Thursday, December 31, 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 face through and admit that she wanted the comfort of nursing or that she was tired and needed a break.

To me that makes perfect emotional sense. I am less adept socially than I am professionally, but if I'm holding an oboe and performing or teaching, I'm very enthusiastic, and I am closely keyed into the person or people I'm interacting with. While performing I consider it my job to be entirely extroverted. The act of performance is about giving the music away to the audience, and it is my job to translate the composer's intentions and to sell the piece I'm playing. So everything about me is aimed outward during performance, and I am intentionally generous with my affect and communicative with both my colleagues and my audience. I can speak very comfortably in public by the same mechanism. And of course when I teach I am keyed into the needs of the student and working constantly to inspire as well as to inform.

I feel very comfortable in those roles, and my oboe-self is a genuine one, but when I get into my car or back home again that outward-oriented energy fades to be replaced by the private face. I am definitely an introvert at heart, and restore my energy by having alone time or at-home time with my family. I don't want to make it sound like my professional persona is a fake one - that's not how it feels to me - but the kind of energy it takes is not indefinitely sustainable without the rejuvenation of solitude. I certainly have a public face and a private one, and it is fascinating to see that so clearly in my five-month-old daughter as well.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

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 been using recorded music for their Nutcracker for years now, which is why I'm commuting all the way to Glen Ellyn, Illinois - a 250 mile round-trip - to get my Sugarplum fix this season.

So please, if you attend a ballet or musical theater production, and you actually see live musicians, know that it's not always that way. Budgets are being slashed left and right for arts organizations, and the excitement of live music is becoming a thing of the past in many communities. Please support your local symphony or ballet. Please at least tell someone how much you enjoy seeing and hearing real people performing these classic works. Please at least come down to the front and wave at us. We're working hard, and we're having fun doing it, and we're painfully aware that every year might be the last.

Friday, December 18, 2009

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 persona - not as an actress but as Barbie - always in a different glamorous place doing something glamorous. She was in Montreal in a figure-skating event, she was in Tokyo with her band, she was giving a speech in Geneva. she was in a Paris ballet studio preparing for a role. I may have the details skewed (I was working, and also very very tired) but over time we saw Barbie herself doing an enormous number of creative and high-profile professional activities at a very high level. That did hit close to home. What I am learning most recently in my own life is that there really are only so many things you can pursue at any one time. Don't get me wrong - I do think girls can do anything they want and be anything they want. I just increasingly realize that a person can't do EVERYTHING, and I'm a little insulted that Barbie can. Bad message.

After the last crazy couple of weeks of my life, I have decided to reprioritize sleep over exercise, and I could not be happier. Honestly my actions aren't that different, as I've found it impossible to get out for a week or so, but my attitude sure is. Now instead of lying in bed from 6:30 until 8 hitting the snooze button and hating myself for not running, I sleep until 8 and get up without beating myself up. It's been four days since my decision and I'm glowing with renewed vigor. This is definitely temporary - once Zoe sleeps better and I have a few earlier nights under my belt and maybe it gets a little less COLD out I will hit the streets again. Fitness IS important to me, and my body is important to me, and I know I feel better and more energetic day to day when I run regularly. But I can't do everything, and I can't be a great player and a great mom and a great teacher when I'm trying to cram too many things into my day and holding it all together with caffeine. I have to still be a runner, but I don't have to be hard-core about it at this precise moment in time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


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 what you choose to do in a given block of time doesn't have to be dictated by someone else but by what you feel you need to do and what is important to you. It's a great speech.

Am I failing my own priorities lecture here? Or does life just intervene sometimes? Sometimes there's no way to avoid wading through phone trees and explaining yourself over and over to customer service types in order to get your money to be where it's supposed to be. But would a better musician or a better person have delegated that task or waited until after practicing? Zoe's been very needy at night for the past few nights, and I've been awake a lot with her. Would a better person still have gotten up early and headed to the gym or practiced for an hour before breakfast? There's only so much I can do sometimes.

I used to feel that I'd done what I needed to do in a day if I could work out, practice for two hours, and put in one to two hours on my reed business. Everything else was gravy, but good gravy - walking the dog, cooking good and healthy meals, baking bread and cookies, writing in my journal, hanging out with my awesome husband whom I like. And that was pretty easy to arrange. Not every day - sometimes a long gig commute or a dentist appointment or a bank problem would intervene - but basically it was not too hard to suit my actions to my own priorities.

With Zoe, though, everything is different. It's not just that she requires a lot of time and attention - I don't mind prioritizing her. It's more that with that time gone from the day the mass of stupid tasks which have to happen and are urgent but not important seem to swell up to fill all of the available space, and at the same time I have less energy than I used to because I'm sleeping a lot less and eating a little less healthily and not exercising every day. So to change the catbox and water the plants, for example, I need to find 5 or 10 minutes when the baby is asleep or or at least calmly playing alone or at least not actively feeding or wailing or needing to be changed, and those are 5 or 10 minutes that I can't be focusing on the oboe or anything else that is actually important to me. Those are minutes that I would never have noticed before every minute became precious. I don't mind practicing in 25-minute spurts while Zoe doesn't need me, but I never feel that I've gotten enough time in doing that and even late in the evening I feel nagging guilt that I haven't done everything I can. That large parts of my day are spent in doing things that aren't really important to me.

I don't have a good solution here. All I can manage is one day at a time, and all I can do is keep trying to bring my actions into line with my priorities. Trying to keep the big picture in mind as I work through the stupid minutiae of actually being a grown-up. (And in the interest of the big picture I am NOT going to look up "minutiae" right now to see if I'm spelling or using it right. You all know what I mean.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

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 the Northwest Indiana Symphony in Merrillville, IN and Crystal Lake, IL. Click HERE for details.

These will be fun. They will leave you wanting more. They will even leave me wanting more, and I'm the original Scrooge when it comes to sentimental holidays. Come out and start your month off right!