Monday, April 30, 2012

Zoe is Awesome

Zoe is 2 and 3/4.    She loves to sing. She can’t carry a tune, or match pitch with me AT ALL, which I am very surprised by.  It’s not even really close.  But she knows every word to all of her songs, and bellows them cheerfully out at any opportunity.   Verbal, more than musical, but definitely enthusiastic. 

I am astounded at how fast she memorizes new books.  If I read a story to her four or five times she’s got it, and can “read” it to her toys in bed. I think BECAUSE I can read, I don’t have this kind of storage potential anymore, but it makes me think about the oral traditions of pre-literate societies, and suddenly I can really imagine how a legend might be passed on, word for word, for generations.  If my 2 year old can recite The Tawny Scrawny Lion with that much accuracy, how much more could a motivated adult retain, and access, and teach, and use?  Humans are amazing. 

Zoe has about a thousand toys, and it used to be that she just projected directly onto them the emotions she was working through.  She would give Tigger time-outs for disobeying or throwing food.  She would reassure Eeyore that the loud hand-dryer was normal, and not scary.  She would put Paddington Bear on the potty and coach him through the process.  

Now, more of her friends have names that she chose herself.  There’s Walter the puffin, named after the new Muppet, and Ian the dog - I have no idea where she heard that one.  Her friends have interactions, out loud, in which Zoe sometimes doesn’t play a prominent role.
Hi, I’m Ian.  Would you like to ride on my back?
Sure!  Thank you!
Let’s go see Spiderman!
OK.  Oh no!  Mommy!
[At this point, I yell What?, and Zoe explains that Linda fell off and wanted her help.  It’s not about me, but about Zoe the mommy to her doll.  I love it.]

She’s turning into quite the movie buff, with Steve’s expert assistance.  And all of the characters have become her imaginary friends.  She pretends a knock on the door, and invites Gary and Mary (from the Muppet Movie, again)  in and shows them around the house.   Proudly introduces them to me.  Has long polite conversations with them.

Best of all, Zoe puts on costumes and acts out scenes.  Here she is as a Jedi Knight.

 Here as the Lion King. 

This is Spiderman, and if I had been able to capture her without her mask you could have seen her as Peter Parker as well.

And this is the Statue of Liberty.

I don’t remember ever being this creative, or this interested in the clothes on my body.  It’s amazing and marvelous that she is so different from me.   I could watch her all day.  Sometimes I do.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Upcoming Stuff

What's Going On?

This is just a quick (for me) note about an exciting concert I have coming up out of town.

You may recall that last spring I did a program called CHROMA, an exploration of color and contrast featuring video elements by Paul Hamilton and Caleb Vinson and music by Rossini, Silvestrini, Pasculli, and Louiguy.  It coupled the light and movement of Impressionist painting with the beauty and virtuosity of the solo oboe, and celebrated the colors of the human voice.

At the end of this week I will have the opportunity to revisit this program.  Paul and I will be traveling to Pennsylvania, and performing CHROMA on the Delaware County Community College's Concert Series. The performance is Sunday, April 29, at 3pm, and further information is available HERE.

If you don't happen to live near Philadelphia, you could still help us out by letting your East Coast friends know about this performance.  My fan club is not primarily located in this area and a little work of mouth could only help.

What Else is Going On?

I am premiering a new teaching project - an Oboe Reed Boot Camp - which will run for a week this June.  In three hours a day I hope to turn tentative beginners into confident reed-makers.  I have more information about this HERE.

I will be performing Doug Lofstrom's beautiful and rhapsodic Concertino for Oboe at the International Double Reed Society's annual conference this July in Oxford, OH. July 9, at 4:45pm.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Father's Bike

My bike broke last week.  At least, the gears started slipping in a weird way, and a cursory examination didn’t yield any fixes that I thought I could manage, so I need to take it to the shop.  I commute Wednesdays by bicycle, because my Notre Dame teaching is less than 5 miles from home, and because the nazis lovely ladies in the parking department won’t replace my lost parking pass due to some technicality in my paperwork.  I have visited three different offices - twice - and am still unable to park my car on campus.  If the problem is not fixed by the next snowfall, I shall quit.

I digress.  Since I hadn’t gotten around to the bike shop errand, I headed out to my garage recently to investigate the options.  When my father passed away, almost three years ago, my mom brought two of his excellent bicycles to me, as his athletic successor, and since I was at that time eight months pregnant I tossed them in the shed and forgot all about them.  They moved to our new house out of inertia but have not been touched or ridden since 2009, and never by me.

So I was excited to discover that both his mountain bike and his tri bike were in excellent shape.  I pumped up the tires,  oiled the chains, and adjusted the seats, and was ready to go.  The road bike especially is a joy to ride - smaller and lighter than mine, and with cool aerobars.  I LOVED commuting on it and might never bother to fix my actual bike.

I was impressed by their readiness.  Each bike had a bottle holder with a full (kind of murky after 3 years) water bottle.  Each had a little pouch on the back, and each pouch contained a spare tube, tire irons, a hex key set, an asthma inhaler, and about seven dollars in wadded up bills and loose change. If I know my father, that money is what remains from an emergency twenty after he ended a workout by consuming mountains of biscuits and gravy with a group of good friends that he’d just met out on the road.  

Understand, my dad was Superman.  He could do anything.  He had run marathons, ultramarathons, and triathlons.  He had summited mountains all over the world.  I bike to work once a week, but he might easily have found himself 50 or a hundred miles from base camp on these bikes.  He owned more camping, hiking, mountaineering, and biking equipment than the outdoor store in South Bend, and he knew what he was doing.  I always trusted that he could handle anything that came along, and here I see why.  He was ready.   I love that he could boil down all of his stuff to a tiny bike pouch of essentials and had done so.  Carefully, thoughtfully, twice. 

It made me think about my own travel kit.

Oboists have a lot of stuff.  Reed tools and machines, oboe repair items, shelves, stands, and little cups of water.  I am always torn between being the Unfussy Oboist and being prepared for anything, which if you think about it is also Unfussy. I would ideally like to walk out on stage with a reed in the oboe and nothing else - but when a swab gets stuck or a pad falls off or a reed cracks I don’t want to be the one panicking.  My compromise is a backpack pocket filled with the less likely just-in-case solutions - pliers, wire, swab extractor, hand warmers, stand lights - and a little pouch that I use regularly, which sits by my feet in the orchestra and on my desk when I teach.  It has a knife, plaque, ruler, and cutting block.  It has cigarette papers, a screwdriver, and a silk swab.  It has a film canister full of water and one tiny square of fine sandpaper.  It has a pencil.  And that is all I keep with me most of the time. 

I’d like to think that my on-stage kit is a legacy of my father’s teaching.  In fact I think it is mostly expediency - these are the things I need, so they are the things I have - but I’ve never yet (knock wood) been unable to play due to a reed or oboe emergency, and I have been able occasionally to bail out colleagues from situations of their own.  The ability to be prepared for the unexpected while also maintaining a consistently optimistic, joyful outlook is something I absolutely associate with my father, and hope that I can always keep. 

Thank you, Dad.  I miss you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Upcoming Concert

This weekend I am performing with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and having a wonderful time. We are playing the Brahms Piano Quartet, orchestrated by Schoenberg, and it's tricky and beautiful and deep and enjoyable.   The orchestra sounds great, as usual, and I am looking forward to the concert Saturday night.  Details HERE.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Last year I had the opportunity to play an opera with a student playing second to me.  And I was surprised and impressed.  I see this student every week in lessons, and I think I know his problems and his playing.  But in this opera pit, IN CONTEXT, he was a far different oboist.  The style and musicianship were exactly right.  He was environmentally sound and fit in with everything that was going on.  He didn't need to be nudged for entrances, or reminded to listen around him.  The intonation was perfect and the oboe playing irreproachable.  I forgot for long periods that I was working with a student, and enjoyed playing as I would with other professionals. 

When I spoke with him in his lesson about this, he absolutely confirmed it.  He felt the most comfortable in ensembles, where he could use the musical style and energy from his surroundings instead of generating it himself.  He didn't see himself as a solo oboist, but as an orchestral musician.  And that is also the way I saw him. 

Unfortunately, I had to give him a lecture.  The problem with assigning yourself that role is that you can't GET an orchestral job these days without being a soloist.  The audition process does not take into account the ease with which you can fit into a group.  It does not take into account your musical savvy and ability to match your surroundings. 

No, you have to go in and wow the committee in your ten minutes on stage.  It has to be perfect oboe playing first, or you will be eliminated immediately.  You have to have something to say in each unaccompanied solo or you will be eliminated in the second round.  And you have to have the whole package when it counts in the finals to win the job.  Not because you have to be a big-league soloist day to day in your second oboe position, but because you have to be more impressive than the other 40-70 players who also want it.

Similarly, when I play with a great orchestra, as I did a few weeks ago in Milwaukee, I feel myself rise to the level of my surroundings.  I become more conscious of the placement of my attacks and releases, and more careful about the sound I produce. Any mistake is audible when everyone else is spot on.

I don't want this misunderstood.  I never just ignore these things in my other orchestras.  It is always important to place my notes precisely with the entrances of my colleagues, and to strive to be awesome.  BUT when a few members of the orchestra may not be thinking about the same factors, and when we really don't have enough rehearsal time to address every issue, it can only be so precise. If I slightly miss the perfect placement of an entrance and get away with it regularly, my standards can begin to erode. 

After a short time in this superb context, I feel myself to be a tighter, more focused, player with a higher level of concentration. My next task is to hold onto that feeling and that polish, and use them in the future - to raise the amount of excellence at work in the world.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

CHROMA, again!

My next big project is a trip to Philadelphia.  Paul and I will be performing CHROMA on April 29, on the Delaware County Community College’s Performing Arts Series

When I booked this concert, it made a ton of sense.  I was very proud of my CHROMA programming, and the video project that went along with the recital was exciting, and popular.  I loved the repertoire and had worked incredibly hard on it.  The five full and partial performances I gave last spring made me confident that I could play the program over and over, and I wanted to make the most of that preparation.

Since then, of course, I have prepared a new program.  My Moveable Feast performance, with all new difficult repertoire, had been intended for January and February, but I wound up doing my final performances in late March instead.  So effectively, I am just beginning to practice CHROMA now, and will be performing it in 3 weeks.    Which seems like kind of a bad idea.

But it’s fun!  It’s going really well.  Turns out that one year is the perfect amount of time to let this music rest.  I still understand it, deeply and well, but I have enough critical distance to revisit some of my choices and rework them.  The technique is a little rusty, but there are fewer problems than I was fearing.  I have a few spots that I need to touch up, but they don’t feel unfamiliar - just hard - and I’ve identified them and spent good time on them already. 

Best of all, I’m not the least bit bored with it, and I certainly was last year after all those shows.  Three weeks ago I was kicking myself for not making this East Coast performance another repeat of A Moveable Feast, but the moment I played the final note on March 24th I was happy to be done with that concert.  I imagine that by next year at this time I’ll be missing it again - maybe I’ll try to duplicate this plan - but after living with the music for the months necessary to perform well I didn’t really want to do it any more.  My favorite part of playing a hard recital is playing it, but my second favorite part is retiring it afterwards.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Teaching Practicing

This morning I was working to polish the Mozart Quartet with a student.  The piece is full of tricky, finger-y passages, and we had spent the first 20 minutes using a range of practice techniques to solve some of them.

Can you tell where the problem is?  OK, let’s just play that bar.  Just that beat.  Just that interval.  Play it faster.  Play it backwards.  Play it slower.  Change the articulation.  Change the rhythm.  Etc, etc.  We’ve been working together since last September, and we’ve solved a lot of technical problems in lessons, using lots of approaches.

Eventually we started a run-through of the piece.  He got about half-way through and bumped into another touchy section.  And before I could say a word, he played it again, fast, then more slowly.  He correctly diagnosed the problem - “I’m not putting that C# in!” - and fixed it.  He played the beat in question, at tempo, and then added one note before it.  Then two notes, then three.  He ran the measure slowly and made sure he could get all the way into the next bar.  Then he backed up, reset his tempo, and zipped over the previously problematic area.  Within two minutes we were back on our way.  Without a word from me.

I just about fell over.  That is EXACTLY the kind of work I do and teach, but I’ve never seen it in action.  No one ever practices in front of me - oboe lessons are pretty structured.  Usually I only hear the playing I direct, and although I talk ALL THE TIME about ways to approach a technical passage on your own, I’ve never watched it happen.   This student showed me that that he’d been listening, and paying attention, and learning, and I LOVED it.

I constantly talk about practice techniques when I teach, and frequently use lesson time to work through examples.  Honestly, learning how to break down a difficult passage, diagnose a problem, and find an approach that solves it is much more valuable to your average student than learning how to turn a particular phrase of Mozart.  We learn pieces so that we can learn HOW to learn pieces.  In a single hour a week I cannot make anyone a better player, but I can give that person the tools to fix himself, and that is my mission more than any other.  

Today’s lesson was a great validation of that approach.   Thank you, Seth, for closing out my teaching week JUST RIGHT.