Skip to main content

Working It Out on the Oboe

The running magazines and books I read all stress the importance of knowing what your workout is before you go out. Of having a number of different workouts that you do at different times of the year and different days of the week, each of which focuses on different skills and hones different strengths. Even though I continue to go out for the same 6-mile loop 75% of the time, I acknowledge this intelligent idea. When I added a weekly speed workout a few years ago I DID get a lot faster, and when I make myself do a weekly long run I DO get stronger. I schedule my runs in little tables, just like the magazines say. When I get away from my routine, as I did earlier this summer, I notice the change for the worse.

I do this on the oboe too - different kinds of practicing for different purposes - but I almost never plan in advance. Rather, I get on the instrument, work through my warm-ups for a while and just see where the day takes me. How much more productive could I be if I had a chart? If I knew in advance that every Thursday, say, I'd be recording each page of my concerto, or that on Saturday I had to play all the way through my excerpt list, would I use my time better? Would I actually do those good, healthy, oboe workouts more often if I scheduled them? If I did them more often, would I be better? It certainly seems reasonable.

Running workouts are quite specific. They are designed to build endurance, or boost speed, or improve form and economy. And there are not that many different ones in my repertoire - hills, long runs, speed intervals, tempo runs. Most weeks I won't do more than two quality sessions - the rest of the time I just head out and put in some miles for fun. In contrast, there are easily more than a week's worth of activities I might do on the oboe. This could get very complicated. But I quite love the idea of incorporating a regular session or two to measure where I am and force myself to be accountable.

Here's my new plan. Once a week - Tuesday, say - I need to play all the way through my big piece - Qigang Chen's Extase - and record myself to see how far I still have to go. I won't be able to try it out with piano before I meet with the orchestra in October, as there's no piano reduction that I know of, so SOMETHING needs to force me to play all the way through and actually hold all of the notes through the circular breathing sections without getting bored and giving up. And playing through is very very different from working on spots, or on a page at a time, which is my normal mode in every day practice. It requires me to use my energy differently, and is obviously the way I'll ultimately need to play to perform. As I get closer to my performance, I will start playing through the concerto multiple times in a session. Hard to do, but so valuable.

One day a week - Friday, perhaps - I need to go slow. Really slow. This kind of practice tasks my endurance as well as my concentration and patience, and forces me to consider every detail, in a way that I might not if I am simply playing at or near tempo. It gives me time to pay attention to every pitch, every interval, every articulation. I have time to find the resonance that the oboe wants to make on each note and to figure out how to access it from the surrounding ones.

It is probably not necessary to do every one of my various warm-up activities every day. To do so takes an hour or more and tires me out before I even get into my rep. And although I have the time right now to devote to that, school will be starting soon and I'll be drowning in students and reed orders again, and reduced to squeezing practice into fifteen minute slots between lessons. So I will chart a rotating set of warmups. I always start with a set of long tones to get my air and vibrato flowing and to check the articulation and response of my reed. After that, though, I have options: arpeggios that I do slurred and fast for finger speed and lightness; scales which I use to work on articulation and double-tonguing; etudes which push my musicianship and exaggerate my ideas in a small-picture setting; low register long-tone studies that let me work on fluidity in that most uncomfortable part of the oboe; and others, too, that I pull out as I spot deficiencies to work on. If I keep them in rotation, I don't need to worry that I'm forgetting one - this is why I love a system.

After all, why shouldn't my oboe practice be as intentional and accountable as my personal fitness? I am highly motivated to be the best I can be, and in terms of our family's income and future more rides on my performance quality than my 10K time. I shall take a page from Runners World and seek improvement in a training plan.

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 …