Skip to main content

It Pays to Have Options

I am playing Bach this week away from home. And although the music is hard, my rehearsal load is very light, so I have plenty of time to practice.

And for some reason, my third octave key has just quit working. I have used my screwdriver to open it all the way, and have closed it again one iota at a time trying to find the sweet spot where my high F#, G, and G# will just sing out. No go. I have cleaned it out thoroughly with cigarette paper and blown the excess water out of it. No go. What I need to do is take the key off and explore the hole - clearly some tiny piece of debris is in there ruining everything for me.

I didn't bring my entire oboe room with me, and I don't really have all of the tools I like to make this fix. I could improvise, sure - I do not fear taking my oboe apart - but my actual gig this week is Bach and there are no high F#s in the Easter Oratorio, and I can wait two more days to have my equipment ready to hand.

Meanwhile, though, I am trying to work on Ewazen, which sits consistently up on Es and F#s, and on Chen, which glisses all around in that highest register and pops F#s and Gs out frequently. Those are my two big current projects, and I certainly can't afford to waste the incredible resource I have down here, which is TIME to practice.

So I have gotten inventive. The fingerings in the altissimo register of the oboe are pretty flexible. There are many ways to produce an F#, in other words, and it just happens that my go-to fingering involves that magic 3rd octave key which (when it works) gives me an effortless high note. But with that avenue closed to me I have had to experiment.

And you know what? My plan is now better in many ways. I have a whole new set of excellent fingerings, some of which are much more effective for the glissandos in the Chen, and some of which are very nicely in tune and very reliable in the Ewazen. I might stick with these even after I fix my horn, too, because here's what I learned in my IDRS recital.

The 3rd octave key is great. The fingerings work like a million bucks, and allow me to pop high notes out with no real effort. BUT when anything at all goes wrong with that one key, which in fact did happen during my Silvestrini, I don't get a note at all. It wouldn't be so bad if the oboe just gave me a strained or out-of-tune version of the note, but since in fact I am not putting out a high-note effort I don't get a high note. If I rely on the key, and it lets me down, I fall flat on my face.

In contrast, the fingerings I'm having to use this week are a little more complicated. I have to work a little more with my face and air. But because I am putting in that work I get a note. I have to voice it - otherwise it might be pitchy or squeaky - but it is there.

I don't exactly know what version I will end up with in the fall when I perform these works. But having to scramble this week has opened my mind to the possibilities and I am grateful for it. Whatever I do will be well thought out, and I will have prepared fingering alternatives to move to in case anything does go wrong in the moment.

I've always thought of high notes as my specialty. Turns out I just had good keys. After this week, I'll have a stronger base of knowledge AND a repaired octave key. I'll be unstoppable!


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…

Warming Up - Long Tones

I must not talk enough about warmups. I say this because recently, in my last lesson ever with a student leaving for college, I was mentioning something about my warmup regimen and his jaw dropped. Apparently long tones and intervals and scales with varied articulations are not part of his daily routine, nor had it ever occurred to him to use his band's warmup period to improve his playing. And I'm not telling this story on him, but on myself. Obviously I need to address the warm up period because it is fully half of the playing I do, and sometimes more.

Much of practicing is focused on learning a specific piece - either something you are performing at a specific time in the future, or an etude for your lesson, or the piece you're playing in band or orchestra. You are working on the specific problems or techniques that that piece requires. Of course you are working in as efficient a way as possible, and at the end of your practice period you can play the passage or pi…