Skip to main content

Reconsidering the Taper

I've been thinking a lot about the tapering process. It makes good sense to not run hard or long in the week before a race, and to eat well and rest up for the event, but the result of that for me is that I feel fat and lazy, and anxious and crabby. I have to force myself to stay off my feet. I enjoy the preparation for the race more than the race itself - the long-term build of mileage and intensity and the increased energy and fitness are exciting and rewarding in and of themselves. I wouldn't run as hard or as long without a race goal on my horizon, but the race itself is not the fun part. The complications of getting to a specific spot at a specific time in Chicago traffic or on transit, the crowds of runners, the rattly paper number pinned to my chest, the chip laced into my shoe - these things I don't need. But I do feel better having trained for this race, and I ran better and (a little) smarter than I did before, and I'm already looking forward to choosing a spring race to commit to.

A physical taper on the oboe doesn't make as much sense to me. I can see playing a little less the day or two before a recital or audition to ensure that my embouchure muscles ore well rested - but I generally don't think that the muscles of the oboist's face require that much of a rest. Occasionally after a really hard concert my lips will feel swollen and unresponsive for a day or so - but that is very rare. Generally, when I pick up the oboe I feel okay no matter how much I've played - better, in fact, if I've been putting in a lot of regular hours.

Emotionally, however, I do seem to pull back from the oboe in the week before a big event. I am not proud of this - it doesn't make any intellectual sense. I absolutely should practice hard and keep polishing the pieces I'm working on, but I don't want to. I have a long history of easing off before auditions and recitals. Sometimes I have to bribe myself into a session by reading new music. Currently, although I am giving a full recital next Sunday, I find myself preferring to work on excerpts for an audition at the end of November. I don't want to play my Vivaldi.

Maybe this kind of taper does keep the music mentally and emotionally fresh. Maybe my brain knows when I have worked hard enough and distracts me as best it can. I would be worried if a student was approaching a recital this way, but I actually am comfortable enough with my own preparation style to look upon it as normal. Annoying, but normal.

The oboe taper almost feels involuntary, whereas I resist my running taper like crazy and nearly always sneak in an extra mile or two over my planned easy workouts. The difference may be that while I enjoy practicing and playing my instrument alone in my room I absolutely thrive on performance. I suspect that if I were a better runner I would orient to the culminating races more, and embrace the taper as an opportunity to sharpen up for the big event, but as it is it feels like an interruption in my basic fitness plan. I move joyously from project to project on the oboe, but I just keep running.


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…