Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Being Prepared

This is why I keep so many reeds around. Not because I ever thought I would want to use this misbegotten looking thing in public, but because today it was unexpectedly the best reed in my case for the task at hand. That task was playing Stravinsky's Petrouchka, a piece filled with aggressive articulation for the oboe and loud tutti sections that don't need to feature me but which I would like to be able to blow through. We were on stage at the Morris, a fairly dead stage that requires a very resonant, not to say buzzy, reed to project on, on an unusually cold and crisp day in spring that rendered all of my "good" reeds mushy and small.

My students know that I get on them when they have just one reed in their case - anything could happen to that one - and three is much safer, but twenty is safer still. After all, you only need one reed - but it has to be the right one.

Incidentally, we are performing Petrouchka this Saturday in South Bend, along with Beethoven's Emperor Piano Concerto (no. 5) and it's our final concert of the season and I am very excited about it. Click HERE for tickets and information.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Redemption, and the Unanswerable Questions It Raises

Day to day last January, I was continuing to basically function at a basic level. I made it to engagements on time, I ate and dressed normally. I thought I was coping. But the six-month accumulation of sleep debt was such a knock-out that I wasn't really even aware of how disabled I was, until I finally got clear and started to recover.

Now, looking back at my journal, I can observe that that was the point where Zoe's sleep cycle began to turn around. She began slowly to sleep more reliably through the night, and even more gradually so did I, and now, three months later, I am beginning to have some perspective on the awfulness of that time.

I arrived at my teaching this Wednesday, for instance, after my normal one-hour drive, and DIDN'T need a ten minute nap in the parking lot before I went into the school. This would have been unthinkable in the wintertime.

My family and I compete most days in an online crossword game, and pre-baby I routinely won. Post-baby and in the winter I ALWAYS trailed by two to three minutes - losing to everyone. Now I am back in the mix - winning some, losing most, but not out of the picture. This is quantifiable stuff.

The performances this year that I felt the worst about, hands down, were the Mendelssohn Scotch Symphony, and the Joseph Schwantner piece we played on our Martin Luther King Day concert. Both concerts were in January, within a week of each other. I could not, for the life of me, articulate the solos in the Mendelssohn, even though I had never struggled with that particular piece of technique before. Honestly, I'd never given a second thought to my naturally fast single tongue until it started to degenerate in December, though I was a basket case about it by the time January rolled around and I couldn't couldn't couldn't play the Scotch Symphony. I got through by putting in an absurd number of slurs - truly never tonguing more than two notes at a time - which I hope the audience didn't notice but my colleagues certainly did and I felt ashamed. The Schwantner piece we played a week later was just totally beyond my ability to count and keep up in. The piece was not that weird or hard, but I didn't have the concentration to make the mixed meters and fast runs happen. I was very aware that I was not making the grade that month, but incapable of pulling it together any more than I did.

This past week, I was called to play with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. The call came in at the last minute, without time for me to really hesitate and talk myself out of it. They needed me to play the Mendelssohn Scotch Symphony and a John Harbison piece full of tricky mixed meter and fast passagework. I dreaded a reprise of my January experiences, but that was not the case. This was a direct and easy way to contrast me on an actual sleep and exercise schedule with me NOT on one, and it turns out that I'm actually fine. As fine as ever. I could play the music, without trouble or difficulty, at a perfectly normal professional level, as if I had never had a tongue problem or a dumbness problem. I received compliments, even, from good musicians who knew what they were hearing. And I didn't need those compliments to feel validated - I know when I am performing competently and when I am not.

I work hard at my craft, and I'm used to being good at things I set my mind to. I feel redeemed at this point - relieved that the problems I was having weren't just in my head and that there was a reason that I was struggling so much and that that is mostly in the past now.

But this experience raises questions, too.

Should I, in fact, have waited longer to return to work? If I'd taken a full year off I would have just been champing at the bit the whole time. I need the oboe, and the stimulation, and the performances, and the deadlines.

At the same time, though, didn't I owe it to my students, colleagues, and employers to wait until I could really give them my best work? On the other hand, when is that? With Zoe at an adorable nine months, am I done being distracted by her and ready to be fully engaged with the oboe as I was before? Obviously not. When she's two, will I be through struggling with this balancing act? I don't think so. Where does my greater responsibility lie?

This issue can't only apply to motherhood. What about other creative projects? Creative people have lots of things going on, and can become consumed with the new at the expense of the old, sometimes. I've seen my husband, the bassoonist/composer/writer/arranger/tech geek Steve Ingle, be up for nights on end when he's inspired - should he call and beg off a gig claiming sleeplessness? Obviously not - that's unprofessional, too.

I've played performances after running hard races or workouts, and while my body feels great my mind can definitely get pretty foggy in the aftermath of an endurance event. Is that unprofessional of me?

Is it enough that we try to do our best every time we appear? Is it OK that sometimes my best is better than at other times?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Upcoming Concert

This weekend's Super Size Symphony concert is logistically INSANE - but I really am kind of excited to play the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with SEVEN HUNDRED people on stage. I can't imagine what this will be like, but I encourage attendance. Something thrilling is bound to happen.

Sunday, 4/25, at 4:30 pm at the Joyce Center on Notre Dame Campus

Click HERE for tickets and information.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Good Parts

I got up at 5:30 am on a recent Tuesday. I had come in at 11 the night before after teaching 9 students in a row, and driving home, and so obviously had not gotten much sleep. The gig I was on my way to was an education concert that did not have a lot going for it, from my perspective - a trip through American History with peripherally related orchestral music and amateur actors. We were playing in an elementary school in Nowhere, IN, and there were two shows in a row for the same money as one. I was playing English horn, which is something I love to do, but the downside of the EH is that you spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for your piece to come up, which is NOT something I like to do. I'd rather be playing. The school was a solid two and a half hours from my house, and the orchestra is a great group, but not one of my usual ensembles so I was basically out and driving before the sunrise to count rests with strangers for a bunch of ten-year-olds who did not want to listen to us. This gig was really just about the money, and honestly everyone must have days like that, right?

Anyway, I was in the middle of the second show, sitting in the orchestra waiting for my final piece (John Williams Liberty Fanfare - great material but not an English horn feature, to say the least). The orchestra was zooming through the Overture to Candide, in which I don't play, and all of a sudden I felt a tremendous rush of well-being and satisfaction. Yes, the morning's service was not one of the more spectacular moments of my career, but isn't it great that I can be sitting in the middle of an ensemble, enjoying this wonderful music, being a part of things, AND make my living? I could be actually working - digging ditches or cleaning houses or telemarketing or turning tricks - but instead I am being paid to perform. I wonder if the amount of energy and hassle that it took to get me to that point in the morning was a factor in my feelings?

Last week I headed out on a long run. I think I've mentioned that I've been struggling through my runs lately - I love getting through them but the actual running part has been more of a drag than a pleasure. This time, though, after the first forty-five minutes, I got a fabulous second wind and zoomed through the remaining fifteen or so LOVING the endorphin rush. I had forgotten over this long winter that the best part of the run happens AFTER the first five miles, so when I get discouraged and head home after four, which is what has been happening, of course it doesn't feel fun. Maybe it's all of the effort that really makes the payoff magical, in life as well as exercise.

Or maybe it's just that I should get up earlier more often. It could just be punchiness from insufficient coffee...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Getting Up to Speed

I am merging back into the present. Revving up and returning to highway speeds.

I have on my desk eleven unread issues of the New Yorker magazine, and four Runners Worlds, and two Double Reed quarterly journals. I have just finished reading the January 18 New Yorker, and have been patiently working my way through the stack in order as new periodicals continue to arrive at their normal rate. I am not one to skip ahead. The result, of course, is that I have interesting, in depth knowledge of lots of things that were important four months ago and no idea what's happening in the actual real world of today. I can't talk to anybody about current events.

I'd just been assuming that eventually I'd catch up. That there would someday be enough leisure time in my life to read the New Yorker faster than one issue per week, on top of being a mother and a busy professional musician, maintaining my reed business, teaching twenty students a week, and training for a half marathon. Not that I ever put it to myself in those terms till just now - that looks ridiculous even to me. Honestly, now I can't believe I was keeping up with the New Yorker even before Zoe.

Here and now I reclaim the present day. I am opening my April 19 magazine. I am recycling the older ones, shamelessly sacrificing all of the articles, reviews, and works of short fiction contained therein. I admit it - I cannot catch up and life is too short. February and March are over. They are dead to me. I am back in the now. Give me a week and ask me what's new - I dare you!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Upcoming Recital!

I'm performing the first of my Spring recitals this weekend - Sunday the 18th at 3pm (Central time) in the Duesenberg Recital Hall at Valparaiso University. This is the same marvelous music that Paul and I played in Chicago back in January and February, and I was delighted with its reception back then. I'm presenting this Sunday's concert with pianist Joseph Bognar, who is a great colleague of mine at Valpo.

I think one of my favorite aspects of this program is how smoothly it flows from one piece to the next and how nice the energy arc is over the hour. Although there are only four pieces, and only three composers, we have a lot of variability of mood and character which keeps the program from bogging down and gives me a lot to do in performance. Moving from the clarity and structure of the Telemann Fantasie to the crashing opening of the Dring Showpiece is jarring, yes, but the intimacy of the Romance brings the audience and performers back together to explore the whimsy of her Finale. The Pasculli is hard, hard work from my perspective, but its mix of familiar themes and tunes with spectacular oboe fireworks makes it exciting and fun for the listener.

The final Telemann oboe d'amore concerto has been the biggest challenge for me - in preparing the piece I struggled to make it interesting and exciting, and it never does compete with, say, the Pasculli in virtuosity and drama. But I think that's what makes it a lovely end to the concert. When I just back off a little, and let the music speak for itself, in its own language, without pressure, the intelligence and beauty do come through. The Dring and Pasculli works are showpieces for me and for the oboe, and Telemann displays the beauty of the hall, the sound of the oboe d'amore, and the intelligence of the composer. It restores our jangled nerves and sends us out feeling refreshed and clean.

Future performances of this program will be presented in South Bend on May 4, and in Chicago on May 21.

And here I play the opening movement of the opening piece, and Paul films me beautifully.

The Art of Playing the Oboe, Jennet Ingle from Paul Hamilton on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Unfussy Oboist

I am struggling this week to be the Unfussy Oboist. This is my outside-the-house persona, and I'm proud of it, but it's also a personal standard that is often hard to live up to. I have to remind myself constantly that it is worth the work, and be vigilant about my own behavior in rehearsal and performance.

This week my issues were sound and pitch. We played the Schubert Unfinished Symphony, which is delicate and features a lot of solo oboe and clarinet doubling. This is inherently treacherous as oboes and clarinets have very different sounds and pitch and timbre tendencies, and made all the more difficult by the fact that our principal clarinetist is AWESOME and really turns lovely nuanced phrases at extremely soft dynamics which I want to support and blend with. This is a situation where the oboe really shouldn't sound like an oboe, so I needed a great reed and a lot of control to make just the right tone. The Unfussy Oboist does not spend her whole rehearsal period on reeds, though - she plays on the reed du jour and makes it work. So I was busy before and after rehearsal trying to make the right sound but I forced myself to not switch reeds or scrape and fuss during the piece. In the end, the reed I went in with was not the reed of a lifetime, but all the audience needs to know is that it works - no one is interested in how much work I have to do inside my mouth to make the effect happen, and my colleagues aren't interested in that either. A couple of fake fingerings and some really alert ears got us through very successfully, I thought.

We also played the Brahms German Requiem, and we had a great choir - a huge choir, drawn from the local colleges and the community, and they sounded terrific. They were good and loud, so tiny dynamics were not so crucial. Unfortunately, with a huge choir comes a huge pitch band - they sound like they're in tune but it's very hard to tune with them - and they tend to go flat, which makes us sound sharp, and high wind players are sensitive about being sharp, so the principal flutist and I had been pulling our hair out throughout the week trying to place our notes somewhere that felt comfortable. And no place did. Eventually, in the dress rehearsal today, we resolved to just play - to focus on each other and on our colleagues insofar as we can hear them - and sure enough, the effect tonight was far better than the sound we had been making trying to chase the pitch and each other lower and lower. When we trusted ourselves to be at pitch our instruments worked better, and our personal sounds and internal intonation were better, and I think we were more reliable pitch centers for those seated around us, so on the whole the performance was far better than the rehearsals had been. The Unfussy Oboist to the rescue!

It is so easy to let the neurosis take over. The oboe is such a finicky instrument, and the reeds are so personal and so changeable, and so much about playing well is about this obsessive attention to oneself and the details and minutiae of sound and timbre and articulation and dynamic. I can spiral down into self-loathing in nothing flat, and plenty of players I know can work themselves into a frenzy about their reeds or their colleagues or the temperature on stage or the conductor or any of a zillion little things. My personal resolution is to keep that aspect of the job in the practice room - to take what I do seriously but to not let anyone see me sweat - and although I've been playing professionally for years I still struggle sometimes to keep the Unfussy Oboist front and center when I'm out in public. She may be more of an ideal than an actuality, but having that goal has made me a better player - better in the long term, and sometimes in the immediate term a better player than I am. If I pretend that everything is going smoothly and that I can easily play the material in front of me, things just work out a surprising amount of the time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Upcoming Concert

Masterworks IV
Brahms Requiem
Saturday, April 10, 2010 • 8:00pm

Sara Hibbard, soprano
Philip Kraus, baritone

An evening filled with peace and hope is the theme of this celebration of holiday music featuring Brahms A German Requiem.

Over two hundred combined voices of the Notre Dame Glee Club, the Notre Dame Chorale, The Notre Dame Liturgical Chorale, The Notre Dame Women’s Liturgical Chorale and St. Mary’s Women’s Choir join in Brahms greatest choral composition.

Click here for program notes.

Morris Performing Arts Center
(574) 235-9190


Concert Co- Sponsor:
The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center