Skip to main content

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, or is it just me?

Believe me when I say that I came in prepared for my rehearsal.  This is music that I know cold.  I’ve been practicing and performing it for three years.  And I can play the oboe.  I have a selection of good reeds in my case, and I had warmed up in the afternoon and played through everything in the hall, and was feeling great.

But when we actually met, it was in her studio on a different floor.  It was very warm and humid.  I had just eaten a large dinner.  My reeds reacted like crazy to the changed atmosphere, as did my oboe (I had to pull my screwdriver out and adjust some connections.)  We rehearsed for just over an hour, but within minutes I was tired, sweating, and fighting my instrument and reeds.  Losing attacks, losing slurs, squeaking.  Struggling, generally, like a student, or like an amateur, and embarrassed about it.  Lovely Dr. Kim, at her own piano in her own office, laid all the notes down and patiently waited for me to catch my breath after each piece. 

And this is not the first time things have gone this way for me.  I feel that I often fail to impress new pianists in initial rehearsals, and even though I can deliver good performances I would also like to feel that the rehearsal period is a meeting of musical equals.  Is it really THAT much more difficult for an oboist to change venues than, say, a violinist or cellist?  I can manage a first rehearsal in an unfamiliar orchestra without embarrassing myself. 

Of course, orchestral playing is easier and less exposed than recital repertoire. Of course, there’s a lot more time to rest and recover between entrances. Of course, I would always have been sitting there in my seat warming up and tweaking my reeds for at least 20 minutes before the downbeat, whereas in this situation I walked into her studio at my rehearsal time and immediately noticed the atmospheric difference but didn’t have the opportunity to scrape or adjust anything.  Professionalism dictates that I not waste her time with my fussing, and I am the Unfussy Oboist, or at least that’s who I want to be.  

But I just feel that I should be able to do better.  A real grown-up would do better.  I intend to do better.  I will strive to do better next time. 


  1. That has happened to me too, usually at auditions, but also at solo recitals. I have often wondered what it is about also.

  2. It may sound consolatory, but you know very well it is not just you. It happens, and often to all performers, singers and dancers and orators. I remember a few years ago Natalie Dessay, the renowned soprano. During the intermission interview she apologized to the audience for having messed up a couple of high C’s. And poor President Clinton was once given the wrong speech to read on the teleprompter at the State of the Union yet!!
    He improvised for nearly 40 seconds..
    But back to “just me”. May I ,in all humility make a suggestion? In the 5th paragraph, starting “ But when we actually met….” Begin with “ We rehearsed for just over an hour…” I think you may come up with a little different self assessment.( I hope you forgive me). I still envy your musical adventure to Ohio, and admire your constant efforts to perfect your art for the enjoyment of all those who are lucky to hear you.
    (Btw, why so much environmental difference between floors?)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


When my students get too MOUTHY with the oboe, I put them in a corner.


They tend to play the oboe only from the TOP of their body, north of the collarbone, and it winds up unsupported.  Fussy.  Weak.  And out of tune.

So I back them into a corner, and have them stand a foot or so out from it, facing out into the room.  And I challenge them to find a sound that resonates BEHIND them, out from the corner of the room that they are not facing, to fill the space without blowing directly into the space.

It's a weird metaphor.  I wouldn't have any idea how to describe the physical technique to do it. When I find it in myself, it feels like my back is puffy and my body is round, and large, and barrel like, and also collected and zipped up, and supremely powerful.  If you know me, you know that these statements about my body aren't remotely true.  But that's what I feel when I'm blowing well, and filling the room, and owning my resonance.

I teach resonance.  I talk …

Five Minute Reedmaker: Length of the Windows

My Five Minute Reedmaker Season Two seems to be largely about experiments.  People ask me how LONG, how THICK, how SLOPED, etc - and I'm running the experiments for them and for you.

I've been posting these videos on YouTube, and sharing them from my Facebook Page, but haven't totally kept up with sharing here on my blog.

Here are the ones you may have missed:
Length of the Heart
Fallacy of the Long Tip
Moldy Cane

And here's the new one:

Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of ideas this season.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…