Skip to main content

Teaching Ewazen

I almost always have a solo program of some sort that I'm working on in addition to my orchestral concerts.  And I have occasionally needed a new piece for a student and had nothing on me besides my own music - so sometimes I will teach a piece I am simultaneously working on myself. 

I don't like it.  For one thing, it can be hard for me to hear another person's interpretation when my own is so vivid in my head.  So I might correct the student's phrasing to mine instead of listening for and accepting the thoughts they have about the music.  For another, I don't like showing them up by performing a work that they have in progress.  It just feels mean.  Maybe it doesn't make them feel bad about themselves, but I can't help feeling a little guilty. 

But I'm having a great time right now.  I'll be performing Eric Ewazen's concerto, Down a River of Time, with the Notre Dame Symphony Orchestra in November, and I have two oboe performance majors at that school.  The conductor's suggestion was that they should both learn the piece, too.

I was hesitant at first, obviously.  But I am very impressed with the way he is handling this.  My students will play the piece with the orchestra in rehearsals, which obviously is great for the strings as they learn it.  How much fun would it be to rehearse concertos WITH SOLOISTS every afternoon, rather than patiently counting through bars and bars of meaningless accompaniment? He is planning to have each of them record it in the final weeks of preparation, which is fantastic for them.  I didn't come out of college with a recording of myself playing a major concerto with orchestra, but they will. When they actually hear the performance, they will know all the ins and outs of the piece, and be extremely educated listeners.  This is a win-win-win situation.  It wouldn't have occurred to me, and I give full credit to Dan Stowe for it.

And it's great for me, too.  Each student has a very different approach to the piece, which is fun for me to hear, discuss, and consider.  I haven't started yet on my own full-scale preparation (obviously I've played it several times before) but in teaching it I am doing a lot of analysis.  I am honing my own plans and reconsidering some phrases that I hadn't previously put a lot of thought into.  Having to put my own musical intuitions into words is, as always, extremely valuable for me.  Generally, once I can articulate the problem or the solution or the story, solving it on the oboe is the easy part.  Making a coherent plan is the challenge, and right now I'm working on that off the oboe - or at least off my oboe - and feeling a lot of benefit. 


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…

Warming Up - Long Tones

I must not talk enough about warmups. I say this because recently, in my last lesson ever with a student leaving for college, I was mentioning something about my warmup regimen and his jaw dropped. Apparently long tones and intervals and scales with varied articulations are not part of his daily routine, nor had it ever occurred to him to use his band's warmup period to improve his playing. And I'm not telling this story on him, but on myself. Obviously I need to address the warm up period because it is fully half of the playing I do, and sometimes more.

Much of practicing is focused on learning a specific piece - either something you are performing at a specific time in the future, or an etude for your lesson, or the piece you're playing in band or orchestra. You are working on the specific problems or techniques that that piece requires. Of course you are working in as efficient a way as possible, and at the end of your practice period you can play the passage or pi…