Thursday, March 31, 2011

Learning Manners

Me: Hi, Zoe, what are you doing? Are you eating lunch?

She: *pause* *nod*

Me: What are you eating? A tortilla?

She: *silence*

He: Zoe, when someone asks you a question, you should answer. You could say, Yes, I am eating a tortilla, or No, I am not eating a tortilla. But you ARE eating a tortilla, so you should say Yes.

She: Poop.

*hilarity ensues*

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Running and Recitalling

I was out for a ten-miler over the weekend and it struck me how similar a half-marathon is to a recital. In both, the hardest part is at the very end, and in both, it's hard to prepare for that part. The first half hour of running is pretty easy, and then I cruise for a while, but after nine miles it gets difficult. My legs are heavy and while I'm not in pain, exactly, I do want to stop running and walk. Everything is uncomfortable.

In the same way, the opening few pieces on a recital feel effortless. I am riding on my preparation, and showing off for the audience, and even if the performance is not flawless it is energetic and feels great. But then things start to change. My mouth gets tired, which makes my reed feel different. Harder, more brittle. Maybe the reed actually is different by that time - it's tricky to know. My playing doesn't feel so effortless anymore, and when I make mistakes I can't brush them off as easily. I perceive that everyone can see me sweat.

To work through that discomfort I need to get accustomed to doing it, but there's no clear way to practice that final three miles without running the first ten, or to practice the last 15 minutes of an intense one-hour recital. To try to duplicate the feeling, I would need to play intensely, without breaks, for an hour, but still that wouldn't account for the adrenaline rush of having an actual audience there. It does make a difference.

If I make a tiny mistake in my practice room I can let it go, but as soon as people are listening I tense up slightly if I miss something. Even though I brush it off and continue playing I think it wouldn't be human if I didn't feel some emotion at making mistakes that others can hear. I would probably need people to come in and listen to me run my whole program to replicate that last 10-15 minutes, and frankly, there are only so many people who are going to come to my performances anyway. I don't want to squander any of them on practice sessions.

The solution, then, is to use my running workouts to inform my practice. My most successful races have been when I was regularly running both farther and faster than the race required. So last summer when I was training for half-marathons by doing weekly 10-15 mile runs and weekly speed workouts with short intervals at my 5K pace, I posted some of my best 10K times ever.

In preparing for this program, I consciously played long sessions. I went up to my studio as soon as Steve woke up and worked until lunchtime, doing intensive warmups and as the programs got closer, running long chunks of the recital all together. I also used all of the little chunks of time between lessons or when Zoe was occupied with toys or as I was finishing reeds to do very specific work on the technical aspects of the program. And I intentionally did that work when I was fairly fresh, so that I didn't always associate THAT page of the Pasculli, for example, with the feeling of being exhausted and tense and out of control.

The last parallel between running and recital preparation is the taper. I had been putting in lengthy, lengthy days on the oboe, and using every moment that I could find to practice. In the final week before my first performance I stopped. Partly because I got really busy with the orchestra and the quintet and the students - but mostly because I didn't want to do any more. My body and brain refused. I started banking rest and sleep instead of practice, and made it to the big event fresh, prepared, and ready!

Monday, March 21, 2011

CHROMA stress brain

My stress brain is not my friend. This week is the first performance of my BIG SHOW, Chroma. I've been working on this project for a year, and while I've done plenty of performances this season this one is the big ME event. I self-produce it in three different venues, and here are some things I actually need to do:

Add my event to more community calendars. Do another social network blitz in case anyone anywhere still hasn't heard of this. Put up flyers. Do some final research and write the script for the show. Confirm the projectors and assistants at the venues. Prep my computer for the technical requirements of the video stuff. Work out the transportation plan for myself and my pianist. Play through all of the music every day. Make a good reed.

Here is what I actually spent my spare time on last night and this morning. I got a huge reed shipment out. OK, that was important. I deleted and recreated all of my student schedules in my calendar hoping to fix my iPhone syncing problem. Didn't work, did cost me 35 minutes. I had a brilliant idea for a website tweak and spent 40 minutes on it. Go check - See how, on three of the pages, the gray area is about 80 pixels wider than the old version? Very important work. Oh yes.

And yet, as I embarked on these microscopic tasks they felt relevant, important, even urgent. That is what I mean. The closer I get to actually realizing this project the less I am able to see the big picture and judge how to spend my time. I only have so much, of course, between the teaching and the baby and the reed business and the rehearsing and performing with orchestras that is my actual career. I really need to stop puttering around on silly details.

Anyway. Here is CHROMA's information once again, and the amazing promo video that I am so proud of. Hope to see some of you there!

CHROMA, an exploration of color and contrast, featuring video elements by Paul Hamilton and Caleb Vinson and music by Rossini, Silvestrini, Pasculli, and Louiguy couples the light and movement of Impressionist painting with the beauty and virtuosity of the solo oboe. I have always been fascinated by the colors of the human voice and hope that you will join me as I celebrate the great opera arias of the 19th and 20th centuries with my own "voice."

Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at

Jennet Ingle and Paul Hamilton in CHROMA

Thursday, March 24, 7:30 pm CDT
Lake View Lutheran Church
835 W Addison, Chicago
$20, $15 students/seniors, $15 in advance

Sunday, March 27, 3:00 pm CDT
Valparaiso University
Duesenberg Recital Hall
Free and open to the public

Saturday, April 2, 2:00 pm EDT
South Bend Christian Reformed Church
1855 N. Hickory, South Bend
$15, $10 students/seniors, $10 in advance

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Happened?

So what can I learn from this one?

I don't really know why this audition was so much weaker than the one I took two weeks ago. In Nashville I made it to the finals and felt great about my performance. At the National Symphony audition this week I struggled. I knew the music and I was prepared. I was a little sleep deprived, but no more so than on many other weekends in which I've performed well. I didn't feel nervous, at least not until after things started going wrong.

And some things were good. I did enjoy my Mozart Concerto, and it came out every bit as light and effortless as I wanted. I laid down the Serenata from Pulcinella, which I have worked hard to make my friend. It's now my friend.

But I did not feel strong. I did not feel confident. Even in my warm up room I found myself waffling on reed choice, obsessing about low attacks, fussing with the (perfectly adequate) adjustments on my instrument, and sweating details instead of playing the oboe, enjoying it, and focusing on my larger plans. When I got onto the stage I immediately disliked my reed - what had felt flexible and effortless in the little room was thin and whiny in a big beautiful hall. But I was not assured enough about my alternates to make a change. Besides, the Unfussy Oboist plays on what she has and makes it work.

After the Serenata nothing went right. The first Variation of the Gavotte from the same piece was up next, and early on I had a finger glitch and had to stop and restart. Then I noticed what I thought was a wrong note printed in the part, and couldn't get my mind off it for the rest of the time. I made several more note errors in the second half of the piece, all while I fussed in my head about the earlier mistake and the typo. And this is not a hard excerpt, not one I had ever really worried about or struggled with. The committee asked me to do it again, and I was so flustered by the disaster that the first go-round had been that I did almost as poorly the second time. It felt as though my fingers were no longer connected to my hands, and certainly not to my brain. Instead of just standing there and letting the music flow effortlessly through me I was concentrating on every note, and the harder I tried the more of them escaped me.

From that point on in the audition I was playing defensively. Just trying not to screw up. And although nothing that awful happened, nothing particularly great happened either. I pushed for contrasts and colors and magic, but I think it just sounded pushy. The committee listened politely, but it was perfectly clear that I had lost them four minutes in.

When people say they hate auditions, or competitions, this kind of experience must be what they are talking about. It is rare for me to choke like this and I hated it. I always strive for my best. I was not on stage goofing around. But the harder I tried to be great the weaker I got, and I have no idea what made this performance so much worse than any other. That's the most frustrating part.

This is relevant for athletes, of course - no one can be at their best every day. If everyone could achieve the highest level they've prepared for every time out, we wouldn't need to compete at all. You could just compare the practice times of every elite runner and award the prize to the fastest. Preparation is half of the challenge, but the other half is what you actually pull out when it counts. Yet another reminder that having my head in the right place is as important as practicing, or to quote Yogi Berra, "Ninety percent of this game is half-mental."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

She SHOULD be afraid?

We went to a party recently. A baby shower. And although there were other children there, Zoe was clearly the life of the party. She is friendly and delightful, even with strangers, so after a few minutes of assessing the room and the number of grownups in it, she began to work it.

She interacted with people. Looked in their purses, named the things she found. Tossed a ball to them and tried to catch it when they tossed back. Asked for foods and drinks by name and said please (when reminded). Gleefully chased and played with the cats and dog. Followed the older kids around and watched them with total fascination. Cleaned up the paper from the present-opening, and helped to break in some of the more exciting gifts.

And although of course I was always aware of her location, and I checked on her if things got quiet (because a 19-month old in a non-childproofed home could potentially destroy the place in minutes) I was proud that for the most part I could leave her to her own devices. She was entertaining herself (and all of the grownups) and not being a nuisance.

The thing that surprised me happened late in the party. I was standing in the kitchen chatting with grownups while Zoe wrestled with the doggie on the floor near us. I gently extracted her when the dog showed signs of displeasure, and the gentleman I was talking with said, "Boy, she's not afraid of anything, is she?" "Nope," I responded with pride. And he shook his head, and said, "Even the things she should be…" And here he lost me.

Zoe is almost 20 months old. Of course she needs to develop a little bit of caution, about heights and traffic and strange dogs, but I cannot agree that she should fear any of those things. Fear is not a useful emotion, and I just love the fact that she has none. She will approach anyone and greet them happily and openly, and I admire that. Because she is so open and endearing she wins friends and fans everywhere she goes. As a reformed shy person, I can attest to the fact that life is way more fun when you dive into it than when you hide.

I am so happy in my own life that I have begun to DARE to do the things I want to do, but it has taken 37 years of struggle and personal growth to get here. I finally feel confident about myself, my career, my social network. If my daughter can be in this great a place in less time I am all for it. What a wonderful, fearless girl she is. Long may that last.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Slow Practice

I looked at my music before the first rehearsal. Of course I did. I skimmed a little bit through the pieces I'd played before and the parts that looked easy, and came to a cool-looking Brazilian arrangement. It was full of busy 16th notes and accidentals, so of course I prepared it thoroughly. The tempo was marked at quarter equals 112, and I knew that this conductor has a tendency to really push, so I made sure that I worked my metronome all the way up to 120, just in case.

On the third page there was a solo - a long one. Took up nearly half the page. It was marked Solo, espr. cantabile, phrase freely. I figured I knew what that all meant (expressive, singing, freely phrased) and prepared a very lovely oboe solo. It was still all fast notes, but hey, espr. cantabile! That's the oboe's specialty!

Welllll, it turns out that this moment in the program was conceived as a technical showpiece for the orchestra. Our tempo was easily 132, and there was not a hint of slowdown or leeway as we approached old espr. cantabile. So in I dove. I had not practiced it that fast, and there's a world of difference between 112 and 132 if you're tonguing 16th notes, but did I have a choice?

And it was fine. Not easy, and obviously I clicked away for a while the next day with my trusty metronome, but it was fine. And so again I have learned the value of slow practice. I had prepared to do something beautiful, and had taken care of all of the notes including the awkward fingerings and intervals. I had made sure that all of the articulations were clean and crisp, and that the occasional slurs were smooth. I had planned the shape of the phrase. And all of that work translated into the faster tempo.

If I had started out knowing that the solo was straight-up technical, I might have focused on speed to the detriment of the general excellence of the oboe playing. I might have allowed some little details to get missed. I certainly might not have taken time to plan the micro-phrases and internal rhymes within the solo. In fact, I probably would have just worked up the notes and gone no further, and it would have been totally acceptable, but I am much more pleased with the result of what I actually did.

See, if you can't play it slow, you can't play it fast. That's one I bump into with my students all the time. They come in with their music almost at performance tempo, but when we dive in to fix a small detail it turns out that they can only play it one way - fast and sloppy. Adjusting any one detail causes the whole structure to collapse. I send them back to work through the whole thing more slowly, and if they are diligent and do so we gradually begin to see improvement. The corollary which I realized this week is that if you CAN play it slow, and well, then maybe you can play it fast too. Fast is easy compared to excellent.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Upcoming Concerts and a Treat From My Archive

This Friday night the Northwest Indiana Symphony has a great concert. Our featured piece is the Dvorak Cello Concerto, which is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, after the first time I played it in the orchestra I went out and bought the solo cello part to transcribe for the oboe - I was that much in love. As it turned out, the outer movements were a little too unidiomatic for me to tackle that year, but I did wind up performing the slow movement several times. This is a live performance, warts and all. Don't judge me.

I'm really looking forward to playing it from within the orchestra again, and listening to our excellent soloist, Joshua Roman. I don't know where I went wrong in life that I don't play the cello.

As if that weren't enough excitement for one week, we also have a South Bend Symphony concert on Sunday afternoon. The theme is J.S.Bach and Sons, and we are featuring the very demanding Orchestral Suite number 3 and Brandenburg 5. My favorite part of this concert is getting to hear my colleagues play - the Brandenburg Concerto features our marvelous principal flutist and principal second violinist, and because there are no oboes in that work I will be free to listen and enjoy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mired in Mozart

A student said the other day, "Working on Mozart makes me feel…" and he pulled his elbows in close to his sides and vividly mimed being constricted in a very tight space. And I could understand where that was coming from. We had been working for several lessons on finding the appropriate classical style for the Mozart concerto, and over and over again we stopped because a note had been crudely ended, or a slur turned upside down with the second note heavier and longer than the first. Or because the vibrato was too heavy for the musical moment, or the release from an appogiatura was too active. And in this sea of details, he didn't feel that he had the freedom to make any music at all. It was just about making the articulation correct, and not actually fun.

I am not basically a stickler about performance practice. I am one of the least scholarly musicians I know, and I have not memorized the correct terms for the various Baroque ornaments and whether they are most appropriate in Italian or German music and from which precise era. I believe in playing what sounds good. But it doesn't sound good to treat Mozart like Strauss or Kalliwoda.

Playing classical music - from the classical era, I mean, not just "serious music" - is in fact somewhat restrictive. There's a sound that you use and a way that you end phrases. You rarely can rock the house with a truly full-throated sound, and there's little tolerance for romantic swooshes of tempo and dynamic. The music was composed according to strict rules, and its style is familiar to even the lay listener. Our concerto is a great piece, and does have some musical complexities to discuss, but first all of the technique and articulation needs to be pristine and appropriate, because anything less sounds immediately sloppy and studentlike.

It's been a long time since I struggled with this Mozart style. I had forgotten how rule-bound it felt to me when I was a student. Now I slip it on like a comfortable costume. Once I'm wearing it, I can still be me. I can still express my opinions through the music, and still have fun. It's like the language in Shakespeare's plays, or in Dickens's novels. It's challenging to get into that mode, but once you're in there you can use the language to say anything you want.

I suspect that the reason my student feels so uncomfortable in Mozart is that I talk too much. I feel obligated as a teacher to have reasons for what I suggest, and to be able to generalize rules so that a student can use them in other situations. But laying out in words every detail of what Classical Style entails is long and boring and well, restrictive. I can do better. A little back and forth playing in our next lesson will solve the issue far more successfully, and be more fun for both of us.