Skip to main content

Your Body is the Instrument

For whatever reason, on Thursday I only had one and a half cups of coffee.  I had had a sleepless night earlier in the week, and didn’t want to risk another, so when I realized that it was late afternoon and that I had completely forgotten to make the second (and third) morning pot, I decided to go without.  Figured I’d risk a groggy rehearsal in favor of a healthy sleep that night.

That turned out to be an enormous mistake.  I was playing with the Illinois Philharmonic, and the menu for that evening was The Chairman Dances, by John Adams, and while there’s not a technically difficult measure in the whole piece, it’s relentlessly hard to play correctly.  The minimalist harmonies give you no help, and all of the entrances are off the beat unpredictably, and the subtly shifting rhythms require intense focus.  And I didn’t have it.  I had practiced the part, but not enough to pull it off with my brain drooping.  I SOUNDED like a bad player.  The second oboe nailed it but I was not there.

I had my blood-caffeine levels better regulated for Friday night’s rehearsal (and spent the afternoon cramming the piece, determined to avoid embarrassment) and miraculously I could play the thing again.  

Saturday morning I woke up late, downed two quick cups (because I LEARN from my mistakes) and dashed off to an event which ended up lasting MUCH longer than I’d expected.  I came home at 1pm, having eaten nothing since the previous night's dinner, and wolfed down a meal of leftovers with two more cups of coffee (just in case), packed another cup, and hopped back into the car for the IPO dress rehearsal.  

As you might expect - because you are smarter than I am - I felt awful throughout the rehearsal. Too much coffee, not enough food, not in the right order, not enough time relaxing at home and getting my head together.  I FELT like a bad player.  It can’t have sounded good.

But after the rehearsal I took myself out for a fantastic asian dinner, and it turns out that a big bowl of rice, meat, fat, flavor, and salt was EXACTLY what I needed.  (I refrained from drinking more coffee).  I love eating alone - I read a few articles in an old New Yorker magazine I’d stashed in my case, and savored every bite.  

And when I got back to the hall, I was finally ready for action.  Perfect?  No. But I had my act together, and got through a very difficult technical program (Shostakovich 12 and Lee Actor’s Dance Rhapsody as well as the Adams) feeling like an oboe player.  

Now, was I a different person Thursday night versus Friday night?  Did I somehow put in five more years of good practice between the rehearsal and concert today?  Did I buy a new oboe or make a new amazing reed?  Of course not.  Everything was the same, except sometimes I had my physical body taken care of and sometimes not. 

To the people who obsess about equipment, and to the delightful adult student who came in for a lesson this week and was clearly surprised that I spent time talking about her tense shoulders and cramped elbows instead of, I don’t know, forked F or vibrato - I say again: Your body is the instrument.  You are the instrument.  The oboe is just the tool.  You take care of you, and everything gets better.  

Comments

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…

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…

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 …