Skip to main content

Never Trust an English Horn

So I've been practicing a ton on the English horn. It's fun. I have to say, I think oboists have the best auxiliary instrument in the orchestra - flutes have to play piccolo which hurts the ears, clarinets and bassoons have really heavy things to carry when they double on their auxiliaries - except for the Eb clarinet, which is just silly.

And as I was practicing away I started to really struggle. The low register just wasn't speaking well. So I readjusted. All of those crazy little tiny screws on the instrument regulate the keys and pads and their relationships to each other, and members of the oboe family are notoriously finicky about well, everything. Changes in temperature or humidity, moisture touching the pads, someone looking at them sideways - it's easy to mess up those little adjustments. So I fixed it, and things were okay again.

I went to my Tuesday recording session, and there were only a few bars of EH, but again I was struggling. The attacks weren't quite right, and the intonation was getting funny, too. I changed reeds, and things were only a little better. I scraped the bejesus out of that reed, and got through the job.

The next day I was practicing again, and when I went to check the adjustments AGAIN I saw this.



Now it all made sense - and I panicked. I had almost no time off, my English horn had a five inch crack and was therefore unreliable if not technically unplayable, and I was playing for OPRAH and THE MILWAUKEE SYMPHONY and TAKING AN ENGLISH HORN AUDITION all in the next 10 days.

Wooden instruments crack all the time. Usually new instruments, not trusty 15-year-old English horns, but it happens. I have never had an oboe that didn't crack, and it's not usually a huge issue. I send it off, it is stabilized and pinned and polished, and it comes back as good as new. Better, in some ways - the sound can really open up and once it has cracked and been repaired it is less likely to crack again. But when my oboe cracks I can just play on my other one during the repair. I don't have a spare English horn - how many dang instruments do I have to keep on hand?

Soooo. I called Carlos Coelho, my WONDERFUL repairman, and set an appointment. I called a good friend and colleague and with her customary generosity she loaned me her lovely new English horn which I played and practiced on for several days. I drove down to Indianapolis at the crack of dawn for my repair and returned the same day, just in time to meet my students.

Actually, I would have been a little late if the first one hadn't called in sick - THAT'S how tight that day was. Ultimately I got through everything just fine.

But that feeling of momentary desperation was an intense reminder that you can NEVER trust an oboe. It's just looking for a way to let you down. If it's not the reeds, it's the adjustments, and if it's not those then it's the beautiful expensive wood itself. My profession has its personal frustrations, certainly - labor struggles, good gigs that pass me by, absurdly late nights driving home from distant cities and discouragingly low wages - but few aspects of my life are as infuriating as the instrument itself. Which, absurdly, is why I love it.

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…

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.


What a LIBERATING concept!


When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.


I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …