Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Three times the fun

Talk about serendipity.  I had been struggling with some drama in my first orchestra and it finally came to head this past Saturday.  As expected, the ensuing feelings were awful.  I cared less about the accusations, which I knew not to take seriously, but about the way that what had been a sacred space for me now felt sullied.  I wasn't unmotivated about the entire musical endeavor, but did feel as though I was mourning the loss of something.

With those emotions weighing on me, I started getting ready for my teacher's mini studio recital on Sunday.  As I'm about to leave the house I see an email from an orchestra I've been interested in for a few months.  One of the first violinists at my college based orchestra told me about them and I attended their concert late last year.  With many pro-level players in the group, they seemed like the real deal.  Shostakovich 5 was handled quite well by them.  Anyway, they seemed to be having some trouble with their second oboe spot.  Now that I've been more involved with community orchestras and other oboists I think I can understand why.  When I first started playing in orchestras I kept wondering why good oboists would come to visit once and then never return.  For a while I worried it was something about me.  Why wouldn't someone want to stay somewhere where they could play first on pretty good works?  Well, the thing is that as you improve and get to a level where the notes themselves aren't as much of a struggle, you want to be with other musicians who are on a similar level, working on expression.  So I think they balked when they saw how our rehearsals would sometimes turn into string sectionals.  Given our proximity to NYC there are a lot of very good amateurs out there and not enough orchestras for them to play in.  Once they are at that high level they prefer to be first chair and so even the more decent groups can't always find a stable second chair.  No worries, ye orchestras.  Enter moi.  While I have improved tremendously since returning to lessons in 2012, I know that I still have much to learn.  And I have to qualms playing second in a good group where I can pick up tips for a good, conscientious first.

With that all in mind, I printed out about 30 pages of music last night in preparation for our first rehearsal on Sunday.  They will meet a handful of times in February and the concert will be on 28th.  That's lightning speed.  My first orchestra works on the same repertoire for months.  My second group meets 12 times before the concert and that seemed liked a bit step above.  Now the stakes will be even higher.  Am thankful to not be exposed as first.  I am definitely not ready to play first in a group like this and am in fact a little terrified about being able to keep up on second.  But I intend to work really hard and fake it 'till I make it.

Here is the repertoire:
Debussy - Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Will not mention to them that I dabble in EH because there is an exposed solo there which I don't think I have enough dexterity for yet.  Am excited the second plays for a bit in the beautiful opening line.  But terrified about some rhythmic craziness in the middle of the piece.)
Dvorak - Violin Concerto.  Sorry, stringsters, haven't ever heard this piece.  Am hoping it's straightforward, but doubt it will be.
Elgar - Enigma Variations.  As in, the entire work.  Woah.  I was familiar with Nos 8 & 9 from Orch1.  But I had no idea how long this piece is.  I listened to it last night and here were more or less my first impressions on the variations:

Theme:  Ok this is beautiful lush string music.
I (C.A.E.):  Woohoo, great oboe duet action.  I need to find a way to play exactly like the first.  *gulp*
II (H.D.S.P.):  Oh wow, that's pretty fast.  Good thing the second only plays a little bit.
III (R.B.T.):  Break time for Oboe 2.  Fun listening to the bassoon.
IV (W.M.B.):   Holy moly, wake up now!  Baroquey exposed oboe duet warning.
V (R.P.A.):  Back to lovely low strings in the beginning.  Hmm and then come mildly terrifying oboe parts that I should be able to handle as long as it's not too fast.
VI (Ysobel):  Cool viola moments.  And a nice mostly stepwise line that I can handle.  I'm even alone for a bit.  Thumbs up.
VII (Troyte):  WTH.  I think my metronome broke.  Very fast and the percussion is scaring me haha.
VIII (W.N.):  Played this before.  Good to go.
IX (Nimrod):  Good old, Nimrod.  As long as they don't play it Bernstein-esque slow I should be just fine.
X (Dorabella): Don't lose focus and you'll be alright.
XI (G.R.S.):  I like the energy here.  Oh look, a low B-flat.  How sweet of you to test my instrument mechanism.
XII (B.G.N.):  Ahhh, cello.
XIII (***):  The calm before the storm.
XIV (E.D.U.):  Very cool to hear how some ideas are brought back in.

Overall, I like this selection of music.  It's outside my comfort zone which means it will definitely help me grow.  Wish me luck impressing this group.  This is the type of place you can make a permanent home.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Catching Up

I feel that before I can start writing on here regularly again, I need to catch up on what's been going on since my last few postings.

I'm coming up on nearly 2 years of working with my new teacher.  In that time we've attempted to meet biweekly with some regularity.  Some months we only met once.  I wish we could meet every week but I typically don't have enough practice time in between to justify that, plus it would quickly become too expensive.  We rarely ever do anything reed related, as I've wanted to take advantage of my time with her to do only music.  Also, she found me a good reed maker during last year's cold, dry winter and I've been using those reeds since.  They have been stable in tone and intonation and I can typically just play them out of the box.  Last year I did meet two other teachers who love teaching reed making and adjustment, so am thinking of seeing one of them a few times this Spring so that I can learn how to make minor adjustments to the reeds I'm buying.  I still don't have the time or money to devote to making them from scratch on my own, though I do hope that somewhere down the line when my girls are older I can do that.  I do find that not knowing anything about reed adjustment is becoming a liability, which is why I want to address that in the coming year.

Anyway, so the past 2 years we have indeed spent a LOT of time on reworking my embouchure and I am proud to say that I think it was FINALLY matured.  One of these days I will try to get a picture of what it looks like now.  I have some comparison shots of when I was doing it wrong.

Because my embouchure improved, as did my breathing concept (where the air is coming from and being more aware of the column of air and the pressure it needs), my tone improved a lot over the past two years.  The flutist from my quintet remarked that it is close to the pro quality I always wanted.  And when I sat in at a rehearsal orchestra in NYC I had a different flutist also remark on my sound.  She was amazed at the sound I was producing as a late & relateively recent starting adult.  She later went on to comment that my speaking voice is very resonant as well and that is likely why my tone is beautiful.  I was on cloud nine!!  All I ever wanted when I started this oboe journey in 2004 was to some day produce a beautiful sound.  I don't think I am doing it consistently yet, but when I get all the pieces together there are some magical moments.  And thankfully these are becoming more frequent rather than ultra rare.  Though I technically reached my goal, I know I am just scratching the surface.  Now I get to think about a whole new world of EXPRESSION, which has just opened up to me.

The other compliment I got recently was from my teacher.  She tends to be tough and her philosophy is NOT to shower with a lot of praise.  But a couple of lessons ago she remarked that I was sounding the best she had heard me sound and asked whether I felt I was playing at my best yet, to which I answered a resounding YES!  She then told me I should think about going to Summertrios.  In prior years she had basically said to not waste my money going to summer chamber things because I wouldn't really be able to get the most out of it yet.  But now she thinks I am ready.  That was yet another compliment!

She thinks that part of my improvement has been joining that second orchestra.  Ahh, yes, yours truly is now not only in one, but two, orchestras.  My second orchestra is a community orchestra associated with a local college.  So it's made of up their music majors, some high performing students from a local boarding school, and serious community amateurs.  It was definitely a step up from where I had been.  I heard about them through a clarinetist I met while attempting to fill in at an opera orchestra in NYC.  I bailed from there because I felt it too much of a challenge for me, but did make that one connection.  He let me know that this second orchestra had lost their oboists, an older married couple that had moved away from the area.  So in the Fall of 2013 I contacted the conductor and he told me they were playing Beethoven 7.  I went to a couple of rehearsals but then chickened out.  But come Spring 2014, I contacted him again.  I told him I was ok with playing second and that he could get a ringer for first.  He replied by saying that I wasn't giving myself credit and that I had a lot of musicality.  They were playing Schubert 8, a Mendelssohn overture, and one movement of a Mozart piano concerto.  My first orchestra had attempted Schubert 8 for a few weeks so I was familiar with the first movement and quite loved it.  When time came for me to go to rehearsal I found myself to be the only oboist there.  I started on second, but quickly realized that didn't make much sense as many essential lines were missing, so then I moved over to the first chair and the rest is history.  On May 2014 we had a very successful performance.  I will never forget what it felt like to truly MAKE that music.  In this group I couldn't hide and had to play everything as expected.  It was really nervewracking but ultimately very satisfying.  For the Fall concert we played Mendelssohn 5.  This was the piece that my teacher believes led to my marked improvements the second half of the year.  I guess it may have to do with the way the first oboe lines in it has a lot of big intervals and long, held high notes.  I really had to learn to use all my tools in order to get my sound and pitch in the right pocket.

Did I mention at any point that I acquired an English Horn?  I may have.  I bought an old (my age probably) Chauvet from an oboist I met through our quintet's bassoonist.  It was a good deal, even with me having to shell out another $1500 to have Mr. Teitelbaum (from Laubin) overhaul it.  So for both orchestras' Spring concert I will get to play EH as well.

Second Orchestra (MV) is tackling Dvorak 8.  Sure, it's only a 2.5 measure solo, but it's as exposed as can get.
First Orchestra (NWSO) is doing Prelude & Liebstod from Tristan and I get to play EH on it.  What a thrill to be a part of the Tristan chord!!  I've got a really funky line that keeps (not) "resolving" down but then resolves up chromatically at the very end.  It's amazing!  I am also playing EH on Debussy La Mer, third mvt.  Am playing second on Mozart 40 (long story).  Will be playing first on Beethoven Leonore 3 and also on the Faure Pavane.  The latter is one of those few pieces I became familiar with when I first started playing oboe and was always a "dream" piece of something I wanted to play.  Since then, I have many more dream pieces but it will definitely be a treat to finally play that along with one of my new clarinet friends.

Ok so we're almost caught up.  Tomorrow I have an oboe lesson in preparation for a studio recital on Sunday.  This will be my first studio recital ever.  Unfortunately, most of her more serious students will be unable to make it due to school and sport obligations.  So it will be more like an "oboe day" than a recital.  In a way that's better because I'll be less nervous.  Her other adult amateur and I will be playing a Barrett duet together (I forget which one, it's in G minor).  I've been practicing both the top and bottom line as I'm not sure who is playing what yet.  We will also be reading through music, including trios where I'll get to play EH.  YAY!

At some point this week I should write about the IDRS conference I attended last Summer.

Back to work.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dusting this baby off

With my youngest daughter being months away from attending school full-time, my long dormant creative side is reawakening.  And I think I want to chronicle the continuation of my journey.  I feel strongly that all the thinking and writing I did in my early years of taking up the oboe helped with my overall growth in it.  At the very least it served as an outlet for my obsession.  I'm once again finding myself spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about or listening to music.  Sometimes even daydreaming about orchestra or rehashing a rehearsal in my head.  No one wants to hear my incessant oboe related chatter, so it might serve me well to jot things down here.  Maybe someone out there might make some connection or simply enjoy reading it.  

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

Vignette

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

Weightless

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 :-)