Skip to main content

The Hard Truth

I had a great practice session today.  It’s so much fun to work on new pieces after spending so much time on one recital.  I love this phase of exploring new (to me) repertoire and idly planning future performances.  I love the technical practice involved in getting new music under my fingers before the real nitty-gritty work of interpreting and analyzing and understanding gets really underway.  And I feel terrible for wasting my morning.

This stinks.  Why should the life of a twenty-first century musician be so plagued by non-music-making?  I understand, I know, I believe that the way to a career in this day and age is to be highly entrepreneurial.  I know that I need to be making plans all the time for future performances, because no one else will make them for me.  I know I need to be working on my idea for a chamber music series, and contacting presenters to ask for recital appearances, and looking for grants, and keeping up with what others are doing, and scanning music parts to people who have already agreed to collaborate with me.  In my mind all that was going to happen this week.

It is spring break at Valparaiso University and at Notre Dame.  Several of my private students have conflicts with sports or musicals, and one was sick, and I don’t have an orchestra concert this week at all.  Effectively, all I have to do is keep up with my reed business and teach about 4 students - all week!  This is the perfect time to get ahead with all of the afore-mentioned career stuff. 

But instead I spent my morning delving deep into transcribing a violin concerto.  I spent yesterday working on a Bach Partita.  I love playing the oboe, and I sometimes wish that I hadn’t learned the truth about the rest of it.  I remember being in my early twenties, living in Chicago, and being totally fulfilled by the making of the music.  I could lose myself in a practice room for hours at a time, and eat my lunch in a daze, eager to get back to the instrument.  I would go to bed at night content, knowing that I had done what I needed to do.

Unfortunately, I now realize how much more is involved than simply honing my craft.  It is still possible for me to lose myself in practice, and I still need it - the practice, of course, and also the intensity and focus - but it isn’t enough.  I also have to do stupid computer work and send emails that make me uncomfortable, asking for attention and time and money.  I have to search for venues.  I have to look for partner organizations.  I have to keep thinking forward.  I’m not good at it and it stresses me out and I wish things could just be easy.  I wish I didn’t have to feel guilty about devoting a morning to the oboe. 

I understand that this is the way things are.  I don’t usually complain.  But this week it depresses me.  Someone do it for me, OK?  Call up and offer me a path.  I promise I’ll say yes. I swear I’ll be awesome.  Just let me pretend for a little while that it can be all about the music.


  1. Many of us have experienced this feeling of frustration, perhaps even a certain degree of inadequacy at some moment in our lives. In a life’s drama it comes out as a “ cri du coeur”. Truly I wish that I had the ability and knowledge to help. The point is, however, if you think about it, that you are the type of person, and I think I alluded to this trait another time, that your passion for certain activities surrounding your musical career will always be pressing against your talent, your time and your abilities. I am not suggesting here a life of hopeless frustration. It is at this critical point where talent and passion meet adversity that creativity is at its most orgasmic. Do you think a consultant would have helped Michelangelo with the purchase of dyes and plaster, while he was staring at the ceiling for years?
    Anyway I wish I could compose a playable cadenza for you. Meanwhile, please, accept an encouraging hug.

  2. " It is at this critical point where talent and passion meet adversity that creativity is at its most orgasmic. " That is a fabulous sentiment, Dimitri, and one which I will keep in mind as I continue to scramble forward.

    Thanks, as always!


  3. Jennet,
    just wanted to share something I found youtube. I think you might find it interesting.
    Here it is:

  4. Olya, WHERE have I been that I don't know of this gentleman? I've spent a lovely afternoon looking through his material and listening to him speak. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Jennet, glad you enjoyed it. I thought you might find it useful in your teaching.


Post a Comment

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…

Warming Up - Long Tones

I must not talk enough about warmups. I say this because recently, in my last lesson ever with a student leaving for college, I was mentioning something about my warmup regimen and his jaw dropped. Apparently long tones and intervals and scales with varied articulations are not part of his daily routine, nor had it ever occurred to him to use his band's warmup period to improve his playing. And I'm not telling this story on him, but on myself. Obviously I need to address the warm up period because it is fully half of the playing I do, and sometimes more.

Much of practicing is focused on learning a specific piece - either something you are performing at a specific time in the future, or an etude for your lesson, or the piece you're playing in band or orchestra. You are working on the specific problems or techniques that that piece requires. Of course you are working in as efficient a way as possible, and at the end of your practice period you can play the passage or pi…