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Climbing the Slippery Slope

It's a slippery slope. One day you wake up a little late and don't go running. After all, one missed day certainly won't matter. The next day you do run, but it's kind of hot out and you go a little shorter, or a little slower than you had planned. Listen to your body, you say. The next day, because you ran yesterday, you can totally justify not running because you don't really feel like it, and before you know it you are running 3-mile weeks when your training schedule (which you haven't looked at in quite a while) suggests 18-20.

You start the habit of eating ice cream with the baby right before bed. She needs the calories, and sleeps better with food on her stomach, and a little bowl of ice cream covered with fresh strawberries is practically healthy. All those antioxidants! Then you run out of strawberries, but the ice cream is still there. Then Zoe goes to bed early but you still justify a nice big bowl, because you're a runner. (Sort of.)

Before you know it your clothes don't quite fit right and an easy 5-miler feels like hell and it just sounds like way too much work to get back to that effortlessly healthy place you came from a few short months ago. You never made a decision to eat daily sweets and stop exercising, but the bad habits sneak in and there you are.

I spend a lot of time trying to think beyond the physical limitations of the oboe. I don't want to be merely a good oboe player, I want to be an exciting musician. In pursuit of that, I do not fear an occasional mistake. I do not shun a sound that is less than pretty - I need to have a variety of colors in my palette and to be able to play outside the box. Pretty is important, but it's only one of the amazing sounds the oboe can make.

But it's a slippery slope. I forgive little mistakes in my practice room if I'm working on the big picture of drawing the audience into a difficult piece. My big musical vision can ignore a little missed attack or a raw interval. Recently I've had a lot of performances and auditions, and I was focusing on presentation, and nuance, and planning my speeches and costumes. And because I had been thinking about this more "elevated" sphere, and because I only have so much time, I had gotten away from what I need to do to play the oboe - just play the oboe - well.

It is time to correct the path I've been on, and the solution is not to force myself right back into my previously planned routine and expect that I can do a series of hard workouts and play all of my new repertoire with perfect form. The answer is to admit that I've fallen off track and do remedial work for a little while.

Mercifully, I am on vacation for a week. My family is here, and we are in a gorgeous place, and there is no urgency in our days. It's the perfect time to reset my habits.

I am practicing for short sessions every day, focusing on fundamentals. Soft attacks, fluid vibrato, exquisite intonation. I am running every morning, but allowing my legs to dictate how far I go. Just baby steps to get me back in the habit of regular workouts. When I get home I can add my speedwork and mileage goals back in, but here I just need to remember how it feels to get up in the morning and run.

This is day 3, and I can already feel the benefit. I ran faster and more fluidly this morning than I have in weeks, and easily surpassed the distance of my previous two outings. I have a secure handle on the oboe problems that have been plaguing me - the work I've been putting in with tuner, metronome, and reed-knife combined with rest and a lessening of the self-imposed pressure to be AMAZING EVERY MINUTE is having the desired result. By the time we head for home, and for our next big project, I expect to have my ducks in a row.

Oh, and for the record my eating habits are not the slightest bit reformed. But that IS what vacation is for, right?


  1. Lately, it seems that my practice sessions have been pretty bad. I know why too. Towards the end of the school year I was getting real burned out with everything. I just wanted to graduate and be done. So I finally did (June 9th). A week later I had rehearsals to go to for a summer band thing. I did the concert and didn't touch my instrument for 2 weeks until now.

    Yesterday's practice session was just awful. But today it seems that my fingers and brain and are connecting again. Although I need to work up my embouchure to be able to play high notes again. (high notes on bass clarinet are the devil.)

    I can't afford to skip practicing now because in the fall I start studying with a new clarinet teacher at the university I'm going to. And she's from IU so I know that I have to get my stuff together if I want to impress her because she doesn't mess around!

  2. Please forgive the typos in my previous comment!

  3. I find your posting on discipline in all areas of your life truly inspiring. Carry on!

  4. Thanks, Cooper - I just keep trying to make it work, you know?

  5. Best of luck, niceguy93 - it stinks to start back up after a layoff but once I can admit to myself that I'm not where I want to be it always comes back faster than I expect. Fight the good fight!


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