Wednesday, May 08, 2013

New teacher to deal with old problems

So I got in touch with a new teacher.  I guess the oboe world is very small though.  She worked very closely with my first serious teacher at the same school.  I am not at a point where I can take weekly lessons, but am hoping to see her about every third week for now.  Eventually maybe biweekly (when we pay off some debt and both girls are in school all day).

I was ultra nervous leading into it.  The idea of having to play by myself for someone who I know is an amazing player was super scary.  What will she think?  Will she regret taking me on?  But she has a very calming demeanor and I was able to get into the lesson right away.

To start she had just play from the Sellner exercise book without articulations, all legato just to get my sound to resonate.  It was a good way to get rid of the remaining nerves and warm up.  Then we talked about many different things and played a bit more.  The main theme was that I need to be in touch with my air source at all times.  Definitely something I'd heard before since it tends to be a problem area for me.  Typically I'd worry so much about the notes on the page that I'd forget many other things.  But my reading has much improved since the last time I had formal lessons so I decided to let the notes just come and focus on the actual air and sound.  It definitely made a huge difference. 

The other main topic was embouchure.  I knew going in that something was wrong with mine.  Some recent pictures of me playing confirmed that my mouth was wrong, but I couldn't quite figure it out on my own.  That's why I wanted to see a new teacher.  Because then we wouldn't get distracted by friendly banter or pieces we were working on.  She could first diagnose the problem first before going on to other topics. 

She turned out to be a great embouchure doctor.  She watched me intently and had me try several things before delivering the diagnosis.  I am basically reinventing the wheel every time I put the reed back in my mouth.  That makes it nerve wracking every time I have to start playing.  Plus there is no guarantee that the embouchure I happen to form is any good.  I needed a method.  She went over how she lets her reed rest on the bottom lip and then forms the embouchure around that with the upper lips and corners.  I was also letting my upper lip come out some and doing something strange with my bite.  I need to keep the bite even and not chomp down.  To think round.  When I do it correctly, the sound becomes more focused, less buzzy, and overall more beautiful.  She was actually surprised by how decent a sound I was getting with my bad embouchure but the correct one is a VAST improvement!!  So I need to start working it in little by little.  She stressed to not go crazy trying to change it overnight.  I need to work up my endurance slowly.  She's confident I will be able to do it eventually.

Oh, and I need to start working on a Handel piece from the Oboe Solo book.  Need to look that up.

Sorry this is poorly written.  Just want to get my trhoughts down because it's been a while!  Am still here tooting along.

Oh last thing, so another adult student went in after me and he invited me to play in his orchestra in Queens.  What to do???  I am tempted to go and see what it would be like to be in a real "section" .  But their rehearsals are on the same night as ours.  I could do it over the summer when ours move to another day, but then how about if I like the other one and want to stay on both??   #firstworldproblems

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


So our conductor is interviewing orchestra members about their experience in the group and/or music in general.  I am kind of freaking out about my interview, well, because I hate interviews.  I started writing out my entire musical history and will cut and paste it below, but don't plan on using it tonight.  It's much too wordy.  I just want to get across that it's absolute magic to finally be playing the music I've loved (but felt not "good enough" for) all my life. 

Here is my unedited story:

My earliest memory regarding Classical music was from when I was 4 years old.  They had a TV ad for a set of cassettes called “120 Classical Masterpieces”.  Every time the ad came on I remember screaming excitedly in my living room and dancing around to the music.  I told my parents that I wanted to play piano but they replied that there was no money for piano lessons and even less room in our tiny NYC apartment for a piano.  They did get me the cassettes as a consolation prize.  I continued to not have access to musical instruction through high school.  In my second semester of sophomore year at college I registered for the required music history course and that’s when I finally realized I could not go on living without music.  I was finally learning the language for all those things I had been listening to all along.  It turned out that I had favorite chord progressions and keys that I found more pleasing than others.  Learning about all the different composers, their works, and the names of the musical concepts felt like I was being initiated into a secret society.  It was as though I had been living in black and white and suddenly the colors had come in.  I couldn’t get enough of it and switched my major to Music.  As much as I enjoyed learning about theory and history, I still felt as though I had no access to performance.  The preprofessionals in the program were intimidating, with all their talk of 8 hour practice sessions and their having started on their instruments in the womb.  So it wasn’t until after I graduated that I finally decided to pick up an instrument.  But I didn’t pick an orchestral instrument, still feeling not quite worthy of them and feeling that I was “too old” to start at 22.  Instead I went on to study the saxophone and played in merengue bands for several years.

Then one day in 2004 my husband and I happened to walk into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Brooklyn Philharmonic happened to be rehearsing there for an evening concert.  We were free to stand wherever we wanted so rather than sit in front of the orchestra as an audience member I decided to go around and behind them so that I could watch the conductor and feel what it’s like to be in the orchestra.  It was a surreal feeling.  As the music soared and filled that sacred space I felt that it filled all of me as well.  I realized at that moment that I couldn’t die without ever having the opportunity to make that kind of music myself.  I figured that even if it took me 20 years to get decent at an instrument, that I’d still be only 50 and would have plenty of time to enjoy playing it with others.  Due to the dearth of saxophone parts in the Classical repertoire, I was prepared to switch to another woodwind instrument.  My merengue friends all suggested the clarinet, since the fingerings and embouchure were most similar to the saxophone.  I went as far as purchasing a student instrument and even taking a few lessons, but I was terrible at keeping my fingers on the right place and produced only squeaks.  One day I turned on the radio just as a new piece was starting up.  Within seconds I heard the most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my life!  I was transfixed by it for the entire duration of the piece.  It turned out to be “Swan of Tuonela” by Sibelius.  I immediately ran online to find out more about it and that’s when I discovered the English Horn.  To be honest, I had never heard of it before and was barely familiar even with the oboe.  Yet on that day I resolved that it would be oboe that I would study (so that I could later double on the English Horn).  And so my lifelong quest to master the oboe began.  It’s been a wonderful journey so far.  I have learned so much about myself and have grown so much.  I’ve learned about discipline, patience, perseverance.  I’ve learned about beauty and awe. 

I think it’s very ironic that I ended up playing an instrument that is often exposed over the orchestra, given my history of feeling shut out from the Classical world.  And then even after I started studying music my ear lent itself much more easily to harmony than melody.  So it’s doubly strange that I picked an instrument known for its lovely lyrical melodic lines.  But now I’ve come to realize it’s actually the perfect choice.  Through my instrument, I finally have the opportunity to express all the things I had been feeling from a very young age.  I look forward to continuing to grow as a player and as a member of this wonderful orchestra.  For me it’s truly a dream come true to finally be making the music I have always loved and an added bonus to be doing so with an amazing and welcoming group of people.  I feel so blessed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


So for the second week in a row at rehearsal, I've experienced a most unusual phenomenon.  Last week it happened while playing Copland's "Little Horses".  There is a little section of about 8 bars that is much faster than the previous material and then becomes highly syncopated.  For some reason I GOT it.  And I was pretty exposed over the orchestra and that didn't weird me out.  I even nailed measure 17.  I couldn't quite explain what happened.  I am not the best reader but for some reason the rhythms clicked and I was able to finger the correct notes all at the same time.

Today I had the same experience again.  And again it happened out of the blue and caught me by surprise.  It was while playing Beethoven's 9th/4th mvt.  At the allegro assai I have a little part marked dolce then 9 bars later I had written in "solo" last week.  I didn't get a chance to go over this piece like I had wanted since I was focused more on my budding EH repertoire.  I maybe got a chance to listen to it once on youtube.  But pretty much I was approaching it only a bit less cold than last week.  Then the magical thing happened.  My fairy godmother appeared.  Or was it Professor X to activate some mutant power?  Usually when I am playing, some major aspect of musicality is weighing me down.  Maybe I'm breaking the line, or I ran out of breath, I'm out of tune, or my articulation is sloppy.  Sometimes I am struggling just to hit the right notes.  As I'm playing I'm usually focusing on one of these things and a lot of times one of the other areas is weak.  Lately I've been trying to cut the noise in my head and think just air and hope that by practicing, the other stuff becomes more natural.  Anyway, so somehow tonight I was weightless.  I started the allegro assai with some other instruments and then was left somewhat exposed 4 bars before my marked solo.  My solo starts on high A, a note which I can make ring nicely, and I had a rest before it so it gave me time to breeeeeathe.  I started playing and I realized I was alone and projecting well over the rest of the orchestra.  The half notes became quarters and then I was playing several measures of 8th notes AND crescendoing at the same time.  Rather than dropping a plate or two, I was able to keep maneuvering through the passage.  My tone didn't seem to be coming from me.  It sounded, dare I say it, gorgeous.  I wasn't glancing at my tuner because I could tell that the intonation was fine.  I was keeping a nice legato line and had some decent vibrato in there.  Though I had a lot of notes most of it was scaley in nature and it was in D major, a friendly key to play in.  I somehow worked my way to a nice high D climax and then other folks came in and eventually the conductor stopped us.  And when he did, suddenly most of the orchesta erupted into cries of "Brava" and it took me a few moments to realize that it was me they were chanting it to.  What had just happened?  How had I managed to drop all of the usual weight I carry and experience a few seconds of magic?  It was so wonderful and beautiful.  I was so excited about sounding good.  About doing the instrument and the music justice for a change.  WOW!  It really felt like an out of body experience.

But I guess it really was no fluke.  I think over an over again I am proving to myself that practicing is the key.  There is no way around it.  That is a positive realization though.  Because it means that it's not impossible for me to play how I want to play.  If I was able to do it for 12+ measures of (nearly solo) Beethoven, then I have what it takes.  I just need to put in the time and dedication and love.  Then maybe the fairy godmother of weightless superpowers will visit me more often. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Tomorrow is Wednesday . . . YAY

Wednesday is quickly becoming one of my favorite days of the week because I get to go to orchestra rehearsal.  I know we're not wonderful yet, but it's really so gratifying to play this music.  It's somewhat annoying that a lot of purists feel that amateurs shouldn't even touch this stuff.  As though we're just not worthy of it.  I don't see why we don't have the right to try at least.  Even if it would take us our entire lives to truly perfect any of it.

I mention this because someone who is a professional made a comment about how they wouldn't play in our orchestra as a ringer because then it would ruin their experience of the particular pieces we're working on.  OUCH!  I mean, on the one hand I do understand.  She's actually good and it must be mortifying to have to deal with entire sections struggling with certain passages.  But isn't it possible that a good player like that could maybe lift up her peers and encourage them to make better music?  Wouldn't that be gratifying too?  I guess not as much as playing it how it's intended.

Anyway, moot point for me at this point.  If this is as far as I get, I will be more than happy.  If I eventually improve to move on to other ensembles, then that would be welcome too.

Things got a little busy so my practice sessions have been more repertoire review than true practice.  Hoping to work on that after tomorrow since I might be meeting with my teacher next Tuesday.  Quiet City has definitely improved.  I am still having trouble reaching the C# and my high B's and B-flat's feel somewhat stuffy and weak.  But I can play it through well enough for tomorrow.  *gulp*  I can't believe I am going to play EH in front of others in less than a day.

We're working on Beethoven's 9th again tomorrow.  I am starting to agree with everyone else that it's way out of our reach still.  But it was the group that voted for it.  Maybe folks just voted out of popularity.  Am hoping it gets bumped so that the Brahms could replace it.  Still not rehearsing Schubert.   Working on Mendelssohn No. 4/3rd mvt, Ravel's mother goose suite 1,2, and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder No.1.  So I'll be busy tomorrow :-)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Good air

I have a new mantra now as I'm playing:  Good air, good air, good air . . .

I sort of came up with this revelation on my own and then it has been more than substantiated through all the books and websites I've been reading and my past lessons.  Before I never understood why the oboe was always likened to the human voice and all this talk about singing through your instrument.  Finally I understand that the air really is everything.  It's the entire reason why any sound comes out of the darn instrument.  I was always blowing wimpy air into it before, being so preoccupied with everything else:  notes, fingering, intonation, etc.  Yet, a lot of those problems were being created by poor air support.  Or at least were being made worse.  I've completed my first week back at practicing every day and the main focus all those day was improving my support.  Second main focus was regaining my embouchure and endurance. 

Today was my first rehearsal of the new year and it went quite a lot better than previous rehearsals.  I had the chops to last until the end of the rehearsal w/o fatigue.  My intonation was better.  I projected better.  I think my sound was better overall.  I even read well!  We practice Copland's "Little Horses" and there was this funky syncopated part where I was pretty exposed but I actually was pretty close to nailing it.  So proud!!  We also revisited Mahler's Kindertotenlieder No.1, which I really love for the beautiful sad melodies.  As a whole the group sounded better on it and I think I am slightly more expressive than before.  I really want to do it justice.  I tried not to worry so much about technique and to focus on the air and line and I think this created a better performance from me.

I'm so elated right now.  It's always such a high to play in the orchestra but today I think I really pulled my weight.  I owe it all to regular practice.  Boy, what a difference it makes.  The only downside to this is going to be that my reeds will not last as long.  *gulp*  Ka-ching!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Honey, I'm hooooome!

Holy moly. Did three years really pass since my last update? I can't even believe it.

As you can imagine, I've been busy. You know, with those new little people in the house? I ended up with two terrible sleepers in a row so was under the spell of pretty severe sleep deprivation for years. That didn't help me at all moodwise. I was already grappling with the loss of my dream career and much of my identity. So now looking back most of that time seems like a dark blur. I didn't start to emerge from that until I started working out last Spring (April 2011). A local friend dragged me to a boxing gym and I was immediately hooked. I had done martial arts before and had a great time and made some great friends. But that had been 21 years and 70 lbs ago. Plus I had become so out of shape that I would get winded going up one flight of stairs at home. Despite the odds, I kept going at it. As the pounds came off (33 down so far), so did a lot of the negativity. I felt the best I had in years. Happier, stronger, more confident. It was a good thing that I was feeling like that because this Spring I got a surprising and unpleasant diagnosis. I have an autoimmune disorder that's affecting my liver. Once again I was sucked into a depressive vortex for several weeks. One night I cried out to God to carry this new burden for me because I just couldn't take it. Suddently I realized that I had to just keep living. It was the only option. My condition may make me very ill in a matter of years or decades or never. So what was the use of me worrying about it constantly. So I picked myself back up and continued plodding along. I got more serious about what was going into my body in order to try to reduce overall inflammation. I became very busy with the kindergarten application process for my oldest. We got accepted into an outreach program that places minority students into area independent schools. It was like applying to med school all over again! And the Fall was once again the busiest time of the year at work. Had a lot of projects and so far they've gone quite well.

So where does that leave the music? I never did stop playing, though I wasn't practicing regularly, or much at all, anymore. My quintet keeps meeting. Usually every other Sunday at our horn player's home, which is just one mile down the road from me. Our cellist has been ill so we have welcomed a bassonist. She is an amazing player who has inspired me to get better. And it's been fun to listen to the change in color with the typical instrumentation. But we do still welcome our original make up whenever our dear cellist can make it. It's really a very special group of people that I feel *SO* fortunate to be a part of. Some times I just can't belive that they took me in. I'm just a little schmuck compared to all of them.

Speaking of taking me in . . . I joined this other group a few months ago. An ORCHESTRA!! As in a big group of people that plays symphonies!! *swoon* So it's a friendly local amateur orchestra. Basically perfect for me. They actually take anyone, no audition needed. I was afraid of how they would sound, but it is actually much better than the other amateur orchestra that I had been in briefly before I had Alanis. And in the past few months the ranks have grown and everyone has been working hard to better themselves and it's sounding much better. I've already had the opportunity to play some of my favorite symphonic movements: the first from Mozart's 40th and from Beethoven's 7th. For 2013 we have some more in store including the first movement of Schubert's 8th. I am in LOVE with that right now. My melodies are absolutely gorgeous. They sit well on the instrument and I think I can get them to sing how I want. And I get that beautiful little resolution at the end of it. Can NOT wait to play it at rehearsal!!! Though I'll have to resist the urge to sing "This is, the symphony, that Schubert wrote, but never finished" during that second theme.

Then there's this other little piece that they've got programmed for Feburary: Copland's "Quiet City". Can you say "English Horn"?? Remember, the whole reason that I started playing oboe in the first place?? So my long time dream is finally coming true. I'm so giddy!! I've rented an English Horn (with the option to buy, I just need Toyin to check it out for me). I spent my entire practice session on the piece yesterday and it went better than I expected given that I had really only played EH twice in my life before that. The intonation issues are different on EH so far. It seems to just be more consistently flat in the upper register but can be easily fixed with better air. The finger positions are taking some getting used to. My right hand in particular is feeling cramped because my crazy double jointed thumb is all out of whack. So I've been feeling some strain on that right forearm. Need to figure out how to make that work better. Also am having a very difficult time reaching the C# key. There are two spots in the piece where it becomes an issue so it's something I definitely need to address pronto. In general it feel really nice to play the EH. Some of the notes sound so luscious even on this older horn and with little old me playing. And some of the notes in the middle sing really beautifully as well. It's really quite a joy. And because I've been having to blow a lot more air (and better supported) for it, my oboe sound is starting to improve again. Double win!!

So today was my third day in a row practicing for the first time since uhhhh 2008 or something. Can't even remember. All I know is that I'm ignited again and I want to get better!! My last push was to go from elementary to intermediate. Now I want to go from intermediate to advanced. Am going to keep doing my daily sessions (though shorter than before probably) and hopefully meet with my teacher at least monthly. Was looking online for some kind of practice log community but didn't find anything. That's when I remembered my little ol' blog. Am going to try to be accountable on here. Plus I am soooo excited about the prospect of playing wonderful music with a lot of other people, that I just have to share it! Hoping my readers come back eventually :-)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Need new goals

Despite my lazy tendencies, I am still type-A at heart, and so I'm going crazy living with no goals right now. All of my adult life the idea of going back to school to became a physician was at least in the back of my mind, if not at the center of it. So now that I've taken this detour I admit that I feel very lost. I need some new goals to work on.

One of the things DH and I have been discussing is whether or not to relocate. I was born and raised in New York City and the thought of being far away from it fills me with dread and fear. But fear of what, I can't quite say. It just feels "wrong" to even think of living elsewhere. Well actually over the past few days I think I'm beginning to understand these feelings more. The City represents opportunity to me. Nevermind that I rarely ever take advantage of any of the cultural or intellecual activities offered there. But I like knowing that they're there. It represents that ideal me that I could/should be. But what use is it struggling financially (and in bad weather) to be near something you don't ever see? The few other cities I've visited usually fall short in my eyes, but even the smallest of these have a fair amount of stuff for the kids to do. And since the things I am leaning towards now are family-oriented anyway, then perhaps I can be ok with the idea of moving.

Why do I even want to move? Well now that our focus is more financial I guess I feel the need to "win" at that game. Our townhouse is ok, but not great. I wish the layout were better, I wish we had a deck, and I wish the town was nicer. My friends who have moved have been able to get so much more house in other places. Having this place was certainly a factor in my NOT being able to go to school. If we could move somewhere else where we'd be just as comfortable, if not more so, with less money than that opens up the option for me to return to school someday.

Yes, I said it. School. There is no way that I will not continue to scheme going back for something. MD is still an option but as the years and kids come and go (no, I am not pregnant again . . . yet) I know that it will become less likely. I am considering other health care careers now, because I still feel pretty strongly that that's where I should be. I certainly wouldn't want to retire from this stuff. I'd prefer to be wheeled away from my patients instead.

But anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. School can NOT be one of my new goals. I just walked away from it and I NEED to devote my energies to other things. More pressing things. Things I can do something about now or in the short-term future.

For sure one of my goals is to slowly work ourselves out of the financial mess we're in. It will probably take another two months for us to pay off a lot of little things we owed here and there (including us dipping into overdraft). After that we will start focusing on those pesky credit cards. Let's just hope our old car doesn't clunk out of us before we're ready for a new car payment. Go, go Saturn!

We still need to really think about where we want to live and what's important to us. I guess that's why I keep bringing it up here in my goal post. If being able to subscribe to a concert series at the Philharmonic were critical to me, then maybe we'd have to plan to stay around here or around some other major city. But with major cities come high prices. I just spent a week with my friend who lives in a mansion in NC. At first I was a bit put off by the lack of activity near their home, but after witnessing how happy her 4 children are, playing outside and riding their bikes with no fear of crime, etc., it made me wonder. We're such homebodies now that 99% of the time we would rather stay home than do just about anything else. So if that's the case what does it matter if we're living in a suburb of NYC or Kalamazoo? I kept going on and on in my head about wanting my kids to have a feeling of belonging to something, and that's something that I feel that those outside the cities sometimes lack. To me all the "communities" we visited felt so bland and generic. But then again I have a biased and probably wrong opinion based on my own very limited experience. I guess I am just so scared about making wrong decisions in terms of raising her. I have a track record for making bad decisions, you know. I do feel that in the end none of that is what matters in terms of raising your kids. It's what you do inside the house. Or at least I want to believe that. But a part of me feels very strongly that the outside influences are vast. Many of my friends who grew up with my in the inner-city have gone very far away from that with their own children. But then I fear that I'd not be in touch with my children's experience at all because it would be so radically different. And I also fear my kids turning out like some of the people I met in college who were deathly afraid of anything different from them. UGH.

Ok, wait, I am digressing. Goals. Let's stick to goals. It's not like I can even start to think about a relocation until we're better off financially, which may take 3-4 years. And I'd prefer to have a second baby while we're still near our relatives in NY. Not that they've been anywhere near as helpful as I would have liked (a whole other blog post), but they're all we have for now.

Definitely I need to redefine some music goals. Very short term I just need to start practicing again. Once I can get back into the habit I can figure out how to get back to my lessons and what to play.

Another goal that is slowly coalescing in the recesses of my being, is that of becoming more healthy. And no, I don't just mean working out, though I definitely wish I were more active, but have some inertia issues to deal with. It would be great to do a triathlon with my husband, but that may never happen. I am really only starting to become informed about toxins in our environment, especially our food, and how that affects development. So I suspect I will definitely be boarding the organic bandwagon once I can get all my sh*t together. We are so far removed from that kind of lifestyle with all of our Dominican fried stuff that I get overwhelmed thinking of all the changes at once. But I do want to devote a significant amount of energy and probably money to this end. Just not sure how to start attacking the beast. I think that for now we are going to research getting a reverse osmosis under the sink filter.

I have a feeling this whole organic/more natural thing could turn into something bigger for me. As I may have mentioned I went to a talk at a wholistic health center and that left me wondering if perhaps my future health care career could somehow integrate that. This is yet another way motherhood has changed me, for the better. Before I couldn't even consider healthy options because I was so stuck in my ways of selt-medicating with food. But now I've become a Mama Bear and I want to make the world a safer place for the cubs.

So what does that all mean for me? Too soon to tell. We'll just have to wait and see.