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Showing posts from 2015

Power Posing

I heard this TED Talk a couple of years ago, and thought vaguely at the time that it was probably something to try. Would a more powerful posture really change my attitude and success rate?  Would people perceive my performances as stronger, and would I FEEL stronger?

Then I decided that if I had any more confidence on the oboe I'd be just plain cocky.  This advice wasn't for me.  I let myself forget all about it.  (Sidenote: my archery instructor comments frequently on my excellent posture. Delights me deeply.)

Something happened today, though. I have a student who is very shy and self effacing. Every week she comes in and I have to ask and ask for real air, for confidence, for power in her playing. She is a fine oboist, but she has a tiny sound and she stops every few seconds to apologize for the smallest mistakes. By the end of the lesson she usually is playing very well, but I have to be on her constantly until she pulls it together and blows real air through the instrume…

Teaching and Learning

I'm taking archery lessons with my family right now, because I have always been fascinated with this skill.  And all of my oboe-playing body-use instincts are now wrong.  I need to plant my body much more firmly, and NOT use my carefully cultivated oboe relaxation.  My tendency when I started was to use my whole body to lift and draw the bow, and in fact to manage my form I need to lock my lower body strongly and lift my arms from the shoulder and draw using my arm and shoulder and back muscles only.  I need to NOT rotate and flex my hips and back to compensate for the weight of the bow.  The muscle memory I use on the oboe is not helping me here.

But my practice habits are. I've spent time in front of the mirror isolating the exact moment in the draw where my form goes bad. I've found a way to  know what centered feels like as I stand square. I've practiced releasing without excess motion. I've gotten better, and it's fun.

There are a million parallels between…

When Does a Student Need a Stronger Reed?

Hi Jennet,

I’m trying to understand if my 11-year-old daughter should be able to use harder reeds at this point, or if different people require softer reeds because of their size or anatomy. I’m writing to you because I am trying to get another teacher’s perspective (to draw on a wider range of student experience).

At this point, should she have progressed to where she could use harder reeds — say maybe medium — or is this because her facial structure is a limiting factor, and she just needs to grow physically larger?

Thanks for getting in touch!  As always, I love to talk about the oboe, and about teaching.  This is a complicated question, though, and I would welcome input from other teachers in the comments as well.  
Everyone likes something different in terms of reeds - and every reed-maker assesses their mediums, medium softs, etc, differently, so NOTHING is standardized in this endeavor.  That's my first caveat.  Even among professional players - grownups - there is a lot of v…

Playing Beautifully

Here's something my students can all do, if I remind them.  They can play beautifully.  Some more beautifully than others, of course, based on their level of development, but they all know what it means. When I ask for it, they take care of the beginnings and ends of their phrases, and make themselves sound pretty.  It's an easy add-on.

Not one of them defaults to this without being reminded. Again, the more advanced they are the better they basically sound - but it gets better every time when I ask for beauty.

The regrettable aspect of this is that I, too, sometimes need to remind myself to play beautifully.

We can all get focused on the easy, quantifiable stuff - the notes and rhythms - and lose track of the overall aesthetic point. Of course, when I'm at my music stand at home learning the music for the gig that night, I'm not really thinking about the inherent beauty of my sound. I just want to make sure I'm not caught out unprepared in rehearsal, and I can ta…

Sight Reading

I had a blast today sightreading the Joffrey Ballet's Sylvia performance. I've sightread performances before, in emergency situations, and compared to that this was a non-stressful gig, since I had had it on my calendar for weeks. I had had the music to prepare from, and I had attended one performance to hear the way the orchestra played and to practice watching the conductor's tempo changes.



That didn't mean that I wasn't a little tense about it. Being able to play all of the licks in the privacy of my room, at the tempos I set for myself, is one thing. But finding my place in the chords, picking my way through tempo and key changes in real time, and discovering in the moment just how my other colleagues were interpreting the tunes we play together is quite another.

What made this experience amazing was how nice all my colleagues were to me. I got lovely, clear, helpful cues from the principal flute, the second oboe, and of course the conductor. I felt supported …

Challenges - Reed Choice

Lately I've been writing a ton about my students.  It's fun to start the school year and really get to know the new ones and reconnect with the old ones and figure out what everyone needs to work on.  It takes a few weeks, sometimes, to find the nub of the issue for each one.  The crux of the matter.  The overarching thing that, no matter what piece of music they bring into their lesson, we wind up talking about and working on. Posture.  Air.  Vibrato.  Expressiveness.  Rhythm. Once we have that thing identified, we can focus on it until it's fixed, or at least until they REALLY understand how to work on it and how to tell when it's good.

In my own playing there are cruxes as well.  Of course there are. But without weekly feedback from outside myself it is sometimes challenging to identify them, or at least to identify them precisely. Particularly over the summer, when I'm playing outdoor concerts and practicing by myself at home, it's easy to lose track of th…

Logistics

I'm playing with the Chicago Philharmonic for the Chicago Opera Theater's production of Lucio Silla, an early Mozart opera that I had truly never heard of before.  It's charming, in an early Mozart kind of way, and the singers sound wonderful and so does the orchestra.  If you like nearly incomprehensible historical storylines and impressive coloratura and light, elegant, beautifully played orchestral accompaniments, this show is for you.  We open next Saturday - details HERE.

But I wanted to talk about logistics.

Every week is different for a family of freelance musicians.  Sometimes we can take turns watching Zoe at home, sometimes we can hire sitters for a few hours as we work in town - and sometimes it's very complicated.

Often our gigs are nearby, or at venues with convenient parking lots, but sometimes they are not.

On Saturday I had a three hour opera rehearsal in Chicago.  It was the only thing on my calendar and the venue should have been less than two hours …

Upcoming Concert: Berlioz

I can hardly believe that we are starting the season up again!  I haven't played an indoor concert in months and hope I remember how.  We rehearse tonight for the first time and I am eager to see all of my South Bend Symphony friends again.

Annnnddddd... we're playing Symphonie Fantastique.  By Berlioz.  And I never get tired of that piece.



It's one of the first pieces that I "discovered" myself, as a high school student.  One of the first CDs I purchased for myself.  One of those that I would stay awake listening to in my room because it was just so thrilling.  And even if it's a little overly melodramatic for me now, my teenage heart still beats a little harder every time the English horn calls mournfully for her love and gets only the rumble of distant thunder in response...

I am a sucker for music that tells a story, particularly one of drug-addled hysteria and lost love and scaffolds and guillotines.

This will be a great concert.  Saturday night with t…

Learning a New Fingering

I love the beginning of a new teaching season.  New students, new energy. I'm feeling great about my teaching and in the mood to share some of my techniques.  Feel free to chime in with your own!

My new student didn't know the fingering for high C#.  We were still on a getting-to-know-you page in the book - something I chose to be intentionally too easy so we could talk about breathing and support and articulation in a non-panicky way, and at the bottom of the page it asked for a D Harmonic Minor scale and we got hung up right there.  This particular fingering isn't hard, but it is totally non-intuitive, and unlike any other finger pattern he'd learned up to that point.

So we started by just using brain power.  I spelled it out for him - 2, 3, 1, C.  His fingers found their way to where they belonged.  Then he tried putting it into the scale and it flopped- he got as far as the Bb before it, and then had to stop and mentally put 231C together again before he could prod…

Trial Lessons

So you are ready to take some oboe lessons.  You've just moved to the area, or you've gone through a year of band and your parents have decided that you seem committed enough to begin to be serious, or you feel that your own private practice has stalled and you need new insights.  What does it mean, when a teacher suggests that you come in for a trial lesson?

The trial lesson is usually not a free lesson - you are still occupying the teacher's time and energy with your presence.  It is, however, a low stakes, low commitment way to see if you and your teacher are going to be a good fit for each other.

Of course you should use this opportunity to learn as much as possible.  Even if you've been taking lessons for years, a different perspective will inevitably offer some  new insight into your oboe study. If your teacher says something brand new, that lesson was 100% worthwhile. If the teacher only says exactly the same things as your previous instructors, that should be …

Teaching a Beginner

I'm still playing outdoor concerts, but it's suddenly the beginning of the teaching year!  Here's a post about starting out right - please share your own embouchure teaching ideas so we can ALL set out on a good foot!

I had a new student start with me last week.  This was a young boy, who had had a year of band but no private lessons on the oboe.  I spent the first 10 minutes of the lesson getting his equipment to work for him, and the next 15 making him sound like a million bucks, just by setting him up with a good embouchure.

The oboe embouchure is not the most intuitive mouth shape to use.  If you weren't told, you might never think to turn your lips inward in order to blow outward.  You might not naturally come up with the balance of tension and openness that translates to a projecting, controlled, nuanced sound.  It's not an obvious approach, and this particular 11-year-old wasn't even close.

My favorite thing about teaching is how different all of my stud…

The Prairie Wind

I was working with a student on a band solo, in a programmatic piece about the prairie or the wide open spaces or something like that. You know the kind of generically expansive, colorful wind writing I'm talking about - kind of Copland-y and with some 5/4 and 7/8 bars mixed in so we can all tell that it's meant to be free and untamed. A piece I did not know, but could predict.

She had a solo, and wanted it to be great, so we dug in. We talked about how to count securely into the off-the-beat entrance. We talked about the shape of the phrase and where to breathe. We talked about supporting the sound so that even the softest dynamic could be audible to an audience member. We talked about using vibrato to enhance the phrase, and to move long notes forward without having to crescendo too soon. We talked about how to roll in and out on the reed to produce the big intervals more reliably in tune.

At the end of our session she played it for me again and the transformation was treme…

What I Could Have Done

I am not one to obsess over mistakes.  I brush them off.  Mistakes happen, even to great players. But when the oboe itself comes at me and makes me sound bad AGAINST MY WILL, I can get a little crabby.  See: this and this.

I'm also always interested in preventing the preventable.  And so I submit this cautionary tale.

This was opening night of The Barber of Seville at the Pine Mountain Music Festival.

As I was warming up for the opera, I had a little water in my A# key. I swabbed, cleaned it out with cigarette paper, double checked that it was functioning, and continued my warmup.  We tuned. The curtain speech was given.

The overture started.  Now, I do not play a lot in this opera.  For whatever reason, Rossini wrote NO oboe parts for more than half of the show, so while the other winds were squeezing in last minute slow practice sessions on their trickiest licks I had really just been thinking about the opening solo.  It occurs about five bars in and consists of a gradual, lov…

Teaching Success: String Edition

I've just finished teaching at the South Bend Symphony's Dake Summer Chamber Music Academy. As always, It was an all-consuming week of coaching, rehearsing, encouraging, entertaining, and performing, but I left after the final reception feeling giddy with success.

The group I was coaching was very young, in musical experience if not years, and did not contain an oboist, or even a wind player. We had been assigned two short movements of a baroque sonata, and after the first day of work we were ALMOST able to limp through one and a half of those movements. So between my inexperience working with young string players and the starting level of the group, I had little optimism.

But my kids worked.  They worked hard.  We sat in that room, the three of us, and we pulled that piece apart every way I could think of.  We played it together and separately.  We played short passages and long passages. We took out the fingerings and played the rhythms together.  We went slowly and fast i…

Music and Movement

I've been re-reading through my collection of performance and teaching books, and remembered how much I love this one.

Eloise Ristad writes beautifully about using movement, and acting, and the occasional silly game to release the creativity and inherent musicianship and even the technique of her students. The stories resonate with me, because I feel as though my most successful lessons are the ones in which an unexpected, informal turn of phrase makes a student suddenly connect the dots.

In a recent lesson, a college student and I were working on phrase direction. I talked about the music moving forward or resting as it approached and then arrived at a cadence.  No real result.  We talked about keeping his articulation consistently light while ADDING direction and flow to the cadence.  He couldn't find that technique in himself either.

 We bounced back to good old Barret page 46 - an intensely dull-looking set of exercises on short notes and slurred notes in scale patterns. …

Seeing Intonation

When you play notes that are close together, playing in tune is not that hard.  You don't have to change a lot - a finger or two, a minuscule difference in voicing with your air or embouchure.  You can pretty much do it mechanically, without thinking.  When the interval you're going for gets bigger, though, more is required.  On the oboe you really have to think about what your mouth and your air are doing.  If you jump up into the upper register everything needs to be more supported and you have to roll in on the reed- not too much, but just exactly enough - and blow more - not too much, but just exactly enough - and resonate a different part of your head to truly get the note you want.

In the Cimarosa Concerto, which two of my students were just working on for our year-end recital, there's a passage that repeatedly leaps the octave from middle C to high C.  The fingerings are easy but those two notes are both terrifying ones to try to play in tune.  Both have extremely …

Travel for Work: Peoria Edition

I am in Illinois this week for the Peoria Bach Festival, with concerts tonight and tomorrow night.  As always, I love this festival.  Love the challenges of jumping between three instruments, love playing my oboe d'amore anytime.  I love playing for the music director, John Jost, who has this music in his heart and communicates it so effectively and effortlessly to us that I feel it in mine as well.

Details HERE

Out of town gigs used to be the norm for me - when we first lived in Chicago I played principal with the Illinois Symphony, which necessitated regular five-day stays in Springfield with a host family.  My husband and I frequently took jobs several hours from home, staying with local people and getting to know them. This was fun in its way, of course.

These gigs always necessitated long days of time-killing - we'd practice and work out, and then we'd read, or shop, or drink coffee.  In my home I can do busy work every minute and still end the day feeling like I hav…

Everything is Awesome

I was going to call this post Ben Folds is Awesome, then it evolved into Mahler is Awesome, and now I'm thinking it's just all awesome...

Last weekend we performed for the 150th anniversary of the founding of South Bend.  Our Sesquicentennial.  Or something like that.  The South Bend Symphony played on a big outdoor stage, backing up Ben Folds, who was phenomenal.

It didn't surprise me that his songs were great.  I was pleased that the orchestral arrangements were expertly put together and easy to follow, which is not always the case.  I wasn't surprised that he was a superb live performer who really brought the audience along with him through every song.  I was, however, surprised and delighted at just how gracious he was to the audience about our orchestra.

Normally, when we have a guest performer, they own the stage for a couple of hours, and give the orchestra a bow at the end of the first act and perhaps say a nice word or two before the last number.  "Let&#…

Seeing Support

When I played Eric Ewazen's Down a River of Time a few weeks ago at a small house concert, the number one comment I got for the audience members - over and over - was "How does a little tiny person like you produce so much sound?" It struck me as a really strange thing to comment on. But this past week, as I played Porgy and Bess with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, I  began to understand it.

Because our large choir necessitated a complex arrangement on stage, I was seated very close to the front. We had two wonderful vocal soloists, and as I watched them from not very far away, I was reminded of how impressive good support is. Kim Jones, the soprano, is not a large person.  She would take a deep breath, collect her body, and produce an enormous, rich, vibrant, shimmering sound out of seemingly nowhere. It looked effortless.

I know what it feels like to produce that kind of air with that kind of support. It feels like your whole lower body is engaged and invol…

Being Nervous for Solos

Hello, my name is [XXXX]. I'm kinda new at the oboe and solos are my biggest problems. I'm also a freshman in high school so I'm not used to the large band group. I've had several solos but it's all still new to me. So is there any advice you can give me about playing solos or not being so scared to play them?

Hi, [XXXX].  I’m so glad that you got in touch - I love meeting oboists, whether virtually or in person!

Without knowing you, it's hard to know exactly what advice to give - but here are two (related) ways I might approach being nervous about solos.

The first suggestion is about the solos themselves.  Make sure that you REALLY know how to play them.  If you are struggling with rhythms or notes, that will make you even more nervous.  Bring them to your teacher, if possible. Practice at home, in private, so you can work out the kinks. Use a metronome and make sure that you understand exactly where the beats should fall.  If your solo starts off the click, …

Learn to Make Reeds this Summer!

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. You can read and analyze as much as you want, but there’s really no substitute for practical experience making dozens of reeds under the watchful eye of a teacher.

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

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

This year I’m excited to add another layer of value to the …

Upcoming Concert: Gershwin

The Northwest Indiana Symphony has an all-Gershwin concert this Thursday night.  An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, and the Porgy and Bess Concert Suite.  Our piano soloist is outstanding, and I have no doubt that the vocalists will be marvelous too (we meet them tonight).

I rave about Gershwin every time his music comes up for me, and this enjoyable week is no exception.  The music is great, the orchestra is sounding good, and I'd love to see the GIGANTIC Star Plaza Theater filled for this concert.

Details HERE.


Musing: Playing vs Talking

I had a wonderful time rehearsing the Prokofiev Quintet for our last Musicians for Michiana concert, at the end of April.  My colleagues were AMAZING, came with their A games, and were prepared and ready to work every time we got together.

I found that there was a big difference in rehearsal style between the wind players that I'm accustomed to working with and the string players in the group.  Strings just plain play more in rehearsal.  We'd run a movement, without stopping, and then talk about what we needed to do differently.  Then, where wind players would have either played a few tiny spots to try out ideas or just marked their parts and moved on, this group played the whole movement again.  And again, if necessary.  It surprised me a bit each time, though I was perfectly happy to do it and it ABSOLUTELY helped us to learn this difficult and unfamiliar work as an ensemble.

I think I attribute this difference to a couple of factors.

One is physical - wind instruments ar…

Upcoming Concert - Stravinsky and Copland

We are playing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring this weekend with the South Bend Symphony, and it's so much fun to work on!  Besides the fact that it is an AMAZING piece of music and that I love the primitive driving beats and creepy sounds, it's got some techniques that make me stretch my playing and I love that.

First of all, there's the flutter tonguing.  It's not that crazy a thing to do, but it doesn't come up that much in orchestral playing.  Effectively, I roll my tongue into the back of my throat and spin my soft palate, as if I was purring at my cat or growling at a dog, all the while playing the oboe.  It makes the notes gurgle and flutter.  What I'm finding challenging is starting and stopping that flutter - I can easily do the technique in isolation, setting my mouth up and preparing and then surging into the chromatic passages Stravinsky requests.

We're playing a reduced version of the score, with three wind players instead of five in each sect…

Summer options for High School Students

Are there any high school oboists reading this blog?  I wanted to let you know that IN ADDITION to Oboe Reed Boot Camp which will be in South Bend and at Valparaiso University in June and July and open to oboists of all ages, I will be teaching at two fantastic camps this summer.  
The Dake Summer Music Academy will take place here in South Bend at the end of June. It's five busy days of chamber music, seminars, masterclasses, conducting classes, and orchestra, all working closely with the great principal musicians of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.  I always enjoy this camp enormously, partly because my colleagues are SO good, and partly because I love coaching chamber music and meeting new oboists. The other great benefit of this experience is that it is SUPER affordable, although you do have to be able to commute there daily all week.  
I will also be teaching this July at the terrific Pine Mountain Music Festival in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. The Honors Orchestra…

Upcoming Concert: Brahms and Beethoven

“This is the music that made me be a musician.  I could have been a vet but THIS music pulled me into music.” “This is too pretty to play piano.” “It’s just one of the most beautiful pieces.  Ridiculously beautiful.”
These are actual comments - from before and during our rehearsal - by my actual colleagues.  Grown up, professional, working musicians who have been around the block a few times and don’t lightly get starry-eyed about just any South Bend Symphony concert.  
We are playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a piece which is incredibly popular and beloved, for the reason that it is great, great music.  This will be probably my fourth or fifth time performing this work. Still, when I pulled my music out to prepare, I got excited.  It’s so dramatic, and so beautiful, and so perfectly and effectively written for the instruments so we don’t have to strain to be heard and everything just fits. It’s a rare treat.  
We’re playing the Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn, which is just …

Oboe Reed Get Togethers

Reed making is a highly personal experience.  You strive to make the reed that makes your own instrument sing, and through playing on your reeds you learn how to make what you need to play your reeds.  Although I can play perfectly well on another person’s reed, and I certainly make plenty of reeds for others, it’s inherently a solo project.  You make them alone, you play on them alone, and sometimes, alone, you can get a little crazy.
But the craft itself doesn’t require solitude.  In fact, some of my most positive experiences have involved other people.  Someone else’s ear or opinion on the sound you are making, someone else’s proposed technique to solve a problem - you can learn a TON from each other, and obviously enjoy a great social experience at the same time.
I’ve taught and participated in many reed classes, and had many great one-on-one reed sessions with colleagues.  Sometimes I have information or techniques that help the other people, sometimes they provide an AHA moment…

Another Bach Story

This has never happened to me before.  Last night we were to rehearse the concerto for our Northwest Indiana Symphony concert this Friday - the gorgeous Bach Double concerto for Oboe and Violin.  It’s a piece I’ve played about a jillion times before and ALWAYS enjoy.  It’s fun to collaborate differently with different violinists, and to hear what they do and to react to their phrasing, especially in the sinuous, sensual slow movement.  And sometimes funny things happen, funny because they weren’t my fault.
But last night I was the only soloist at the rehearsal.  Our violinist had accidentally been double booked and couldn’t attend - so with the conductor and my orchestra colleagues we ran through the Bach Double…single.  
And you know how much I love to perform, and to play in front of an orchestra.  Just drop a hat, and I’ll play a concerto.  And the more soloistic and exposed the better.  But EVEN I have to admit that the Bach Double Concerto is a better piece of music when there …

Re-Preparing

This month I am working on two concertos that I already know.  I’ll be performing the Bach double concerto for oboe and violin with the Northwest Indiana Symphony- on April 17- and Eric Ewazen’s gorgeous Down a River of Time at the end of the month at a semi-private event.
Since I’ve played both pieces before, multiple times, it’s easy to underestimate them.  To pick up the oboe for a practice session and noodle a little, and spot check the hard licks, and assume that I am ready to go, since both pieces HAVE BEEN memorized and under my fingers before.  Of course, when that was the case I was a different player, at a different place in  my life, with different things on my mind.  When I was working on them before, I was working on learning them, or memorizing them, or playing them within the context of a different concert, or recital, or with different colleagues.  On a different oboe, for that matter.  
I have vivid memories of being on stage with the Ewazen, performing it effortless…