Skip to main content

Easy is Hard

The memorization I'm working on now is one of the hardest things I have done. 

I am about a month and a half out from performing Qigang Chen's Extase with the South Bend Symphony, and I can play it.  All of the hardest parts are secure in my fingers and memorized - I've been over them enough hundreds of times that I almost can't help but play them all the way through once I start.  A few other notey passages are close enough that I'll easily have those with just a little conscious effort.  And I do have a good grasp of the form and of what comes next most of the time.

It's nice that my playing and teaching work is starting up again, too.  I have a lot of solo hours in the car coming up this week and next.  I'll be listening all the way through the piece every time I leave home, and that will be invaluable in terms of hearing my entrances, memorizing the orchestral cues I need to know, and developing my sense of the energy arc that will be required.  My plan has been to have the big picture of the piece solid enough in my head to start running with it by the 23rd of this month - 30 days out. 

But what worries me is the "easy" stuff.  I have quite a lot of this kind of material, and I can play it without a fuss.  It's not especially melodic.  Nor is it made up of patterns that I can easily determine and remember intellectually.  It's not predictable and I can't hum it.

Also challenging are these long circular breathing/glissandoing passages.  I can do the tricks, but it's very hard to remember in the moment whether I have held the high C# for 4 bars or 5, and whether I wiggle in bar 3, or diminuendo there.  Does the gliss happen on 4?  On 4 of this bar or the next one?  And unfortunately it matters what I do.  The orchestral parts are hard enough, and the piece complex enough, to be an ensemble challenge even without having to worry about missing beats from the soloist. 

I spent my evening session last night playing through and through some of this material.  It's not technically difficult, but I think  at this point I just need tons of repetition to drive it home. 

In 2003 I played Elliot Carter's Inner Song.  I performed it in recital 3 or 4 times, and then took it (with 6 other pieces) to the Tokyo Competition. At that time I did not find it particularly hard to memorize.   Like these sections of the Chen, it was filled with random-seeming intervals spaced irregularly in time.  The oboe playing itself was far more difficult for me, though. There were great extremes of range and dynamic, and I was playing high As for the first time in solo literature. I was 8 years younger than I am now.  I did not have a 2-year-old.  So I did it over and over.  I worked for pitch, for fluidity, for smooth fingers and invisible register breaks.  I found that with that much repetition the "tune" was catchy enough to get badly stuck in my head, and I'd hum motives as I cooked dinner or drove to gigs.  It wound up feeling melodic to me, and I truly enjoyed playing it and presenting it. 

I do not have that kind of time right now.  The practice time I can claim is divided between my solo work and preparation for the orchestra concerts I have weekly between now and then.  I am getting ready for an audition as well.  We are closing on a house next week and moving before the end of the month.  Did I mention the two-year-old? 

Of course I could perform using the music in October.  It is not unusual for a wind soloist to do so, especially in a contemporary work like this.  But that is not my preference.  I love the feeling of stepping out on stage without a net.  I love the music flowing through me and directly out to the audience, without the intervening visual clutter of a music stand.  I love having to keep track of all the details in my head - when they are all in one place like that it is actually easier.  I lose focus when I don't have to focus hard.  And it just plain looks better.

So I will keep at this.  If I am not able to get through it in my head by the end of the month I will probably plan to use the music - here's a different feeling to the preparation, so I will need to commit one way or the other at some point. Stay tuned!


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 …