Saturday, April 27, 2013

Zoe is Awesome

Zoe and I went for a Big Wheel walk.  In other words, she big wheeled, I walked.  We traveled around our tiny neighborhood block once. 

First, she pressed a “button” on the handlebars and asked Siri for directions to the corner.  “Siri, take me to the corner please - directions for Zoe Ingle.”  She listened intently for a moment and then we were off.

Before we even made it to the corner, she was Tigger, and pretended that her big wheel was bouncy.

She found a little branch that had fallen off a pine tree, and explained that if I waved it from side to side it was red, but up and down made it green.  We then had a “rally race” which consisted of a lot of flags and stopping and starting. 

She stopped and hung her head.  She was a sad Minnie Mouse, because it was “raining a robot rain and her bike basket got wet.”   We pressed a “button” to magically dry her bike basket.

She drove intentionally into a yard, and became a sad Minnie Mouse, because her bike went into the “mud”.  She and I worked together, using Teamwork, to extract her bike from the yard. 

She chased me and had me chase her.

She climbed on a fire hydrant and pretended that she was scared of the world and only the hydrant was safe. 

We stopped and picked dandelions, the only flower she is allowed to remove from people’s yards.

We found a pile of sticks and pretended it was a fire and warmed our hands over it and added more sticks to it.

She pretended to be a dog and had me throw a stick for her to fetch.  She fetched it in her mouth, yipping excitedly. 

Every time a car passed we had to be statues and freeze in place. 

When we got home we rushed inside to put our dandelions in water.

This year has been really difficult for me - I can’t seem to make time enough in my day to do everything I want, as well as I want to do.  Little girl doesn’t nap anymore, and she wants and wants and wants my attention.  I really can’t do good, focused work except when she is at school or in bed, and there just aren’t enough hours like that.  Because I work from home a lot of the time, I feel like I am eternally putting her off, or making compromises that I should not be making with my practicing, my fitness, or my sleep.  And I never feel like I am on top of my big picture plans - getting through the week with clean clothes on is the best we can sometimes do. 

It takes at least forty-five minutes to get around our block - but all that said, I would not trade this activity with my imaginative, amazing daughter for any amount of actual productivity at home.  What a treat this is! 

Upcoming Concert - Final Masterworks!

I haven’t written, I know I haven’t written.  It’s because I’ve been blissing out all week on this orchestra concert.  We’re playing Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier Suite and Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde - and both works are just so expertly written and orchestrated, and so breathtakingly romantic and beautiful, and so exhilarating to play - that I haven’t felt like talking about it. 

My orchestra is playing beautifully.  I love working with my colleagues here.  It’s been a pretty good year, artistically, and I can’t believe that this is our last concert.

What else happened this week?  My mother was visiting from out of town, to help us with Zoe as we both had a lot of services and schedule complications.  And because little girl adores her gramma, I was actually able to rest a little.  Catch up a little.  PRACTICE in a focused way.  Go for long runs with a friend and get self-reflective. 

I feel ready to face the next few weeks - the end of the regular orchestra season - and beyond that, to start exploring new projects.  I can’t even tell you how much I’m excited about some of my ideas.  This past year was very VERY hard for me, but I have high hopes for the future. 

Meanwhile, come to our concert tonight.  The music is astounding.  Details HERE.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Oboe Reed Boot Camp: Your Official Invitation

Calling all oboe students, teachers, and parents!

Is anyone else frustrated with reed-making?  It seems as though there is never enough time during oboe lessons to really get a handle on this difficult skill, and during the busy season it's hard to make time to practice it, too.  In some ways, the fact that I make so many reeds every week is a negative, because my students can come to rely on my big case which is always full. I find that I enable students to not make reeds.

Having good reed skills is a tremendous advantage to a student, though.  At college, or out in the world, or even over the summer when lessons are out, it is liberating to know that you can take care of your own needs without having to rely on your teacher's physical presence.  When you arrive at your concert and the weather suddenly changes or a flute player crushes your best reed, it is invaluable to have the skills to pull something else out of your case and adjust it to your comfort level.

This summer I will once again run my Oboe Reed Boot Camp.  I want to assemble a group - beginners as well as competent or nearly competent reedmakers - and really take the time to start off right.  We will do a full fifteen hours of reed drills, games, and competitions, and have everyone turning out playable reeds by the end.

Sometimes you may hesitate to scrape because you dread ruining an expensive piece of cane -  I will supply all of the cane, thread, and staples, to maximize your courage.

I am offering two sessions this summer - Monday through Friday July 22-26 from 10am-1pm,  and ALSO Saturday and Sunday the 27th and 28th, from 10-6.  Both sessions will take place in South Bend.   Further information and open registration are available at    I am also offering an early registration discount from now until June 1.

I encourage you to let your colleagues, students, teachers, and friends know of this opportunity, and to contact me with any questions.

Upcoming Concert - Altered States!

I am so excited about the performance I have Tuesday night.  

Chicago's Fulcrum Point New Music Project is presenting a screening of Ken Russell's 1980 film Altered States, with a 75-piece orchestra performing John Corigliano’s Oscar-nominated score.  The music is amazing.  Trippy.  Difficult.  And I get to be involved!

I’ve done these kinds of gigs before - accompanying a film in real time - and it’s always challenging, both musically and technically.  The material we are playing is often demanding, and the constraints of the format means that the tempo markings are non-negotiable.  We have to start right on time, and play as fast as we have to play, and if things get off we have to make immediate and sometimes unnatural-feeling adjustments.  The job of the conductor, of course, is even more complex than usual.  The more technology is involved, the more he has to be on top of, and the less he controls, if that makes sense.  There is little room for human flexibility and interpretation, and the least error can confuse the whole orchestra, or worse, the audience.

Adding to the difficulty this week is the constrained freedom in the score.   There are many places where we have to play a set of patterns in an improvisational way.  The technically challenging figures are written out for us but we need to place and repeat them in a way that sounds random.  We have to react to other people so that we don’t line up with them, and have to listen to the effect we are creating and keep the material going.  Meanwhile, the measures are still ticking by - fast - in real time, and we have to know exactly where we are so we can stop and move on appropriately.  It’s not the hardest thing I’ve done, but it’s definitely tricky.  I have students who struggle to count beats while trilling - when their fingers get unmetered they have no idea how to keep track of time.  This feels like the same problem, raised to an uncomfortable level.  

All that said, I’m proud and delighted to be doing this work.  The composer was present for our winds-only rehearsal yesterday and will attend the performance.  My own part is not prominent and you won’t hear me, but you should catch this event.  

Details HERE.

Monday, April 15, 2013


You know I am training for a marathon.  I’m not near the level of Boston, the Mecca of Marathons, but I could imagine someday being.  My dad ran Boston a number of times.  I had friends running today. 

Two weeks ago I was ready to give up on my marathon training.  Clearly I was just not meant to run such distances.  I had had that cold back in early March, and the bronchitis, and had taken about a week off from my training schedule.  When I started back up I had one sort of OK run and then everything went downhill fast. I was stopping short of my mileage goals and getting nowhere near my pace goals, and generally felt lousy about the whole endeavor.  This lasted for almost three weeks, or “forever” in runner’s jargon.  I wanted to quit. 

The worst thing about a running slump is the mysterious feeling of getting progressively worse.  Of fighting a losing battle against your own limits.  Of inexplicably sliding further and further backwards.  It would have felt better to stay on the couch - at least if I wasn’t out doing the runs at all I’d know exactly why I couldn’t get through a seven mile pace workout.  It would be my fault instead of just a lousy thing happening to me.  I kept pushing, and failing, and trying.

Finally, I went out with a group of symphony friends, and broke back through.  We had an outstanding eight mile run during which I never felt like walking, and every run since then has been great.  Not effortless, but that’s not the point.  I can complete my workouts as planned, and I'm proud to be there. 

My original plan for this post was to talk about working through the slump, and how I do the same thing on the oboe, and in my writing, and how just sticking with it and continuing to do the work is pretty much always the answer. 

But after today's news I just want to salute runners everywhere. 

I want to celebrate the athletes in Boston, who all have worked through their own hard times to get there.

I want to think about the rescue teams and volunteers who helped in the wake of the explosions there today, and all the amazing runners who finished a MARATHON and went straight on to the hospital to donate blood for the victims of this attack.

I want to thank all of the people everywhere who do NOT set bombs to harm the innocent, and who do NOT carry weapons to threaten violence to others, and who are as shocked and saddened as I am at this tragedy. 

I want to continue to believe in and love the human race. 

Thank you, runners.  Thank you, people.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Upcoming Concert - Mahler!

We are playing Mahler 2 in Northwest Indiana this week.  I love this kind of work.

The Resurrection Symphony is not my favorite Mahler piece, but there’s just nothing else that feels like playing Mahler.  His writing stretches both the individual musician and the ensemble to play louder, softer, more beautifully, more characterfully than any other composer.  I could spend - did spend - hours looking at the part.  Not because the notes are hard, but because he gives us so many markings and they all have meaning.  Different shaped accents, slurs over slurs, an enormous range of dynamics, and many many tempo and character words in German - everything on the page is important and needs to be studied, translated, and considered as a way to communicate. 

Music is never merely music for Mahler.  Every movement has meaning, and every phrase, and every note.  Trying to do justice to his markings and his intentions can be the work of a lifetime. 

I love the challenge.  The concert is Friday night at Bethel Church in Merrillville.  Hope to see you there!

Details HERE.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Star Spangled Feeling

You know, when you are a professional musician, you kind of don’t get taken in by the theater of it all.  The music can be beautiful, and moving - but your job is to move someone else, which takes a calculated effort and a level of detachment.  Aside from my genuine enjoyment of the interaction, and the synergy, and the admiration of other people’s efforts, it’s rare for me to have a real personal moment of response to the music itself.

Here in South Bend, we have been heavily involved all week in presenting Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.  I’m sorry I didn’t preview the concert on my blog - I always intend to, as part of my personal mission to bring people to concerts, but this cycle was too overbooked for me to manage it.   The War Requiem is an astounding piece - a large-scale work with multiple choirs and two orchestras and three soloists and a lot of complex and unfamiliar music to learn.  We worked hard on it all week, and various internal details of hiring and resource allocations caused some hard feelings which as orchestra committee chair I was trying to resolve, and I had quintet performances every day, and a house guest, and meetings, and a reed shipment due, and Zoe was home from school on Spring Break. Though I enjoy all of the things I do, the week felt pretty stressful. 

But on Friday we found out that two members of our orchestra had just taken oaths of US Citizenship, and decided that we would play the National Anthem for them at the beginning of rehearsal.  It required a little bit of scrambling and emailing and asking permission and digging out music and putting it on stands and time taken away from rehearsal for us, and even though I was not the one doing all the extra work, I wondered whether it was worth the effort. 

Musicians play the Star Spangled Banner all the time.  It is never rehearsed, but frequently it gets tossed in at the beginning of a concert.  The snare drum roll begins, we stand, we whack through the thing, and the audience applauds.  Then we get to the main business of the concert.  I’m not saying that it’s a meaningless gesture, but it generally feels to us like just a part of the busy-work to get through before the real stuff begins.  Like tuning, or rising for the conductor to come on stage, or the announcement about silencing your cell phones. 

But on Friday night, with no one in the audience and 300+ people on stage, it felt different.  The conductor cued the drum for real, we all rose to our feet, and off we went.  The orchestra played with love and passion.  The huge and well-trained choir sang in full voice.  It was a performance for US alone.  For our two new citizens, and for ourselves.   Somehow, the absence of an audience made this particular performance one of the most special things I can remember doing.  I was moved, and felt an unironic kinship with my colleagues and my countrymen which is rare for me. 

Music is a beautiful thing.  That’s my revelation of the week.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Women of the Wind: Brandon: Three Desert Fables

We got our recording back!  And I am so pleased with the way it came out.  I would love to just stream the whole thing, but one thing that did not come across was our speaking.  Most of it was cut out, and what you can hear is dim and unclear.  What I’ll do, then, is share one work at a time, and include my introductory material to give it some context. 

The composer Jenni Brandon lives in Southern California.  I first heard of her at the Double Reed convention last summer when a friend of mine played her reed trio.  I thought that the piece was spectacular and got in touch with her- and she promptly sent it to me along with this solo work, Three Desert Fables, which I am proud to present here.

The piece is about symbiotic relationships shared in the biome of the desert.  The first movement explores the Joshua tree itself and its partner the yucca moth.  The moth lays its eggs in the tree's flowers, and the larvae feed upon its seeds, but the moth also serves to pollinate the tree so the two species live together in harmony.  In this work you will hear the Joshua tree, “angular and gnarly”, followed by the moth, "free and majestic".  The two themes then interweave, in a dance of survival.

A chuckwalla is a lizard, and the rock in this movement is not exactly a dynamic character.  The piece is about all of the things the rock represents to the lizard.  First, of course, it radiates heat, so the lizard basking on it is warmed both by the sun and by the rock.  Secondly, it is the surface on which the chuckwalla travels, skittering from place to place.  And this lizard has a trick of crawling into a crevice and then taking rapid breaths to puff itself up and wedge itself in tightly, so nobody can pull him out and eat him.  So in that way the rock also represents protection from predators. 

The Ocotillo cactus is pollinated by the carpenter bees who feed off its nectar.  In this desert waltz you’ll hear the long delicately waving arms of the ocotillo plant, and you won’t miss the bee.

Many thanks to Jenni Brandon for this lovely piece, which I truly enjoyed learning and performing.

Three Desert Fables by Jenni Brandon
Jennet Ingle, oboe

The Joshua Tree and the Moth

The Rock and the Chuckwalla

The Ocotillo and the Bee