Sunday, August 31, 2014

Practice+ App - and my FIRST EVER GIVEAWAY

You know how, when you are practicing, you need to have your metronome on your stand and turn it constantly up and down as you work through a technical passage?  And you also want to play in tune, and make sure you are staying consistent with your pitch.  So while your metronome is clicking away on your stand, you also have to turn half-way around to look at the screen of the big tuner which has to be plugged into the wall because it eats batteries otherwise.  And if you also want to record yourself to listen to your progress, you have to have your laptop on with the big mic plugged into it, and that’s on still another surface, so you have to move your stand around so you can orient to all three, and then your giant stack of music-in-progress falls off the stand and onto the floor and out of order and the next ten minutes are spent not practicing at all but just trying to return to normalcy. Does this sound familiar?

I was sent a free promo copy (full disclosure) of an app called Practice+ - check it out here on the   - and its solution to the problem makes me very happy.  After all, I always have my iphone with me, and it is small and fits on the stand without blocking the music. 

From within this app, I can actively use the metronome while the tuner simultaneously checks my pitch, or I can have the tuner sound a pitch for me to lock onto while still using the metronome.  I can record myself, with or without that metronome, and can even email the recorded track directly from the app.

To be fair, I’m not sure why I would ever email anyone an unedited track of my practice session, but I love that I could.

There’s a way to store the metronome settings, so that I don’t have to reset each time I return to a piece I’d been working on.  There’s a way to loop, repeat, and gradually speed up metronome patterns, for hands-free practice.  There are five different color skins to put on so I can practice in orange or green if I prefer, or purple or blue… It all works fast, seamlessly, and so far bug and glitch free. 

I’ve been using this app daily since downloading it.  Although I have expensive and high quality practice tools here at home, it’s just EASY to have everything come out of one tiny device that already lives in my pocket.

I also have THREE free promo codes to give away, isn’t that fun?  Please do me the favor of sharing or tweeting one of my blog posts - your favorite one, or this one, or just the whole Prone Oboe url - and leave me a comment here on Blogger to let me know you did.  I’ll randomly pick three responses on Thursday, and send those folks away with Practice+

Friday, August 22, 2014

Experience Counts

It’s fun to be a grownup.  It’s fun to be good at something.  I love it when I can feel my own progress.

Daphnis et Chloé,by Ravel, is a monumental musical work, and one which is legendary among orchestral musicians for its difficulty.  There are approximately ten million notes to play, at very fast speeds, in unexpected meters, in the extreme ranges of the instruments, and, like most of Ravel’s music, it’s very exposed and changes tempos all the time and requires exceptionally soft playing in addition to great power.  I’ve performed part of it - the second suite - at least three or four times and each time I work hard at it for weeks before the cycle, and resolve to nail a few more licks, and do, but I’m far from being flawless.  It’s just that hard.

When I was newly out of school and freelancing in Chicago, I got a last minute call to cover Daphnis in a Civic Orchestra rehearsal.  Yes,  a rehearsal, and only the second suite, but at that time in my life I had just “graduated” from Civic and it was still a high-stress situation, with hot young musicians and a demanding conductor.  I had a part tucked away in a file, which I had never really explored before, and I spent the ONE HOUR I had before the rehearsal having my mind blown by the sheer difficulty of the task ahead of me.  And when I actually sat in the orchestra I did NOT have it together, and I got lost, and couldn’t get through any of the technical parts, or fake adequately to hide my mess, and it was NOT a good experience. I was never asked to sub again with that group. 

Fast forward fifteen years.  Last Saturday afternoon I was at home, minding my own business, thinking about what I might make for dinner, and I got an emergency call from the Grant Park Symphony.  They needed me to come in THAT NIGHT and play their season’s final concert, featuring a brand new work by William Bolcolm and, naturally, Daphnis and Chloe.  The full ballet, which I had actually never played.  The second oboe part, which I had never played.  I had ONE HOUR before I had to leave for the concert, and spent it reading through the part, reminding myself about the trickiest moments, and woodshedding the hardest sections slowly with my metronome.  In normal life, I would have wanted four more sessions just like that before I tried to play the piece in front of my colleagues, and at least a few rehearsals to get used to the conductor’s choices and the pitch center of the group and prepare myself for the energy arc that would be required - but that’s not what I had. I was apprehensive as I drove toward Chicago in my concert garb. 

But surprisingly, the concert was COMPLETELY fun.  The orchestra was outstanding.  The conductor was perfectly clear and didn’t catch me off guard.  The oboe section was solid and supportive and welcoming and easy to play with.

And, most exciting of all, I could play the piece!  Not every bit of the busy stuff, no, but I knew where the exposed material was and how to put it in place.  The fast technique wasn’t perfect, but it was stylistic and appropriate, and I didn’t fall into any holes or make mistakes that the audience could hear, and I was able to fit into the group in a way that Greenhorn Me could not have done.  Yes, there were long stretches of the piece that I had not played before, but I have played French music. I understand how that level of exposure feels, and I know how to duck inside someone else’s sound or how to bring mine out when it’s required.  I know how to watch the conductor and intuit where the tempo might do something dramatic.  I know what all of the French words mean in my part.  I don’t remember exactly when I learned these things, but I remember not knowing them, 15 years ago, and now I do. 

It is nice to be reminded sometimes that I know what I’m doing.   I am not anything amazing, but after this many years in the industry I can pull off pretending to be amazing for one night, and it’s a heady feeling.  Sometimes I feel old. I go to auditions and see players that I coached when they were in youth orchestra, legitimately trying for the same job I am, and I feel old. But it turns out that experience matters for something. I can ride on my experience and do a job that I could not have done when I was 24. 

It’s a good feeling to be a grownup, sometimes. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Everyone Makes Mistakes

I’ve been home for four whole days now, and I’m still feeling inspiration from my IDRS visit.  Today I’m thinking about mistakes. 

Everyone made some.  I heard 17 individual soloists in two days, and not one played perfectly.  Not one person gave a CD quality performance.  Which doesn’t in any way mean that I’m saying that they played badly. 

The players I heard were world class.  They were all very individual, and presented different sound concepts, different reed approaches, and different personalities.  Any attempt to rank them would be absurd, and any attempt to count mistakes or compare performances in that way would be hateful, and that is NOT what I’m doing. 

Sometimes when I take auditions, I can get very focused on perfection.  And sometimes when I am performing on stage I have to really fight NOT to obsess about small mistakes - finger flubs or missed attacks or out of tune notes or dropped endings. 

And I know players far more obsessive than I - and certainly more flawless as well - who think about mistakes all the time.  Consistency and unarguable correctness are the tools of their trade. 

I think there’s a place for that.  We should aim for perfection, if only as a distant goal.  But the performances I loved the most at IDRS were not necessarily the ones with the fewest mistakes, but the ones with the most heart.  I loved it when I could clearly hear the phrase, and when it moved me.  When I was caught off guard by an unexpected (but delicious) musical choice.  When the beauty of a singing sound, appropriately used, struck my ear.  When a lively and stylish turn of phrase felt just just right.  None of these things are necessarily dependent on being perfect.  

I’ve been told I’m a perfectionist.  Nothing could be farther from the truth!  I am confident that nothing I do is ever perfect, and I don’t even really aspire to that end.  I think I might be an awesomist.  I want what I do to be impressive, admirable, distinctive.  Noticeable.  Awesome. 

I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I certainly heard some awesome playing while I was in NY.  Thank you, EVERYONE, for the inspiration!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

IDRS 2014 - Day Two and OUT

I'm writing my Day Two report while all of my colleagues and friends, new and old, are well into their Day Three experience.  I was terribly sad to leave NYC, and IDRS.  In past years I've found myself sort of oboe-ed out by the third or fourth day, but I was nowhere near that point last night when I had to begin my schlep to the airport.  On the up side, I am home and spent the morning with Zoe and Steve, and I'm safely on the correct side of Lake Michigan well before my concert tonight, which was the important purpose of my travel plans - but there are SO MANY MORE great events happening at NYU.  Best of luck to everyone performing!

Yesterday, among other performances, I enjoyed THREE recitals featuring music for oboe and bassoon.  Be prepared for a husband-wife recital coming down the pike in the next year or two, as I loved much of the new music that I heard. 

First I enjoyed hearing ToniMarie Marchioni and two of her colleagues from the University of Kentucky.  Beautiful, stylish, elegant playing, in some baroque works that I hadn't heard before. 

Nermis Mieses and Susan Nelson put on a terrific show, and I loved hearing their brand new pieces played spectacularly well.  Just a few hours later I enjoyed hearing John Dee and Tim McGovern present even more new-to-me works.  What a treat to be able to experience this much high-level playing all in one day!

Also, our large double reed ensemble performed, and I don't think I had expected it to be as enjoyable or as well-received as it was.  With over 30 oboes, d'amores, English horns, bassoons, and contras on the stage, we played five brand new works, and four of the composers were present, and people actually CAME to hear it, and it went well, and it was fun.  I got a chance to speak with Eric Ewazen - whose concerto, Down a River of Time, I've raved about before- and he's the most delightful man ever so that was quite a treat.

ALSO, I had a wonderful time over at the exhibition hall.  I played some great oboes - the Marigaux Altuglass and Howarth XL were standouts for me, and there was an AMAZING Bulgheroni Musa which might well be my next oboe, just as soon as I can afford it. 

I got to handle and crow one of the new Légère English horn reed prototypes. Looking forward to seeing how those progress.

I looked at an adjustable width shaper tip.  Very cool idea - not for me at this point, though.  I figured that with all of the money I have invested in brand-name shaper tips right now I can make just about anything that a customer could ask for.  If I were starting out, I would LOVE the thought of buying one tip that could take me from winter to summer, and from sea level to altitude. 

I experimented with a lefreQue soundbridge, which I was sort of mixed on.  I heard the difference in the sound when the oboist next to me put it on her instrument.  I could hear the difference between the silver and the red brass lefreQue, and I could hear the difference when she removed it.  On my own oboe I could not feel or hear a change, but people around me remarked on the change in the size of the sound.  Sounds like a gimme, right?  A bigger sound with no change in response or effort on my part.  But I decided against purchasing one, on philosophical grounds. 

I am the Unfussy Oboist.  When I walk onto the stage to perform I bring only my instrument.  I don't have an extra cup for water or six swabs or 12 reeds soaking and ready.  I just want to make it work, simply, like a non-oboe instrumentalist.  This fussy thing which is a challenge to attach and keeps falling apart in my hands and needs to be readjusted every time the reed comes out of the socket - to swab, for instance - is no part of that.  I'm going to keep an eye on the technology and see where it goes.  But I'm not buying one now.

Let's see.  Probably the best part of the conference for me was meeting so many new people, and seeing so many old friends.  Oboists are my people.  I am a natural introvert, but I made a conscious effort to reach out this time, and was amply rewarded.  I talked to people who I had previously known only online (Hi, Patty!).  I talked to composers, colleagues, friends, and strangers.  I had conversations with the oboe makers and the tool makers and the oboists and the bassoonists. 

I was SURPRISED and DELIGHTED at the number of people I spoke to who had seen this blog.  I didn't know that so many people read it, and I am VERY grateful to the people who told me that they did. 

I loved New York, but that was almost incidental to the fantastic time I had at this conference.  I can just about guarantee that I won't make next year's, in Japan, but I'm already looking forward to 2016.

Everyone who is there, please enjoy the rest of the week for me!  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

IDRS 2014 - Day One

It's too much.  How can you see it all?  When there are two and three and four events happening simultaneously, all over the campus in multiple buildings, and when so many of these events are ones that I would leap to attend at home, and when it is just simply not possible to be in two places at once?

Here's what I did see - a lovely recital by Minkyu Yoon, featuring four "Fantasy" works by Telemann, Bozza, Arnold, and Pasculli.  I've played three of those works relatively recently, so it was really fun to hear the different ways that he interpreted them.

A fascinating masterclass by Michael Rosenberg - in which he spoke beautifully and fluently about improving resonance and sound just by using your body differently.  Most of the suggestions that he had for people struck a chord with me - I've felt these concepts in my own body when I've been playing well, or have struggled to articulate them for students.  I am absolutely ready to apply his ideas both to my playing and my teaching.  Very exciting!

I visited the exhibitors just for a few TINY minutes - looked at a new-fangled little reed tool which failed to convince me, played a few oboes I didn't love and one I DID, chatted with some folks.  I'm praying that I have time to get back in tomorrow before I leave.

I got to hear Robert Walters and Mingjia Liu in a recital which was just outstanding.  Such imaginative, colorful, marvelous playing, in Britten's Six Metamorphoses and Temporal Variations.  These are works that have been done over and over - they are standards - but they sounded brand new today.  I also truly enjoyed a little duet by Alec Wilder for oboe and English horn - within a minute of these two master players starting the piece, I circled it in my program as one I wanted to find and learn.  As the piece went on, I began to think that it wasn't actually that amazing a work - but it was DELIGHTFUL to hear these two experts having such fun with it.  Really communicating and playing with each other in the best sense.  Fabulous.

We had another rehearsal for the large double reed ensemble concert tomorrow, and of course this morning I had my recital which was tremendous fun.  Not flawless, but you all know by now that I am not a flawless player.  I wish I could be, but that is not where my strength lies.  Anyway, I liked it, and I've met a lot of people who came to talk to me afterward, and I was happy to get to do it.

I haven't even mentioned the Gala concert this evening - THREE HOURS of oboe and bassoon concertos, by some of the greatest players in our industry.  The Francaix Concerto for Bassoon and 11 Strings, played by Julien Hardy, was a huge standout.  Just a thrilling piece which I had never heard before, and presented beautifully.  Also, Judith LeClair's Mozart Concerto was grand.  Classy and spot-on.  Everyone was great.  What a day.

Of course, every time I turn around here I see another old friend.  We chat and catch up - for a minute or two - but both of us are always scampering away to another performance, or class, or agenda.  I did manage to have a delightful lunch with composer Jenni Brandon - so nice to put a face with a name, and talk shop with a kindred spirit.  But there are hundreds of kindred spirits, and I'm leaving tomorrow night.  There's just not enough time in the day here!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

IDRS 2014 Day Zero

I arrived in NYC yesterday after one of those ghastly get-up-at-3:45-to-drive-to-the-airport mornings, and the first thing that happened is...nothing. I successfully navigated transit to arrive at the NYU address given on the conference website, was sent to a different campus building to register, and learned that the accommodation I'd booked was another 6 or 8 blocks beyond that - so my memory of the pre-lunch period of my day is one of being hot and tired and dragging my roller suitcase, oboe, and tote-bag for MILES.

But things got so very much better.  Monday was technically pre-conference, so I was in town exclusively for rehearsals.  I found myself a delicious and healthy lunch, enjoyed people-watching in Washington Square Park, and reported for my rehearsal (not, unfortunately, in my recital venue, and not even in the venue I'd been told a few weeks earlier.)

I've written before about my poor success rate with first rehearsals with new pianists, and I was definitely a little anxious going in.  My program is hard.  I didn't know what the room would be like, and I knew going in that I had EXACTLY an hour to work through everything in my hour long recital, so there wasn't a lot of slush time to stress about reeds.

And I don't know how my performance will go today.  But the rehearsal yesterday was simply delightful.  Jon Klibonoff, my assigned pianist, was absolutely top-notch, and friendly and low-key to boot.  I loved working with him, and am looking forward to today.  (At 11am, in ED Bldg 303!  Hope to see some of you there!)

I also had rehearsal last night for a Large Double Reed Ensemble program.  I usually steer away from anything that smacks of Oboe Band - not interested in chop-busting, punishing arrangements that never sound well in tune - but in this case composer Daniel Baldwin had assembled a collection of world premieres by great people - Eric Ewazen!  Bill Douglas!  - and a group of legitimate professional oboists and bassoonists to play, and it turned out to be enormously fun.  The rehearsal began at 10pm, and started late even at that, and since I had been up since 3:45 I was planning to duck out quite early.  But the pieces kept getting better and better, and the group kept sounding better and better, and I stayed until 11:20 when the rehearsal broke up.  Hiked back to the dorm and fell asleep.

I have high hopes for the fun factor of this performance, which will be Wednesday afternoon at 2.

Final news:  I have my Mendelssohn arrangement complete and available for purchase on my website, HERE.  That project took a long time, but was well worth the effort.  I'm performing off my own bound copy today, and it's SO MUCH EASIER when the notes I see reflect exactly the notes I intend to play.  Less mental strain.  More fun.  Don't know why I didn't do this before. 

I'll try to keep everyone posted about the greatness I see today and tomorrow.  Wish I could stay in NY all week, but I'll fill my two days here like crazy!