Skip to main content

Keeping Busy

I wound up some reed blanks this morning, even though I didn't really need them. I just sent out a large shipment and I have over a week until my next big one and enough reeds-in-progress to cover my current orders. Monday is more or less a lost day for me, as I have a sixty-minute commute and eleven students, and I only had an hour for myself at home before I left. I should probably have used the time for a slow, serious warmup and paid some attention to the excerpts I'm preparing for my audition a week away. But I chose to use 30 minutes of my precious alone time to work needlessly ahead and have blanks in my case that I could turn into reeds. And here is why.

I enjoy teaching. Not all of my students are reedmakers, but those that are will occasionally need a lesson solely devoted to this difficult craft. And there's only so long I can stand to sit idle while a student is painstakingly scratching away at the surface of a reed that is still miles from being playable. Yes, I talk to them and correct their hand position and knife technique, but ultimately they just have to scrape until they fulfill the task of creating the specific section of the reed they are working on. And because they don't make dozens of reeds every week, the skill is fairly unfamiliar, and it takes them a while. Understandably.

But meanwhile I am going crazy. Teaching the oboe is very engaging for me - I am paying attention to the playing and the instrument and the music and the concerns of the student - but watching someone slowly work through a piece of cane that I could have been playing the Brahms Violin Concerto on 10 minutes ago is pretty agonizing.

I'm not proud that sitting still for half an hour without working feels so awful for me. I should be able to get into a zen place and just enjoy the camaraderie of the reed desk without my hands being employed, but I struggle. I never feel like there is enough time in my day, so letting it go by uselessly is almost painful.

So I make my own. I demonstrate first, and I make sure that I have a few reeds ready at the stage the student is working on, so I can present examples as soon as I am asked. Then while the work is going on in the chair next to me I power through 5 or 6 and scrape them until they crow and stash them back in my case. On a few occasions I have been caught out teaching a reed lesson without busywork of my own to do. I practically chew my own arm off.

In fact, today no one was too concerned with reeds, so my eight pretty red blanks are still in my case waiting for my afternoon session tomorrow. And although I squandered a little practice time, at least I know that I came prepared. I was ready for action.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

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…

Self-Talk

When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room.  In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra.  And it was OK.  We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details.  But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating.  The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult.  Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative.  Don't be too loud, don't come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture... And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault…