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Showing posts from 2018

Be the Hero

I judged a university Concerto Competition recently and heard some great playing.  But I was disappointed to hear some contestants play their concerto like an etude.An etude they had been assigned, one they didn’t especially like, one they had practiced only to ask for someone else’s approval.All sort of at a middle dynamic, all a little pitchy, no real variety of color or articulation, and often no musical line at all.I was shocked.Playing concertos is probably my favorite thing EVER to do in the world, and I consider it a serious responsibility.
When you are playing a concerto, your job is to be the Hero.If you are playing loud, play heroically loud.Softs should be heroically soft, should make the audience lean in and take notice.No matter what you do, it should be done with intent, with ownership, with design.
Sometimes we look at superheroes and we want to peek in to discern the simple humans underneath the mask.We look at some of our political figureheads and we see only fraudul…

Upcoming Concerts: Siegfried

I haven't shared anything about my playing work for quite a while.  These past two weeks have been overwhelmingly busy, filled with driving and performing - three different organizations, seven venues, six separate programs, very hard music - all this to say, I've been drowning in repertoire and putting in hours behind the wheel for the privilege, and I have not been able to sit and write as I normally would. Heck, I haven't even been able to lie down and sleep for seven hours as I normally would.  Late nights and early mornings should not go together like this.  Here's to the return of a civilized schedule soon!

The most fascinating bit of this craziness is a snippet of music I play from offstage at Lyric Opera's production of Siegfried.  I've written before about the stunning experience of being behind the scenes at this fantastic organization - the attention to detail, the care and integrity from everyone I see, from the amazing and hard-working musicians to…

Five Minute Reedmaker: Length of the Windows

My Five Minute Reedmaker Season Two seems to be largely about experiments.  People ask me how LONG, how THICK, how SLOPED, etc - and I'm running the experiments for them and for you.

I've been posting these videos on YouTube, and sharing them from my Facebook Page, but haven't totally kept up with sharing here on my blog.

Here are the ones you may have missed:
Length of the Heart
Fallacy of the Long Tip
Moldy Cane

And here's the new one:




Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of ideas this season.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

Barlines

Barlines.  We musicians love them and we hate them. 

Some students get stuck on every one of them, or seem to perceive that visible beginning of the measure as THE place to breathe over and over. 

Blow OVER the barline, I cry -  THROUGH the barline!  Don't stop there, the line doesn't mean stop! When you walk across the gym floor, do you trip on the lines painted there?  THESE aren't real, either! 

And I stand by that message.  Music doesn't communicate in four-beat chunks, but in phrases that last multiple measures.   Even the squarest, dullest piece wants you to play four bars at a time in one arc.  SOMETIMES the barline is an appropriate place to stop your air, or your line, but FAR more often it is not.  At least 75% of the time even in boring music, the barline is a thing to IGNORE. 

But on Monday, as I taught my long day, I found myself arguing the opposite to people.  Advanced students.  Over and over.  Six out of eight lessons focused primarily or partially o…

Resonance

When my students get too MOUTHY with the oboe, I put them in a corner.

Really.

They tend to play the oboe only from the TOP of their body, north of the collarbone, and it winds up unsupported.  Fussy.  Weak.  And out of tune.

So I back them into a corner, and have them stand a foot or so out from it, facing out into the room.  And I challenge them to find a sound that resonates BEHIND them, out from the corner of the room that they are not facing, to fill the space without blowing directly into the space.

It's a weird metaphor.  I wouldn't have any idea how to describe the physical technique to do it. When I find it in myself, it feels like my back is puffy and my body is round, and large, and barrel like, and also collected and zipped up, and supremely powerful.  If you know me, you know that these statements about my body aren't remotely true.  But that's what I feel when I'm blowing well, and filling the room, and owning my resonance.

I teach resonance.  I talk …

Fun to Practice

I LOVE practicing West Side Story. 

I realized today, as I was working through the fugue portion of "Cool" in the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, that I was reluctant to leave my folder at rehearsal tonight as I would always otherwise do.  I know the part, I've performed it many times, but I feel like I could work through these weird tritones and swing rhythms and aggressive flutter tonguing every day without getting tired of them.  It's not that I need more practice, it's that I don't want to stop playing.

It's not merely that I grew up knowing this music and that it's nostalgic for me - my mother played hundreds of musical theater records in our home and although I can sing every word to every song in that Great American Songbook my heart does not thrill when I play Oklahoma on the oboe. 

Bernstein is special.  Smart.  The melodies are SO beautiful, the angles and turns that the harmonies take are SO striking.  I never, never ever get tired …

Five Minute Reedmaker: Tone

OMG the Five Minute Reedmaker is Back!

Here’s what I’ve been up to:  I have a few videos ready to drop - I think I’ll put them out on Fridays.  I don’t know if Season Two can take us all the way to the end of the year, as Season One did before.  There may not be that many more topics to consider.  But I love you guys so I’ll try.

The playlist is still up on Youtube, but I’ve ALSO curated Season One onto my own website.  I never can figure out the best way to organize things in a Youtube playlist and this way you can see all of the videos really easily on one screen.  I think this will be helpful.  Perhaps you will let me know if you like it.

Now onto today's video...

I say this all the time - DON’T choose a reed for its tone.  DON’T keep scraping for sound, scrape for function.  Get the reed to work.  The sound will follow. 

But the sound is not UNIMPORTANT, right? 

Tyler wrote to me:  Your videos are great! (Thank you, Tyler! ) Do you think you could do one on tone and how scrapi…

Never Trust an Oboe, Part 2

(Part One HERE)
(Similar story HERE)

Mercifully, THIS one didn't happen to me.  But my poor student was playing an audition for his orchestra, and reached up with his right hand to turn the page of his music.  And heard a "plink".  And when, a split second later, he returned his hand to his oboe to continue playing, he found that his entire thumb rest had fallen off onto the floor, leaving only the post it had been mounted to.

With his hand now contorted uncomfortably, he finished the audition - ably, I am sure - and tracked down the crucial little piece of metal.  Evidently the screw that secures the adjustable thumb rest into its most optimal position had come out - never to be found again - so the thumb rest itself now can escape at will.

He devised a workaround - teflon tape to keep the thing in - but let this be a lesson to all of us.




Seriously, the oboe is not your friend.  It's like a cat trying to slip out the door - it's just WAITING for an opportunity …

Creating Ritual

Today I’m thinking about Ritual.

This year, 2018, I have called my Year of Temperance, because my project is to find and feel more balance in my life. So I’m not just running from one thing to another all the time. So I’m not glossing over crucial moments in my life, always focussing on other tasks. So I don’t feel so frantic, and I have more white space in my mind to dream bigger and build bigger.  I like the concept, and the intention.  Five months in, I can't say I'm all that Temperate yet.  But I'm working on it.

On Wednesday I drew the Page of Pentacles as my Crux Finder Card of the Day.  I suggested to my community that we LOOK at our money, and our income streams.  On Thursday, by and for myself, I drew the Daughter of Discs.  Different deck, same card.  What exactly am I supposed to look at, Tarot? What is the message I need?

This card shows a young girl holding a coin up before her.  Gazing at it, exploring it, wondering at it, seeking to understand it.  The image …

Talking about Tchaikovsky

I always like to share what I do on this blog.  The South Bend Symphony closed its season last night with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, and the Maestro asked that four members of the orchestra introduce the four movements of the piece, before we played the symphony through.  He provided some formal notes but encouraged us to personalize our speeches with our own thoughts - and you never have to ask me twice to write stories and speak into a mic, you know? I’m shameless like that.

The first time I played Tchaikovsky 5 was after my junior year of high school. It was the first summer music camp I had ever been to, and I'm sure all of my colleagues here on stage can attest to a similar story. Your first music camp is when you first find your tribe, and the first time you realize that you're not a complete weirdo outcast. I met a whole group of people who like me vibrated with the sheer excitement of creating music, of pulling together to realize this symphony, the most monstrou…

Wabi-Sabi

I was listening to Seth Godin's podcast on Wabi-Sabi and Quality and Right Effort, and I was moved by it. 

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term for the beauty of imperfection.  For the natural facts of impermanence, of incompleteness, of imperfection and decay.  The art is in accepting and embracing the beauty of flawed reality.

What could be a better metaphor for my entire career?

Performing on the oboe is special and magical BECAUSE the oboe is not your friend. There's always SOMETHING that goes wrong with an oboe - water, sticking keys, REEDS.  The reed is made from organic material with a mind of its own.  Even the very best, most beautiful sounding, most effortlessly responsive reed has flaws. It's really never going to be as perfect as you want it to be, and the barrier is not just the oboe or the reed but also the humanity of the performer.  What you see in a live oboe performance is the eternal struggle of human against a resistant inanimate object, and when things go well…

Everybody's Got a Thing

I went in for my yearly mammogram last week. As you know, it's not exactly a painful procedure, but it's uncomfortable, and as I was being manipulated into the unwieldy machine I got to thinking about what a peculiar job it must be to jam women into awkward positions, over and over, every fifteen minutes all day.

So after we were done I asked the technician about that, and she LIT UP, the way people do when they FINALLY get to talk about the thing they are passionate about, and she talked about the advances in the technology since she was starting out, and the things this machine was capable of.  She talked about the women it has saved, from dying of cancer, of course, but also from unnecessary surgical disfigurement.  It was completely inspiring listening to this lady love her weird job, and I left feeling fantastic about the whole ordeal. It's great to see someone who is doing what they are supposed to be doing!

Two weeks before, I had my first Mendelssohn rehearsal with…

A is for Abs

I've had five different concerts in a row this past four weeks, and for three of them I was not playing principal.  Which meant that I got to sit back and enjoy watching someone else sweat the tuning notes.

Maybe everyone doesn't find the tuning A as stressful as I do - certainly no one I've played with seems anxious about it or sounds bad in any way.

But I've struggled to find a consistent approach.  It's not the pitch itself - I know what A 440 feels like in my body and on my instrument and I can produce it on demand.  No, it's the attack.

What an ugly word, attack.  But that's sometimes what it feels like.  The concertmaster stands up, and suddenly NOW, NOW is the moment and I have to make the sound instantly.

I know how to gently start a note.  I know how to support into the center of the pitch and I know how to stabilize it with my air and not my embouchure so it sounds full and unshakeable and confident.  But somehow when on the spot I can get MOUTHY …

Doing Less

This was supposed to be a terrible week. I was going to have five late nights and 6 early mornings all in a row, and I had 17 students on my books and on three of these nights I was going to have to teach right up until the instant of my departure time, book out of the house or college, and drive like a maniac to be on time for my rehearsal.  Obviously, I also had to make and mail a hundred or so reeds over the course of the week, because that's always true.

I've lived this week before, plenty of times.  It's just the thing that happens when a particular kind of gig schedule bumps up against my daughter being in elementary school, and both coincide with the completely regular teaching that I have - and enjoy - and rely on financially for the off weeks.  I know very well both how frazzled and frantic I feel as the week is going on, and what a zombie I am by the end of it, running on insufficient sleep night after night.  I know how it feels to drag myself through the weeken…

Memorizing SLOWLY

I had a breakthrough with one of my younger students last week, and it reminded me of one of my favorite practicing tricks - one that I had forgotten as I threw myself frantically into my Mendelssohn tasks last week. 

I could tell that he'd been focussing obsessively on the rhythm and tempo of a particular section.  It had a FIVE-tuplet, and a SIX-tuplet as well.  First Tuplets of his life - this was worth obsessing over. Unfortunately, he was now in that weird short-circuity brain place where he couldn't put all of the notes in the pattern at the speed that was the only speed he knew to go, and the more we tried to slow it down the goofier his fingers got, because all he could think about was the transition from 4 to 5 and from 5 to 6 that he'd been working on.

So we used my favorite trick.  Play it slowly, I said - so slowly that you cannot make a mistake.  I don't care about the rhythm, I don't care about the tempo - just one note after another, as slowly as nec…

Five Minute Reedmaker: Tools: The Mandrel

In my new mini-series on tools, I guess I'm working my way through the relatively straightforward ones first - while I build up my courage to tackle knives and shapers, which EVERYONE has strong opinions about.

In this episode I tackle the truism that all of your tubes must fit your mandrel (MUST? Really?  REALLY?), I show the distinctions between a few different styles of mandrel, and I offer a cheat so English horn reedmakers can save themselves a little $$.



Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until the end of the year.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

I'm Back!

I have been absent from this blog for nearly a month.  I was resting.  And working on other projects.  But I've missed long form writing, and I've missed YOU, so I'll be more active here again as we move forward.

Here's a thing that's happening - I'm playing tonight with the terrific Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and having a blast.  Mozart 41, and a new commissioned world premiere by Chen-Hui Jen, an up and coming young woman composer.  (Why is this description so hard to write?  I think it is cool that she is young, female, and a composer, and won a commission, but somehow every way I write it sounds condescending, which I don't mean.) And a Shostakovich Piano concerto that I'm not on, but that sounds amazing.

It's fun to play with a group that is new to me.  The habits are different. The way the woodwinds shape and end their notes is a little different.  It's an enjoyable challenge to fit in and match.  I always think that playing second obo…

Five Minute Reedmaker: Tools: Plaques

I thought, sort of, that I had said everything that could possibly be said about making oboe reeds.  Had done all the deep dives there were.  I posted TWENTY-SEVEN videos between August and New Years, and loved doing it, but I was done.  I thought.

But then people kept asking questions!  There are MORE questions to answer!  I love it.  This one, from Caroline, felt particularly fertile for me: Hello, I absolutely love your videos, thank you so much for doing them. I was wondering if you could make a video explaining all of the reed making tools and how they differ. Different knife shapes, different plaques etc... and what they would be good for.

So I'm working on a new series for you. Analysis of the different things I have on my reed desk, the different tools, the different shapes and functions of them.

Today: The Plaque


Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video e…