Skip to main content

I Do Practice

It occurs to me that I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about tapering, or recovering, or not wanting to practice, and that people could easily get the wrong idea about me. I write about not practicing because it is unusual and strikes me as interesting. The norm for me is far far different.

I practice between one and two hours every day. When I was in school it was three to four. Before Zoe was born my standard was two to three, but I find that if I am efficient and energetic I can manage now with one to two. Plus, I have no choice. There's some warmup time in there, and I work on the orchestra music that I'm performing that week and I always have some long-term pieces as well. In this case, I have been focused on my baroque recital, but also starting to gear up for an audition at the end of the month, and on my back burner is a solid stack of very hard music for my spring recital, "Art and Opera". It's not possible any more for me to put in two hours in a row - most often it looks like fifty minutes in the morning during Sesame Street, and a couple of 20 minute spurts between students, and another hour after Zoe goes to bed in the evening if I don't have rehearsal.

In addition, I spend one to two hours a day on reeds. Usually I spend more time at the reed desk than in front of the music stand, which is not ideal for me but is the reality of our economics right now. I wind 8 to 10 reeds, rough scrape 8 to 10, and finish 8 to 10 every day. If I miss a day I have to work extra hard the next, so it doesn't pay to take breaks. Even with all this work, the quality goes in cycles - some batches make great reeds and some just don't. I just worked through several weeks of very disappointing reed results in which I sacrificed nearly half of my daily labors and had to pull double reed shifts (double reed - get it?) to get my shipments out on time. I'm coming out of that now - my latest batch of cane has all made it to finished reeds so I'm optimistic that next week will be easier.

This work all has to happen on my own time, but obviously other people have a claim on me as well. I have students every weekday - one and a half to six hours worth, depending on the day. I have a different orchestra performance most weeks, with one of several groups, some of which are as much as two hours away from my home.

This is the way professional musicians live now - some do have nice cushy orchestra jobs with predictable schedules a few minutes from their homes, but far more of us make our livings from numerous different small organizations that all struggle for resources. Our lifestyle involves a tremendous amount of self-discipline, and a work ethic that doesn't quit.

This is why, when I take a day off, I obsess about it, explore it, write about it. I do believe that my creative energy comes and goes in cycles, and that it is all right to feel unmotivated sometimes, but most of my life is about putting in the work. It's gotten me this far and will get me farther.


Popular posts from this blog


When my students get too MOUTHY with the oboe, I put them in a corner.


They tend to play the oboe only from the TOP of their body, north of the collarbone, and it winds up unsupported.  Fussy.  Weak.  And out of tune.

So I back them into a corner, and have them stand a foot or so out from it, facing out into the room.  And I challenge them to find a sound that resonates BEHIND them, out from the corner of the room that they are not facing, to fill the space without blowing directly into the space.

It's a weird metaphor.  I wouldn't have any idea how to describe the physical technique to do it. When I find it in myself, it feels like my back is puffy and my body is round, and large, and barrel like, and also collected and zipped up, and supremely powerful.  If you know me, you know that these statements about my body aren't remotely true.  But that's what I feel when I'm blowing well, and filling the room, and owning my resonance.

I teach resonance.  I talk …

Five Minute Reedmaker: Length of the Windows

My Five Minute Reedmaker Season Two seems to be largely about experiments.  People ask me how LONG, how THICK, how SLOPED, etc - and I'm running the experiments for them and for you.

I've been posting these videos on YouTube, and sharing them from my Facebook Page, but haven't totally kept up with sharing here on my blog.

Here are the ones you may have missed:
Length of the Heart
Fallacy of the Long Tip
Moldy Cane

And here's the new one:

Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of ideas this season.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…