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The Most Interesting Cold

For about a week now I’ve been working through one of those really tiresome head colds that changes every day.  You know the ones, where one day you’re congested and the next day you’re sneezy and the next day you can’t stop sniffling.  Of course, this is our busiest season, so I’ve been playing every day, and it’s been interesting to see just how the oboe has been affected.

Interesting because so much that happens when I play is invisible.  The process is not as simple as just puckering up and blowing through the reed - there’s a lot of back pressure that comes along with it and, evidently, a lot of different things that I normally, naturally, unthinkingly do with that pressure as I play.

Early on, the biggest issue was my swollen throat.  The passage between my mouth and nose felt unusually big and oddly shaped as this cold got underway, which caused air to escape from its high-pressure passageway.  So, as I tried to blow my usual stream of air through the reed and instrument, the sof…

End of the Campaign!

This is it - the end of the crowdfunding campaign.  The last eighteen hours.  It's been humbling to watch as contributions came in and people from ALL OVER showed their support by donating and by sharing the campaign and by just emailing in to let us know that they loved the idea.

And the idea continues to be great.  What could be wrong with a chamber music series that supports local non-profits?  So far the only downside is this one - that I have had to ask for money to start it up.

Asking for help has never been my strong suit.  I want to do it all myself, every time.  But I've been blown away by the support we have gotten just by asking, and WE'RE ALMOST DONE!

If you've been thinking that South Bend needs more chamber music - if you've been thinking that you wanted to support this exciting project - if you've meant to kick in a few dollars - this is your time.  Please check out the campaign today!


Upcoming Concert: Bach - and Doubling!

This Sunday, we’re performing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at the University of Chicago, in the venerable Rockefeller Chapel, with a terrific orchestra and choir and soloists.  Playing music this great is a pleasure that never gets old.  I’ve done this piece many times, but this is the first time I’ve sat at the bottom of the section, playing Second English horn.

The first best thing about this is that I get to listen to a LOT of great playing while I wait for my movements.  The orchestra is marvelous, and I adore my oboe colleagues, who make the difficult solos and duets sound simply effortless.  The second best thing is that I enjoy the challenge of playing the English horn, which is far from my main instrument. 

What I love, generally, about the English horn is how easy it is to sound good on it.  Much of the orchestral music written for the instrument is soloistic, and it has such a pretty sound, and you get to blow so satisfyingly through it, rather than having to finesse it all the …

Musicians for Michiana: The Music Village

Here’s my favorite thing about Kellirae Boann, of The Music Village.  When I make a suggestion she says, “Yes,” and then she says, “AND,” and she makes it bigger and better than I had even ever considered that it could be.  When I approached her hoping to perform a few concerts in her space the project rapidly turned into a four-concert series, featuring fourteen musicians, four non-profit organizations, two restaurants, a recording engineer, pre-concert lectures, a local print shop, a team of volunteers, a grant proposal, and the current crowd-funding campaign which I invite YOU to participate in. 

Kellirae and The Music Village have been my strategic partner in this project since its inception.  The Village will be hosting the concerts, in an intimate space just perfect for small-group chamber music and up-close audience engagement.  She and her superb staff and volunteers worked with me to refine the vision of the project and to craft a compelling grant proposal.  Working with The …

Musicians for Michiana - The Musicians

This is Part Three in a series of posts about Musicians for Michiana.  What would a chamber music series be without a fantastic set of musicians?

This is not a large town - which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were so many serious topnotch musicians living in the area, and so many more who come in every month to perform with the South Bend Symphony.  We are just far enough from Chicago and Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo that our members frequently choose to spend the week here in town during orchestra cycles - with the result that there are a large number of professional musicians who consider South Bend a home base.  Who have connections here to the community, and a stake in its success and growth.

And this was definitely another part of my inspiration in starting this project.  Musicians love to play, and crave more opportunities to dig deeply into chamber music with friends. There are few things more fun than working together in this way. And all o…

Musicians for Michiana - The Programming

This is Part Two in a series of posts about Musicians for Michiana.  (Part One HERE) All social mission aside, the whole point of a chamber music series is the music, right?

There’s something a little frustrating about being an orchestral musician, which is that you never get to choose what you play.  The programming takes place in an office far away from your place of work, on the stage, and you just have to show up and do the job at hand.  I love my job, but this lack of control is an inescapable downside. 

In contrast, a small series like ours with a small number of enthusiastic musicians can program works that really matter to us.  Every piece on every concert was suggested by a musician.  Every piece has a personal story associated, one which we will certainly share with you during the performances as well as here, on the website, in advance.   Yes, many of these works were my suggestions, and yes, there is a lot of OBOE represented on the series - but it is important to me to kee…

Musicians for Michiana: The Inspiration

This begins a series of posts talking about my new project, Musicians for Michiana.  Maybe it’s not so new a project, as I’ve been working consistently on it since last May: talking to musicians, meeting with representatives from our non-profit partners, planning programming, working on the budget, getting catering quotes, writing grant proposal narratives, and generally trying to build all of the behind-the-scenes infrastructure before I made any kind of announcement. 

And now here we are!  Going public and raising real funds!

This project originated back in the spring.  I was out for a run, and suddenly realized that I’d been living in South Bend for years.  I’d been drowning in the busyness of raising a toddler and having an active portfolio career, and I had no idea what was going on in the town I lived in. I was ready to look around, and reach out, and try to do my part. 

I was inspired by examples like the Alias Chamber Ensemble in Nashville and the Burlington Ensemble in Vermont…

The Oboe is Not Your Friend

A student emailed me last weekend.  He had a competition coming up and wasn’t happy with his reed situation. He asked for some cane and some advice, and closed with this sentence: “It's interesting how I am consistently having oboe problems right before a performance.”

Well, what oboist can’t relate to that?  It’s a stupid instrument, prone to cracking, water in the keys, adjustment problems that slide in under the radar and debilitate the low notes, and above all, reed issues.  These tiny pieces of wood represent the interface between the player and the instrument, and have everything to do with articulation, tone, pitch, dynamic, and the simple ability to play the oboe.  One crumb or shred of cane gets into the reed, it stops vibrating.  It starts raining outside, the reed swells and becomes harder to play.  And just when you think you’re doing all right, and you have a reedcase full of greatness, and you pat yourself on the back just a little, something else happens.  It becomes…

Upcoming Concert: Bernstein!

I have loved the music of Leonard Bernstein since I was a little girl.  The songs and scores to West Side Story and Candide are in my blood, along with Trouble in Tahiti, the Mass, and just about everything else the man wrote.  The melodies are just so achingly gorgeous, with just the right amount of darkness in the harmonies underlying them, and the dances are impossible to ignore.  Joyful, energetic, ecstatic, tragic, transformative. 

We’re playing suites from Candide and West Side Story tomorrow night, accompanied by vocalists and dancers from IUSB.  For me a huge highlight is performing the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story with actual dancers.  It chokes me up a little to see these beautiful young people able to show such energetic, beautiful, characterful drama with their highly trained bodies, and it’s a thrill to have something so visual and physical on the stage where we normally perform in polite rows to a quietly attentive audience. 

Our concert is Friday night this wee…

Upcoming Concert: Mozart!

I’m not playing the South Bend Symphony concert this weekend, and I’m sorry to be missing it.  First, this concert features the Chamber Orchestra, which is not quite as liberating as playing actual chamber music, but which is  a lighter, more responsive instrument than the full ensemble.  We can rehearse faster and make more delicate nuances with this smaller group, and we get to play in Notre Dame’s spectacular DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. 

Second, our principal hornist, Kurt Civilette, is playing a concerto with the group, and that man can really really play.  I’m already biased toward wind players, because there’s something so human and intimate about creating sound with your breath, and because we just don’t see them out at the front of the stage often enough.  I’m of course biased toward my friends, and since Kurt joined the orchestra and the wind quintet last season we’ve been running together, working and playing together, and have even hung out socially on occasion.  But …

Upcoming Concert - Scheherezade!

This week I am subbing in the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, playing Scheherezade and a 2007 Michael Daugherty Piano Concerto called Deus Ex Machina. This is exactly the kind of program I love to do - there’s a new work which is thrilling and energetic and which the audience will not have heard before but will undoubtedly respond to, and an old warhorse which is popular for very good reason.  Nothing not to like here.

Deus Ex Machina is a tribute to trains - the first and third movements are full of driving rhythms and crunchy, whistly tone clusters,  and the second (which I’ve only listened to -  we’ll rehearse it tonight) is deeply moving and tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train as it traveled from Washington, DC, back to his home in Springfield, IL.   Which, irrelevantly, is where my first real orchestra job was located.  I’ve visited Lincoln’s Springfield home, and his tomb there.  I feel warmly toward the town.

Meanwhile, Scheherezade is Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ex…

Is It Just Me?

I’ve just left Ohio University, where I performed my CHROMA recital, which I love so much, for a small but enthusiastic audience.  I was in town for two days, and managed to take in a fascinating masterclass by Stephen Secan of the Columbus Symphony and to hear the university orchestra perform and to enjoy Dr. Michele Fiala’s Mozart Oboe Concerto and to have a reed-making session with a pair of students and to play in some oboe ensembles with Michele’s delightful studio.

I rehearsed Sunday night with Ohio University’s piano professor, Youmee Kim.  She is marvelous, and nailed all of my repertoire without even breaking a sweat.  We played through everything once, rehearsed a spot or two, and then it was all just fine, which is exactly what you want from your professional piano accompanist. 

And I am publishing this after our performance, and indeed everything was just fine. We had a great time and the audience seemed to enjoy it all.  But.  This thing.  Does this happen to other people,…

I'm Back!

Somehow, astonishingly, the last time I published anything here was two weeks ago.  Since that time, my orchestra had its first huge masterworks concert (The Planets, the Dvorak Cello Concerto, Short Ride in a Fast Machine), I had two amazing rehearsals with colleagues for a chamber music thingy we’re doing in November, I gave a solo recital in Chicago, I was interviewed for an in depth article, I hosted a Barret Night masterclass at Valparaiso University, I mailed more than ninety hand-made reeds, and I just today had another two hour meeting with my grant-writing partners at The Music Village for my spring chamber music series.  Tomorrow I leave for Ohio University, where I will perform a DIFFERENT solo recital  - CHROMA - on Monday.

Topics that occurred to me - that every evening when I went to bed I thought, Oh, I should wake up early and write this up for my blog! - included the amazing transformation of my orchestra from a bunch of rusty, summer-tired musicians to a tight, exciti…

Dear Candidate

Dear Candidate,

You asked me for feedback on your audition.  I’m glad you got in touch, but I don't have anything very specific to tell you.  My notes have been shredded and I am not a specialist on your instrument.  That said, I do remember your audition - you were in the last preliminary round that we heard and I did actually vote for you to advance.

It's an unfortunate thing about auditions.  On the committee side of things, we can't help but grade on a curve. In other words, as we hear and advance candidates we become more and more aware of the level that is possible, and a perfectly competent audition late in the day might not advance whereas it might have early on.  The sad reality is that easily two thirds of the players we heard could have done a great job on the job, but we had only one position to offer.  The even sadder truth is that this very small orchestra was able to attract candidates who were really superstars, and should absolutely be out there making fo…

Breathing and the Brain

I’m working on the Bach E Major Partita, and it’s significantly difficult for me.  Not so much the notes, although E Major is not the most effortless key on the oboe.  Not so much the music-making, although I could work my whole life on solo Bach and never be perfectly satisfied with my choices, because it’s that complex and THAT good.  No, the problem is breathing, and breathing is always a challenging thing for a wind player.

Oboists can play long, long phrases with ease. The opening in the reed is so tiny that it really rations the air, so we can play longer lines than any other orchestral wind instrument.  It’s also comparatively easy to circular breathe on the oboe, which means that we can actually take in new air while  playing and maintain an uninterrupted line.  The downside is that an oboist can never fully expel her air through that tiny opening.  We end up with excess carbon dioxide in our lungs, and as we breathe in again the new good air stacks on top of the old and we fin…

Independence

Zoe got herself lost in the grocery store again today.

“Mommy, can I look at that?” she cried over her shoulder as she scampered off.  I continued to shop.  Ten minutes later I was paged and collected her from the service desk - she had found a nice lady with kids, asked for help, and given her name and address and my name and indeed the grownup did know what to do and everything worked out just like it was supposed to.  Again.


Zoe’s never liked to ride in the cart - she’s an active person and doesn’t want to be pushed luxuriously through the store as someone else does all the shopping.  This would be yet another way that we are different, I suppose.  So we instituted the Shopping Rules, which she knows well and can quote to me as we enter any place of business.   She is not to touch things, not to run away, and most importantly to STAY WHERE SHE CAN SEE ME. 

I liked this rule because it put the burden of staying close with her instead of me.  After all, I had my own reasons for being …

Transcribing Mendelssohn

I’m working on a variety of pieces for my spring recital program, “Music that Should Have Been Written for the Oboe, Part Two”.  It’s an ambitious program - the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, the Bach E Major Partita, Gershwin Three Preludes - and more works still to be determined, I’m sure.

When I did Part One of this program, ten years ago(!) I prided myself on performing from the original parts.  In other words, I was reading the Dvorak Cello Concerto in bass clef and tenor clef and with the original double and triple stops in place, and relying on my preparation to remind me where I had decided to jump up or down an octave or which of the multiple notes I had decided to play or how exactly I had modified a given lick.  I was reading a Debussy piano score and following my little penciled arrows from one interior line to another.  I had memorized a few pieces just to accommodate the page turns - and to show off.  All of this took a lot of time to prepare, and a lot of repetition to cem…

"Standard Concerto"

I LOVE auditions.  Have I mentioned that before?  It is so inspiring to hear wonderful players performing beautifully for us, and I always learn something that I can apply to my own work.

Friday we listened to Cello, Bass, and Violin auditions here in South Bend.  In each case, the candidate was asked to start with the exposition of a “standard concerto”.  In practice, this means that everybody played a different piece, which in many cases was unfamiliar to me.  A concerto that bass players learn as a “standard” is not necessarily one that is frequently performed in the orchestra, and even a piece I’ve played many times, like the Sibelius Violin Concerto, sounds different when I’m listening from the house and not playing at the same time.   How, I asked myself, is this segment of the audition relevant to me?  As the token wind player on the committee, I figured I’d just wait for them to get to the excerpts; since everyone would be playing the same material I could then compare apples …

Upcoming Concert: Bringing the Community In

We’ll be doing a Community Play-In at the end of our Saturday night park concert - an arrangement of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (with all the vocal parts and the hard parts removed).  The South Bend Symphony will be joined on stage with nearly fifty players from the community.  These range from young high school students to senior citizens, and I think that this will end up being a thrill for us and for them.

We had a rehearsal the other night with these community players.  Only a handful of symphony musicians were present, and we worked on an eight minute piece for two and a half hours, which felt to me like a recipe for a dreadful evening. 

And it did feel interminable at first.  The group started playing, and fell apart completely at the first time change.  We corrected, restarted, and fell apart again in some string section counterpoint.  I was already checking my watch. 

The work we did was not as directed as it would have been in a professional group.  Pretty much we just played litt…

Time!

School has started!  I now have FOUR GLORIOUS HOURS of uninterrupted grownup time every day where before I had to fight and beg and bribe for every minute of practice and reed work and thought that I got.  I’m already planning my approach. 

I read a book this summer: Laura Vanderkam’s “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think”.  I’m not exactly recommending it - there are plenty of spectacular productivity books out there and this was not at all one of the best - but I was inspired by her way of considering the week in terms of total hours - so that you can decide how to spend your time over a longer block than a day or an hour.

It’s a little bit obvious - that if a week is composed of 168 hours you can choose how to spread your work and life out within that time, and plan hours for sleeping, working out, cooking, and DOING GOOD WORK.  But somehow I’ve never thought of it that way - as a big chart instead of a little one.  I often feel bad if I don’t get to practice, run, write, co…

GREAT Chamber Music

I attended a concert Monday night!  This just about never happens, but it was utterly good for my soul.  I’ve been inspired ever since, both in my practicing and in my planning for the season ahead.

I went out to Michigan City, Indiana, where my friend Nic’s Michigan City Chamber Music Festival is in the middle of its twelfth season.  I had never made it to one of their concerts, although they are located less than an hour from my home, during my slow season of mid August, and some of my good friends and colleagues are featured performers.  We were in Colorado last summer, but beyond that I have no excuses whatsoever. 

And the concert was wonderful.  Friendly and informal in all the right ways, beautifully professional and uncompromising in others.  The musicians were completely accessible - there was no backstage to speak of and so they stood right at the back of the hall until everyone was seated.  I got to visit with them on the way to my seat.  They spoke before almost every piece …

Final Parks Concert - New Oboe!

Yesterday our outdoor concert moved indoors, due to torrential rain, and because we were inside and climate-controlled I could not resist playing my new oboe. 

Yes, I bought a new oboe.  Just a few days ago.  A Bulgheroni Opera model, and I was pretty sure I loved it - but playing alone in your room for a week is a great way to talk yourself into some doubts.  I was eager to get it out in public, just to make sure that it was a team player. 

After all, I could play the oboe in tune with my tuner, but matching with other players is another factor altogether.  Did every note have the flexibility I needed?  Would I be able to easily change the sound to blend with a flute or a trumpet or to bring a solo line forward?  Was it easy to USE, in other words?  I knew I liked it in isolation but needed to know how much it would fight me in the orchestra.

And it was great.  I know I’ll write more about this instrument as I get to know it better - but right now it seems to be giving me exactly what…

More Parks Concerts

These are the decorations that greeted us at the gorgeous park in Cedar Lake last Saturday.  What an unexpected delight! 

I have more outdoor concerts this weekend.  And actually, I'm looking forward to them.  Last week's performances were fun in exactly the way I expected them to be, and the weather is even more excellent this weekend.   If you should find yourself in Northwest Indiana, come out and join us!


Tonight in Griffith, and tomorrow in Crown Point. Details HERE.

Playing Your Own Part

A college-bound student came in yesterday with a report on his summer activities.  He’d played a gig with a local college orchestra as first oboe, which was the same position he’d held throughout the past year.  At this concert, though, the regular second oboist was not available, and a professional had been hired.  My student had felt nervous and uncomfortable playing first chair to a player who was obviously older and more experienced, and imagined that she thought poorly of him, and kind of wished that the roles had been reversed because he felt out of place playing solos that she should rightfully have had. 

And this is a common misunderstanding among younger players, and a reasonable one.  Of course, in a high school band, the best player will be picked to play first, and the second best will play second.  Of course if the first chair player is not working hard and practicing, someone will challenge him.  Of course second chair is a phone-it-in position and third chair might as …

Upcoming Parks Concerts

This week I start a series of outdoor concerts with the Northwest Indiana Symphony.  I’ll be doing those for the next three weekends, in seven different little towns. 

Here’s what I’m looking forward to.  Our conductor, Kirk Muspratt, is a master at programming pops concerts.  The seemingly unrelated batch of pieces I’ve been preparing will all make sense when we start playing, and he will segue them beautifully and really keep the audience paying attention and enjoying themselves.  The mood will shift and sway, from upbeat to melancholy to nostalgic and back again, and everyone will leave feeling great.  I’ve seen him do it over and over and I have every confidence that he’ll pull it off again this summer, and I admire that skill and enjoy watching it.

Here’s what I’m not looking forward to.  Sweat, insects, clothespins on the music to keep the pages from blowing off, long commutes with questionable maps to tiny parks, rickety stages.  Outdoor concerts are particularly unfun for obo…

Five of Cups

I’m on vacation this week, up at our family’s camp on Lake Carmi.  This place always makes me think of the Tarot, as it was here that I first learned to read the cards.  Though it’s been over a year since I’ve had time to touch a deck, I love the early morning reflection of a daily card, especially here where the world is peaceful and beautiful (and everyone else sleeps in).

This morning I drew the Five of Cups, which is an unusual card for me.  It’s about regret - looking at what you’ve done and wishing it had been different.  This is totally foreign to my personality.  On the rare occasions I’ve seen that card - most often in readings for other people, I have focused almost exclusively on the two full cups in the background.  Don’t dwell on the past!  I point out.  There’s so much more to see and do and LIVE than the three spilled cups - look around and find the joy instead of the sorrow.

But this morning I think the other aspect of the card is speaking to me, and reminding me not to …

Superior to the Music?

My husband and I were playing a gig together a few weeks ago.  Rare for us.  And we were debriefing in a coffee shop between services, and he said, “You know, I looked at my parts for this concert a little, but there was really nothing to practice.  I hate feeling superior to the music.”

And in that statement is a great and valuable lesson for a musician.  The more experience you have playing orchestrally, the less likely that a given piece will hold true technical challenges for you.  There’s nothing in, say, Haydn 104 that I can’t pull off on my instrument.  No scale passage too fast, no rhythm too complex.  I understand the stylistic constraints of playing Haydn and I’ve heard and played the piece many times so the solos are known entities.  So should I not practice before a Haydn concert?

Obviously this is not the case.  A given symphony may not present technical challenges, but the oboe always does.  It doesn’t matter that I can play the solos if I can’t enter securely on the low …

Pushups?

I did five pushups this evening.  I’ve been off running for two weeks now, with tendinitis in my foot, and although I’ve done a bit of biking - commuting, is all - nothing for me tops the pleasure of rolling out the door for 6 or 10 miles and checking my watch to see how close I am to my goal time - per mile, per route, per plan.  I miss my marathon training like crazy.

Last night I was chatting with a good friend at a gig, and brought up my frustration at being off my feet.  She said she’d gone through the same thing, stopped running a year ago, and recommended pushups.  I said she was crazy.  She pointed out that you could count them, and improve your number every day.  And I said she was awesome.

Why did that simple statement make all the difference for me?  Running has been my dream sport for years not because I am a good runner, or fast, or apparently able to do it without injury.  What I love is the numbers.  I can go out for a run and push myself to achieve more than the day befo…

Upcoming Concert - Amazing Soloist

We are up in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula this week, performing with the Pine Mountain Music Festival.  This year, disappointingly, we are not presenting an opera, but I have been enjoying the symphony concert. 

The highlight for me is Sibelius’s Luonatar - it’s the shortest work on the program but a thrillingly dark and intense ride.  Our soprano soloist, Mary Bonhag, is absolutely marvelous.  Her sound is rich and pure and colorful and ashen and huge and intimate and perfect.   The liquid sounds of the Finnish language resonate deeply with the ancient mythical poetry of this work, and Mary brings an otherworldly quality to the performance that just sends chills up my spine, in the best way possible. 

She is fascinating to watch as well.  When I see great instrumental soloists play with us I am often struck by their combination of physical relaxation and perfectly honed muscle control.  This is something which immediately stood out to me about Mary’s singing.

As she stands aro…

Finishing Happy: My Marathon Story

This was not the race I wanted.  I had plans and goals.  I had worked hard.  And what did I do?  I went out too fast - at a fun and comfortable pace rather than the very conservative one recommended by the running magazines- and stayed joyfully ahead of my own goal pace for 10 miles.  Then I sank back into my goal pace for about 5 more.  Then I began to feel some twinges from my IT band, an old injury that had not arisen once during training.  I ignored it and ran a little more.  The twinges started to be pain.  I stopped, stretched, continued.  Stopped, walked, went back to running.  Knew that this could not be happening!  I was prepared!  I had made it uninjured to the start line - this was supposed to be my triumph!  But no. 

By the time I got to mile 18 I couldn’t deny that I was having a real ITB flare-up.  It was really painful, and, more to the point, I remembered how long it would take to heal if I did real damage.  I scrapped my time goal and devoted myself to walking.  I cha…

Bach Story

Funny story.  The third movement of the Bach Concerto for Oboe and Violin is four pages long, but in my part there is a lovely 3 bar rest at the page turn so it is never a problem for me.  The unfortunate violinist, though, plays throughout the entire movement and can’t easily get the page over, so there’s always a little issue there.  Some players just rip the page over while playing - somehow - or have someone else turn for them, but most work out some sort of photocopy arrangement, which still requires two stands, or one expanded stand, or at least a perfectly situated part.  AND that third movement comes almost immediately after the second, so everything really has to be in place well in advance. 

I performed the Double Concerto a number of years ago, with an orchestra that I will not name here. The violin soloist was VERY anxious about this page situation, and the performance in general.  She spent quite a bit of time pre-concert setting up her stand, JUST SO, and making sure tha…