Thursday, July 29, 2010


I love watching Zoe interact with new people. She seems to soak up information like a sponge, and people may tell her different words for things or play different games and suddenly she's learned something new. For instance, last Christmas it was her cousin Colin who finally taught her to crawl. She had been working on it and wasn't far off, but when he showed her how it just popped. Or, more often, after we've visited someone else we notice a ton of new behaviors right away. She's always learning.

I am not too old to learn. This has been an amazing six weeks. We've been away from home now for over a tenth of Zoe's whole life (!), playing with colleagues and friends old and new, and mostly staying in other people's homes. I'm paying attention and have made some resolutions for my return home.

1. I will clean up the kitchen right away after each meal. Having Steve's mom with us for 2 weeks reminded me of how clean a person can keep things without stress. At home we have a helper every other week for the serious cleaning - toilets, floors, dog hair, etc. But this past year I have gotten out of the habit of doing the dishes immediately, and I had never been in the habit of really scrubbing down the counters and stove at the same time. This is obviously ridiculous. I prefer to enter a clean kitchen, and it doesn't take any more time cumulatively to clean as I go than to do it all at the end of the day, and certainly less time than it takes to harangue Steve into doing it. Come to think of it, I know where I got the idea that dishes were allowed to wait - that's from Steve - but now that I've lived with his mother for an extended period I have no idea where HE got that idea.

2. I can dress better. I have plenty of jewelry, and actually plenty of cute clothes, too, and I probably fit most of them now. There is no reason that I should always appear in shorts and one of the same three t-shirts. I can do better.

3. I can use cloth towels in the kitchen to wipe counters and wash dishes and clean up the baby. So much more economical than paper towels, and if I wash them every day or so they won't get so funky. We do laundry often anyway. So my next investment is a bunch of good quality dish towels, and I will commit to keeping them going.

4. I never need to be a diva professionally. I do not need my ego stroked. This is not a new thought for me, but one to which I am recommitting. I think I will never be too good to move my own chair or to sit in the one provided or to take suggestions from my colleagues.There's a difference between being confident and being cocky, and between taking care of oneself professionally and insisting on perfect conditions for every situation. Sometimes things around me are not awesome, but that does not need to impact my performance ever.

5. There is plenty of time in the day. I am working hard here - rehearsals or concerts every day for two weeks. And I am practicing fairly well. And I am running. And I am writing, and still I can spend an hour in the pool with Zoe watching her learn to swim, or play with her in my bed in the morning for an hour, or cuddle on the swing for 15 minutes, or take her up to visit the ponies, or whatever. There is enough time in the day to give her my full attention quite a lot and still get my own work done while she is sleeping or while Steve takes his turn watching her. I resolve to remember that when I am home and the student load picks up again and I feel frantic and stressed. Zoe is just so wonderful right now and there is no need to push her away to scrape one more reed. There will be time and things will work out.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Love My Car

I love my car. It fits me.

We've been traveling for nearly a month already, and when we travel as a family we go in Steve's car - it's bigger, and since he prefers to do all the driving it just makes sense. But we needed to drive separately to Lancaster for this week's festival, for complex logistical reasons that need not be discussed here. Getting back into my little bug all by myself was just so freeing!

I love my car. It is zippy and responsive. It's a stick shift, which makes me feel powerful and makes good use of my busy energy. The seat and all of the controls fit me just right, and the steering wheel is skinny and nubby and spins easily under my hands. The car speeds up when I push the gas, and roars encouragingly when I shift from gear to gear. It operates in a satisfyingly mechanical way - although I know it's full of computers like every other car I am not aware of them while driving. I can feel the road and hear the engine, and when I have driven cushier cars I have always felt a little isolated from the world. Comfortable, certainly, and able to hear the stereo - but disconnected from the driving experience.

On the outside, my Beetle is overtly adorable - it's red and round and makes me smile every time I see it, even after all these years (I've had it since 2003). Other people smile at it, too. However, if you look a little more closely, you can tell that my car has been around the block a few times. The bumpers are scuffed and scarred from years of parking on Chicago's streets, and there's a substantial gash in the paint below the passenger door where I might have slightly driven over a curb once. It has 179000 miles on it, give or take.

It is cute enough to be forgiven a lot, but happens to also be very basically reliable. My car has given me almost no trouble at all. I change the oil and the tires, and it just keeps going, and I just adjust to its quirks. For example, the outside temperature gauge no longer works, so the dash display usually looks like --- but occasionally pops up as -49F which is always amusingly wrong. The climate control knob is installed backwards, so the arrow end has to point AWAY from the thing you actually want it to do. The lock button on the remote only works in cold weather, and the alarm tends to reset arbitrarily as I am loading myself and my stuff in so that it starts honking like crazy when I turn the ignition key as if I were trying to steal the thing. Which, if I were going to steal a car, I would totally steal mine because I love it so much.

It reminds me of me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Upcoming Concerts, Ohio version

I am writing this from a coffeeshop in downtown Lancaster, Ohio, where I am based performing with the Lancaster Festival Orchestra for the rest of this month. We have a few too many amazing concerts and events to list, but you can check out the details HERE.

We met for the first time yesterday and I am thrilled by the quality of the orchestra and conductor. This is going to be a great couple of weeks! Our first performance is tomorrow night - Roman Carnival Overture, Pines of Rome, and Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. We meet our piano soloist, Olga Kern, tonight, and I have high expectations.

What a treat to have a new orchestra to play with this summer! I know only a few of the musicians here, and so they don't know me either. Coming in with no expectations gives me a chance to show myself the way I want to be - obviously I will play as well as I am able, but I also want to be a unitasker in rehearsal. No crosswords or sudoku for this girl - I am going to be the kind of professional who pays attention even when the conductor is talking to the strings. Even when I have a long rest. My iPhone will stay in my bag, and my pencil will be ready on my stand. Oh, and I am going to get militant about the Unfussy Oboist, my outside-the-practice-room persona. No whining about temperatures or sightlines or how little sleep I got last night. And NO messing around with reeds once the rehearsal begins. The reed I tune the orchestra with is the reed I use, period.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My First Mistake

I had a friend whose father had a quirk. When he bought a new car, he would drive it home and immediately use his key to put a nice big scratch in the paint. His rationale was that you tend to drive a new car overcautiously for fear of marring the shiny new toy, and he didn't want to go through that unsafe phase. He just got the first scratch out of the way as quickly as possible so he could move on.

In a concert, I sometimes have that same overcautious feeling at the beginning. Before I make a mistake, it is possible that I might have a perfect performance. Maybe this will be the night in which I am awesome in every entrance from the start to the finish! Of course, that is not really possible - there's always something I could do better - and it's also not a particularly productive way to think. It makes me play tentatively and boringly. Generally, once I get that first mistake out of the way I can relax and move on. I can open up and take some risks, and ultimately give myself the opportunity to make greater music.

Of course I am not talking about big mistakes, or audible ones, I hope. A little chip in an awkward slur, a slightly late attack, an overabrupt release, a note approached too sharp and quickly corrected. In the scheme of things these are not going to ruin the listener's experience, but I am always working for the best possible delivery of each note, phrase, movement, and work.

La Traviata is perfect for me. The opening page is this. It looks so easy but there is nothing harder on the oboe than repeated soft low notes that need to be perfectly shaped and blended with the rest of the winds. While I do have the savvy to stay under the radar here - I won't crack and blat any of these in a way that the audience can hear - I doubt that I will play this page PERFECTLY even once during this run. Always there will be one that doesn't quite speak, or one in which my note length does not match that of my colleagues. It is a challenge I look forward to - that of beautifully placing every one of those low E's - and if I accomplish it I'll be sure to let you know. However, I suspect that by page two of this work I'll have that first little mistake out of the way and be ready to enjoy myself for the next two and a half hours.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Other People's Eyes

I'm seeing Zoe through other people's eyes this month, and it's an education. Day to day we live together and I know her intimately, but I seldom am able to step back and really see her as others do. We spent two weeks in a cabin in Vermont with my mother and my siblings, and are now up in Michigan staying with a marvelous host family for a week and a half. We will have new hosts for two nights this week for a runout concert, and at the end of this month we'll be in Ohio at yet another host's home for two more weeks. Because she's sociable and delightful and adorable, she is the object of everyone's attention, of course, and watching other people watch her I can see another side.

I have noticed this tendency on the oboe, too. As soon as I ask a colleague to listen to me, I become horribly aware of the little inconsistencies in my playing. The feedback I get from them is helpful, but the self-awareness is almost more so. Practicing alone, little things can creep in - clumsy slurs, raw tone colors on individual notes, chunky attacks. As soon as someone else is there I become hyper-aware of those details, and am only then able to fix them. I should be able to record myself to hear such things, but it is very difficult for me to put on my "outside" ears just for myself. I catch things most easily when I'm being embarrassed by my own playing, not before.

Similarly, it takes having a houseful of people for me to realize how far off Zoe is from really sleeping properly. She goes down effortlessly probably 4 nights a week, and cries and wails on the other 3. She wakes up at 2 - not every night, but probably 3 times a week - and feeds and goes immediately back down. This is so much better than the first 7 or 8 months of her life that I just figured the sleeping problems were fixed. What's a little bedtime crying, you know? But here where other people can hear her and judge - even if they don't judge - I am eager for her to be perfect in every way. Going to bed at 8:30 and sleeping till morning doesn't seem like too much to ask, but we've never really asked it of her before, or not regularly. Or at least, we've had patience with her lack of success. And if we were still at home I probably would never have noticed. We are sleeping in other people's homes this whole month, though, and I'm definitely a little nervous about the sleeping.

I can't help feeling like a bad mother if my daughter is crying. But also I can't make her go to sleep - that's something she has to do herself. I can nurse her until she is drowsy and relaxed but ultimately she is the one who has to let go and sleep. If she refuses then my hands are tied. She will only nurse for so long - eventually she gets full. I'm used to having a fair amount of control - even with Zoe when she was a tiny baby I could always quiet her with snuggling or nursing. Now, though, she is her own person and I have to realize that I cannot control her. I can set the schedule and put her in a quiet dark place and give her a relaxing bath and give her the opportunity to settle down, but the last part - the actual falling asleep - is up to her.

Upcoming Concerts, way up North

The Pine Mountain Music Festival is a long-time gig for us - Steve and I have been playing up here since 1998, but financial troubles had forced the festival to downsize and for the past two summers we have not been able to participate. This year, although the festival is not back to its former glory as an opera, symphony, chamber music and teaching extravaganza, we are delighted to be back here playing La Traviata and enjoying the spectacular weather and good company. We have friends in this orchestra and in this town that we can only see up here - colleagues from other states and our wonderful hosts.

I love playing opera! I don't necessarily think I would be cut out for a full-time opera orchestra job - I really do like being on stage instead of under it and getting my solo bows every so often. The music written for opera is so great, though, and I adore listening to the singers and there are always significant challenges that come along with playing an accompanimental role all the time. It's the same way that I feel about playing second oboe - you need an enormous amount of control over your instrument and a lot of awareness to support someone else's musical choices instead of making your own. You can't just plow ahead playing the notes you see on the page - the first player may want to turn the phrase another way or might want to play more quietly or with a different articulation. You have to match and there is no way around it.

Opera poses a similar challenge. The music is no easier than that of the symphonic repertoire, and often more technically difficult. Because the featured artists are the singers rather than the orchestra, we have to play very very softly much of the time, and even the conductor cannot always be in charge of the tempi if the performers on stage wish to change the time for a dramatic purpose or a physical one. So we in the pit have to be extremely alert for sudden changes in tempo and respond instantly to the directions we see. The music is not always terribly idiomatic to our instruments - we play in certain keys and ranges that are comfortable for the vocalists and we just have to make it work. BUT I still get to play principal and take solos every now and then. Even if the audience is more attuned to the singers, we in the pit can show off for each other, and it's exciting to be a part of such a large production.

We had our first rehearsals yesterday, and will meet the singers today. I can't wait for the performances this week, and would recommend this show to anyone in the neighborhoods. We perform in Marquette, Iron Mountain, and Houghton, Michigan. Click HERE for tickets and information.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

She Is So My Daughter

I am beginning to recognize myself in Zoe. She is the most methodical baby I have ever seen. She learns a skill and by gum, she works at it until she has it. She's been climbing stairs ever since she started walking - up is easy. But for quite a while she had no idea how to get down, or even that she didn't know how to get down. She'd just turn around and take a big step and tumble into my arms, which was exceptionally nerve-wracking for me and resulted in a lot of gates being placed in our house. Eventually we convinced her that downstairs was different. I taught her to sit down on the step and scootch forward to get her legs down and then stand up on the next step and sit and scootch. She was excited by this new knowledge and wanted to work on it, but I had work to do and wouldn't leave her unsupervised on the stairs.

It's been two weeks since then, and we arrived Saturday night at my mother's house on the way to our Vermont vacation. Her porch is separated from the house by one small step, and Zoe beelined for it as soon as she stopped being hugged. She climbed it, and sat, and scootched, and climbed, and sat, and scootched - for over half an hour! Every time she successfully stood up on the porch floor she crowed with pride, and then spun around and immediately started again. Since then I have seen her twice scootch to the edge of a chair and lower herself to the floor without falling, and scootch to the edge of a one-inch sill between the kitchen and dining room of our camp here in Vermont. The latter is hilarious, because even a tiny girl can easily just step over it, but she is doggedly determined to practice scootching. Just for the sake of getting it.

I have distinct memories of being 12 and learning how to juggle. I practiced first in my bedroom, standing over the bed so the balls wouldn't roll away on the ground and I didn't have to bend over too far to reach them. Once I had a certain knack for it I moved out to the main part of the house, and every minute that my hands weren't otherwise occupied I was juggling. While watching TV, listening to music, or waiting for water to boil. I saw balls arcing over each other in my dreams for days. I did not lose interest until I could actually juggle three balls. I can still do it. Not spectacularly, but competently. Never even mind the oboe, or the reeds, or any of that obsessiveness. Yes, I can certainly see myself in her - she comes by her determination honestly.