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Showing posts from April, 2011

Practicing. It Matters.

Practicing. It matters.

I have been on a break for several weeks now. Not a total non-playing break, but a not-really-into-it break. Partly I needed a mental respite from the intensity of my focus leading up to the Chroma performances at the end of March. I rode on the momentum of that project for a week or so after it ended, and then gradually began to peter out. Partly the weather has been so miserable here - cold and rainy almost every day - that I haven't been in the mood for anything but sleep and food, and on the few days that it did get beautiful all I wanted to do was play outside with Zoe. So, minimal practicing, only the reed work I had to do, and almost no writing.

And although I have applied myself to the oboe most days, and I am still moving forward on my goals and projects, I have unabashedly scrapped my normal deeply helpful warmups. At most I'll do my scalework, because scales are fun, but generally I've just been picking up the oboe and diving into the…

Hiring a Musician

Steve and I disagree this week. It's Holy Week, and Spring is the season of church gigs and musicians coming in as ringers with student ensembles, and as a result we are getting calls from a lot of people who do not regularly hire musicians. Steve gets irritable with these "newbies" who beat around the bush on the phone, don't have all of the details that we need, and have to be helped with the process. If we are not speaking directly with them but rather emailing or playing phone tag, the process can take days.

And his point is well taken. We are professionals, and have a right to be treated professionally. For the record, the proper way to hire a musician is this. Call or email, and tell the person when they are needed, what instruments and repertoire are involved, where the gig will take place, and how much it pays. Then the musician has all the information he needs to decide whether to accept the gig or not, and he will respond within a very few hours with a…

What's Behind Your Eyes

I can't believe I am writing another post that draws inspiration from America's Next Top Model. (Read the first one HERE.) It is such a silly show and I am not proud of watching it. But I take my ideas where I can find them.

On that show, they are always talking to the girls about communicating through their photos. Apparently, it is not enough to be pretty, and to know how to use the light to catch the angles of your face beautifully. That is all craft, but the art is that you also have to be telling a story with your eyes and have something going on in your head. And suddenly this week that all popped into focus and made sense to me personally.

I played a gig a few weeks ago and was blown away by the playing of the excellent principal oboist. I was astounded by how much meaning and depth she could pack into her lines. Even single note solos were breathtaking in their clarity and sense of direction. Of course, the oboe playing itself was flawless and lovely, but her m…

Good Oboe Book

I read a great book this week - Oboemotionsby Stephen Caplan. I was skeptical at first, because the oboe is such a niche market. I buy anything that says OBOE on it, because there is not much, and of course I find a lot of fluff. Because there is so little that is specific to my instrument, I am accustomed to reading sports psychology or marketing manuals and automatically translating the ideas in my mind for my own needs. Having all of the work done for me sort of felt a little cheap - like I wasn't really having to think to learn.

That said, the book was terrific. All about the physicality of playing the oboe, and intelligent ways to think about what is going on inside one's body. There were a few tweaks that I've been thinking about in my own playing - his approach to basic articulation is a little different from my own, for example, and I've been using this Mozart week to experiment - but mostly I was excited to have more ways to approach student problems. …

Upcoming Concert

This week I'm playing The Marriage of Figaro with the Notre Dame Opera - concerts Thursday through Sunday. And it sounds great! Most of the cast and half of the orchestra are undergraduates, and rehearsals and performances are eating up every evening this week, but I'm enjoying myself 100%. It is just such a treat to get to play this music. Everyone is doing a great job and we're having fun. I love my life.

Running Long

This morning I ran more than 10 miles for the first time this year. I enjoy running long, but not until I get going. Sometimes not until it's over, even. I really have to psych myself up to get out the door.

To slip out for 6 or 7 miles is easy and fun, and I don't have to think too hard about it, and if I feel like pushing it to 8 I can. No problem. But to commit in advance to double digits feels intimidating. I leave home and I know I won't be back for more than an hour and a half. I have to consciously start slowly so I don't get tired too fast. I have to get out early enough that the time commitment doesn't wreck the whole day - ideally before Zoe wakes up so I don't squander Steve's goodwill.

I run all the time, but the long run is the workout I don't look forward to. I plan it a week in advance and try to prepare mentally. I lay my clothes out the night before. I decide on the route. And still it's easy to talk myself out of it even …

Recording Myself

I had a student come into her lesson sounding much much better than she had the week earlier. Her Mozart Concerto was stylish and flowing, her intonation was excellent, and she had a focus to her sound that was new, and welcome. What had she done in her practicing to make such a difference?

I recorded myself, she announced, just like you suggested!

And my mind was blown. I suggest that a lot, but I've never had anyone really do it and improve themselves that much. The idea often seems to go in one ear and out the other, like Practice with your metronome and Don't use that Eb key on your forked F.

I do recommend recording yourself. It is one of the many tools you can use to improve your own playing, and to be your own teacher. It can be difficult, though, to do it well and get good information from it.

I record myself often, but if I'm not really focusing on the goal at hand I can listen back to what I've just laid down, say Yup, that was Mozart, all right, and move o…

Upcoming Concert

This weekend in South Bend we are playing Elgar's Enigma Variations, which is one of my favorite works to perform. I love the concept - variations representing each of the composer's friends - and it is orchestrated beautifully. Every entrance I play feels comfortable on the instrument (if not easy) and feels welcome in the ensemble. Maybe that's a strange statement, but there's a warmth to the piece which makes it a real pleasure to participate in, and which I believe translates to the audience's experience of it as well.

Also on the program is Ravel's Bolero, another masterfully orchestrated work. The melody and tempo remain the same throughout the piece, but Ravel makes it interesting by constantly changing the timbres and tone colors that we hear and building the dynamic and intensity dramatically to the end. It's an audience favorite, and a bassoonist's nightmare. It's also one of the very few non-baroque works to make use of an oboe d'a…

New Projects!

It's hard to believe that all of my CHROMA performances are over. I've been working on some of this material for a year or more, and for the last month the recital project has been all-consuming, with every spare minute filled with CHROMA activities. If I wasn't practicing I was fretting about promotion, or calling around to confirm venues and projectors and ticket takers, or confabbing with Paul, or driving to Chicago for rehearsals.

All of a sudden, I can see my way to other projects, and I can't wait to get back to enjoying all of the other things I do. I've been running, some - but now I'll be really pushing my distance and speed to prepare for the Sunburst half-marathon in early June.

I'm eager to get back to fundamentals a little in my practicing - I have needed to spend my time thinking about the big picture of an hour-long recital and its pacing and performance, but now I can get microscopic with my playing again and work on a few ideas I've had…