Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Second time around

So I listened to my little recording again tonight with JC. He confirmed that the professional one does have some reverb which makes sense since they'd want to emulate performing in a hall. He copied my raw file and gave me some reverb too. It makes up for my lack of vibrato LOL!

But even before he did this I heard it through once and I didn't feel as bad about it as I did yesterday. We connected the computer to better speakers tonight and it does sound like an oboe, not a confused saxophone. What a relief! You can't imagine.

I do need to work on expression and dynamics but maybe the sound is not quite as bad as I thought it was. Maybe it's an ok sound for a fairly new student.

I can sleep in peace tonight.

Thanks, I needed that

Common practice problems and tips.

Face the music

I can't remember what I was searching for on the web when I came across this site. I was immediately intrigued of course. When I first read it I wasn't sure if they were referring to musical grades or school grades. Well, I quickly realized that they were referring to junior high/high school.

The 7th-8th grade piece was the one that most caught my attention solely because that Oboe Solos book is the one I am currently playing from. So here was a piece that I had access to. I listened to the piece a few times and at first it seemed like it would be difficult for a 12 or 13 year old to sound like that. When I looked at the sheet music at home I realized that the music itself wasn't difficult, but I still felt that it must be rare to hear a very young person with a very beautiful sound. I wonder how long it takes the average kid to start sounding really nice on their oboe? And are they making their own reeds or someone making them for them??

I was tormented with doubt about whether I could play the piece myself. I ran through it a few times on Saturday with JC trying his hand at the accompaniment. It definitely wasn't difficult in a technical sense, but I felt inadequate regardless. While my sound is no longer ducky (at least I don't think it is) it certainly isn't hauntingly beautiful and songlike.

I decided to conduct a little experiment. I did not listen to the recording on the web site more again since I found it on Friday to ensure that I had not memorized it. I wanted to record myself playing the piece so that I could compare it to that recording. The experiment took place last night on my old computer. JC has a digital recording program on it. Because he has a trial version there is no way to convert the recording to a compressed format like mp3 so I have no way of sharing it for now. Maybe some day hehe.

Here are the results:

Metrics - I was a bit surprised about this since I always feel that I have problems with rhythm. Maybe I'm just traumatized by my past failed attempts to read jazz music and not feeling jazz swing. At least with Classical you play what's on the paper. Anyway, I wasn't quite sure what allegretto in 6/8 was supposed to sound like so I went with my gut instinct. Turns out I was on the right track. My recording was only 3-4 seconds longer than hers.

Intonation - I was probably a hair flat overall since it was the very first thing I played last night but I was in tune with myself. I didn't hear any glaring problems. Then again the piece is fairly easy as it doesn't have troublesome intervals; the melody is mostly stepwise.

Reading - My reading wasn't terrible but I did make some mistakes in the middle of the piece. I kept going though.

Articulation & Breathing - I put these together because I think they affect each other. Maybe I should just call this phrasing. My lines could have been smoother and I think I was breathing haphazardly which wasn't helping matters.

Dynamics - I tried to pay attention to these but I think I forgot about it towards the end.

The first two I think are definitely correctable by actually practicing the piece (as opposed to just reading through it). Dynamics are a bit trickier on my old reed. Maybe I should play it on my newer one next time.

Sound - Bah. I was able to get a nice sound on my sax pretty early on. This is not the case with the oboe. I didn't really sound anything like that recording. I felt like I sounded almost like a saxophone. Kind of cold and tinny instead of warm and dark and woody. It did dawn on me that her recording has some kind of effect going on, like reverb. So at one point I played around with that and my sound was nicer but then I felt like that was cheating. Before I got too down on myself I decided to listen to some recordings I had made in March. Teehee, there I was struggling with some Gekeler etudes. I feel like I made dramatic improvements from Jan - March, but from March through now the changes have been more subtle. I sound a little cleaner and more in tune but the main difference now is that I can play harder stuff (not so much a sound difference). Still, I could definitely hear at least a small amount of sound improvement though I am still leagues away from being a swan. At the end of my experiment I decided that I shouldn't beat myself up too badly about the sound just yet.

*sigh* But I think this is why sometimes I feel that rather than playing Handel's Sonata No. 1 badly I should just go back to basics. Then again one can stay stuck in the basics indefinitely without ever playing any real music. That can't be good either.

I'll conduct this assessment again in a month's time.

I still think that as an adult learner it is time which is our biggest enemy. I don't really think that it's something in my brain which makes me inherently worse at learning music now. It's all a matter of time. Apparently I've moved up to about an early high school level in 5 months. My "sophisticated" adult thinking (and prior musical knowledge) helped me move through the very early stages quickly. However from here on out each level of improvement will be progressively more difficult to achieve because the time aspect becomes more important. Practice time is the great equalizer. No matter how well I understand fancy musical concepts there is no substitute for practice and getting my muscle memory working. If I were to join a high school band now and my fellow oboist were practicing 3 hours a day and I kept practicing just 1, he'd still improve more than me even if he knows nothing about music. So I think I need to get really serious about the "dirty work" that needs to be done. And I need to spend less time on frivolous musical activities. My practice time needs to be more intense. Hmm, I will need to think about this more and how to make it happen over the next few days. Meanwhile my imaginary partner will simply just DO it and not overthink it like me. *giggle*

Monday, May 23, 2005

Weekend confessions

* I didn't practice on Friday. We went out to eat at Zanaro's (a nearby Italian place we like) and to watch Episode III. Overall we liked it a lot even though the acting was not believable in some spots.

* I practiced nearly two hours on both Saturday and Sunday to try to make up for Friday. I had to break it up into two sessions in order to do this. That I can do this at all is a good sign. By the end of the summer I want to be up to a solid two hours every day.

* I am about to go order one set of tickets to the Philharmonic (for the Mother Goose suite). I am not sure yet if I can afford the second show. My friend might be able to get me cheaper or free tickets though so I might still be able to attend.

* I am also about to pack up the Renard oboe I had been practicing on before I bought mine. My rental period ends at the end of this month so I have to get it back to them before that. It was a good little oboe.

* As recent as last summer I had no idea what an oboe sounded like. I mean, I had heard it in songs before and liked it, but I couldn't readily recognize it consistently. In fact, our wedding song has an oboe intro and for years I just knew I liked that melody in the beginning but wasn't sure what was playing it. The intro was the reason we picked that as our wedding song in the first place. I had figured it was the oboe because it was the orchestral instrument I was LEAST familiar with. That's why when I heard the "Swan of Tuonela" last summer I had absolutely no clue what that instrument was either. An English Horn? "It's neither English nor a horn . . ." After I started learning more about it I kept finding out about more pieces in which I had enjoyed it before (like the Adagio of "Concierto de Aranjuez"). During my clarinet vs. oboe debate month (Nov-Dec 2004) I listened to Mozart's "Sinfonia Concertante" over and over again because it was the only thing I had which featured both clarinet and oboe. Can I tell you that I had a hard time telling them apart sometimes (particularly when the clarinet was playing in its highest register)? Now I listen to it and laugh at myself because I always recognize the oboe now.

* Speaking of English Horns this morning I heard Albeniz's "Evocacion", the orchestrated version. It had a hauntingly beautiful EH part in the beginning.

* I'm not sure how to get better at playing faster. Is it all just scales? I guess I can start slow and speed up gradually. But what happens later on when you have to sight read something at a fast tempo? Do you get used to always starting slow first? Is that something that comes with time?

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Dynamic Duo

The bassoonist didn't show up. No surprise there. Actually it turned out that Rufi never called him. But supposedly he will definitely be there next Thursday. I can hardly wait for the Dynamic Duo to become the Terrific Trio. For some reason I'm really excited about the prospect of playing with a bassoon. I guess it will finally feel like a legitimate orchestral experience or something. As a saxophonist I've been around clarinets all along. But a bassoon is something else. Plus the trio music we've been practicing feels like it will be so cool once all three parts are there. And of course I'm already looking ahead to when we'll be a quartet. My friend Marty has already offered her flute services.

There is so much music out there that I want to play! It's so great. I think I can play my whole life and never run out of new pieces to learn.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Nice day so far

Last night I had a long lesson because we had some time to make up. I think it went pretty well. I played the first movement of the Handel Sonata for my teacher. He said I need to practice the trills more which is not surprising since I only put them in there on Monday. I have a subconscious aversion to trills I think. I must admit that I have faint memories of listening to Baroque oboe in the past (way before I got into oboe) and not enjoying it because of what I found to be excessive ornamentation and an overly perky sound. Well now that I'm playing oboe (and a lot of Baroque pieces) I need to become friends with the trills. They are not my enemies. They are not there to make the music sound uptight. They are there to lend beauty to the melody, not take away or distract from it as my teacher said yesterday. I have to start getting used to them because, well, oboists trill. And I want to be an oboist darn it.

I played through the Allegro movement and it's not as hard as it looks. Then again I was playing it very slowly. But now that I played it through once I am not as scared of it and will start studying it as well as the slow movement that follows. Hehe, I just got a flashback of when I couldn't play a line of music without getting tired. Now I can play an entire page of stuff. YAY!

The rest of the lesson we spent on reeds. I told him about my lovely reed night and showed them my two cracked reeds. He suggested I finish scraping them for practice and then scrap them to make new ones. I showed him that older reed I had scrapped and he didn't think it was completely dead. He scraped it and clipped the tip a few times and eventually it tuned up. The sound is a bit muffled on it but it might actually be usable for scales at home or something. He also adjusted that commercial reed which was sort of ok. I think I might switch to that reed now and keep the one I had been using as a backup.

I think I need to start thinking about my sound more. I do still feel that my embouchure is not yet mature but it's starting to settle and feel more comfortable. I just need to remember to keep my lower lip in. My sound needs to be more "covered" and less "spread". It may have something to do with breathing too because the other day I tried doing something I read in the "Essays for Oboist" book, where they talk about trying to channel the air from the top of your mouth, sort of over the reed and into it, instead of from the bottom up into the reed. I don't know how to explain it well from memory. But anyway when I think of that and support the air well the sound feels better. I might record myself again one of these days to hear what's going on.

I keep reading in books about an open throat but last night my teacher said I need to think of closed vowels like ee or uu because otherwise I get the spread out sound especially in the higher register. Hmm. I need to look into all this more.

The scale practicing is definitely paying off already because my fingers felt a lot more comfortable last night and I was more confident about the fingering in general. I think I am starting to get rid of that silly fan thing on the right hand.

Tonight I meet up with Rufi the clarinetist and the bassoonist, I think his name is William, might be showing up too. I can't wait! I'm a little nervous because I'm switching reeds but I played on the newly adjusted one last night after I got home from my lesson. It's quite a bit louder than the reed I was on which was actually too soft.

I keep seeing mention about "take a friend to the symphony" month on other blogs. Maybe I need to try that with my friends, even if it doesn't take place until end of the Summer. I don't know which of my recent purchases put me on a Classical music mailing list but suddenly I am getting a ton of info on local concerts. I'm actually happy about that because I want to start going to more stuff. But in a way it's kind of sad. I can tell they put so much effort into all these brochures and stuff to try to entice people to go. How sad that they had to do all this. How sad that people today don't appreciate this phenomenal music. My teacher and I talked about the state of things again last night and it's depressing. In a matter of 50 years we've managed to push aside centuries of art. Think of how many years it took artisans to develop our instruments and think of all the generations of great composers. Does anyone care anymore?

Anyway, I plan to support the arts as best as I can on no income next year. The NY Philharmonic has this new thing now: court side seating (for the Mostly Mozart events). I'm so there!! It was by being able to hear the orchestra from that vantage point that I got inspired to play last year and as you see it has changed my life. These seats are actually cheaper than the Orchestra seats which I was a bit confused about. Are they uncomfortable or is that due to acoustical reasons? Regardless those are the ones I'm going to get. There are 3-4 shows I really want to see but I may only be able to get into two. I am definitely going to get tickets for Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. They will also play Mozart's Paris Symphony and a Flute and Harp Concerto as well as Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Mozart's 40th (my favorite) is on the program a different night but I may have to skip it this time. The other concert I might try to catch is later in August and features Beethoven's Pastoral symphony, Mozart's Violin Concerto in D, and Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave". The latter I heard on the radio the other day and really liked. I wonder if I can drag any of my buddies to those. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I was right!

I got an A-!

I'm happy about it since it was the highest grade I could have possibly gotten considering that I was behind the entire semester. I certainly wasn't performing at an "A" level until the third test which was only 3 weeks before the final. I went into the final with a borderline A- that was probably closer to a B+ so my last minute efforts paid off.

My average for both Chem semesters is an A. And my overall GPA is the same when rounded to the tenths place. :-D

So I'm still in the running. But I am certainly scared of September: Organic Chem, Biology, and Bio Lab. My GPA is kind of lovely now. How long will it stay that way?

Oh, and I feel better now about my reed issue. The mistakes are all part of the process. By messing reeds up I will learn (the hard way) to not do certain things again. Maybe you need to have x number of bad reed experiences before they start coming out well. I found two other tied blanks at home that I will attempt to scrape tonight or later this week. Also I found a reed I had completely scraped a month or two ago. It's not very good but it does make sound. I had given up on it because I feel like I killed its heart but perhaps my teacher can fix it. He hasn't seen that one yet so that will be the reed I bring in (instead of a newly scrapped one). At least I will have something. I think that's why I was so upset yesterday. I hate to disappoint.


Dear Hilda Maria Ramirez,

Grade for your class CHEM 1404 F 001 has been submitted via SSOL.
You will be able to view this grade on SSOL within 24 hours.

I think I stand a maybe 60-70% chance of getting a certain grade. Now I don't want to look at it.

Cane 2, Hilda 0

I'm not a happy camper right now. I set time aside today to work on reeds. Some of that time I could have used to practice instead but I wanted to make sure I moved a reed along enough so that I'd have something to show at my next lesson.

I had previously tied a blank. Since I knew that one had a leak I decided to tie another blank tonight before doing any scraping. I tried the new tying method and actually came up with a leak-less blank. Things were looking good. I start scraping on the leaky blank figuring that even if it never sounds I could at least practice scraping. At one point as I'm struggling to thin out the tip I hear a crack. Sure enough, my reed had cracked down the middle. I must have squeezed it hard or perhaps I needed to wet it more. Undeterred, I start working on the other reed. The one that was supposed to turn out well. Twenty minutes later I hear yet another crack. Somehow I managed to make the same mistakes twice in less than an hour. I decided to call it a day at that point.

I've always felt that I'm willing to do anything to become an oboist and I mean it. But my reed situation is starting to get to me. I've been playing on the same reed for over a month. It was never a great reed, just decent. I don't know how much longer it's going to last and I still don't have anything else to play on. The reed my teacher gave me I managed to unwind by pulling it out wrong from my new instrument (which has a tighter fit). None of the 10 or so other commercial reeds I have work at all. I need to become reed independent ASAP. I can't keep counting on anyone but myself to do this. Yet I feel quite lost in terms of the reed making process. My teacher and I have spent a total of maybe 3 hours (over several sessions) going over reed stuff. I feel like I only have a very general overview. I have several books which have given me some ideas but I'm still missing a lot of links. Way too many to be able to craft a working reed on my own. Or even a close to working reed. Not having a reliable reed is holding me back I think. For the last month I've been unable to practice notes above high D because this reed tends to close. My low notes are not responding as reliably anymore either. Some articulations are not as sharp. I just wish I could have an all-day reed making jam session. I feel that I need some kind of formal training like that. I want someone to watch what I am doing and correct my mistakes and for me to watch them do it. Maybe I'd just like to feel that I am not the only one going through this.

And so this whole little ordeal of course makes me think about bigger questions in my life. Things I don't really want to deal with just yet. My issue with reed making is not the minutiae of it. It's time. I usually only have 1-2 hours a day for music and I'd love to maximize my play time. Tonight I spent over 2 hours on my fruitless reed making. So theoretically some days I won't be able to play at all in order to accommodate reed making. Just thinking about that is stressful. This is why I keep thinking I need over 20 hours a week ideally for music. And this is how I run into problems in trying to carve a medical career that would allow me that. It has dawned on my that I am trying to make my hobby my profession and my profession my hobby. I want to give music all the time it needs and then work during the remaining hours. Deep down I know that if I got the chance to live my life over again 1000 times I'd choose (at age 5) to be a musician 1000 times. But I need to get back to reality.

I love music, but I don't think it's what I'm best at. Is it due to a lack of natural talent or to having started too late? I may never really know. But I think I am better at school. Even if it stresses me out too. I can understand stuff and get A's. But I can't make a reed that works or play the Handel Sonata beautifully.

Yet. I must keep telling myself, yet.

Sorry this is such a bummer post. I just wanted to get this out of my system before I went to bed. I will probably read this tomorrow and feel I was rambling. Tomorrow I will wake up in a better mood and be ready to deal with the cane again. I feel better already.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Plan for tonight

Can you tell that I'm going a bit batty at work today? Well the reason is that my grade is STILL not in. The final was over a week ago. The suspense is driving me insane. Actually, not really. It's just rendering me unable to concentrate at work since I have to be checking my school email every 3 minutes for that coveted "Your grade for Chem. 1404 has been submitted" email.

Tonight I plan to try scraping that reed I tied up last week. And I also plan on tying another one using a slightly different method that I read about in the Jay Light book.

I still need to call my teacher. Oops.

Speaking of friends

Everyone I want you to meet my new friend, Luna. Luna is an AK bore Lorée, serial number OR73. And Luna is mine.

Why is she named Luna (like the Roman goddess of the moon)? Well I've always considered myself somewhat of a moon child. I love watching the moon when it's full. It's just so beautiful. I feel as though it almost calls me to look upon it.

When I was considering whether to name the instrument or not I got a little inspiration. Mind you, there is not one drop of poet in me, so the following will probably sound a bit corny. But it is why my oboe is named Luna.

Your Siren's call beckons me to a vast ocean
where your gravity pulls me ever to you.
You are the light that brought me out of darkness,
the answer to years of heartfelt prayers.
You erased the tears of my meaningless existence
creating a sweetly illuminated backdrop.
Together we will be until the sun rises in another life.

Friends and fun

I've been busy procrastinating at work and hadn't had time for an update.

My rehearsal with Rufi on Saturday turned out really well. Since we were at his store and he was being interrupted frequently I was able to last a lot longer than I anticipated. We were playing from 2 to about 4:30! Though I admit that towards the end my pitch started sagging as I was struggling to maintain my embouchure. But I was happy with how I'd done overall. The pieces weren't terribly difficult to read so we just read through a bunch of them. We even did a long Bach piece that had several modulations. My friend was impressed that I was able to keep up with the changes on that one. We didn't pay a ton of attention to dynamics and phrasing at this first rehearsal. We just wanted to see how much of the repertoire we'd be able to cover. As we get together more he hopes that we will work more on the musicality. I am in charge of making copies of everything we have so that the bassoonist can hopefully join un in the next few weeks.

Playing with someone else, as I expected, was thoroughly intoxicating. I just didn't want to stop! I don't think he did either which is a good thing. It means I wasn't killing his ears. He kept saying that he was surprised at my progress. But those who know me know that I am very hard on myself. I know there is still such a long way to go. But I do have to remind myself that I've come relatively far in a short amount of time. That will give me the impetus to continue.

Due to the frequent interruptions on Saturday afternoon we're looking to change our practice time to a weekday evening. JC has agreed to go to the Latin jazz rehearsals by himself on Thursday so I am going to aim for that day. I have to make a few phone calls to set that all up. And I also have to find a new time for my lessons. I'm going on two weeks without lessons now due to schedule conflicts (mostly from my end).

I practiced for an hour and a half last night. During the first 45 minutes I did a few long tones and then I worked exclusively on scales: G and F major. I plan to work on these two for another few days. I'm using some tips I got from Patty for these (thanks, Patty!). By starting off very slowly I was able to concentrate on not doing the "fan" motion on my right hand. My half hole is also cleaner than before. I still need to work on coming down from the high D. That requires a lot of finger changes and it sounds sloppy. Especially if I'm going down a third to B. Yuck. After I ate dinner I went down to the basement for another 45 minutes of practice. This time I worked mostly on Handel Sonata No. 1, the Adagio. I'm still playing it more like Largo though at this point. Last night I decided to finally tackle the three trills in there: A-natural/B-flat, B-natural/C, F/G. What's funny is that I couldn't really get a sense for how long it should go for until I played my melody on the piano. I managed to get something that sounded satisfactory but then I was still doubting myself so I read up on trills in a method book. They were playing 4 thirty-secondth notes per eighth note. So my instinct had actually been right since I was doing 6 notes for a dotted eighth. YAY! So now that I had the trills in there I went back and am paying more attention to the dynamics and articulation. I wish I could just do it all together during the first reading but I guess that that will come with time. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I have to break things down like this is because I'm an adult learner, but I think that even the children don't get all aspects of the music correct right away. They too work on the reading first, then intonation, then sound, etc. Or at least I hope so haha. Well, practice makes perfect. The more I do this, the easier it will become.

I just got a call from the girl whose wedding I played at. She told me she got a home video of the ceremony from a relative and that my piece sounded great. I HAVE to see this for myself! I am definitely happy that she liked it since she was the one I wanted to please, but I know mistakes were made. Maybe they only caught the second half which was much better than the first? Regardless I am very curious about this video. Apparently they don't focus the camera on us at all since the bride and groom were lighting a candle at the time, but she says that the sound came out very clearly on the video (our church is cathedral style so there is a LOT of resonance in there). In fact, she even said that it made her tear up when she saw it. She said she wasn't able to appreciate it that day due to nerves and everything else going on. But she thanked me for playing the piece and said that she loved the effect it created. Cool. A satisfied customer is always a good thing.

Friday, May 13, 2005

A schism and an affair

A schism has developed in our household. As I get more involved with the oboe and classical music my husband is getting more into Jazz. It's somewhat terrifying when I dwell on it. Music has been one of our strongest threads of unity. The very first conversation I remember having with JC was about a song we both liked ("Gitana" by Willie Colon). So it is somewhat disturbing that for the first time in almost 10 years our musical paths are diverging. For a long time our main musical foci was merengue music and the stuff we're doing at church (which is a mix of pop, rock, and some Hispanic folk genres).

Over the last couple of years the merengue landscape has changed so much for the worse that almost everyone who is serious about music has become disenchanted and has started looking for other outlets. I have found refuge in my first musical love, classical, and my husband is trying to carve a niche in the world of Latin Jazz. Both are noble endeavors. So it's not that I don't enjoy Jazz. I definitely like it. I just don't feel any compulsion at all to improvise. For some reason (probably fear and lack of understanding) I am completely turned off by the prospect. I enjoy hearing others do it. But it doesn't seem like fun to me. If I wanted to compose I'd lock myself up in my room and fiddle around with a piece and I wouldn't let anyone hear it until it was "perfect". I like order and control and I think that maybe the act of improvisation is just a little too carefree for me. But I certainly do love listening to it, even more so if it's accompanied by Latin rhythms and if there's a big band involved.

And so it was that I allowed myself to get talked into going to that rehearsal last night. And it was at that rehearsal that I had my affair. With Max the Sax. Yes, I played my good, old, trusty alto saxophone last night. I concentrated very hard so that I wouldn't mix up my F's and F#'s. I managed to get them right in most cases. When I first started playing I was "half holing" the middle D. I decided to let myself keep doing it since it has no effect on the sax and I figured it would be a bad thing to lose that oboe habit. I was also trying to do a second octave key movement on the upper A which was a bad thing because on the sax what you end up getting is some strange sounding note. Lastely, I had a hard time remembering where the low C-sharp and E-flat were. But regardless, I managed to pound things out. Since I've been reading more music in general lately, I had a slightly easier time reading the jazz charts. I was playing third alto and it was pretty fun when the whole ensemble was playing. But at one point the director (my sax teacher, Rolando) started pointing at people to improvise. The first time I went on a fake bathroom run and didn't return until the coda. The second time I just kept refusing and eventually he stopped pointing at me. But I was horrified!! I knew mentally what I was supposed to be doing. We were playing in F# minor and I was supposed to improvise on a I minor 7 chord and on VII dominant 7. I know those chords. I like those chords. But which are the nice notes and which are "avoid" tones? And what the hell am I supposed to do rhythmically? I just don't get Jazz swing at all. Memories of me trying to get into the Charlie Parker omnibook came rushing back. Suddenly I realized I was no longer having any fun at all. And I couldn't quite understand how other people enjoyed this kind of pressure. After that piece I put the sax aside, walked off stage, and went to a remote corner of the practice hall to try to play oboe instead. To make matters worse, after two hours of playing saxophone I could not at all make an oboe embouchure. Try as I may I got NO sound out at all. A wave of panic rushed over me. I walked outside to the hallway to try to find a mirror. The cleaning people were in the bathroom though. So I found another corner and kept trying. The nerves weren't helping so I tried to calm myself down and remember everything I know about how to make a correct oboe embouchure. After several minutes I got some sound but it was horrible. At that point I heard the band members clapping, signaling the end of rehearsal so I went back inside to pack up my instruments. One guy wanted a demo but I refused telling him that my mouth was too tired. It was so horrible!

I was in tears as we drove back home. I had no idea that my little affair with Max would render me unable to make any sound from my oboe. How does my teacher play both in the same gig??

JC was very supportive and assured me that I would be fine, that I hadn't suddenly lost all my oboe abilities in the span of two hours. But I was inconsolable. Would I ever be able to play oboe again? In an act of desperation I even said that I never wanted to play sax again in my life! Eventually I did calm down and reasoned that plently of people play them both. Someday I will be one of them. But not for now I will not cheat on my oboe.

After I calmed down a bit I admitted to JC that I didn't want to continue playing in that ensemble. It's just not what I'm into. What I am really excited about are the little ensembles that Rufi and I are trying to get going. Besides the ultimate goal of forming up a true orchestra I would really love to be in a woodwind quintet. JC was sad about me rejecting my saxophone and the group since he had a ton of fun. He doesn't want to go unless I go. So I said I would continue to attend if he needed me to do that. But next time I am not even taking my sax with me. I will find my remote corner and practice on my oboe instead. Who knows? Maybe I can take the place of the flute in some of the pieces. I like playing my oboe so much that I'm willing to do it even if it DOES mean having to make something up on the spot. Imagine that!

I think that in the end we will find a way to keep working together towards our musical goals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


No one warned me that once my test was done I would feel as though I got run over by a truck! Immediately following my three hours of torture I was very hyper from the residual adrenaline rush. But yesterday I woke up feeling awful. Today I feel only slightly better. I do want to thank my body for not breaking down until after my test. But still, it did take my by surprise.

I didn't get to play until 10 PM last night but I did put in 45 minutes. It wasn't a highly structured practice. I just played some tunes from the new books I bought from Last Resort Music. As I mentioned before my clarinetist friend (Rufi)is interested in starting some ensembles. So I bought two sets of books from that site. The first was a book for oboe/clarinet duets. And the second was a set for trio: oboe/clarinet/bassoon. I bought the intermediate edition for that one. It wasn't until I received the books that I realized that the pressure is really on me since I have the leading voice in all the pieces. That's kind of sucky since I've only been playing for 5 months. In retrospect I should have bought the first part for clarinet and made myself the second part, but it just didn't make sense in terms of instrument ranges and sound. They're both rusty so hopefully it will all even itself out. But now I am a bit worried.

The good news is that my flutist friend is also interested. So I will pick up some quartet music and then she can have the main lines. If only we could find a French horn player. I loooove quintet music. I joined the Amateur Chamber Music Players organization so I do have a directory of musicians in the area. But the French hornists are few and far between and all of them rated themselves at least a "B" which makes me think they will not want to play with our crazy little group. But I'll see how things go and once we start moving along maybe I'll try to invite someone else in. I really want to play Faure's Pavane. I found an arrangement for it for woodwind quintet.

I'm meeting with Rufi at noon on Saturday to exchange music (he bought some trio stuff) and play from my duet book. I can't wait. I'm so excited. During my dark hours of non-stop studying my upcoming meeting with my old friend to play classical music was what kept me going. Now that it's actually happening I couldn't be more excited.

I didn't get as tired last night after playing for 45 minutes. I think I might have been biting before. I was very careful not to do it last night and sure enough my embouchure felt better. I need to go back to basics again.

I started a new reed last night too. I tied it up while watching "House". I *think* it was a pretty good tie. But then again by the time I scrape them they all end up leaking. ARG!

So tomorrow I have another rehearsal. Well, I think I'm actually just going to go watch. My sax teacher is the musical director of a band that rehearses at the United Nations building. I'll find out more about it tomorrow. He's been telling me to go with my sax for months now but I never had time. We spoke yesterday and he invited me again so my husband and I are both going. My husband might actually get a chance to play piano there. I am debating whether or not to take the sax. The other day I tried playing it and I sounded like hell and I am confused about the fingerings on it now. Plus, I don't think I want to mess around with my still developing oboe embouchure. Maybe I'll take them both. I do want him to see the oboe. He teaches oboe as well as sax and back in January I had called him because I had a dream that no one wanted to teach me the oboe but that he was willing to. So he had said back then that he can help me with it. I really want a second opinion so that I can feel more confident about how I'm doing. Tomorrow I hope to set something up so that I can see him at least once a month. Additionally, he's involved with the Harbor conservatory so maybe he can find more places for me to play oboe. :-D

By the way, I am so done with this job. It's kind of sad actually. As bad as the last week was, it was still better than coming here and wasting my days away. The only reason the studying was bad was because I was so behind. But normally school is not quite that tortuous. I'm starting to feel that I might not even bother asking for leave from here. I don't think I want to come back. Well, maybe if they let me do it part-time. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

Monday, May 09, 2005

10 more hours

After 10 PM tonight I will be free to think about my oboe ALL THE TIME (at least until September)! I have to keep reminding myself of this. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

After almost 5 days of studying chemistry I think I'm starting to feel a little nutty. *makes a crazy face*


Wednesday, May 04, 2005


I distinctly recall a particularly frustrating practice session during my first few weeks on the oboe. It was the day that I decided to practice upstairs in one of our smaller bedrooms. That was the day that it dawned on me that my sound was like that of a balloon whose air is being let out between your fingers. This was probably one of the only times I actually cried out of frustration. It was also the only time I considered giving up the oboe. I remember thinking how annoying practicing scales had been on the saxophone. Yet here I was wishing with all my might that I could only play a C major scale. Just one octave. At any tempo. But in tune. And without sounding like a flock of geese.

Last night I didn't have a lot of time to practice so I took out the Pares scales book I have and just played some stuff from there. I was trying to "lose myself" in the music and the feel of the scales in my fingers. I think it may have worked for a few seconds at least and then I went back to all the inner dialogue. At one point after finishing a long-ish exercise the practice session I described above came back into my mind. I couldn't help but smile widely. I had just finished a long exercise on the C major scale. It included lots of slurred passages, some staccato, high notes and low notes, some crazy register jumps, and many dynamic changes. It didn't come out perfectly but it was leagues beyond where I was four months ago. Not only can I do a C major scale now, I can do pretty much any scale (though my speed is inversely proportional to the number of accidentals in the key signature).

It's easy to focus on what you're doing wrong ALL the time. There's always going to be something that needs improvement. In my case everything still needs improvement. But you also can't lose sight of the things that have gotten better. Recognizing this motivates one to keep on plugging away. :-)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Successful OTD meeting

Many years ago when I first started working here a colleague would occasionally mark down "OTD Meeting" on his calendar. Eventually we found out that it meant "out the door". He would simply leave the premises and go run errands or do other non work related activities. He said these meetings were necessary for his mental health. His manager never questioned them and assumed they had to do with one of his projects.

I had an OTD meeting today from 12:45 to 2:00. I got my car's oil changed, got some cash from the bank, and picked up a lunch special from the local Chinese restaurant. I even managed to do about 5 Chemistry problems while waiting for the car. And I got all of them right.

So slowly I'm screwing my head back on today. I sometimes seem to lose it. I have to stay focused. I will do well in this course. I will have a wonderful time playing and making reeds this summer. I will go back to school full-time for 9 months and do well in all those courses too. I will figure out what to do with my career once the courses are over. And I *will* get good enough to reach my goal of playing in a local orchestra. That's really what my dream is about. Playing. In a big group. I don't need fame and prestige. I don't need to make money off it. I don't need solos. I just want to play with an ensemble. I want to get as good as I can considering the circumstances.

This musical fossils site is pretty cool. I find myself agreeing with everything and it's giving me nice ideas about how to practice. I've definitely been committing some of the mistakes he highlights. So I need to try to lose myself in the music more.

My music mojo . . .

... is very high today. Every once in a while I wake up like this and it's a difficult thing to deal with. Nothing smells good, nothing tastes good. The sun can't shine brightly enough. My tears are readily available. I can't even listen to music because most of it makes me cry. Today the only thing that would make me truly happy is to be a professional musician. Yet that's the only thing I can no longer be (well, that or a pro athlete, but I never really wanted to be one anyway). It really does feel like someone is driving a dagger in and out of my heart.

The second best scenario would be winning the lottery and not having to work so that then I could devote all my time to music. I still wouldn't become a pro but I'd sure have a fun time failing at it. The chances of this are as impossible as the first option so daydreaming about it is really an exercise in futility.

So by the time I get home tonight I have to lift myself from this funk so that I can channel this energy into something more productive like practicing. But with my final looming around the corner my oboe time will be limited for another week.

I always seem to have one of these little episodes whenever the other parts of my life threaten to completely take over my music time. This is what's at the crux of my whole career debate. I had a whole entry thought up about this a few days ago but I never made it. Now I am a too emotional and none of this is coming out very coherently.

Yes, I do think that these feelings are due to my inner fears acting out. I have to work this all out before commiting to grad/med/dent school. I have to continue hoping that with work out of the way I can handle school and music. It's all three of them at the same time that are testing my limits. Over the next few months I'll write more about this in an effort to clear my mind and put me at ease.

Now back to my regularly scheduled boring work task.