Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Travels Begin

It is finally time for my two-week vacation - and for five weeks of non-home, non-routine life. I love my well-established patterns and I love being comfortable in my own home - I already miss my early morning coffee and journal time alone at my porch table - but I really think that this next month will be fabulous for me. I was needing a shakeup to restart my productivity.

All last week I was teaching at the Dake Academy - the SBSO's summer chamber music camp for highschoolers - and it was completely all-consuming. Monday I devoted every spare minute to preparing for my Tuesday seminar and solo performance on the faculty recital, and Tuesday after the recital I spent a couple of hours preparing food for the faculty party which I hosted Wednesday after the camp. Thursday was the long day which included the big performance at night, and Friday I was the bus leader as all of the chamber groups toured South Bend. During the camp I was busy coaching my chamber trio (in which I was also performing), teaching masterclasses, rehearsing with the faculty quintet and in the student orchestra, and generally being visible and available to the students. I love teaching, especially in this very intensive festival where in four short days I can see enormous improvement in the music we are working on and in the students' attitudes and abilities. That said, I haven't practiced since last Monday, nor exercised since Tuesday. (We spent Saturday and Sunday driving to begin our VACATION!)

So now I am up in Northern Vermont with Steve and Zoe and my mother. My sister and brother will be joining us later in the week. And I am completely ready to steal some time for myself and get my legs back in shape for running, and my face back together on the oboe. We travel directly from here to Michigan to play La Traviata, and straight from there to Ohio for two weeks of orchestra and quintet services. I can't wait. There's something about NOT being at home - as inconvenient as it always is - that makes me think I can approach the instrument differently. Be more relaxed, and more attentive. I am ready to try.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Listen and Learn

I've been enjoying these past few weeks of relative leisure, and I'm finding myself in a new part of my creative cycle. This week I am seeking outside inspiration. I am reading other people's blogs and listening to recordings and watching videos. I'm still doing my own work, of course - plugging away at the early stages of preparing my next sets of music - but I want to hear how other people turn their phrases or what kinds of sound and color choices they are making or what they are thinking about.

I believe, deeply, that listening to music is an important part of growing as a performer. You can learn so much from hearing what others do. I think I am not alone among musicians, however, when I say that by the time I finish my day or my week filled with orchestral rehearsals and performances, my own personal practice time, and my focused attention to the playing of my students, the last thing I want to do is to seek out other oboists or hear one more note of classical music.

In general I don't want to do what everyone else is doing. I do listen to recordings as I prepare music, but not to copy other people's phrasing choices. Most often I listen just to hear the big picture - the harmonies and orchestral colors going on around my solos - but this week I definitely find myself listening to the personalities of the performers and the choices they are making. How are they turning their phrases? What goes into the sounds they are making? I want to non-judgmentally analyze what I hear and try to duplicate their techniques - in private, in my practice room - so that I have access to those different colors and ideas. So that I can develop a wider menu of choices for myself.

I have never been interested in mimicking the interpretations or styles of others, but no one operates in a vacuum. All interpreters are building on the backs of others. If you don't listen to the people who have come before you, aren't you just forever reinventing the wheel? Moreover, if I rely only on my own sense of musical phrasing, without letting any new ideas in, I can only be as good as I am right now. In other words, of course many of my musical ideas come from my teachers, and from the music I've heard throughout my life, and from great performances I have attended or heard. If I stop listening then there is no way for me to develop further. I can only do the things I've already thought of.

So. This week I feel like listening, and learning from others. Players far better than I as well as student performances on YouTube. There is always something to consider - an interesting turn of phrase, or a mannerism that I can remind myself NOT to do. When I practice every day in a vacuum bad habits can creep in, and my project this week of listening as much as possible is helping to keep me honest.

Friday, June 4, 2010


I'm tapering for my BIG RACE, which is tomorrow morning. The taper makes a lot of sense - I obviously want to start my run feeling as fresh as possible, and not risk being tired or sore from a recent hard workout. So this whole week I have been resting - or at least, not running - and eating heartily. After all, I have to do something with the hours I'm not running, so I might as well cook. As a result, I feel fat and sluggish, which is not making me confident about racing 13.1 miles tomorrow. My mind knows that this is smart, but my legs aren't quite as sure.

Training for this race has been interesting - I have been more structured about it than I had been for previous, shorter races. I had expected that the distance would feel overwhelming, as I had really never run more than an hour at a time before. I built up gradually though, adding just a mile each week, and it really turned out that the distance was not a big deal. As long as I go nice and slow, which is my specialty, and just stay patient and keep running, I can easily run 14 miles. During my other, non-long runs each week, I tried to push my speed as much as possible, to keep my legs turning over fast and to remind them what running and racing feels like. I did some fast intervals, and some longer steady hard runs. It's rough on my body to run both fast and far at the same time, so I have not done that, and won't until tomorrow.

I know the result that I am hoping for. I expect to finish, I intend to run the whole way without taking walk breaks, and I hope - if the stars align and my taper has worked and I'm as strong as I think I am - to do it in two hours. I'm not nervous about the run - there are no stakes if I don't finish or do as well as I want, but I am excited and anticipatory.

The whole process really reminds me of audition preparation. I work on minute details, and I work on playing a long list of excerpts and trying to give a great impression of myself over the course of that performance, and of course I work on my reeds and equipment, and my hope is that on the day, on the stage, everything comes together to make a magical performance in which I surpass my previous best efforts. For an audition, too, I tend to taper off the hours I practice in the last few days - I want to be fresh and not worn down physically and not mentally sick of the pieces.

Obviously I am not actually a fast runner. There is no question of me competing for an actual prize or impressing anyone but myself out there. But the great thing about this activity is that I can really throw my energy and my self-discipline and my obsessive nature into it, and work for steady improvement, and achieve great personal goals - but with no stakes. Unlike my music career, where my every appearance is public and audible and judgeable, when I run I am accountable only to myself. It's freeing and structured at the same time. Perfect.