Saturday, January 30, 2010

This is What I Do

I love performing. The recital I just gave in Chicago was such an eye-opener for me - it reminded me why I'm doing this and that this is what I do. Yes, my level of stress for the past two weeks has been astronomical - I felt terribly underprepared, and so distracted with the baby and the teaching and the reeds and the difficult orchestra concerts that it seemed impossible to me that I could pull it off. I couldn't have done it alone - I leaned heavily on my support system this time out. Paul and I crammed all weekend to secure this tricky music that we had never played before, and we did it all in twenty-minute chunks between bouts of nursing a teething six-month-old - again, don't try this at home.

The morning of the recital, though, I woke up ready for action. I assembled breakfast, coffee, and all of the baby's paraphernalia, and got to my dress rehearsal only 5 minutes late, which in my current life is pretty darned impressive. I soaked up a reed, played a few notes - the old me would already have fully warmed up at home and weeded my reed choices down to the five top contenders; the new me really only had one good one anyway and warming up is for wusses. We played through some moments, checked out the room, and ambled downstairs for coffee and lousy sandwiches. There were people wanting to talk to me, and Zoe needed to nurse, and things were a little chaotic, but I wasn't stressed anymore, just aware that there was nothing more I could do to prepare.

Once we got on, though, and I was out in front of the crowd, I didn't just limp through anything. It was there. The old feeling, the skill - I could even tongue again, all of a sudden. I had the audience right where I wanted them and made a great performance. As if the last six months of my life had never happened, I could channel the music through my body and give it away freely and openly, and I could communicate with Paul and with the audience and fifty minutes passed for me like ten. This for me is the magic - when we're in the moment and doing it, and everything else falls away so it's just me and my colleagues and the music and the audience and I know exactly what I'm doing and what to do next and it's also as though I'm not really doing anything because it's so easy. The music is coming not from me but through me, and radiating outward to share with everyone. They responded, too. Apparently I was good. I was.

It's such a rush, and it's why I'm willing to struggle through the weeks of additional work that such a performance entails, and why I force myself to step away from the baby and practice when I can. I need to allow myself the opportunity to succeed this well. This kind of work is what I do, and what makes me me. It's what I want to share with my students, and with my audiences, of course, and with Zoe. She should see that I can be there for her and can do what I love also. This I can do.

My next recital is the same material, but three weeks better prepared. Great music by Telemann, Dring, and Pasculli

Saturday, February 13, at 2pm
St James Chapel, 831 N. Rush St, Chicago
Free and open to the public.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Enjoy your time

There's something magical about performance. There's not another time in your life that you can be - must be - focused in that way. I've been trying to convince my students this week - their solo and ensemble performances are this weekend - that there's a magic to the 5 minutes that you spend in front of the audience or the judge. During that time, nothing else matters. A text could be coming in on your phone, or the dog could be eating your homework at home, or there could be some really hard music coming up on the next page, but now - RIGHT NOW - the only thing that matters is playing this one phrase well. It's the only thing that's important, and the only thing you can control. You can't get stressed out about whether your performance will be good enough, or whether you are going to make it through the piece - all you can do right now is play THIS phrase, or THIS measure, or even THIS note. You might as well do it really really well. It's your time. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Upcoming Concert

This weekend I'll be performing Puccini's Turandot with the DuPage Opera Theater and the New Philharmonic. It's a concert version of this tremendous opera, so the singers are in costume but there are no sets and the orchestra is onstage. This is difficult to pull off, since the orchestra is very large and having us down in the pit would help to balance the voices, but it's also very exciting, I think. There's a lot of sound, and a LOT of bodies on stage, and the music is astonishing. I admit that I didn't know this opera before I began preparing for the production, but I am loving it. The orchestration is so fascinating, and the colors sound so contemporary, and of course the singers are marvelous.

Please consider coming out if you should find yourself near Chicago's west suburbs.

Click HERE for more info.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not Recommended

This is not how I would recommend doing this. While I stand by my long-term goals of maintaining and improving my playing and my career while also being the best mother I can be, I would say that now, this month, with Zoe at 6 months old growing more fascinating and magical every day, but still not sleeping through the night, is a crummy time to be preparing a recital and a whole bunch of difficult orchestra concerts.

I'm down a lot of IQ points with the lack of sleep. She's a good baby and does sleep easily and well between feedings - but doesn't want to not feed at night. Wants, in fact, to feed every three hours or less. Which for a night or two is not bad, but cumulatively over the past 6 months is killing me. I'm in a kind of permanent fog, and anything I don't write down gets forgotten instantly, and in the orchestra I sit in amazed wonderment listening to my colleagues effortlessly grasping meter changes that I am straining to understand.

I am accustomed to how much work it takes to prepare a new (to me) piece of music, but after putting in that much work I arrived at rehearsal Sunday and realized how much more work the new dumb me needs. I had worked out all of the notes at the tempos printed, but I had not worked out how to understand them in the context of the conducted meters or how to get from one section to another in my counting, or how to deliver them in case they turned out to be solos. Nor had I hunted down a recording so that I knew what to listen for and what was likely to be exposed and dangerous. These are basic and obvious approaches to a new work which last year's me could have gotten way with skipping (or would have found time to do) but this year's me cannot. Everything just takes more time.

So I've been working remedially on our MLK Day concert, which was difficult. I'm learning Turandot which begins rehearsals on Saturday. I had to report for jury duty this morning, and was mercifully dismissed after four hours. And I am also cramming with my awesome pianist, Paul, for a recital on Monday at 12:15 at the Chicago Cultural Center. I'm excited about the repertoire, and solo playing is my very very favorite thing to do, and the Cultural Center is a great space to play in and I am so looking forward to it. And at the same time I can only laugh at how absurdly much is on my plate at the very time that I least want to do anything at all.

Zoe can crawl now, and she can sit up, and she loves her mommy and daddy - observably - and she babbles and sings and smiles and laughs and flirts and plays and I could spend all of her waking hours watching her and playing with her and never get bored. That's probably hyperbole, but it certainly is hard to tear myself away. And, that said, I'm on my way up to the practice room to take advantage of the next couple of hours, and I do feel that I'm doing what's important. In my limited, impossibly over-scheduled way, I'm living my life the way I want to. But don't try this at home.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Upcoming Concert

This weekend's concert in South Bend is an exciting one. Peter Maxwell Davies's An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise is a beautiful piece and one which I had not encountered before. It was composed in 1985, which is not sooo contemporary in the scheme of things, but it's surprisingly rare in my life now to play new music and I love it! The Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony is an intimate chamber work disguised as a large symphony. Incidentally there's lots of oboe in it, but mostly I'm enjoying hearing my colleagues show off. And we will rehearse the Bruch Scottish Fantasy tonight for the first time, but I expect great things. It's a lovely piece, too. Hope to see a big crowd!

Saturday night at 8.
Click HERE for details and ticket information.

Masterworks III
Scottish Fantasy

Kyoko Takezawa, violin

An evening with a distinctly Scottish flair, complete with bagpiper Sean Meehan, opens with Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise. Kyoko Takezawa, one of the most sought after violin soloists, brings her amazing interpretive insight and indisputable talent to Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy- playing with a richness of virtuosic feeling combined with fiery intensity. The concert concludes with a perennial favorite, Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony No. 3.
Program Notes | Maestro's Insights

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Work is Never Wasted

Recently I heard a colleague complaining about having practiced music which was later cut from the concert. What a waste of time! Something about that attitude rubbed me the wrong way. Why complain about time spent on your instrument improving ANYTHING? Even if the specific notes in question aren't being performed, surely the act of working them out is building neural pathways and keeping you in shape, and that music itself may come up again somewhere, sometime.

Two summers ago I decided it was finally time for me to learn how to double tongue on my instrument. Double tonguing is a technique used for fast articulated passages, and is very very commonly used by brass players and flutists, both of whom regularly have fanfare-y or quick technical passages to play, and neither of whom has a reed in their mouths to complicate matters. The technique is more difficult for oboists, clarinetists, and bassoonists, but is certainly not unusual for these players. Most professional oboists have at least some version of a DT that they can pull out in emergencies or in situations where the old slur-two-tongue-two trick just won't cut it. Some use it all the time. I've always had a fast single tongue, and have always managed to get by, but enough of my students have asked about double-tonguing, and I've had to fake a super-fast tongue just often enough, that I decided to learn once and for all what this business was about. For a whole summer I worked out of the Arban trumpet book on extremely tiresome exercises - the book is good, I just was struggling with the skill - and never really managed to break through. I could sort of get through an easy passage, at nearly but not quite the speed that I could have just single tongued, and I was happy to drop the project when my busy season started back up.

Fast forward to this past month. The Nutcracker, one rehearsal and four performances. My usually reliable single tongue failed me entirely. I couldn't get it moving fast enough for the battle scene which is trumpet-like material in the solo oboe. And I was thuhthuhing all over the place, embarrassing myself to no end, even in slower passages that any hack should have been able to play. I was crippled. I hadn't been working formally on it, and nothing had come up recently to remind me to, and like any muscle the tongue can get out of shape. My reeds were a factor, too - I hadn't been paying much attention to that facet of the craft of reedmaking and the resistance had gotten slightly displaced, which changed the way my articulation felt to me.

The problem was temporary - I've found my articulation again since - but I had performances I had to give. Right there, in the Nutcracker pit, I learned how to double tongue. The work I had put in, patiently, two summers earlier and NEVER REFERRED TO SINCE kicked in and I proudly tukutuku-d my way through the passage. I'm not going to say that it was perfect, but when for whatever reason I was blocked on my usual tonguing pattern I was able to turn on this other technique and circumvent the issue.

I was and am reinspired. Obviously both single and double tonguing are going to move to a central place in my daily practice sessions, particularly with the Mendelssohn Scotch Symphony appearing in my schedule next week - that's a bi-i-ig tonguing piece for oboe and you had better believe that that was on my mind as I was failing in the first Nutcracker rehearsal, and obviously practicing itself is going to play a larger role in my daily life as much as I can make that happen. Mostly, though, I am thrilled that time I thought was wasted and fruitless two years ago has become abundantly useful, and that my efforts and energy at that time have paid off. The work is never wasted.