Thursday, March 17, 2005


After noticing that most of my recent entries on my first blog were about the oboe (the blog was supposed to focus on merengue music instead) I decided that the subject needed its own little place in cyberspace.

You know, I keep reading that oboists need to be somewhat obsessive in order to persevere, so at least I have that going for me. I spend so much time thinking about it all day that it should be therapeutic for me have a place to write about it.

About me:
I stated playing the oboe on December 9, 2004 (about 20 years too late). My first love was orchestral music. But my family is quite anti-musical. They didn't believe that smart girls should get involved in music, but should focus on studying science or law. So while I wanted to play music from the time I was 4, I had no support at home for this either emotionally or financially. My parents came from the Dominican Republic and settled in a low income neighborhood in New York City. They didn't know quite what to make of their daughter's refined musical tastes. So they ignored them.

My school had no formal music program, but they did bring in a recorder teacher when I was in 4th grade. Oh, if only someone had thought to introduce me to the oboe back then. *sigh* I remember being good at in and enjoying it much, but the teacher was only around for a year. After that the only musical thing left to do was join the chorus. As a teenager I did take piano lessons from a nice lady. They weren't anything formal though. She basically taught me to play a few popular songs. I enjoyed the lessons, but had no place to practice, and was still focused on my scientific pursuits.

It wasn't until college that I finally had access to formal musical training. I did not play anything yet on a whim I declared a music major at the end of my sophomore year. My school's major consisted of Classical theory and history classes. I absolutely loved them! It was so satisfying to finally learn about the things that I had been hearing for so many years. Harmonic progressions were the coolest thing since sliced bread. Suddenly I listened to music very differently. I knew exactly what the chords were called, rather than having a vague sense of having heard that pattern before. I found it very amusing that I had a predilection for certain keys and certain progressions. Ear training was intimidating at first because I didn't think it was humanly possible to do dictation. But I was pleased to find out that I was quite good at harmonic dictation, though melodic was quite harder for me (probably because I didn't play anything).

Every day I interacted with students who had been playing music since before they entered school. I was in awe of them. So much so that I declared myself unworthy of joining their ranks. I figured I could learn theory for fun but that I was already too old to take on an instrument. Can I turn back time now and re-do college? I would hear them talk about how many hours they'd spend in the practice rooms and I knew that I didn't have that kind of discipline. And I was right. I didn't have it back then. Plus there was the incessant pressure to do something more "useful" with my mental faculties.

So I completed the major (and a computer science minor) unknown to anyone except my closest friends. In fact my parents still think I was a computer science major and took a couple of music classes for fun. Teehee. It wasn't until after I graduated that I decided that maybe I wasn't too old or too inferior to learn to play an instrument. I was still too intimidated by orchestral ones and so I chose the alto saxophone. It's a prominent instrument in our national music, the merengue. I had gathered up enough confidence to realize that I could at least play that some day.

That day came much sooner than every one expected because within two years I was getting paid to play the sax around town. I was in a group of mostly Central Americans who played merengue, salsa, cumbia, and even punta. It was loads of fun. Performing live in an ensemble was a high like none I'd ever experienced before. And the camaraderie between the musicians made me feel warm inside. I felt like I had entered some sacred brotherhood. Or should I say siblinghood. I continued playing for several years and was getting close to the point of infiltration the actual professional sphere (the select group of musicians who backed up the most popular artists). However, my personal life was a mess and I went on hiatus.

I didn't mean to stop playing altogether for years but somehow it happened. I went back to school to retake my pre-med courses. I got married. I bought a house. There was always too much going on to take out time to dust off my sax. Plus, I was feeling a bit discouraged about the whole thing. The merengue scene was horrible due to the current "minimalist" movement. I could appreciate jazz but had no desire to actively participate in it. And there wasn't much of a repertoire for Classical sax.

Due to the state of popular music I began to listen almost exclusively to "classical" (not only stuff from the "Classical" period) since early 2004. It was like coming home again. The music simply has no comparison. It's so rich. My desire to be a part of it came back with a vengeance. I was no longer the inferior misfit of yesterday and I now was confident that I *could* have been a wonderful musician but I missed my train big time. The thought made me very sad but I felt that there was nothing I could do about it.

During the Fall of 2004 I was near campus doing some volunteer work. I noticed a large number of musicians walking into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. My husband was with me and we decided to follow them inside to see what was going on. Turned out they were having an open rehearsal for a concert that night. Because it was within the church (which is more like a museum and people are walking around all over the place) I was able to stand to the side and sort of behind the orchestra, a new vantage point for me. I was listening to things as though I were actually in the orchestra. Maybe this whole thing sounds corny, but it really did change my life. I couldn't stop the tears from flowing down my face. I don't think I had ever felt more alive. I knew at that point that I could not die without somehow being a part of that world. It occurred to me that this type of music is not only played by the major orchestras of the world. Certainly amateur or community groups must exist. And certainly one, somewhere, would have a spot for this music lover. I left the church on a mission. To figure out what instrument to switch to. I figured if it took me 20 years to get decent enough to be wanted in some ensemble then I'd still be only 50. I was going to do this.

The logical instrument choice, given my sax background, was the clarinet. And sure I did like the clarinet. In fact, I had bought one a few years back on a whim. I dusted that off and tried making some noise. I was able to produce notes but had some trouble with the open holes. I took a trial lesson and was pleasantly surprised when the teacher said that I sounded as though I had been playing for a few months. This almost clinched it for me had it not been for the Swan of Tuonela. During the summer I had heard that piece and it basically entranced me. I had never heard a more beautiful sound in my life and I had no idea what it was. After doing some research I found that it was an English Horn, a cousin of the oboe. I knew nothing about either instrument. But that piece had piqued my interest enough that I had actively sought more oboe/EH music (through Rhapsody the online music service). So while my clarinet trial lesson went well, something was holding me back. I would hear oboe music in my mind as though it were calling to me. But everyone I mentioned the oboe to had nothing but negative things to say: "It's so hard", "The embouchure is difficult","You will have intonation problems", "You're too old to pick such a hard instrument" and of course they mentioned reed issues. But hey, I'm a happy and positive person nowadays so I figured I'd at least give it a try. And so I rented a (very bad) oboe on December 9th.

That first day I was able to play three notes (G, A, B) by using a guide I had found on the internet. I signed up for a trial oboe lesson for December 15th. By then I had about an octave going (from low C to middle C). The teacher showed me some more notes and talked about the embouchure with me. I left the lesson still unsure about whether I'd go through with it and decided to just keep playing both until one or the other became the clear winner. For the rest of the month while I should have been studying for my Chemistry final I was running the oboe vs clarinet debate in my mind almost non-stop. This continue into January. I finally got so fed up I decided to write everything down and ask for help from my trial clarinet teacher. I had recently started my other blog and noticed that writing things was helping me clear up my mind and make decisions (I am so very indecisive).

It took me three hours to write that long email on January 11th. I went into many different aspects of the instruments. When I read it over at the end, it seemed that the clarinet had been the unanimous winner. Most of what I had written about it had been positive. Yet as soon as I sent that email out a voice in my head said "Ok, so now I will become an oboist". I did a double take. Why had I just thought that? Then I realized that I had been trying to talk myself out of the oboe. But I couldn't deny that it was definitely where my passion lied.

And so the decision was made and I have never looked back. Every day I am happier with it. It's certainly not easy yet I am so enamored with it that I approach the obstacles (like reed making!) with a great attitude. I finally have that discipline I lacked back then. I have practiced every single day, religiously, for the past two months.

I am someone who over analyzes just about everything. Yet the two best decisions in my life have both been made with my heart: my choice of life partner and now the oboe.

And so here I am three months later. Excited about being on this journey. Already receiving priceless dividends from the instrument. Eagerly anticipating the day that I play the music I so love with other people.

So I've decided to try to chronicle my journey. About how an inner city girl picks up the most sublime instrument at an age when she should have already found her thing in life. Watch how I slowly but surely become part of a new world. A world I always thought was closed to me. And how I put together the other pieces in my life to accommodate this new love.

Should be a fun, life-long trip.

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