Skip to main content

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 overblowing and forcing in an unhealthy and unattractive way. I don't like to think of the vibrato going downward from the main note - that sounds sloppy and lazy, and leads to bad habits. Therefore, I let my main note be a little undersupported so that there is room to add vibrato on top. The more intense the effect I am trying to create, the less real note there is between the peaks of the waves. Hence, the difficulty - since I'm no longer blowing directly into the phrase I have to shape the line more with the vibrato itself than with the air, and suddenly I'm one more step removed from naturalness. In an ideal world, when I'm playing well and regularly, this process doesn't take a lot of thought. I can phrase with and through the vibrato with ease.

Here's the thing, though - I kind of think I've analyzed it so much lately that it doesn't seem quite natural to me anymore. Even though I've played several orchestra concerts already this season, I still feel a little new at the oboe since having Zoe and taking time off. What worries me for this weekend is Wagner's Siegfried Idyl, a piece I've played many times before. It's very romantic, but not merely thick and lush like the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto we played a few weeks back. There's a lot of delicacy to it and I feel that as I practice I'm overvibrating and pressing in an unattractive way. I'm overthinking my vibrato and sound, in other words, mainly because I've been overthinking everyone else's for weeks now without playing enough myself.

I hope and trust that in context, when I'm surrounded and inspired by my great colleagues and the music is flowing around me, it will be like riding a bicycle. I'll be playing what I hear in my head without stress and strain and without having to separate the sound from the vibration from the phrase in my mind. That when we start the magic will happen as it always has before. I'm putting a lot of trust in my past base of years as a professional musician. Because I can't put in the time I wish I could right now I am leaning on my base in a way that surprises me - and so far it has not let me down.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Resonance

When my students get too MOUTHY with the oboe, I put them in a corner.

Really.

They tend to play the oboe only from the TOP of their body, north of the collarbone, and it winds up unsupported.  Fussy.  Weak.  And out of tune.

So I back them into a corner, and have them stand a foot or so out from it, facing out into the room.  And I challenge them to find a sound that resonates BEHIND them, out from the corner of the room that they are not facing, to fill the space without blowing directly into the space.

It's a weird metaphor.  I wouldn't have any idea how to describe the physical technique to do it. When I find it in myself, it feels like my back is puffy and my body is round, and large, and barrel like, and also collected and zipped up, and supremely powerful.  If you know me, you know that these statements about my body aren't remotely true.  But that's what I feel when I'm blowing well, and filling the room, and owning my resonance.

I teach resonance.  I talk …

Five Minute Reedmaker: Length of the Windows

My Five Minute Reedmaker Season Two seems to be largely about experiments.  People ask me how LONG, how THICK, how SLOPED, etc - and I'm running the experiments for them and for you.

I've been posting these videos on YouTube, and sharing them from my Facebook Page, but haven't totally kept up with sharing here on my blog.

Here are the ones you may have missed:
Length of the Heart
Fallacy of the Long Tip
Moldy Cane

And here's the new one:




Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of ideas this season.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

Never Trust an Oboe, Part 2

(Part One HERE)
(Similar story HERE)

Mercifully, THIS one didn't happen to me.  But my poor student was playing an audition for his orchestra, and reached up with his right hand to turn the page of his music.  And heard a "plink".  And when, a split second later, he returned his hand to his oboe to continue playing, he found that his entire thumb rest had fallen off onto the floor, leaving only the post it had been mounted to.

With his hand now contorted uncomfortably, he finished the audition - ably, I am sure - and tracked down the crucial little piece of metal.  Evidently the screw that secures the adjustable thumb rest into its most optimal position had come out - never to be found again - so the thumb rest itself now can escape at will.

He devised a workaround - teflon tape to keep the thing in - but let this be a lesson to all of us.




Seriously, the oboe is not your friend.  It's like a cat trying to slip out the door - it's just WAITING for an opportunity …