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The E.T. Effect

You know how, in E.T.:The Extra-Terrestrial, E.T. and Elliott are psychically connected, and then ultimately physiologically connected, and when ET gets sick from the unfriendly atmosphere of the Earth, Elliott gets sick too, and then eventually they both magically recover?

I would not have thought that I had that sort of connection with my oboe.  I’ve been subbing with the (amazing, excellent, inspiring) Milwaukee Symphony this week, and it’s been rough going for my new oboe and me.  I’ve been struggling to fit in with the group.  Most surprising to me were several low attacks that I really expected my Bulgheroni to carry off with aplomb.  I kept over- or under-blowing them and missing ever so slightly, and I was annoyed at myself, and super self-conscious about it.  And then annoyed that I was making so big a deal about myself, to myself, and then I would make more mistakes. 

Thursday morning, after two long days of hard commutes, I finally had time to get into a practice room and really warm up well on those low attacks.  And although I was able to find them in isolation, something still felt a little amiss.  I checked all of my adjustments and inspected the instrument, and everything seemed fine, but it just didn’t feel quite safe. 

By half-way through that day’s rehearsal, though, my mood had lightened.  I was feeling confident and enjoying myself.  I was making sounds that I was happy with, and fewer stupid mistakes, and the oboe seemed to be working well, too.  It was coasting in just as I was accustomed to, and the response was right where I predicted it would be, and I felt like I was pulling my weight in the group as I should have been doing all along.  And it seems to me that this is just like what happened to E.T. and Elliott.  The oboe began to work better, and I began to feel better, and it wasn’t just that I didn’t fear the attacks anymore, but that I was alert, engaged, and on top of my game again, which I had not been before.

Now, woodwind players will all know what is coming next. A period of mysterious struggle, with no apparent cause, followed by a dramatic improvement in ease and playability certainly means something.    Either the weather changed dramatically (it didn’t) or the wood worked through its problems and solved them by cracking (it did).   The crack was minor - from a post, rather than through a tonehole - but it relieved the weird internal pressure on the oboe and made it sing again.  I’ll have to get it glued or pinned - but for now things are feeling just great. 

I don’t know whether my own mood and aptitude shift were simply, directly, a result of my instrument working better.  I’d like to think that I’m less shallow than that.  It did seem, in the moment, that we pulled ourselves together at just the same time, and if anything I assumed that the improvement I heard was because I was PLAYING my oboe better, not because it had physically changed under my fingers. 

If I were prone to supernatural thoughts - I rarely am - I would point back to that invisible, magical, E.T. connection and say that this oboe and I were meant to be together.  Perhaps, even, that with that small crack it sacrificed itself for me, as E.T. did for Elliott. 

It delights me a little bit to say that.  I think I will. 


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