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Showing posts from January, 2013

Consistency and Variety

I love the kind of gigs that inspire.  They don’t even have to be good gigs, particularly - I don’t have to enjoy myself (though I almost always do) or make a lot of money to be encouraged by what I hear or see. 

Yesterday I played in the backing orchestra for Jackie Evanchoat Symphony Center in Chicago, and I had almost nothing to do - page after page of tacet numbers and an occasional harmony line or English horn solo.  Although I didn’t really feel like I was earning my keep, I love having the chance to play second oboe.  It’s a treat to be able to really pay attention to another player’s approach and see what I can learn - a little voyeuristic, maybe, but we are, after all, in a performance profession.  The oboist expects to be heard, and hopes to be paid attention to, and I am glad to oblige.   And it’s no burden when the oboist in question is such a consummate professional as Jelena Dirks.  Her playing was lovely, perfectly pitched, and effortlessly controlled throughout the re…

Winter Preview - and Panic

Building right onto my last post, may I say that I am thrilled and slightly intimidated by the amount of exciting, terrific, and difficult repertoire I have coming up in the next few weeks?

This Monday we in the South Bend Symphony are presenting our annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, over at the campus of IUSB, and because we try to feature the work of African-American composers and because African-American composers are by definition not nineteenth-century European composers, we get to play new music!  This year I am most excited about Adolphus Hailstork’s An American Port of Call.  It uses the orchestra to portray the sounds of a busy harbor city, and the licks in my part are tricky and rhythmic and fun.  I can’t wait to start rehearsals tomorrow.

Next weekend we’ve got a Chamber concert, featuring our outstanding principal clarinetist in the Copland Concerto, and although I am not playing that work I do get to do Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony.  Not hard, exactly, but a se…

I suck

Finally, I suck again.  I’ve been looking forward to this.

When I’m performing all the time but not practicing, it doesn’t immediately feel bad.  In fact, the farther I get from the micro-awareness of the practice room, the better I perceive that I’m playing.  This is why it’s helpful to taper my practice a bit before an audition or a recital, so that I can be in performance mode rather than nit-picky improvement mode.  After a few days of not practicing, as long as I am still playing, I start to really enjoy what comes out.  I am more rested since I’m not working as much, and I’m not listening for perfection.  I can coast for weeks on a good practice buildup.  This past six weeks, in fact, between the busy holiday schedule and the grueling tour AND the fact that none of my holiday music was hard enough to require real practice I have been out of my normal routine for a long time.

Now that I’m home, I am starting to build back up for my recitals, which are scheduled for the end of Febru…

Oboes in China

January 7, 2013:
I have done side by side concerts ever since I have been a professional.  Normally, a youth orchestra comes in and sits with us for a few numbers, and maybe we chat a bit, and then we play a concert and go home.  I’ve also experienced more extensive side by sides - both at the Pine Mountain Music Festival and occasionally with Notre Dame Opera we have had long-term combinations of pros and students.  In these cases we rehearse for a week or so and then give real performances, as a well-prepared ensemble.  I love this kind of work and I can really hear the learning taking place as the students discover new ways of listening around the orchestra and find within themselves skills they hadn’t known existed. 

My favorite thing about our China tour, besides the food, was this same astoundingly fast learning.  I could not be prouder of my students.  My three oboists outdid themselves this week in the orchestra, and grew more than I would have imagined possible.  I have known…

Zoe in China

January 7, 2013: The Chinese people have been so friendly.  They are warm, welcoming, and delighted to try to speak English with us.  And they LOVE Zoe.  They seem to love children in general, and Zoe is so petite and cute and blond that she stands out.  On the street, just walking, people come up to us, pick her up, kiss her, ask to take pictures with her, and give her candy and gifts.  It’s amazing to watch - and it terrifies her.  Think of it - already the cities are crowded, and there is traffic everywhere, and she’s holding my hand tight and being taken somewhere she’s never been before.  All of a sudden, two or three or a crowd of people she’s never met surround her.   They look different and they come in close and fast.  They speak to her in heavily accented English or jabber to each other in Chinese, and pick her up and try to get her talking to them. They want her to smile for pictures.  It’s culturally surprising - although we talk to plenty of strangers at home no one in t…

Mid-Tour Ramble

January 3, 2013.  This was my plan.  To observe everything unique and fascinating about China, and about the development of this student orchestra over the course of our 10 day tour, and about Zoe’s response to being on the other side of the world, and to write daily even if I couldn’t post until we returned home.  And we are now on day five? Six, maybe?  And I can barely even remember day three.  We’ve been in a haze of bus travel, jet lag, and cold, glowery weather that makes me want to cuddle under a comforter and never leave.  Zoe has been amazing - a real trouper- but she remains three and as such is very very hands-on here.  Now that we finally have a morning off - the first one - I am writing in a hotel lobby in Hangzhou, wearing my winter coat and scarf because underheated and even unheated buildings are entirely the norm here, and I have no idea even where to start.  There’s no way to capture all the details of a trip like this.

This tour has been hard.  I knew coming in that …

Eating Down the Reeds

Hi, blog readers!  I have just returned from a tour of China, and although I was thinking and writing while I was there, I couldn’t publish anything because Blogger is a Google product and Google is blocked by the government.  So I’ll be posting the reflections from my trip over the next few days.  Enjoy!


December 27, 2012.  I am writing this on a plane bound for Shanghai, where Steve and Zoe and I will be touring with Valparaiso University’s Symphony Orchestra.  I have rarely been so poorly equipped for a journey, mentally, physically, and oboistically - but I have every expectation of enjoying myself nevertheless.

When we are coming up on a trip out of town, we try not to buy new groceries.  For the week or so before we go, we try hard to consume all the perishables in the kitchen, with no thought of maintaining pantry stores or of continuing to live in the house after our trip.  We can wind up with some peculiar stir-fries during this period, and incongruous pairings, but in the end …