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Misunderstandings

A week ago Zoe started having accidents at school again. We yelled, argued, wheedled, withheld treats, threatened punishments, and still she came home damp.  We reminded her about peeing in the potty, and she steadfastly said, NO, I prefer to go in my pants. 

That’s how she talks.

WHY?  I asked, incredulously.  Are you still afraid of the automatic flush?

No, she said, I am scared of the octopus. 

We had to do a lot of digging to get to the bottom of that answer.  We had seen Finding Nemo in the theater the week before, and a major plot point is that ALL DRAINS LEAD TO THE OCEAN.  The captive fish were praying to be flushed through the drains to end up back in the open water.  Turns out that Zoe thought that the toilet was a two-way street and was terrified that she’d meet an octopus or a huge shark when she went to the potty.

Well, we explained and explained about water filtration plants, and one-way drains, and Indiana’s discouragingly great distance from the sea, and I hope we were co…

Holiday Concerts - and Jingle Jam!

Here we go - one final week of Holiday concerts.  I am finally beginning to be in the mood,  due perhaps to the recent relentless repetition of the classics or because I finally get to stop driving or because there is nearly an inch of snow on the ground. 

We'll be performing at the Morris on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, and prior to that we have the Jingle Jam at the mall on Thursday - a drop in Side by Side concert for grownups!  I cannot wait to see who comes out for this one.  There had better be oboists. 

All  details HERE.


Upcoming Events - and Jingle Jam!

And now we enter the second week of Christmas concerts, this one with the Northwest Indiana Symphony.  Thursday night concert in Merrillville, Friday night in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  Details HERE.  They’ll be fun.  They’ll be festive.  I have nothing more to say about these events.

Saturday morning I’ll be doing a mini Oboe Reed Boot Camp for some high school students in Naperville IL.  All the material from my fifteen-hour summer course condensed into three action-packed hours, starting at 9 in the morning.  How can it fail?  We’ll cover all of the skills but without the games, challenges, and individual work time.   I’ll be interested to see whether this works and what the take-away is for the students.

Saturday evening I’ll be performing with Johnny Mathis at the Akoo Theater in Rosemont IL. 

Sunday I’ll be baking cookies and sleeping deeply and for a long time.

And next week the holiday concerts start up in South Bend.  Best part?  YOU CAN PLAY WITH US!  Yes, Thursday evening the 13…

Adapt or Die

I had a conversation recently with a dear friend, a wonderful professional flutist with a great job.  She was frustrated by her lack of success in a recent audition, and complained that some days she just couldn’t seem to make the flute do what she wanted.  The sound would be off and the attacks not where she expected them to be.  Maybe it was nerves, maybe just muscles and normal day-to-day human variability, but it had cost her more than one audition and she was at a loss as to how to address it. 

My first response is that that problem sounded like the exact one oboists face every day.  Each morning when I pick up the instrument my reed might be fantastic or might feel like two two-by-fours strapped together.  I might have total control in every register or might be fighting a recalcitrant instrument.  Most often there is some kind of tradeoff - I select the reed that plays well in tune but is risky on low register attacks, or I use the one that responds effortlessly but I have to c…

Vibra-a-a-a-a-to

One of my blog readers asked me to talk about vibrato in orchestral instruments.   Basically, in the woodwind section, flutes and oboes always use vibrato, clarinets never do, and bassoons go both ways.  But within that broad generalization are an awful lot of shadings and subtleties.

There are a million variables affecting the use of vibrato.  Things I take into account include: the era of the piece, the composer’s country of origin, the tempo and emotional affect of the line, its tessitura and shape, the instrumentation, the dynamic, my own role in the ensemble, the acoustic of the hall, the capability of the reed du jour, and my own mood. 

Vibrato is primarily an expressive tool for solo instruments.  (String sections use it heavily, but that’s a different animal.)  We winds use it as an additional color to the sound, and as an intensifier.  We use it to draw attention to our (often invisible) selves when our line needs to come to the fore.  And we use it very consciously and suppor…

'Tis the Season

Here we go.  I have managed so far to maintain my sense of personal denial about the upcoming holidays.  I have not listened to a holiday song, decorated a tree, house, or room, or purchased a gift.  I hunkered down on Black Friday and managed to keep from leaving my house for almost the entire day.  But now it starts.  From here on I play only Christmas music until after the big day.

This week I am performing with Mannheim Steamroller, which is a super-fun show and inescapably  part of the Christmas season.  You can hear me in Wabash, IN on Monday, South Bend on Thursday, Fort Wayne on Friday, and Chicago on Saturday.  I’ve played their gigs many times, and always enjoy myself.  The show is tightly paced, totally professional, and tricky enough to hold my attention without being the least bit difficult.  Audiences love it and it is a treat to play for a full house.  I dig a fog machine.  

My life is busy from here on, but this is the time of year that pays for January’s restfulness, a…

Thanks for the Runners

I got out for a Thanksgiving run this morning.  It was a late run, because I had to make a cake and a veggie side dish first, so by the time I was out on the path it was fairly deserted.   My workouts have been feeling pretty logey lately, and today was no exception.  My ankle’s been twingey, and I was just trotting along, taking some idle walk breaks, when I spotted a runner way ahead of me on the path. 

Immediately my game improved.  I raised my head, lifted my feet, and picked up my pace just a little bit.  I wasn’t racing, no, but I wondered if I might be able to gain on her before I turned around for home.  I pushed myself and got closer.  Finally I passed, and smiled happily at her.  Raised my hand in the traditional runner’s salute.

Oh, she said, smiling, I was feeling pretty good out here until you just passed me…
I had a great time chasing you down!  I responded.

I meant it - having a presence in front of me totally made my run.  Just that tiny bit of irrelevant competition sped…

This Difficult Path

I have always said that if I had it to do again I would play the oboe again, but if I had it to do AGAIN again, it would be the cello.  Or the trumpet.  But when reconsidering my options in this way, I never really think of a life outside music.

I was talking with my sister the other night, and the topic came to college students.  Both of us were concerned about the recent and future graduates in soft fields - like her Masters in History and my own oboe performance degree.  There’s a recession - maybe you’ve heard? And it’s proving to be incredibly difficult for young people to find jobs in all fields, especially those with no particular USEFUL experience or skills.

I have students right now who will graduate as oboe majors.  They are not strong enough players to move straight into orchestral jobs or even freelancing - at least not enough to make a living - and their degree doesn’t really qualify them for anything else.  I fear that I am doing them a disservice, and struggle every seme…

Blue Jeans Concert

Tonight’s concert, with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, is a Blue Jeans Concert.  It’s added into the normal work week, in the space a dress rehearsal might otherwise have occupied, and it’s a shorter, more casual, less pricy version of the performance we’re giving twice this weekend.

Tomorrow and Sunday we are doing a Haydn symphony (the fabulous number 90!) and Carmina Burana, in normal tuxes and dressy black clothes, but tonight we play only Carmina, and we dress down, and the conductor will speak to the audience from the stage.  The tickets are less expensive, and the marketing is younger, edgier, etc.  This concert is clearly designed to attract a new generation of symphony-goers, not to convert existing subscribers to a dress-down model.  I can’t wait to feel it out.

In South Bend our Performance Opportunities Committee proposed a similar concept to management last year.  The ideas were batted around for a while in the meeting, and to me they made a lot of sense - an additional Fr…

New Week, New Town

This week I am traveling to Wichita, Kansas.  I’ll be playing in the orchestra and teaching a masterclass and some lessons at Wichita State University. 

It’s slightly hilarious to me that a week of playing in an orchestra, teaching lessons, and making reeds sounds like a VACATION compared to my normal life of playing in an orchestra, teaching lessons, and making reeds - but something about getting on a plane makes it seem like a real getaway.   Really, just not being in my own house where there is always something to do or someone who needs a snack or a bath is going to be a treat. 

I always have mixed feelings about leaving Zoe - on the one hand I look forward to hours of uninterrupted practice time, reflection time, writing time.  I can work on some website updates I’ve been planning and get a substantial head start on the recital music that’s been kind of on hold.  On the other hand, of course, she is SO GREAT.  I’d love to spend every minute of the day with her, and I miss her eve…

Practicing in the Water

Before Zoe was born I was a triathlete.  Love me some multi-sport summer fun.  I was never especially competitive or fast, but I loved having an excuse to get outside and crash around in the summer.  “But I’m TRAINING!”  I would holler over my shoulder, as I stepped away from the oboe, the dirty dishes, or the argument with Steve and biked across Chicago to do an open water swim or a long run. 

 I haven’t swum regularly since little girl was born. It just takes so long to drive to the gym and change and between the time I’m away from home working and the time I have to spend at home working I can’t justify any more time away from her.  But now that she’s in SCHOOL I have some morning hours to reclaim.

So for the past month I’ve been getting over to the Y once a week to swim.  The first time I slid into the water I almost cried at the beauty of it.  A couple of strokes in I felt sleek as an otter, slicing through the water with an effortlessness that running can never match.  I snapped …

Upcoming Concert

Completely unlike the musical ambassador I think I am, I didn’t post even a hint of what I was up to last week.  This is because I spent practically all my time in the car, and almost no time sitting down happily at my computer.  And because we seem to have entered a cycle of low-budget Pops and Education concerts, and because I agree with Thumper - if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. 

A highlight, though, was the Legend of Zelda concert I played last Thursday in Chicago.   A lot of loud, a lot of high, a lot of fast - and really really fun.  We played to a click track the entire time, which is kind of like having an entire orchestra accompany me while I sightread with a metronome - except that there was also a huge and enthusiastic audience, who knew all the notes better than I did.  What a blast!

This week (tomorrow!  Details HERE) we’re playing Pops in Northwest Indiana with our chorus and the Purdue University Glee Club.  I know the audience will enjoy it.  O…

The Work is the Magic

I’ve learned a lot since I began teaching.

I used to assign etudes from the Barret Book - exclusively - to my college level students.  I was fairly insecure as a teacher at that point, and I knew that I could always find something to say about a Barret etude.  I was comforted by the accompaniment line that came along with every etude - if I was at a loss we could just play together, and I told myself that hearing good oboe playing was a helpful part of lessons, and playing duets taught them about momentum and direction and flow, and intonation, and pulse.  In the Barret book, the etudes are not always easy, but they are simple enough that a good college student can read them down, and I desperately wanted my students to have success. I figured that being able to play their assignment after minimal practice was success.  I wanted to be able to speak fluently and make observations in lessons and hear the tiny improvements minute to minute - and Barret was working for me.

More recently, th…

Business of Reeds

I’m feeling unusually relaxed this evening - because I just got my big reed shipment mailed off and I know that I can devote myself to music-making for the next couple of days.

I don’t do a lot of writing about my reed business.  It’s not that interesting, because it’s just so constant.  Every day I find one to two hours to sit down and scrape, and every couple of days I send out some reeds, and twice a month I mail a ton of them to my subscribers.

Actually, that’s pretty much it.  Scroll to your next blog.


But on the other hand this reed business has really defined my life for quite a long time.  It’s taught me a lot about professionalism, marketing, and accountability.  Musicians always have to be entrepreneurial, but without this business pushing me toward growth I might never have gotten my own online presence organized.  I am not very tech-savvy, but I have had to maintain my current site for a long time now, keeping it updated, learning how to sell online, changing servers and fix…

Being Prepared

I have almost a week before we start rehearsing for our first Chamber concert of the season - and I am delighted to have that time.  We are playing a piece I don’t know - Poulenc’s Sinfonietta - and it is interesting, unfamiliar, exposed, and tricky.

It is very important to be prepared for orchestral services, so as not to waste any of our valuable time.  I will admit, however, that SOMETIMES my preparation for a concert cycle involves little more than glancing through the folder.  If it is full of music I know I do a mental scan for solos or difficult passages - and then move on to something I actually want to work on.  If there are less familiar works, I might pop them up on the stand and play a little bit, but once it becomes clear that the music is in a style I know I’ll just do a quick skim through for solos and trouble spots - and then move on to something I actually want to work on.  I seldom get caught off guard any more, because most of the standard orchestral rep is already f…

Building Endurance

This month - OK, this week - my focus is endurance. My quintet meets next Thursday to rehearse and perform a full concert, which is something we haven’t done in months.  Wind quintet is a special kind of playing - it requires a lot of control of sound and dynamic, and there aren’t a lot of rests, since there are only five people to keep a whole piece going.  The playing is not as intensive as a solo recital, of course - but it can be very tiring.

We will have a two and a half hour rehearsal, a short break, and a full performance, in public, for grown-ups.  I want to make sure that I am as in shape as I possibly can be, not just so that I can sound good for the audience - but so I can enjoy myself instead of grimly forcing sound out through clenched exhausted muscles.

And so far this month that’s been rough.   I don’t have the kind of lazy time that I had back in early September, and I’ve been working hard but at a variety of things besides actual oboe playing - but I need now to focus…

Wind Sectionals

This appears to be the season of sectional coaching.  I visited the South Bend Youth Symphony oboists a couple of weeks ago, and did wind sectionals for Western Michigan University yesterday.  Next week I’ll be working with the Northwest Indiana Youth Symphony, and their wind quintet.  As always, when I teach I have to put into words concepts that I understand intuitively, and doing so helps me to realize just how much I do know and how much I take for granted in professional ensembles.  I sometimes forget how much skill, attention, and complexity goes into what we do. 

It’s fascinating, the number of things we can find to work on, even late in a rehearsal cycle with strong players who already know all the notes in their parts.  I can use all my normal practice/teaching techniques to help their ensemble: Play slower.  Do this passage all tongued.  Let’s just separate out the melody notes and then the countermelody and the accompaniment.  Let’s PLAY the dynamics printed.

But there’s muc…

Action Goals: Oboists and Toddlers

Zoe’s been going to preschool for nearly three weeks now.  And it’s been amazing for her, and I can really tell how much she’s learning, but it hasn’t been a seamless transition.  The issue is peeing.

Zoe was potty trained over the summer, and is reliable at home.  She got alarmed in the first week by the automatically flushing toilet in her classroom.  It is very loud, and she can’t predict when it is going to go off right under her, so after being scared once or twice she just decided that she wouldn’t use it any more. 

This worked out all right for her for a day or so.  But we began to notice that she was coming home with damp pants, because three and a half hours PLUS a twenty minute walk home is too long for a very little girl to wait.  Then, almost immediately, she began to have accidents in the classroom.  We warned her that too many accidents would get her suspended, but evidently by this time that sounded pretty inviting - no more early mornings, no more scary potty - so she …

Upcoming Concert

We’re finally starting up again!  I’ve been jealously watching the Facebook feeds of all of my friends whose orchestras launched earlier in September than ours did, and waiting impatiently for the South Bend Symphony’s first concert - and finally it’s here.  We perform Saturday night at the Morris. 

The first half of the program is very oboe friendly - Dvorak’s Roman Carnival Overture features a big English horn solo, and the Bizet Symphony in C is an oboe diva’s dream come true, with lovely moments in every movement and a big spectacular beautiful solo in the second.

The featured piece on the concert is Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island, which is more a theater piece than a traditional symphonic work.   It should be a crowd-pleaser, featuring video and actors from the Civic Theater in addition to the attractive music we get to play.  Not so much a big deal for the musicians, but tremendously enjoyable for the audience, and hopefully a huge seller.  Let’s get this season off to a great start…

Playing Like We Mean It

Last night I was watching Itzhak Perlman on The Colbert Report, and couldn’t get over how easy he made it look to play difficult music on the violin.  Kind of almost too easy.

Perlman has had a long and storied career.  He’s the real deal.  And I don’t want to say that he was not taking his Colbert performance seriously.  If he wasn't, whatever - this was just a three minute encore piece after a puffball interview on late night comedy TV. 

He has impressive technique - there are lots of notes in the work he played, and they were all there.  But to watch him play is somewhat off-putting - if the piece is difficult, shouldn’t he be working a little harder?  If he really doesn’t need to break a sweat or even sit up straight to play it, do I feel like he earned my attention?  The answer is that, as a VERY casual observer (flat on my back on my couch) I didn’t perceive that he cared about the music he was performing, or about his audience, and purely from a performance standpoint, I was…

It's Not Magic

My favorite moment from  yesterday was the look of awe and astonishment on my student’s face when he successfully played a passage that had been eluding him all week.  He’d been working hard - I could tell because of how quickly the problem was solved and how shocked he was at the eventual ease of the solution.  His reaction came straight out of the days of blood, toil, tears, and sweat that hadn’t quite gotten him there - if he hadn’t been fighting hard all week he’d have assumed that our magical fix could have come to him if he’d just practiced harder.

And of course it was no magic.  He had put in his time with the metronome on a difficult measure, and I took him back off the machine and we went slow, then fast, then skeletonized the passage and analyzed it, and broke it up into little chunks and worked on them, and changed the rhythm, again and again, and finally played it from back to front and then strung it together at tempo and blew his mind.  It only took a few minutes - on top…

Listening to Zarin

On my way home from Goshen College the other day I was listening to Alec Baldwin’s podcast interview with Zarin Mehta, the recently retired executive director of the New York Philharmonic.  And the thing that stood out to me was how deeply Mehta loved the music.  He didn’t have to - he is an administrator and not a performer.  But he was there at the concerts, and fully engaged in listening and enjoying the art. 

He spoke of several concerts the Philharmonic had played that had moved him deeply, and of soloists and composers who were exceptional.  He spoke of his family’s history with classical music and of his own evolution as a lover of the arts.  This is so different from my own approach, and it shamed me.

I get bored listening to CDs - the same nuances and transitions over and over, and rarely any mistakes, or any surprises.  Since regular concert attendance is pretty much out of the question for me - between my busy evening rehearsal and concert schedule, the three-year-old, and t…

Fall Newsletter

All the stuff going on this season... Jennet Ingle Welcome to Fall 2012!
Hello, Newsletter Readers!  I found myself sitting at my computer planning updates for those who like hearing me perform, to those who like my reeds, and to those who take lessons from me - and decided to replan one nice big update for everyone who is the slightest bit interested.

Incidentally, if you are reading this and it did NOT arrive conveniently in your inbox, from me, and you would like to periodically (every couple of months, totally unspammily) receive something like it, please click HERE and add your email to my mailing list.  Once you are on it you will never be forgotten, which I cannot otherwise promise.  Sign your oboe-loving friends up, too!

Everything is in development and everything is in motion.
Quintet Performance October 18 I am looking forward to a full recital with the South Bend Symphony’s Wind Quintet.  We’ll be at the Snite Museum of Art on Notre Dame’s campus, at 5:45 pm o…

How Much to Change

Teaching is back in my life!

I’m on my second week of lessons at Valparaiso, and it is always exciting and fun to welcome a new freshman class into my studio.  The first few lessons are a getting-to-know-you time for both the student and myself, and by this point I have to start developing my plan of attack.  My challenge is to figure out how much to change.

When I start young students, I can mold them in the right direction from the beginning.  Not that that always works -  but by the time I send them off to college I at least trust that they know how to blow and what the fingerings are in the high register.  Incoming freshmen have LOTS of habits formed by other people.

Some come in with their fundamentals all in place.  They can play the oboe and just need a little encouragement and an ear to bounce phrasing choices off of.  Maybe some reed advice.  Those are the rare ones.  We always have fun.

Far more often, I have students come in who have not taken lessons before.  Or who have for w…

Inspiring Auditions

All this week I have been sitting on audition committees for my orchestra.  In three days we listened to 4 basses, 6 cellos, 3 oboes, 19 horns, and 11 tubas, many of them two and three times each.  We hired winners in every case.

 I LOVE auditions.

I am always inspired watching the Olympics, because I love seeing athletes work and strive and succeed.  I love imagining the work that has gone into each performance and I have such respect for the human body - for humanity, really - and for the power of focused effort.  But auditions, now - that’s MY field.  I know exactly what goes into that preparation, and I’m drawing ideas for my own future auditions - and I’m hearing the wealth of talent that has come to perform for US.  It’s humbling.

I could think of it another way, and become terribly depressed - that so many high caliber players would come to try out for a job as small and regional as the South Bend Symphony has to be a very bad thing for the future of classical musicians.  There ar…

Learning by Struggling

We are driving back home to Indiana.  The Breckenridge Music Festival has been a great experience for me - a five week experiment in being totally out of my comfort zone.  

I am used to being the principal oboist of a small regional orchestra.  I am used to being a strong presence in the group, because of my position and because I am very good at my job.  I have the personal confidence to speak in rehearsals and meetings, and people know who I am.  In contrast, for more than a month I feel that I’ve been scrambling to keep up with an orchestra full of great musicians, and trying mostly to fly under the radar.  Both roles are new to me. 

In the first place, I am not an English horn player.  I have always been able to kind of get around on the instrument, and play the solos, but that’s very different from being able to sit in a high-quality professional orchestra week after week and confidently make soft entrances, at altitude.  Early on, it was a struggle for me to predict the response…

Coming Back

When I have taken time off from the oboe, I dread going back.   Even if I crave it, and desperately wish I was active again, I fear those initial few notes.  The reeds are unrecognizable in their case - WHICH one did I use for that last concert?  Is THIS one any good? - and feel uniformly horrid. I’m not quite sure whether I am soaking them up enough.  The instrument is clumsy under my fingers.  My lips feel puffy and unresponsive.  Although I know the oboe better than almost anything else, the first day back feels awful.  It seems that I’ll never get back to the freedom and ease and authority that I left behind.  Sometimes the expectation of that discomfort can keep me away for another day or even two.  I can let time pass, wishing I was playing but unwilling to work through the re-introduction. 

I’ve been playing the whole time here, don’t worry - but for the first time in my life I feel about writing the way I do about the oboe.  I let this blog go - heck, I let any thoughts of rea…

Olympic Inspirations: Line

First, the gripe.  Why do the women gymnasts have to do all of these goofy, stagy, choreographed arm movements?   The men don’t do them.  If I wanted to watch ballet I would watch ballet.  In gymnastics I am impressed by the astounding athleticism and the skills I could never do (not that I can dance either).  These girls have been coached to wiggle their arms and torsos around in pre-determined ways during their routines, and in most cases these gestures are meaningless and distracting.

But occasionally there is one who gets it.  One whose gestures seem to communicate something, and who flows from one pose to another in a way that is beautiful, and who makes a coherent performance out of her series of movements.

As far as I can tell, there is no room in the scoring system to acknowledge these artists - the tenths of points just keep being deducted at the same rate for the missed landings and minor form breaks - but as a spectator, I appreciate their care and their commitment to the rou…