Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Earned This One

I earned this cold.  I earned it by burning the candle at both ends all semester long, staying up late to write or wind reeds even though I had to be up early to teach, forcing the second practice session instead of the nap, caffeinating instead of exercising to get through my afternoon lessons. 

Finally, I earned it by giving in and teaching my final student last week, who was obviously ill and mucusy, instead of sending her right back out to her mom’s car with a Christmas cookie and a smile as I briefly considered doing. 

As a performer I don’t think twice about going to work sick.  I have played concerts with a bottle of cough syrup beside me that I drank like water.  I have played with broken ribs and recently excavated wisdom teeth.  It takes a pretty serious illness to keep me home, because that’s what it means to be professional. There isn’t a co-principal oboe waiting in the wings to slide into my seat and cover my job, and when I play freelance gigs it’s an article of faith that I will be there, early, come rain or shine or just about anything.  If I’m not there I don’t get paid, and maybe I don’t even get hired back.

HOWEVER, if it’s about being one-on-one in a small room with students all day long, I am much more likely to cancel.   If you as a student are thinking of coming and sharing your germs with the captive presence of your teacher, I would say think again.  Your music study won’t suffer that much by missing a single week, and your teacher will appreciate it.    A word to the wise!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Upcoming Recital

Jennet Ingle

What's Going On?

I am giving a recital at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago on January 6, at 12:10 pm.  This program will be a shorter, more traditionally classical version of my upcoming Moveable Feast performance. It is free and open to the public.

This Chicago program will feature a veritable travelogue of works, drawing the listener along with me to Tunisia, Naples, and Scotland, along with the wide-open spaces of our own nation.  I am also featuring the Bach G Minor Sonata, as a personal home-coming.  I grew up hearing and internalizing  the complex counterpoint and fugues of J. S Bach, and in many ways his works for a musician - especially an oboist - feel like coming home.  It's a piece that terrifies and thrills me, and I am eager to present it in beautiful and historic Fourth Church.

What Else is Going On?

The full version of A Moveable Feast, starring myself, Paul Hamilton, and cabaret singer Justin Hayford, will be presented on:

January 22nd at 3pm at Valparaiso University.  I will soon have repeats of this neat program scheduled in February in South Bend and Chicago.

I am still working on an East Coast Tour of last spring's CHROMA program, anchored by a performance on:

Sunday, April 29th at 3:00, at Delaware County Community College outside Philadelphia.

I am giving a noontime recital at the Chicago Cultural Center on July 23rd, 2012.  I have no idea what will be on it, yet.  But we'll have fun.

Where Else Can I Read About You?

I am on the web at, and I blog about my adventures at  If you are not on my email list, please do join it HERE - I will not send spam but I will keep you well informed about my upcoming performances.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Zoe's Musical Beginnings

I've mentioned before that I started out on the piano by figuring out melodies.  Connecting notes and trying to learn how they worked.  I'm fascinated to observe that Zoe's initial approach to the instrument is totally different from mine.

She sits at our new piano and plays random notes, and tells us what to feel.  If she is playing slowly then the music is sad, and we should cry. When we are "crying" she either gets up and hugs us so we feel better (so awesome!) or bangs faster, to indicate that the music is now happy and we should dance. 

Her other piano game is accompanying herself - she plays "chords" in alternating hands while she "sings" the ABC song or Camptown Races or Sesame Street.  She makes us sing along.  She loves it when we clap at the end. 

When I was little I wanted to know how music worked. Although I make my living as a performer now, I learned about the interpersonal aspects of music later.  Her immediate interest is in how others react to her music.  How it can elicit emotions.  How it can bring people together. 

I can see where all these elements come from. The accompanying is because Steve plays guitar and piano for her all the time, and the intentional stirring of our emotion is from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - she LOVES the scene where Schroeder plays a medley of WWI songs and Snoopy reacts with dramatic emotion to the changes in character. 

But as a child I saw and experienced the same sorts of things and still turned into me and not her.  She's so different from me and I made her.  I love that and I have no idea how it happened.   Is every child this miraculous?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Working On It

I am still thinking about a method for getting my energy and focus better directed so that I might finally win a big audition. 

Several people have recommended books - Zen and the Art of Archery, The Inner Game of Tennis, Performance Success, The Power of Full Engagement - and these are all books I own and have read before, enjoyed, and drawn inspiration from.  I've got them pulled out and ready to refer to.

My December has not been generous with time either for practicing or for reading and intellectual speculation.  So many Christmas concerts, so much travel, so much stressing out over the phone with Steve in Tennessee, so many reeds due.

But what I am doing is performing.  I've had a Nutcracker or a Pops concert or at least an orchestra rehearsal almost every day since the 1st of the month, I'm treating this as an opportunity to really analyze what's going into my performances.  How often do I really focus well, and what did I do to get there? 

Here are some things I have noticed so far.  Things I can physically control. 

Posture actually makes a dramatic difference. If I slump in my chair my mind wanders. Not that I slump in  auditions, but I love my new awareness that I can control that tendency in rehearsal or performance.  

When I am at my best my actual focus is broader than I had assumed it would be - I see more of the page than just the line I am playing, and hear more than just myself.  Knowing that, I can choose to force that wider lens when I am feeling overwhelmed. 

I'm experimenting with deep controlled breathing between pieces to maximize my recovery and stay present in my body. 

I'm also trying to manage my coffee consumption.  Not to eliminate it, no, no, NO.  But to be aware of how many cups I have and how long before I play and what seems to be optimal.  I've found on previous occasions that I can be too calm for a concert.  Because stage fright is not fundamentally a problem for me I normally have some coffee on the way to a performance.  I figure that a paying audience is entitled to a slightly heightened version of me.  I'm not sure I've drawn any conclusions yet, besides that multiple cups on an empty stomach are not a great choice. Duh.

This is obviously analysis I could have done 10 years ago - but I've always basically been good enough.  Good enough to get where I am, good enough to not worry about the nitty-gritty of performing. It's easy to play exactly as well as I play and hard to be better. But now I want it.  My self talk has always been that I am constantly driven to improve, but I am beginning to think that sometimes I work very hard to stay in exactly the same place. I needed that recent kick in the pants to get moving again.

At any rate, I am committed to my new project.  I am teaching myself to trigger the time warp I need and to stay out of my own way so that I can perform more consistently than before.  I am enjoying dipping back into my performance books and paying attention to my process more than I had been doing.  I am inspired by the work I am doing.  I love my life.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Upcoming Concert

Our annual Home for the Holidays concert takes place tonight and tomorrow afternoon, here in the beautiful Morris Performing Arts Center.  I've been playing Christmas Pops all month, in various towns, and despite the repetition and schmaltz I always enjoy these concerts.

There is something so nice about a community tradition like this.  I love to see all the people at the symphony who come only once a year.  Families all dressed up in red and sparkles.   Everyone out at the same time, enjoying the ornate hall and the festive atmosphere.  At this once-a-year pops concert I don't even chafe at all the normal symphonic rituals - the walking out and bowing, the formal tuning procedure, the standing up and sitting down.  I kind of enjoy this showing off of our traditions.

So come on out, if you live nearby.   It's fun to slow things down and turn off your phone for a couple of hours to enjoy the magic of the season with the Symphony!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Fear the Bach

I admit it.  I am scared of J.S.Bach's big G minor Sonata.  And I'm not totally sure why.

I've performed it before, back in 2002, and it went fine.  There's no horrible backstory to make me dread it. 

It's beautiful.  I like the themes, and the interplay between the oboe and the piano.  Or, actually, between the two hands of the piano and the oboe.  The three-line counterpoint is complex, and interesting.  The second movement has a lovely melody that is almost romantic.  The third is a fun fugal romp in cut time, followed by a terrific 12/16 section that can't decide whether to lilt or gallop. It's fun to play.  So I don't dislike the piece at all.

Endurance is a factor in this work - it does go and go and go, for 15 minutes, and Bach does not give me a lot of comfortable long rests in which to regain my composure, but I have played more grueling pieces- the second Schumann Romance, for example, and the Strauss Concerto, and I don't fear those as much as I do this work. 

The technique is tricky at times.  Just a little un-oboistic in its intervals, and sometimes at its hardest when I am most oxygen-starved, which is just mean.  But heavens, I've played many many pieces that were much harder.  Even on this same program, there are licks in Pasculli and Tomasi that I am far more likely to miss than anything in the Bach.  So that's not it, either.

All of those elements factor into my fear, but I think my biggest problem with the piece is that I don't understand it.  That monumental first movement just keeps ticking along, for 7 minutes or more, and I struggle to grasp the big picture of the piece.  All of the counterpoint is flawlessly written, well crafted, and intelligent, and certainly there are a few cadences I can grab onto.  But I can't seem to find a narrative arc to sell to the audience, or to myself.  I hear the motives, but they seem to repeat at random intervals and I don't have a sense of the movement as a whole.  There's sort of a high point, but then there's sort of two or three of them, and there doesn't seem to be any real reason that it should end where it does.  We play and play, and then we stop.

I think it is this discomfort with the form of the piece that makes me fear it.  I have listened to plenty of recordings, but none that make me lean in and groove along. Each player does a beautiful job of playing each individual measure, but the piece ultimately goes nowhere.  And that is how I feel playing it too - unsatisfied.  I am so narratively driven that I feel very uncomfortable just dinking along enjoying the ride.  I think this piece may just be too cerebral for me.

So I have a whole set of recitals coming up, some of which are not even officially scheduled yet, and this Bach will not be on most of them.  Besides my obvious concerns, I'm not sure it resonates with  my theme as nicely as some other pieces might. 

But I WILL perform it on my first program, at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago on January 6.  Because I refuse to live in fear. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Successful Accent?

Remember how Yamaha made me better?  Here's another awesome example of the same phenomenon.

I have a very young student who has been struggling to get her oboe playing off the ground.  She's hampered by the dreadful instrument rented to her by the local music store. 

The "oboe" she has does not sound good, which is not too unreasonable as few fifth grade oboists sound good on anything.  Regrettably, it also does not work.  If I adjust it carefully myself, turning all of the little screws (which are loose and wobbly in their holes anyway) to their most perfect positions, and then put a good reed on and CRANK my fingers down really hard, I can make that thing play almost all of the notes it should.  When she does it, the oboe basically thumbs its nose at her and refuses. 

As a result, the feedback loop she needs is totally severed.  When she looks at her music, and translates the dot she sees into an F, say, and remembers the fingering, and then tries to produce the sound, it doesn't come.  So she works harder and harder to make it speak, and even if it eventually does she has totally lost her train of thought.  There's no way for her to get through even the most familiar piece of Christmas music without getting stuck and frustrated.  We've been working together for a few months and have made very little progress.  I try to keep it fun, and to take the focus off the page and invent fun games and exercises to increase her fluency, and we have a good time in lessons, but she comes in the following weeks back to square one.  She can't reproduce the success at home, and is consequently having a hard time.

Fortunately, her mother is also a music teacher and understands these issues.  They are actively seeking a new instrument.  It's a bit delicate, of course, because oboes are expensive.  You don't want to spend a fortune until you know she's committed to the instrument, but she can't make any progress or have any fun until she has a horn that works.  But she says she wants to, so last week they brought a couple of new instruments in to try.

These oboes were Accents - if you've never heard of that brand be glad.  They are comfortably in the realm of what a parent of a not-really-motivated child is willing to afford, and they have an impressive amount of keywork so they look like a really good deal.  But I dread seeing 14-year-olds come in with these.  They have such dreadful bores that everything is out of tune all the time, and the attractive shiny keys are not well made and frequently bend and shift and go out of adjustment so that notes won't work.  I played them, cringed, and advised against purchasing one.  She would have outgrown it almost immediately.

But here's what happened.  We played the whole lesson on the Accent, and she practiced with it at home for the trial week until her mom had to return it.  This oboe was not a good instrument, but compared to her Signet rental it was amazing, in that it worked.  When she fingered an F she got one, and she could play the low notes, and the high ones, and the sharps and flats too.  And as a result she could play recognizable tunes, and suddenly it got fun, so she practiced. 

When she came in for her next lesson, on her old oboe, she was a rock star.  She had the confidence of someone who could play Pat-a-Pan, and play it well.  She could play We Three Kings.  She could play Silent Night. I even convinced her to sight-read, a little.  In so many ways she was a different player than before, even on the rickety old oboe that barely functioned.  She was the boss of it. She could overlook the notes that didn't come, and most of them actually did.  She knew she was doing it right because the Accent had taught her how to tell.

We've started looking into some used Foxes and Yamahas, and the  family probably will buy a nice intermediate instrument soon, but meanwhile the loan of an oboe that worked made it possible for her to play, and learn, and get confident, and grow.  This is the happiest experience I've ever had with an Accent oboe!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Piano

We just bought a piano.  I feel like such a grownup.

Now, despite taking lessons from third grade through eleventh, and despite graduating from a conservatory with a two-year piano requirement, I cannot play the piano at all.  If it were just about me we would not have bothered.  A piano is a BIG piece of furniture, and it weighs you down and ties you down.  It's a commitment.

But I remember having a piano in my house when I was growing up. Unlike a keyboard, or a record player, or even a radio, which an adult has to operate for you when you are small, a piano is always right there.  I spent hours just fooling around on it, and picking out tunes, and figuring out how it worked.  I could play the M*A*S*H* theme by ear before I entered school, and could pick out melodies from Disney movies or Broadway shows.  I determined that there is only one place on the keyboard that you can start Chopsticks and have it work out with no black keys.  I discovered a dominant seven chord all by myself - G-Bb-C-E - and played it every time I sat down because it sounded so cool. I didn't discover any of the other inversions or any other keys - harmonies have never been my strength - but that one was mine and I felt a kinship to it.

We always sang around the house but it was the piano that taught me that pitches are specific and not nebulous. You can start a song on any note but the intervals after you start are fixed, and they look different in different parts of the keyboard but you can always find them.

In other words, before I ever began to take formal lessons and before I had even heard of an oboe I had an intuitive sense of keyboard theory and a visual way to understand high and low notes and an ear for melody, and I want Zoe to be able to play with a piano in the same idle, figuring-it-out-for-herself way.  She doesn't need to be a musician, but I need that option to be available for her as it was for me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


I was listening to The Essential Willie Nelson recently while driving home from Tennessee. And the great thing about the collection is that you quickly forget how weird and annoying his voice is, because the songs are so beautiful and so diverse and so well presented.  But every now and then he does a duet, and you hear someone else sing - someone with an actual voice.  When Willie enters again, the sound is jarring, a little painful - and so awesome.  For example, THIS.  And THIS.

He's such an oboe.  Those entrances sound like the way it feels for me to come in after a beautiful clarinet, flute,  or french horn solo - the oboe has a harsh edge after the round, warm quality of the the other instrument.  I have to remind myself to embrace the sound of the oboe and not try to hide.  I love how unabashedly Willie Nelson uses the nasal bray of his own voice as an asset and how he draws us in despite ourselves.

And this is exactly what I want to do. When I give a solo performance, it's a solid hour of oboe playing, and I hope that my presentation and the variety of material are engaging enough to not make it feel like that to the audience.  On my spring recitals this year I will be collaborating with a superb cabaret singer, Justin Hayford, and as I try to plan the arc of the performance my only worry is that the change in genre and sound - from Romantic era showpiece to American Popular Songbook - will be awfully abrupt.  I think, though, that Willie's approach may be the best one.  He just sounds like he sounds, and makes us love it.  We'll see if I can pull that trick off myself.