Skip to main content

Inspiration From Another Genre

We went to Burlington during our Vermont trip and heard my brother, James Hearne, perform in a local coffee shop. James is a talented singer-songwriter from Philadelphia and a terrific performer. He had planned ahead and set himself up with this gig during his vacation, which is exactly the sort of thing I might have done if I'd thought of it.

James has great stage presence and a charming public personality. His pacing from song to song and over the course of the set was spot on, and he has a lot of variety in the songs he writes and performs, from real guitar-pounding barn-burning numbers to very intimate, gentle ones, to narrative songs, to songs with great hooks, and all with clever, interesting lyrics that get even better the more you hear them. He owned the room from the moment he started.

My brother and I live far apart, and this is only the second or third time I've heard him play live. I loved seeing that in our very different genres our performing styles are so similar.

Minus the smart lyrics, his is the kind of performance I love to give. I want the audience to hear the variety of sounds I can produce and to be moved in different ways with each number. I want to communicate with them through the music, and also to speak so that they can get to know me. I want the overall experience to be coherent, compelling, enriching, and exciting. And for some reason not all classical recitals feel like that.

I was so impressed that he could arrange a performance like this on his vacation. There's something flexible about being a guy with a guitar that is not the case for an oboist alone. I can certainly play a program of solo oboe music, but the oboe can get tedious pretty fast, and there's only so much repertoire. The addition of piano offers a larger variety of color and style options, but then I'm dealing with another person, who needs to be scheduled, rehearsed with, and paid.

Also, the number of bars and independent coffee shops willing to host and promote a folksinger dwarfs the number interested in an oboist. So there's a huge amount of performance flexibility there that is not available to me.

I cannot complain, though, as what my career has over his is established paying jobs. I make my living playing in the orchestra, making reeds, and teaching (i.e. talking joyously about) my instrument every day, and he pretty much has to work a soul-sucking retail job (my words, not his, James's bosses!) until he hits it big. Everyone please go to his page and promote him, incidentally - he's worth it!

I loved the friendly but intense feel of his concert. I loved the smart, elegant lyrics he writes and the compelling way he sells his music. Watching James perform I was impressed by the way he owned the room. Often when attending other people's concerts I fidget and wish I was up there performing myself. I just know I could be doing it better. In this case, though, it was such a treat to watch my little brother do it so well. I can't wait for my next show!

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…

Self-Talk

When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room.  In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra.  And it was OK.  We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details.  But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating.  The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult.  Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative.  Don't be too loud, don't come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture... And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault…

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…