Sunday, February 21, 2016

Joy of Music

I played a concert tonight in Fort Wayne and we had a piano soloist for Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Jodie DeSalvo was absolutely marvelous.

The thing that impressed me the most was the absolute joy she projected every time she played.  From the moment the piece started - even in the very first working rehearsal - with our excellent principal clarinet wailing up to the high note, she was listening, engaged, visibly enjoying what she heard.  She reacted with obvious delight to what the orchestra gave her in the opening, and responded as soon as she started playing with some fun of her own.  I have played Rhapsody in Blue dozens of times, and never heard it as fresh, playful, and rambunctious as it was this evening.  She performed this 90 year old work as if she was making it up on the spot, and the orchestra responded with energetic glee of its own.  The audience loved it, and brought her back for three curtain calls.

Sometimes we can get caught in the trap of going to work just so we can get done with work.  To get to our dress rehearsal this morning I had to be up before 7, driving before 8.  It would have been foolish and exhausting to travel home between services, so I spent all afternoon in a coffee shop working on my website.  Pleasant and needful work, but no substitute for being at home with my family, you know?

I love the music of George Gershwin, as I have written before (HERE, for example.) But by the time the evening concert rolled around I was ready to leave Fort Wayne and have my life be my own again.

But the way Desalvo took over the stage and owned that piece made me forget how tired I was,  and that work is work.  Along with the entire audience I was completely in the moment, eager to hear what she'd do next and deeply enjoying the beautiful playing of my colleagues around me.

I managed to speak with her briefly at the stage door after the concert - bless her heart, she'd stayed in her gown for an extra hour and stuck around to greet patrons at the end.  And standing in a strapless concerto dress outdoors at 9:30 in February in Indiana, she still managed to project total joy and gratitude for the experience we'd all shared.

I have a new idol.  Thank you, Jodie DeSalvo, for reminding me what really matters, and for being just plain awesome.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Struggle is Real

I talk so blithely about how the oboe is not your friend. How it is a different instrument every day.  How complicated and annoying those tiny reeds are.  In our quintet concerts this week I commiserated openly with the high school oboists in the audience, and told whole classes of kids that REEDS are the hardest thing about the oboe.

Which is not untrue, but I can say it so easily, and write about it so preachily, because most of the time I privately believe that I am past it.  I make so many reeds that SOMETHING will almost always work, and I have the skills and savvy to cover for most deficiencies and the showmanship to perform through reed inadequacies.  At this point in my career, it's pretty easy to be "good enough" in any given performance, and I'm always striving for the more elusive "great" or "awesome". 

It's been a long time since I had to fight my way note by note through a concert, hyperaware of every register shift and articulation, just struggling  to keep producing sound on the thing.  It seems that every reed I've made in the past couple of weeks chose tonight to go COMPLETELY CRAZY, or maybe that the oboe has a latent crack somewhere, or perhaps that one of my non-standard adjustment screws has gone berserk.  

Whatever it was, I spent the evening playing defense, just trying not to embarrass myself audibly.  I changed reeds a few times during the concert, ran all of my adjustments beforehand and at the intermission, and even scraped the heart of one reed onstage between pieces.  Nothing was vibrating, nothing was ringing, nothing was any fun about the event.

After driving home through a blizzard and paying out the babysitter after midnight, I won't be tackling this problem tonight - tomorrow morning before the dress rehearsal of our SBSO pops concert should give me plenty of time and I have dozens of reeds in progress and an alternate oboe.  Something will work.  But it's humbling every now and then to realize just how much of my perceived value to the world hangs on a hunk of African Blackwood and two tiny pieces of damp bamboo.  

I love the oboe, I love my job, I love my life.  And frankly I don't think I'd enjoy it as much if it were always easy.  But this one was rough. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reed Pro Tip: Rotate!

Does this sound familiar?  You have a favorite reed.  It feels great, and you play it all the time - at school, at home, in lessons.  The response is right where you want it, all the time, and it just seems to get more and more comfortable for you the longer you play.  It's a GOOD reed.

Then, tragedy strikes.  A flute player jostles your instrument and the reed breaks.  Or it cracks against your teeth.  Or it just finally gets too old to play on.  And you are left looking at a case full of unfamiliar reeds - some too new and hard, some too old and close to death, and inevitably there's a concert or a competition coming up that very week.  In a panic you order a reed from your teacher, or the store, or your favorite online reed-maker - and even though it's new, and customized for you, it DOES NOT feel as blissfully comfy as that sweet older reed did.  It feels hard.  It makes your mouth hurt.  The response is unexpectedly slow, or alarmingly fast.  It distracts you and causes you to make mistakes.

This is why ROTATION is so important. In my case right now I have about twelve - okay, ten -  playable, good oboe reeds.  I recommend that every player have AT LEAST THREE.

Here's how the process might work.  Your case contains three reeds: A, B, and  C.  On Monday you play A.  Tuesday, B.  Wednesday, C.  On Thursday, when you come back to reed A, you might find that it feels wimpy or sharp and edgy compared to the other two.  You don't like it.  So you order a new one, and begin to rotate your new reed, D, in with B and C.  Reed D gradually gets broken in and comfy, and as B ages out you bring in a reed E to replace it.  On concert day or lesson day you choose the one which feels or sounds the best - which is something that you already know because it's only been a few days since you last played each choice - then resume your rotation.

This is useful for several reasons. Since it is inevitably the case that every reed feels different on the oboe, and that every day and in every venue the instrument itself, as well as the reed, reacts and changes, you might as well get accustomed to that variability. Don't be the oboist who can only play in optimal conditions, because having those when you really want them is RARE.

And since a brand new reed will never feel quite as broken in and comfy as an older one, it makes sense to keep reeds in a few different stages.  You can use older ones for chamber music or teaching days, brand new ones for practicing, and slightly broken in ones that still have lots of body in the orchestra.

And finally, If you only use a given reed twice a week, say, each one will last much longer than would otherwise have been the case.  I can only play a reed heavily for a week or so - at most! - but I have options in my case right now that were made back in October.  They've got a few more services in them, and it's nice to have a safety net of reeds that are well broken in and safe when all else fails!

Happy Oboe-ing!