, it's hokey and yes, we play it every year, but it's great music, and hard enough to remain fun and I love that the audience loves it and there are always special moments of music making in the pit somewhere. Oh, and dancers. I can't see them but I'm sure they're there. I bet they're great. All weekend out at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage. Click HERE for more info.

Priorities

Here are some things that are very important to me:

My amazing baby.
The oboe, and the improvement of my playing.
My own health and physical fitness.
The quality of my teaching, reeds, and general professionalism.

Why, then, have I spent the day catching up on emails and printing invoices and tracking down bank problems and being frustrated with Zoe when she wanted attention and playtime, and why did I sleep in and do a crossword instead of going running, and why am I now eating lunch and typing a blog post while she naps when I really haven't practiced properly at all yet?

I talk about priorities with my students all the time. Not because I particularly need the oboe to be their priority, but because I know that everyone is overscheduled and no one has enough energy to be amazing at everything, and I want them to understand that they can choose how to spend their time. You can choose to prioritize homework, or sports, or music. There's never enough time to do everything, but wha…

Upcoming Concert

The Christmas season has sneaked up on me this year more precipitously than ever before. I emerged from my semi-permanent state of barely-getting-by last night to find myself in my first Christmas Pops rehearsal of the year, and after a good night of sleep (thank you, Zoe!) and a solid dress rehearsal this morning I actually am beginning to feel some stirrings of holiday spirit. Not to the point of shopping, mind you, but at least I'm humming the tunes and I've spent my afternoon cooking and baking instead of making reeds and stressing. I will admit that I used to scorn the schmaltzy music of this season, and still do when it manifests as muzak in the stores - but I've come to love the annual traditional festive concerts with their choirs and soloists and familiar songs and odd arrangements.

This weekend is South Bend's Holiday Pops, tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 3. Click HERE for tickets and more info.

Next Thursday and Friday I'll be playing Holiday Pops with t…

Warming Up

This has been a goofy week, since I've been based away from home playing South Pacific. Zoe and Steve and I have been staying with family in Chicago, and loving it, but I haven't spent any time on the oboe besides the six hours a day that I'm in the pit. I'm enjoying that time, actually - I'm using it to work on some specific vibrato ideas and on soft dynamics and on consistency, all of which have been getting short shrift at home recently. Since after the initial learning curve the music for the show isn't difficult, I can pay attention to my playing in a focused way, and having all those hours under my belt is a nice change from the 25 minutes at a time I can grab at home with the baby there. What I do miss, though, is a good daily warmup.

Warming up is important, both for physical exercise and on the instrument. I can't just pick up the oboe and start playing. Actually, I can. I can do it, and I can do it well, and I can get away with it for days…

Trust the Oboe

A few weeks ago my quintet performed in a library. We were backed up into a bay window, and due to the way the bell of the horn faced (back into the window) and our relative positions in the quintet (kitty corner, with my ear right where his sound was reemerging from the window) I actually literally could not hear the sound of my own instrument when he was playing. He's a very good and very sensitive player, so I knew he wasn't doing it on purpose (and probably wasn't aware of the trouble I was having) and also knew that in the middle of the performance there was no way to reset the quintet to eliminate that acoustical anomaly. I knew I was producing sound from the way the reed vibrated in my mouth and the way no one in my quintet was looking askance at me, but as far as my ears could tell I was just sitting there wiggling my fingers.

What a dismaying feeling! I'm insecure enough about my pitch and sound - ESPECIALLY in a wind quintet, where the oboe really can sti…

Turning Over

Zoe can turn over now. She's been working on this skill for days. Initially, it required a lot of squealing and a lot of effort and sometimes she got stuck half way and had to shout for help. It's been improving markedly, though, and now she whips over from her back to her front with cat-like speed every time I set her down. Two inconvenient things about this, though. Once she gets onto her tummy she can't turn back over, and she doesn't exactly like being on her tummy, so she has to squall for assistance in getting back over. And two - she is so enamored of her new skill that she really can't do anything else. Like sleep, say, or eat, or sit calmly on my lap while I eat or work. No, she has to be TURNING OVER all the time now, and even though she's so tired by the end of the day she can't do anything but wail, she still would rather turn over over and over than actually fall asleep when put down.

I can remember when I was this focused. When I could…

Even in my Sleep

Zoe woke me a few nights ago from a dream. In my dream I was in some odd Arctic camp, and my father walked in. My dad passed away in May and really hasn't shown up in many of my dreams so I was very excited. In my dream I hugged him, and immediately asked if he had brought those English horn reeds that I need to send to that guy.


I might be a little overextended, yes?

Upcoming Concert

This week I perform with the South Bend Symphony. The concert is Saturday night at 8, at the Morris Performing Arts Center. As always, student tickets are only $5!

Masterworks II
Signature StringsEuclid Quartet Strings dictate the evening’s musical selections starting with the beautiful Vaughn William’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Continuing the string theme is Martinu’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, performed with the “electric” personality of South Bend’s own Euclid Quartet at Indiana University South Bend. Ending the concert is the romantic Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.

Click here for tickets and more info.

From One Extreme to Another

In the time it took me to edit my last rant down to a non-homicidal level for publication, I had a rejuvenating weekend in Chicago - a perfect antidote to all the nonsense in my life during the past few weeks. Great company, great music, and tons of great food. And Zoe was everything I had daydreamed about my daughter being.

In the first place, it was a treat to play Loeffler with Sharon and Paul. We had performed this work together five years ago, and worked hard on it then. We were all well prepared this time around, and five years more advanced in our own playing, and it went together like a dream. Our short rehearsal was one of the most gratifying experiences I've had in a while.

We stayed over Friday night after our first rehearsal and had a late-night dinner and yummy red wine. My pianist, Paul, is also the most satisfying cook I know - everything he makes is designed to have the maximum possible calories per bite, and therefore is the most delicious thing I've ever…

Overwhelmed

I have too many students. It used to be that the teaching was all fine except for the scheduling and invoicing - but now I can't see straight during the lessons either. Or maybe it's just this week that feels like that. I know that all day Monday I dragged myself from lesson to lesson feeling like a boring teacher and having no amazing insights for anyone. Then the same thing happened Tuesday. Wednesday was a little better, but then Thursday we had some baby meltdowns to deal with and I had a hard time recovering. It's not that I've never taught weak lessons before, here and there, but that I worry that this trend can only continue as Zoe gets more and more active and needy, and I get more and more overbooked. Of course, a full night of sleep once or twice would probably help, too.

I feel like the Ten of Wands in the tarot deck. That's the card with the guy carrying a tremendous burden of wands, with the destination far far off in the distance. The responsi…

Upcoming Concert

This weekend's concert is going to be a major event. You can see the video promo for it on my post of October 20. It's a benefit concert to support the Lakeview Lutheran Church's outreach to the homeless, and I'll be one of many performers. I'm excited on two counts - first, because I get to play one of the Loeffler Rhapsodies for oboe, viola, and piano; and second, because the concert will also honor Paul Hamilton, LVLC's music director and my long-time collaborator.

Paul and I have been working together since 2001, and in that time we've given recitals at some of Chicago's top venues and many of its completely unknown ones. I've dragged him to Springfield, IL, South Bend, IN, and Tokyo, Japan. We've created and performed numerous arrangements from literature that really should have been written for the oboe. Paul is unmatched as a collaborator because he never says no, no matter how difficult a 20th century orchestral transcription I plu…

It's Just Hair

Last week a colleague complimented my hairstyle. Genuinely. She wanted to take a picture and show her hairstylist as a suggestion for herself. And I certainly didn't want to be offensive when I
laughed and laughed at her.

See, I used to have very short, cute, urban hair.



Then I got kind of tired of HAVING to get it trimmed every four to six weeks and began to envy ponytails on others. So a year and a half ago or so I conspired with my stylist to grow it out. It was agonizing. All of the layers were different lengths, of course, and as it started to grow hair would stick out in all sorts of odd directions. For a while it just looked like an overgrown short cut, and then it began to look even more awful. Every 8 weeks I would creep whimpering back to her and she would reassure me that it actually was growing, and it wouldn't take much longer, and she'd even it out a little and send me on my way.



Understand, I am very hands-off with my hair anyway. I do not own a blow-…

Let the Oboe Sound Like an Oboe

I had myself all worked up about the Siegfried Idyl last weekend. I wanted a very specific sound that I hadn't actually heard before, which would be as round and smooth as a clarinet and as warm and vibrant as a flute. There's some amazing dovetailing of woodwind parts in the piece and I wanted to really do it justice and not stick out. I was killing myself in my practice room trying to be a good colleague. And in the very first moments of the first rehearsal I realized how misguided I was being. Why shouldn't it be okay for the oboe to sound like an oboe? Obviously Wagner wouldn't have written those lines for the instrument if he really preferred a clarinet or flute sound. And once I had that revelation everything fell into place. I played out with confidence and used my own vibrato and the characteristic timbre of the oboe to contrast and enhance the other woodwinds and I think the performance was successful.

Once I recognized my own error I began to see that …

sleep?

Everyone always asks me how I am sleeping. And the answer, usually, is Great! Very well, thanks! Zoe's a great sleeper. Not through the night, per se, but deeply and for long stretches, and after she feeds in the middle of the night she goes right back down and sleeps till morning. And I think I am well adjusted to that slight interruption. Functioning well.

But this week I've been playing out in the Northwest Indiana Symphony. It's only just over an hour away, but since I live on the cusp of the time zones I end up getting home at 12:30 am, and I'm not in bed till 1 or later. Although I can sleep in a little in the morning, it's amazing how much those two missing hours of sleep affect me. All week I've been dragging myself from student to student, having time between them but no will to use that time. I've barely practiced, I certainly haven't finished anything worth putting up on this blog, and my running is suffering too. I've hardly be…

Upcoming Concert

I'm excited about next Saturday's concert with the Northwest Indiana Symphony. It's a very oboistic program, featuring two Rossini overtures - La Scala di Seta and L'Italiana in Algeri - and two Rodrigo guitar concertos AND a Mozart Symphony. Loads of light and playful music with an agile orchestra and a fast conductor - we're going to have fun.

For tickets and info, look HERE.

Practicing What I Preach

I've been exploring vibrato with a lot of my students recently, and through teaching it I finally feel as though I have an intellectual grasp of what I'm doing. It actually took years of teaching before I really dared to approach vibrato (and even more before I started talking about embouchure). I've headed down too many blind alleys and found myself in too many tenuous corridors when I started talking about those invisible, semi-mystical aspects of wind playing. But now I have my schtick down and I've talked about it with enough people using enough different words that I feel pretty confident that I know how to teach vibrato.

The paradox of vibrato is that although the pulsation adds intensity to the sound and the line, you have to create it by relaxing more than usual. To play a supported line without using vibrato means to be right up against the resistance of the oboe all the time. It's almost impossible to add extra energy to that sound without overblowin…

Upcoming Concert

I have just learned that I have comments! Sorry to anyone who thought I was ignoring them - I just don't know how to blog, apparently. Will do better in future.

This weekend's exciting concert is on the South Bend Symphony's Chamber Series, at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at Notre Dame. I actually am very excited to play it - we'll be featuring our Principal Horn, Aaron Brant, in the first Horn Concerto of Richard Strauss. He's a wonderful musician, and it is always so inspiring for me to hear my colleagues play, so I can hardly wait for our first rehearsal. Look HERE for info - student tickets are always only $5!

Meanwhile, though, I'm sitting in Panera waiting for a rehearsal for tomorrow morning's educational concerts in Northwest Indiana. I taught for two and a half hours this afternoon and didn't have time to go home, so with my unprecedented three unstructured baby-less hours I - well - I ran all of the annoying errands that I'd bee…

Timelessness

You know how, when you're really engaged in a performance, time slows way down? Every second feels eternal, and your focus is both intensely tight and also broad, and you can react in the moment to the nuances your colleagues throw you, and you have no sense of the passage of time. You emerge at the end of the concert and it could be five minutes since you sat down or four hours.

This is why I do what I do. It doesn't happen every time - sometimes a concert is just work - but when I get there, the intensity of focus that I feel is so invigorating that I can hardly wait do it again. This is why I always perform solos from memory, too - I love how hard I have to concentrate to make it work, and how I can slide into that zone where my intellect is telling me what happens next but also my fingers know, and my whole body, and at the same time I'm aware of the world around me and the piano and my own sound and every note that I'm playing but not of the time that's pass…

Concerts this Weekend

I am so looking forward to this concert. It's been years since I played the Firebird Suite, and months since I've played with my lovely colleagues in the New Philharmonic. And I love Stravinsky and Shostakovich so much. The bleakness and angularity of the harmonies really resonate for me. Come check us out!

New Philharmonic
Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9 and 10, 2009, 8 p.m.
MacIninch Arts Center, College of DuPage
Glen Ellyn, IL

Kirk Muspratt, Music Director and Conductor
"Slavic Strings"

Joshua Roman, celloBorodin, Overture to Prince Igor
Borodin, Prince Igor: “Polovetsian Dances”
Shostakovich, Cello Concerto No. 1
Stravinsky, L’Oiseau de feu (Firebird Suite)Named “… a cellist of bold character and poetic grace … a masterful player who brings curiosity and electrical energy to every note” by The Plain Dealer, 25-year-old Joshua Roman blends his youthful energy and polished talent in a performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto. N…

I Couldn't Do This Alone

I don't know how anyone could be a single parent. This is hard enough with the two of us. Zoe is the easiest baby ever - calm and quiet and happy - and she's sweet enough to be present when I teach without being too great a distraction most of the time. But. This week Steve's been gone every night, playing a concert cycle in Elgin. I hadn't realized how much I depend on him to take on an hour of the fussy time in the evening so that I can get an extra bit of practicing or reed work in. How much it helps that every now and then I can run around the house and accomplish a bunch of things really fast without a baby on me.

If all I had to do was look after Zoe and the house - if I could be a full-time mom - I think that would be easy. My organizational skills are honed from years of multitasking. But that kind of schedule is not feasible. Not in this day and age and economy - neither one of us alone can make enough as a classical musician to maintain a family - an…

Parallels

I ran this morning. After Zoe woke me and had her morning feeding, I got up instead of crawling back under the covers and put my running clothes on. It's harder to talk myself out of exercising if I'm already dressed for it - there's something kind of shameful in taking off unsweaty running clothes. When I poked my head out the door it was cold and rainy and I was tempted to stay home and make coffee. But I had a bank deposit I needed to make, so I figured I'd just run to the bank and if I was hating it I'd come right back home.

Of course by the time I got there I was warmed up and feeling great, so I headed over to the river. I had only gone another mile or so when I realized that I was pretty tired. My fitness is not actually back to its pre-pregnancy levels yet, and I had taken off most of last week what with traveling and being sick and all. So I took a few walk breaks. Sure, I had planned to run the whole way, but you do what you can do. Taking those…

In Recovery

I am in recovery this week. I don't mean I'm sick, though that is also the case, with a cold that Zoe brought home from nowhere I can determine. I mean, where does a nine week old baby go that her parents don't? It's a mystery to me, but she definitely was the originator of this bug that Steve and I are both fighting. But this is not my point.

The time immediately following an audition, or recital, or any other big project is always a recovery period for me. I find it impossible to work - in my own practice room - with the intensity I'm accustomed to. It doesn't matter whether I won or lost, or how I felt about my performance - I think it's just a reaction to finally being DONE with a big project. I've worked and worked with an end in sight, and once that end is passed I can coast on my previous practicing a little. Cease to be so critical of myself. Let myself enjoy the new plateau for a few days or a week.

In 2003 I prepared for a competitio…

Upcoming Concert

South Bend Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, 9/26, 8:00 pm

For tickets go to southbendsymphony.com. Student tickets are always just $5!

Masterworks I
Rimsky-Korsakov - Russian Easter Overture
Bernstein - Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No. 3
Gleb Ivanov, piano

We had our first rehearsal last night and this concert will be GREAT! Come and check us out.

Getting Back on the Horse

I did a 10K yesterday morning - it was my longest run since having Zoe. I had planned to do the 5K version of this run and to try to better my time from two weeks ago, but then decided to get my distance up before my speed. With a strong base of miles under me I can add some intervals and speed workouts over the winter and be fast again (i.e. back to my not-fast 8 minute mile peak from last year), whereas adding speed too early is a recipe for injury. Accordingly, since I had done a 5.4 mile run last weekend I used the 10K as a nice easy long run with water stops and a t-shirt at the end.

On the oboe, I also feel that it's useful to have a critical mass of practice in before expecting the little fancy nuances to come easily. I've worked hard since about 10 days post-partum to bring my playing back to an appropriate level, and now eight weeks later I'm on my way to my first post-Zoe orchestral audition. I can't wait to see how it goes!

This is Not What I Went to School For

This is not what I went to school for. I am a performer. I love teaching, and I have great students and I enjoy every minute I spend with them, but the amount of time I have to spend NOT teaching in order to teach is becoming absurd.

Scheduling them all in the first place is a major jigsaw puzzle that has to combine my free hours and theirs, taking commutes and timezones into account, and remembering that some of them are taking hour lessons, some half-hours, some forty-five minutes, and some change week to week depending on how much time or money or prepared material they have. Some take lessons every week, some every other week, and some at erratic intervals throughout the semester. Then there's billing - those who pay me monthly need new invoices each month that reflect how much they paid me last time and all of the adjustments that came up over the past month - how many times they missed and whether those absences were excused or unexcused - how many reeds they haven'…

Idle Thought

I should be practicing right now. Putting in the hours to prepare for my audition on Monday. But this morning before I left home to teach I chose to use my time making a chicken salad that we could eat for the rest of this busy week, and now after my Notre Dame student I am cheerfully enjoying my lunch at the local coffee house, Zoe snoozing beside me in her car seat. Sometimes it's healthier to use your time taking care of yourself instead of your reeds. Or at least I hope so...

Different Sounds for Different Situations

I played a recital Thursday night with the wind quintet from my orchestra, and I LOVE playing with these guys! There's such good communication and trust in the group, and it's so much fun to play with fine musicians. Although we hadn't worked together since last spring, it felt familiar and easy - just like riding a bicycle. Your body doesn't forget how.

Chamber music is usually taxing playing, so I was glad that I had been practicing as much as I had, but it is always amazing to me how different it feels - physically - to play with others instead of alone. There's a difference in the quality of sound and tone that I strive for in a small group. Alone, I work on integrity of line, and on clarity of sound, and on achieving fullness and richness in every register. In quintet, though, I have to be able to blend with the clarinet or flute, or hide in the texture, so my normal solo voice is only very occasionally useful. Mostly I need a duller sound, with much ol…

My Favorite Metronome Games

The metronome is a musician's most important tool. It's useful when you are just learning to play and to read music, but it remains tremendously valuable to advanced students and professionals as well. As a teacher, I can easily identify the students who work regularly with a metronome - there is both a clarity and a confidence in their playing which is hard to duplicate - and can also hear immediate improvement when a student begins to work with one. As a professional oboist, I don't leave home without one, and I don't think I ever play a full practice session without at least referring to mine, and more often using it extensively.

Here's the thing, though. The metronome does not need to be a mindless tool, turned on at the beginning of the session and clicking away constantly. And it has a lot more uses than just checking the printed tempo of the piece you're working on. It is not a barrier to creativity, but ideally can be a spur to it. I have numerou…

Putting In the Hours

I am a huge proponent of focused, efficient practice - the kind where in 20 minutes you can really solve problems and learn what you need to learn and move on with your day. I talk about that kind of practicing a lot when I teach, because no one ever has the time to actually do all the practicing in the world. But what is often overlooked in this conversation about directed practicing is the technique of just plain putting in the hours, and there is really no substitute for this.

I can learn the notes of a piece in a few minutes, to the level of not making audible mistakes in the orchestra. I can plan the phrasing of my solos in just a few minutes more, and sound like a smart and well-prepared musician. But what I can't do in just a few minutes is build up the strength and endurance of my embouchure, and have perfect control over my attacks and releases, and have the confidence that comes with a strong base of hard work under me. There's a comfort level on the instrument t…

We Do What We Can - What Can We Do?

There's a difference between listening to your body and just being lazy, but it's a fine line. I've dealt with this in my running time and again - and misled myself both ways. I've persevered through aches that became injuries and took me off the street for weeks, and I've also slid down the slippery slope which starts out with feeling tired and groggy and deciding to forgo my run that day, proceeds through being too involved in my book (or coffee, or journal) to go right then, and ends with having gone 2 weeks without exercising.

I'm coming back to running now after the birth of my daughter, and it's hard to know how much I can push myself without being just plain stupid. I'm dying to walk out the door and slip effortlessly into my old pace and let the miles roll away under my feet, but I can't actually do that yet. I'm taking walk breaks, and building my mileage slowly, and being smart, and still I feel this strong disconnect between what …

Zoe Loves Music

Zoe loves music. She loves classical music, which is not too surprising as that's the music she heard for nine months in utero. But she also loves alternative rock, classic rock, and country - just about anything, actually, as long as it's LOUD.

Now, this is a big change for me. Although I am a professional musician, I rarely listen to music. When I'm not working I am comfortable in silence; perhaps because I'm constantly being swept away by the sound of the orchestra at work I prefer to relax in peace and quiet. But now, with Zoe - who is four weeks old as I write this - I am rediscovering the music I used to love. She sits up (figuratively) and pays attention (literally) and likes to "dance" and to hear me singing along. And more to the point, she stops crying!

So I am now becoming the person who listens to music at home - and I love that person. I find that I'm singing all the time - that's not so unusual for me, but singing songs instead …