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Learning Live on Stage

I was prepared for my recital.  I knew all of the notes and all of the ornamentation that I intended to do, and I had rehearsed multiple times with my pianist and I had planned my entire script. Under controlled conditions, I knew I could play every note in the Rouse Oboe Concerto

But live performance is not a controlled condition, and I am not ashamed to say that I intend my four spring recitals to be a tool for my own development of that concerto.

I had my first performance yesterday, and in some ways I pleased and surprised myself. Many aspects of the recital went very well. I was proud of my Bozza and of large sections of the Vivaldi. And I found that I could easily play through the entire program without worrying about endurance, which for me is always a concern.

In part, giving four full recitals incorporating the Rouse was an intentional plan to build my endurance for my single symphony performance in May.  Like swinging dummy bats before it's your turn in the lineup - I figured if I could play the piece live after two others I could certainly do it once, fresh, on stage.

But every piece has something to teach me, and in the Rouse the challenge is not the one I had expected. I anticipated endurance problems because of the long long long sustained notes in the slow movement and because of the frantic busyness in the first movement, and because I have bumped up against this issue in the past while playing long concerti (Strauss! Chen! Mendelssohn!)

But the piece is actually more manageable than I had expected. It's well written for the instrument, with sufficient rests to get my air and embouchure reset. Even more to the point, it's all over the instrument, bouncing constantly from octave to octave, which is very tricky for the fingers but doesn't exhaust my mouth. In the Mozart Concerto, in contrast, the solo line sits in the second octave almost all the time, and somehow keeping my embouchure set for that particularly delicate part of the range can be more tiring than playing a combination of low and high passages.

What I do need to work on, though, is the overall shape. I was relieved and happy to have gotten through the piece, in front of a live audience, without disgracing myself too much. Somewhere in the middle of the third movement, though, I popped outside of my own head for a moment and observed that I was just HAMMERING away at the piece and the technique. And had been for a solid 17 minutes or so at that point. My hands hurt from the pounding I was giving them.

The piece is technical, yes, and relentlessly quick in the outer movements, but it doesn't have to be a continuous wall of sound and energy for the audience. There are low points to contrast with the high points, and moments of ethereal beauty to play against the more primal passages. On stage, in real time, I was not finding those, and it showed.

Also, I seemed to have forgotten that aspect of good technique in which soft fingers move more gracefully and flowingly than hard ones.  And certainly don't ache the next day.  The speed of the notes does not need to dictate my tension level.

I've been practicing for months, and I've gotten to the point where I can ACHIEVE a performance of this concerto.  Now I am completely eager to find the gentleness, the variety of sounds and colors, and the arc of each movement so that I can SHARE my performance with the audience instead of attacking them with it.

I can't wait to hear and feel how this concerto evolves!

Future performances:
Tuesday, March 22, 7:30 pm CDT, Duesenberg Recital Hall, Valparaiso University
Friday, April 8, 7:00 pm CDT, First Presbyterian Church, Michigan City, IN
As Musicians for Michiana: Sunday, April 10, 4:00 pm EDT, Church of the Savior, 1855 N. Hickory, South Bend, IN
With the South Bend Symphony: Saturday, May 7, 8:00 pm EDT, Morris Performing Arts Center


  1. Well, well Jennet, you beat me to it! I had made some notes about your recital, and then found out on FB you had already written a new post. So.. I had to make some changes.
    Remembering your previous post and sensing a trace of apprehension, I was watching to see how you were feeling the performance. Over the years I have learned to interpret performers’ facial and body expressions; they reveal their own personal satisfaction, or displeasure with their performance. I am sure that you felt more confident than what you intimated in the previous post. And it showed. The details you describe in the present post are beyond my immediate understanding, but I will certainly try to follow the subtleties.
    As usual I enjoyed the explanation of the concerto. And since you asked for feedback, my feeling was that it went a bit above the audience’s level. But how can you judge that level anyway?
    What I thought was truly admirable,( and you sort of expressed that thought in your present post) is that you were in complete command throughout.
    Natasha performed creditably. In some parts, however, she didn’t seem as sure as you. On the subject of accompaniment I had a weird thought. I am sure that others have had it also, but I have never seen it realized. I know that it is technologically possible, but has it ever been tried? I am speaking of taking a recording of, say, the Rouse concerto, erasing the oboe part and using the orchestral recording for practice purposes, with the soloist playing the solo instrument.( And you can safely curse the conductor if you make a mistake(lol).
    And my final question. I didn’t hear you say anything about a cadenza. It seems that is not very popular in modern pieces.
    Best wishes as always. Congratulations on your performance, mostly because it was more like you wanted it, and more like you’ll want and can do the next one.

  2. Thank you, Dimitri! I knew you would have some thoughts for me! I'm surprised to hear that you think I was speaking above the audience's level, as I was fearing just the opposite. I'll rework my script and see if I can frame that conversation a little better.

    I have no idea whether a "music minus one" effect could be achieved with current technology - but I think that even if it could I would feel odd about rehearsing with a virtual orchestra attuned to someone else's interpretation. I listen to recordings as I prepare, of course, but where I used to keep my recordings going constantly to learn by osmosis, I now prefer to listen CONSCIOUSLY and OCCASIONALLY for specific details and try to maintain the freshness of my own interpretation. Especially when there is really only one recording that I am aware of. I greatly admire the oboist on that recording but I am a different player and have made different choices.

    And if Natasha was ever hesitant, I'm sure it was my fault for doing something unexpected and crazy. That was not a perfect performance and I will do better and better...

    Thank you again for your consistent support and running helpful commentary!


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