Skip to main content

Preparing Chen

I am preparing Extase, by Qigang Chen, for a performance on October 23.  This will not be news to readers. 

Now that I am just a few weeks out, my preparation is changing.  For months I've been sweating the big technical passages.  Double-tonguing, especially in those lower left hand notes that want to crack anyway, was not previously a strength of mine.  Actually, a year and a half ago I would have said that I couldn't double-tongue at all.  It's taken a lot of patient work and a major overhaul of my reed-making to get to where I am now. 

Since late summer I have been working hard on the memorization of the piece.  A lot of runthroughs, a lot of listening, a lot of formal analysis and score study. I know the piece very well now, and have a clear understanding of what happens when.  My current plan, though, is NOT to play from memory.  There is no piano score, so I haven't been able to run it through in any sort of collaborative way.  If I had a way to feel out the entrances and holds and counterpoint while out of the spotlight I could easily pull it off, but I am finding the mostly intellectual task of memorizing bars of rest and arbitrary points of entrance a little beyond me in the time I have.  I am so glad for the time I've put in, though - I feel very strong and clear-headed for the performance. 

In my earlier preparation I never focused too much on the long circular breathing passages.  During these pages of music, I play for an absurd amount of time without stopping or taking my face off the oboe.  Throughout these long stretches I have fingered glissandos which I did have to put some work into, but the breathing technique has long been comfortable for me.  What I've discovered in my recent playthroughs, though, is that I get tense when I play extended passages of 32nd notes, or do a great deal of pitch bending, and this does affect my embouchure and my endurance.   So my work now is cut out for me.

I've marked off the four longest passages, and labeled them "endurance blocks", which I think might also be the brand name of some sort of marathon bar.  I play all four every day, trying to relax my body and to find the most efficient position for my embouchure muscles so I don't fatigue too rapidly.  After I work through those four sections, I take a short break and run the whole piece. In this way I practice working through the discomfort so that my endurance improves as well as my efficiency. It's killer, it hurts - and it helps.  By October 23rd I plan to be bulletproof.

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 …