Skip to main content


Showing posts from February, 2012

Small Triumphs

It’s the little things.  When we were first starting out in Chicago, I had a minimum wage job in a bagel shop.  In the evenings I played with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, working with renowned conductors and stretching my musical abilities to their limit, but every morning I was back in the shop, making bagel sandwiches and ringing them up on the register.  My husband had a similar job down the street, and the disconnect between our goals and our reality absolutely grated on him, but I sort of enjoyed the work.  I tried to make nice bagel sandwiches, and to cut them neatly all the way through so they didn’t rip apart in my customers’ hands.  I wrapped them tightly and marked their contents tidily on the packages.  And every now and then a customer would notice, and would thank me for my excellent work, and I would feel a tiny thrill of pride.  I knew it was just bagels, but I was pleased with the job I was doing.

I am playing education concerts this week with the Kalamazoo Symphony,…

Practice Time is Like Money

In our late thirties, we have finally come to a place where we are financially okay.  Not well off, obviously - musicians - but no longer living from hand to mouth.  We have enough income that we can buy interesting cheeses and good coffees without having to count pennies.  But I do remember a time when all of our choices were dictated by cost and when we watched the due dates on our credit card statements very carefully - if we use this card to pay that one, then by the time this one comes due that Elgin check will have come in, and we’ll save the interest charge here…

We are comfortable now at our normal level of frugality.  But the tradeoff is time, which is emerging as another premium.  I’ve been having to triage my practice in an alarmingly similar way. 

Zoe’s asleep!  I have 45 minutes now before my student comes - should I tackle my audition rep?  No, better play through the recital material one more time - that’s coming up first.  I can squeeze the audition stuff in next week, …

New Articulation

I’ve been asked for details, since I’ve mentioned this about a million times.  I reworked my articulation last summer, and I love the result.  

Ever since I started playing, I have blown a little air through the reed to “warm it up” before lightly whacking the reed with my tongue to start the sound. I was accustomed to anticipating the beat just a little, to give myself time to make things go, and there was always a subtle but distinct huh-Ta sound at the beginning of the line.  It worked all right.  I knew it wasn’t a great habit, but it felt like a low priority problem. Occasionally I experimented with eliminating it, but I didn’t know how else to ensure that the note spoke when I wanted it to.  And when I tried to change I ended up with spotty attacks and occasional misses and I couldn’t have that.  In a busy season there is no time to remake your playing, because while the audience probably can’t hear a little huh-Ta, they sure can tell if you miss the entrance.  I needed time to…

Ending the Slump

This must happen to everyone.  It can’t just be me. 

Throughout January I was getting worse and worse.  And I blamed the reeds, the snow, the busyness, the baby.  But it was just that I was struggling with the oboe.  I practiced every day, but I always felt like I was trying to get back to where I started rather than trying to improve.  Not coincidentally, my reeds got worse and worse.  I had nothing new, and my old ones were aging rapidly.  I gave a recital I wasn’t that proud of, and then bombed an audition that I had really been excited about. 

We started rehearsals last Monday for the Tchaik 4 concert in Northwest Indiana, and I felt lousy.  Killed off two reeds in the first rehearsal, two in the second.  I had only one reed in my whole case that would play all the way through the solo - and it’s not that hard a solo by any stretch.  By the third night, when we played the Schumann Concerto for the first time, I was getting really worried.  Maybe not worried, exactly - angry would …

Zoe is Awesome, Storytime Edition

I was at home a few days ago, and it became that dozy time of the afternoon, so I was resting my eyes in a chair in the living room. 

Right here, Zoe.
Are you taking a nap?
I’ll bring you a cover.

Soon a tea-towel appeared on my knees.  Then Tigger snuggled in beside me, and then a bunny rabbit.  I guess I had looked cold and lonely.

Are you asleep?
No, Zoe, just resting.
I’ll read you a story.






Thank you, Zoe.
You’re welcome, Mommy.

Upcoming Concert, and On Conflicts

This is THAT week of the season.  I am playing a concert and looking forward to it - but I have had to turn down three other concerts which conflicted directly.  I have three weeks off after this one - why could no one schedule their performance then?

There are a lot of factors that go into the calculus of which gig you play when this situation arises.  Money, repertoire, obligation, and opportunity, to name a few.  I thought it might be interesting to look at my thought process.

This weekend represented a conflict between two orchestras that I play with regularly.  I’ve known about this conflict since summer, and the decision in this case was obvious.  The Northwest Indiana Symphony was doing one of its four “Maestro” concerts of the year - a classic symphony concert with big repertoire.  South Bend is doing Broadway Pops.   I love a Broadway tune, but I entered the field of classical music to play symphonies, and Tchaikovsky 4 has a lot to offer an oboist.  Also, the NISO concert is 5…

Treadmill Excerpt Fartleks

Here’s a workout I love - Treadmill Excerpt Fartleks.

I come armed with a complete playlist of all the excerpts for my next audition, and start with the treadmill at a comfortable jogging pace.  I set my iPod to shuffle, and start with a nice slow piece for a warmup.  As soon as the oboe solo is over I click ahead to the next track and notch my treadmill 0.3 MPH faster.  Because I’m shuffling the playlist I have no idea how long the next track will be, but I let it play out until I’ve heard my solo.  Might be 30 seconds, might be 7 minutes.  I click ahead and take my speed back down 0.2 MPH.  Another excerpt, another .3 faster, another excerpt, .2 down.

This workout is a multi-tasker’s dream.  At the end of 30 minutes I am running nearly a 10K pace (results vary based on how close to the front of the track the excerpts sit) and because it wasn’t continuous fast running but intervals of easier and harder work, I still have the energy to face the rest of the day.  In fact, I’m glowing wi…

Flat Reeds

All my professional life I have heard people complain about their flat reeds, and I was polite but unsympathetic. Actually, I was kind of jealous.  My reeds were never ever flat - I have always struggled against being sharp.  Not terribly, noticeably sharp, or at least I hope not.  I match the pitch of the group I am in, and in solo situations like auditions or recitals I play in tune with myself such that it is comfortable to listen to, and many orchestras sit above 440 anyway. 

But deep down I knew it, and wasn’t proud of it.  I would cheat and pull my reed out for the tuning A, even though that’s not how I play the oboe, just to ensure that my pluck-it-out-of-the-air first note of the concert didn’t sound sharp.  The tuner is a tyrant, and while most audience members can’t tell the difference between a 440 and a 442 in isolation, everyone can hear it when the oboist hits it too high and then has to quickly drop the pitch down to the needle.  I avoid the “Doppler Effect A” at all co…