Skip to main content

Context

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.

Comments

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 …