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My New CD is ALMOST HERE!

The oboe is a beautiful and a noble instrument, largely overlooked by big-name composers writing solo works.  My new CD aims to address this imbalance.  Have you ever wondered what the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto would sound like on an oboe?  How about the Gershwin Piano Preludes? This is your chance to find out!


Music That SHOULD Have Been Written for the Oboe will be available for purchase on iTunes, CDBaby, and Amazon (and from me) on December 2, 2016.  But you can pre-order right now on my website, and I will fulfill all orders during the week of November 28.  Get it before anyone else! 




Also, here's a treat from the disc.  The second of Gershwin's Three Preludes is so gentle, so loving, so intimate, so passionate. I simply loved playing it with the great Paul Hamilton, and I hope you enjoy it here! Click to listen





What Does a Musician DO?

I get asked all the time what I do for a living.  I'm a musician, I say, proudly.
Oh.  But what do you DO?

I was asked to speak on this topic for the South Bend Symphony's Board of Directors this past week, and thought I'd reprint my presentation for those curious about the life of a modern-day musician.

It's a fair question.  People see me playing in the South Bend Symphony, and that's clearly not a full time job, because there's not a concert every day or even every week, so what am I doing the rest of the time?

I have what is called a portfolio career, which is very normal for a 21st Century musician.  I am a full time professional musician, which involves being a performer, a teacher, an arranger, a maker, a marketer, a businessman, a salesman, a treasurer, a self-promoter, a social media manager, and more.

I graduated from Eastman in 1996, and since that time I have never held a full-time job, and I have never gotten benefits from my job.  But at this poi…

Upcoming Concert - Bach!

You know how sometimes you have a gig with a good group that you are super excited about, and you carefully prepare your music, and then when you get there it turns out that one of your pieces is a stand up solo - in which you and two of your colleagues get to play standing up because the part is so important and the conductor wants to feature it?  And the thing that you thought would be fun is EVEN MORE FUN because in addition to getting to play great music with great colleagues, you get to be seen?

That's this week.  I'm super delighted to be performing with Music of the Baroque this Sunday and next Tuesday.  The particular piece is this - the Sinfonia from J.S. Bach's Cantata No. 42 - and the performances are in Skokie and at the Harris Theater in Chicago.

Details HERE.



JS Bach: Still Speaking to Us

This Friday I am playing J. S. Bach at Valparaiso University.



Cantata 21, Ich hatte viel Bek├╝mmernis (I had much grief) is not a piece I had encountered before, but it is absolutely gorgeous.  The opening Sinfonia is a long, complex, heartfelt, darkly chromatic, richly intertwined duo for oboe and violin, which I cannot WAIT to play, and the soprano aria is also going to be a treat for me.

I'm looking forward to this concert because of its interesting format - it opens at 5pm in the art gallery with solo violin works, and progresses to the recital hall for the cantata.  I'm optimistic that there will be some speaking or at least excellent notes tying this all together.  The progressive nature of the concert appeals to my taste for new and innovative presentations, and of course the intellectual complexity and depth of Bach's music speaks to me from across the ages.  This cantata was composed in 1713, and now, over 200 years later, still has the power to move us.



The wor…

Never Trust an Oboe

So this happened.  We were playing a quintet concert in a library the other day, and I didn't quite like the way my oboe was aligned.  Some of the keys on the lower joint affect vents and pads on the upper joint, and the instrument wasn't responding quite right, and I knew exactly the microscopic adjustment I needed to make in the way those two joints had twisted together.  This happens frequently, and I was ready to fix it and move on.

So I twisted the joints. I over-corrected a little. Tried to go back - and the oboe was stuck. Untwistable. I tried wiggling it, twisting the other way, clockwise, counterclockwise - nothing.  And what had been a slightly inconvenient little technical glitch was suddenly an unplayable oboe, and my colleague was just about to finish his speech and introduce the next piece.

But I already know that the oboe is not my friend, and I nearly always carry a spare instrument, and I was able to pull it out, slap the reed on, and be ready to play without…

Upcoming Concert, and Conductor Number ONE

The South Bend Symphony has its opening concert this weekend, and its first Music Director candidate.

This entire year is devoted to our Music Director search.  I've been on the search committee ever since the process started, and it's wildly exciting to finally get to meet these people and to play for them and to make music together.  Our five masterworks concerts each feature a different candidate.

I play with a lot of different ensembles, and I've been through an MD search before.  Even jaded old me is thrilled to see what changes these conductors will bring. One of my favorite aspects of this search is how much our management is trying to involve EVERYONE.  The candidate's week will consist of multiple meetings - with board, staff, musicians, university music departments, community leaders, YOUNG community leaders - and everyone who crosses paths with the candidate will get a survey to fill out.  The audience will vote.  The musicians will vote. The whole town is …

A New Challenge: Quarter Tones

I'm learning a piece now which features quarter tones, or the pitches that fall in between the normal 12 notes that we are accustomed to in Western music.  I have never worked with quarter tones before.

In works such as Ravel's Piece en forme de Habanera or Alyssa Morris's "Yellow", from Four Personalities, we see pitch bends.  These are usually done with the embouchure, and I have no problem moving most of the notes on the oboe even as much as a half-step up or down.  But this technique always involves a certain amount of scooping in the sound - I hit the real note then schmear my way to the adjusted one, and in my experiments this week I found that I was unable to reliably guess my way to a clean attack on an altered pitch using only my embouchure and air as a guide.  In other words, if I finger B natural, I can adjust that easily to a quarter step flat or sharp, but can't reliably hit that quarter step straight on without having to wiggle for it.  And this…

Playing on Your Own Reeds

Memo to students
Re: Playing on your own reeds

You should be playing on the reeds that you make.  Otherwise, the making of those reeds is purely an academic exercise, and a huge waste of time.  There's nothing that will improve your reed-making faster than the realization that you are about to play in public and that what you have is totally inadequate.  You will sink or swim very quickly, and you will make more reeds than you would if you were just working on them idly, and you will figure out a way to diagnose the problems you are experiencing, and you will hypothesize ways to fix them, and some of those fixes will actually work and in this way you will learn to make reeds.

If you are not yet a fantastic, consistent, competent reed-maker, and you are playing on reeds that you made, I salute you.  You will be a stronger, better person for facing this adversity.

But there's a caveat.  If your reed, that you labored long and hard over, still does not perform some of the basic f…

Is it Live? No, Decidedly Not.

I recorded my CD last week!

I was startled that my engineer's biggest concern in the editing room was reducing the sounds of my breaths.  This had never crossed my mind as an issue - an oboist has to breathe.  Any wind player has to breathe.  Humans breathe.  I didn't see the problem.

I understand  that you don't want to be wrenched out of the pretty music and back into an awareness of the performer's physical struggle - but I've always found an excitement in the sheer humanness of performers.  There was one  particular breath that we argued about a little.   I pointed out that it was dramatic, rhythmic, and integrated into the line of the exciting phrase I was making.  In a live performance that would have been 100% part of the act.

He pointed out that this was not a live performance.  He won the argument.

It was important to me to have my recording feel real.  I didn't want to use the studio magic to piece together something I was unable to play live.  But I also…

Recording: Doing It!

It's not finished yet.  That's why I haven't talked about it.  But recording my CD at a professional
studio has been AMAZING.

I'll take you through my experience.  I played into a microphone in a room, and it sounded, to me, like me.  I was disappointed.  I had sort of imagined, perhaps unrealistically, that just being in the studio would make me sound better, more like the real oboists on the recordings.  But it was still me.

I heard the first take played back through my headphones, and I was kind of impressed.  Who knew I could play such cool music?  In the moment, as I'm doing it, I'm too focused on doing it to notice the effect, but some of my material is REALLY GREAT! Some of the technique sounds very impressive.  I love the music I am presenting, and I was pleased to have this record of my hard work.  That could have been the end of it for me, and I would have been happy.

But then, I stepped into the control room, where the engineer was sitting, and hea…

Oboe Reeds: Why Are the Blades Different Lengths?

When I clip my reed to shorten or balance it, I always offset the clip so that the two blades are slightly different in length.










I do this very intentionally, because we don't play the oboe straight away from our face
)____
)

But rather, angled downward

)
) \
    \
      \

So as I approach my mouth with the reed, I want the shorter blade facing towards me:

  \
\   \
  \   \

So that the longer back blade, or upper blade, can "catch" the air as it flies from my mouth into the oboe, and funnel it down into the instrument

=====  \
         \ \\ \
           \ \\ \

Instead of interrupting the air and forcing it away from the oboe

====]    \
               \  \
                 \  \

To accomplish this, I angle the reed against the cutting block as I clip

which forces the blades to offset, so I can clip straight down and wind up with an appropriately uneven result.



















Occasionally, to make the articulation a little zingier, I will clip straight, and try to minimize that difference…

Ready to Record

This is the week.  I'm meeting Paul today for one final rehearsal, and we're driving down to Fort Wayne to spend the night so we can be ready first thing in the morning.  Tomorrow we record my CD.

I've been working on this project for a long time. My original Music That Should Have Been Written for the Oboe program happened in 2004!  Music That Should... Part 2 was in 2014.  I wrote the grant proposal that set this CD in motion in December of 2015.  This entire summer of 2016 has been devoted to reworking my repertoire and becoming Ever More Awesome.

And of course, the project will not be completed when the tracking is.  I need new photos, and graphic design.  I need to write the copy for the liner notes.  I need to get the thing reproduced, and distributed.  And I don't 100% know how to get all of these things accomplished, not yet.  But after this week I can know that the most delicate, touchy part of the process is over. I can have a THING to be proud of.  I can re…

Moving Gracefully

I wrote a post last year on the difference a power pose made to one of my high school students.  Standing in an authoritative position made her immediately less apologetic, more authoritative, more confident and competent.

I LOVED this, and I believe that as women we should be using our body language to telegraph our pride in ourselves.  I'm always coaching my students to take up MORE physical space as they play. To own the room if they are soloing.  To act like musicians worth listening to.

However.

Zoe recently turned seven and started second grade.  She also hit a growth spurt - although she's still a tiny girl, and small for her age, she has suddenly begun to have the mass of a real human, rather than a fairy or a sprite, and when she crashes her body into mine it hurts, and when she bumps into things they fall over, and when she walks through the room the floor shakes.  Just like everybody else, but not like her first six years.

Suddenly I'm always having to remind …

Tonight's Concert - Mid-Century Greatness!

I'm having an absolute blast playing with the Grant Park Symphony this week.  Our concert tonight features two symphonies I've never heard before and one concerto I have long loved, and all were composed within 20 years of each other!

The Roy Harris Third Symphony is my least favorite of the three - composed in 1939, it feels to me like Copland but without the groove. Based on the comments on the You Tube video below, my opinion is not everyone's! It's a little too lush for my personal taste, but I am still excited to be playing an American symphony that is new to me, and an interesting and legitimate work.



Walter Piston's Second Symphony, on the other hand, is EXACTLY what I like, and I can't believe I didn't know it before.  It premiered in 1944, and the sounds and tonality remind me of Britten and Prokofiev who both were writing around that time.  The rhythms are tricky and interesting - it took me a fair amount of singing and tapping to wrap my head aro…

Upcoming Concerts: Outdoors in Indiana!

Tonight is the second concert of our South Shore Summer Music Festival series with the Northwest Indiana Symphony.

I always like this summer cycle.  The music is a good mix of enjoyably difficult material with harmlessly readable tunes, and it's fun watching the conductor, Kirk Muspratt, work the crowd.  He's VERY good at it and it's inspiring.

Last week at Cedar Lake, we had a significant adventure when, 35 minutes into the concert, a storm blew in very abruptly, toppling some percussion equipment, a large spotlight, and all the pages of music from my stand.  We left the stage and dashed for shelter, and waited for ten minutes or so in case it blew over.  It didn't.  We went home.

Tonight we are at St Anthony's Hospital in Crown Point.  And we are performing outside again, despite what looks like a very questionable sky here at my home, so I wish us all good luck.

And if you happen to find yourself in Northwest Indiana over the next few weeks, try to get to one …

Beginner Oboist on a REAL Reed!

I started a brand new student the other day, and for the first time ever we did NOT start directly on the crummy machined reeds from the store.  Usually kids come to me after they have had some band experience, and I usually let them stay on their Leshers or Emeralds for a few months before we talk about moving up to hand-made reeds.  A brand new oboist is going to sound pretty rough anyway, and it's easier to have them grasp the concepts of blowing and fingering if they're not struggling to produce sound as well. After the kazoos they've been playing on, the greater resistance in my reeds feels like a big adjustment to make.

But I had recently read this blog post, by a friend of mine, and I was thinking about having good resistance and stability to work with, and I thought, Why not? Why not start out right, right away?

This new student of mine was literally holding a reed for the first time ever, and I made her a nice easy one, and we played some matching-pitch games and…

Party Planning

Zoe just turned seven and she requested a big party and we threw her one.  Parties are fun.  And there's always more people you can invite - between her friends and our friends, all the brothers and sisters of her friends, people who live in town and people who live out of town - it turned into a big event.

I bought lots of food.  I went to Costco and bought LOTS of snack foods and meats and paper plates and beers.  I planned recipes.  I spent two days prepping marinades, making gallons of potato salad, learning a new crock-pot baked bean recipe, making a gluten free cake.  When I say it, it actually doesn't sound like an unreasonable amount of effort - but new recipes always feel a little harder than the tried and true ones, and cooking for thirty feels more intimidating than cooking for three.  I like to cook. But it was a lot.

So on the day of the party, my sister and brother-in-law came in a little early, and my uncle.  We were chatting, and laughing, and sort of slowly w…

Ramping Up

It's finally time.  We're done with the season, Dake is over, we've had our vacation, and there's nothing standing between me and recording my first professional CD, except the actual preparation of the actual music.

So here we go. I've got all of the repertoire I'm considering up on my stand. (Most is set, there are just a few question marks at the very end.) I've scanned all the piano scores to Paul.  I've been practicing and making reeds enough in the last week that I no longer hate myself.  All I need to do now is learn all of my music, to an incredibly high degree of accuracy and awesomeness, so I can lay these tracks down WHEN IT COUNTS and come up with a product I can be proud of.

But I've never tried to do this before, not to this extent, not all by myself.  I know how to prepare a recital's worth of music, and I know how to perform for an hour in front of an audience.  But my preparation needs to be a little different to make a CD.

In a…

Coming Back

This is the worst.  I'm the worst.  The first day back on the oboe after 11 days of vacation, following a week of wrangling students through chamber music and orchestral rep - it's been nearly three weeks since I did any playing that I'd consider quality.  And coming back hurts.  I know it does, because it turns out that nearly every summer I've written this exact same post.  HERE, for example, and HERE.

It makes it worse this year that the most recent oboe playing I've encountered was at IDRS, where people are just so great.  I heard so many fantastic performances. And I was actively listening, and learning, and analyzing, and noticing things I wanted to work on and things I wanted to accentuate.  With my most recent habit being analytical listening, and my actual last practice session being three weeks ago, I can't help but notice just how terrible everything feels right now.

And because I'm now officially beginning my  preparation time for my CD recordi…

Report from IDRS 2016

I'm in Columbus, Georgia at the International Double Reed Society conference this week, after taking a year off and NOT flying to Tokyo for last year's event.  It's amazing to be back.

An IDRS conference is not a relaxing affair.  Every hour is double and triple and quadruple booked. It's impossible to see everything I want to see, and I find myself leafing through my program frantically the MINUTE I sit down at a recital, wondering what I'm going to next and even whether I dare to sit all the way to the end of this one. Inevitably I have to choose whether to see a friend perform or hear a lecture I am interested in or soak in some learning at a masterclass.  And somehow I have to carve out enough time to buy ALL OF THE THREAD COLORS at the exhibit hall.  It's very stressful.

The great thing about double reed players is how amazingly supportive we are of each other.  Flutists can be mean at their convention, or so I hear.  But the oboe and bassoon are just to…

Bow Envy

I've been watching the bows of my string colleagues this week, and I've realized I'm jealous.  I have bow envy.

I have always loved wind instruments.  There is something so beautifully, terribly intimate about having to generate sound and music with your own personal air, the air you use to breathe and to live.  It's natural to make big phrases that match the shape of the breath, and it's natural to drive those phrases forward to their conclusions, and to the next breath.

When I am following and matching my string colleagues in their elegant, light baroque style, I can imitate the lift that their bows have.  The weight and speed of their bows, and the way they don't force phrases to be longer than the bow itself - these are characteristics of the style we are working in and I can mimic and match this with no problem.  It makes the long long arias and choruses feel easier if I can lift with the strings in all of the tiny rests that occur all the time.  I'm n…

Bach Plays in Peoria

I'm down in Peoria again, performing with the Peoria Bach Festival.  This is always a great gig for me, and this year is no exception.

This year, I'm especially aware of the incredible skill level of my colleagues in the orchestra. These people are known to me - we've been playing together for years down here.  I'm a pretty good player myself and I've just had a marvelous spring - three terrific MFM concerts, four recitals, and the Rouse Concerto concert.  And a studio recital.  And two auditions.  I've been working hard and having some success and feeling strong and great.

But on Tuesday, when I first walked in, I had to immediately rehearse three chamber works and two big concerto grosso stand-up solos, and those two rehearsals just about killed me, and I felt like a bull in a china shop. In my defense, I'd driven four hours to get down here and that takes a lot out of me, but I think I always feel a little clumsy when I first arrive.

I enjoy playing Ba…

Setting Up for Success

When it comes right down to performance time, what do you do to get ready to perform?  What are the notes that you play or the things that you think?  How do you set yourself up for success?

My students are all preparing for our annual spring recital.  We've had our final lessons of the year, and the question I asked everyone was "What do you need to do right before you go on stage to prepare for this piece?"

The answer is different for each of them.  For Carla, playing the Schumann A Major Romance, a slow C#, A, F# slur is going to prepare her embouchure for the descending intervals that start the piece and recur throughout.  For Braydon, playing Handel F major, the biggest issue is tempo and character.  He is to think about the tempo of his slow movement and play the first four notes, beautifully, to himself before he comes out on stage.  For Megan, playing the Jacob Sonatina, it's B and D long tones, to get her sound and vibrato flowing before she starts.  In gene…

Preparing Your Reed Case

I had a huge performance this past weekend - the Rouse Oboe Concerto on my orchestra's final Masterworks concert.  We all know that reeds can be unpredictable and that the need to actually craft a crucial piece of your instrument can be a huge stressor, so my goal was to take that piece of the worry off the table as much as possible.

How do you make sure you have the best reed possible on the big day? 

I've seen students and colleagues treat this problem in three main ways: saving, obsessing, and collecting.

Some people discover a good reed, and immediately tuck it into the "special" reed case, the one that doesn't come out to every gig, and just wait for the "special" time to use it.  They'll play their daily gigs and practice on "normal" reeds, withholding the "special" one for the big concert.

Some people begin weeks in advance, trying extra hard with every single reed that they make.  A basically good reed is not good enough, …

Priorities

I know myself.  When I get stressed, the first thing to go is any sense of priority.  I always have a million projects going, and the closer I get to the completion of any one of them, the less I want to focus appropriately on it. The new ones are more fun. I know that about myself, but it's a hard habit to break.

I am performing the Christopher Rouse Oboe Concerto with the South Bend Symphony in 10 days.  I am talking about it for the newspaper tomorrow, I'm filming a promotional video on Friday, and I need to prepare my talking points for these. I need to keep playing it daily to make sure that my ducks stay in their row. I should probably put out a blog post and a FaceBook announcement and maybe a newsletter promoting the concert. My costuming could use a little more attention.

But what's really interesting to me, and what I'm dying to focus on, is the redecoration of my oboe studio which will happen sometime this summer. I would far rather surf around on Pinterest …

Bringing the Oboe Along With You

I have a new motto this year, which I use for myself and my students alike.

Bring the Oboe Along With You.

Musically, I'm a phraser.  I'm an ideas girl.  I love to make a plan and GO for it, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.  I obsess about momentum and flow, both for myself and my students.  And traditionally, I have prized the big phrasing ideas and the thrill of the chase over the actual execution. 

Let's be clear - I'm pretty good.  But I have permitted mistakes to go by unchallenged, as long as I was proud of the work I was doing.  Careless or lazy errors I could beat myself up for, but as long as my head was in the game and my intentions were good I didn't mind when notes didn't quite speak on time or the low register was a little messy or a slur didn't go.