Skip to main content

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 describe it better.

Every day I was making extra time for the oboe, and for reeds, at the expense of family time and me time.   I was practicing instead of exercising, and scraping at my desk instead of playing with my awesome daughter and my husband whom I love.  I have been a professional oboist for more than 15 years.  This kind of slump should have stopped happening by now!

To clarify, this was not a reed slump, per se.  It’s easy for an oboist to blame the reeds, because they are so obviously the x factor every day.  Every time I pick up the oboe it feels different, because those little pieces of damp wood that form the interface between me and the instrument change constantly. But I’m used to coping with the normal variations the reeds can dish out.  And used to having to replace them as they wear out, or as the seasons change.  When I have my act together they are not a limitation.  But it’s easy to say, “Oh, what a lousy reed” when I mean, “Boy, I really stink today.” 

And then… it stopped happening.  Between one quintet gig and the next one, 45 minutes later, my slump ended.  I stopped fighting the oboe and started enjoying it.  Music became easy and fun again. 

Some of the reeds in my case woke up to their potential.  I made a few more that worked effortlessly right off the knife.  The Tchaik 4 concert went well.  I’ve pushed the Easy button.  I’m back. 

Do I know what caused the slump?  No.  Do I know what pulled me out?  Also no.  Does this  periodic struggle happen to everyone?  I must admit that I hope so. 


  1. This is happening to me right now. Im hoping it ends today because i have a concert tomorrow where I have to play the solos in the Bacchanale, Nabucco, and the english horn solo in the Ravel piano concerto. and I have to admit I'm a little scared but I might have finished two good reeds today.

  2. Eek- that's a big program. Good luck - the slumps always end eventually!


Post a Comment

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 …