Skip to main content

I'm Back

I haven’t been writing about practicing lately, because I haven’t been practicing.  Somehow, even though I have recitals coming up, and more performances right around the corner, and recordings to make, I’ve been in a complete rut.  I know I am not perfect, but the music on my stand has been there for so long I am bored with it and have been struggling to find things to work on.  It doesn’t help that the weather is so terrific and I only want to get out in the sun and run my winter flab away.  My playing is not going to improve itself.

I was whining about this to a good friend the other day - the kind of friend who will actually listen to this sort of self-indulgence - and right in the middle of my diatribe I solved it.  Idly reading through my repertoire as though I have to perform it in a few weeks is not motivating - I have to work on what I need to improve, and focus my attention on one or two things at a time.

I made a list of elements that I can pay attention to:
Variety of color
Body Language
Clear Phrases

Today I thought about intonation.  I played my warmups with a tuner drone, slowing everything down so that I could really hear what was going on.  This was particularly valuable since I’ve just gotten my Loree back from another crack repair and needed to get back in touch with it.  I went through the Mozart Concerto and about half of my recital repertoire, AS SLOWLY AS NECESSARY to make all the intervals accurate.  Sometimes that meant zooming through scale-wise passages to get to the big leaps that are difficult, and sometimes stopping to sing the pitch I needed to expect.  Sometimes I turned my drone back on, sometimes glanced at the tuning meter on held notes.   A few times I found myself reconsidering my planned articulations in the interest of making my intonation perfectly stellar.
My practice sessions today were far, far better than any in recent memory.  With something more to think about than simply a performance deadline and my vague desire to be better,   I was inspired to work well.   With a specific goal I was able to harness my practicing brain to use a variety of techniques, just as I do when I am learning new repertoire and licks.  Just as I do when I coach students to improve.

Tomorrow I will tackle another item on my list.   I didn’t get through every piece of music on my stand today, but that doesn’t matter at all.  The point is that I am putting good work in, and that tomorrow I will look at other pieces, through the lens of Rhythm, or Articulation. 

I love having a system to work within, but my system doesn’t have to be inflexible.  If concerns about Tempo don’t factor into a given piece, I won’t do it that day.  If I’m thinking about Variety of Colors, I might just start each of my pieces to see how they are different, or work on getting from the end of one to the beginning of the next.  

I’m grumpy that I wasted time being in a slump recently - this kind of practice is not new to me but I forget from year to year how to renew myself in these situations.  The point is to keep putting the work in.  The point is to keep finding things to work on.  The point is, I’m back.


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…

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…


When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room.  In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra.  And it was OK.  We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details.  But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating.  The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult.  Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative.  Don't be too loud, don't come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture... And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault…