Skip to main content

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. 

Comments

  1. It is fun to be a grown-up! I love this article. I've been calling it "Phase 2" of my career: that time when I know the music without knowing every note in the part, and can play like I kinda know what I'm doing.

    Thanks for this!

    ReplyDelete

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…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …

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…