I'm not quite sure how I got so busy all of a sudden. Somehow I was better able to update this blog back when I was stressed out with work, school, music, and a bunch of personal issues. Maybe it's because these days I'm spending more time doing instead of thinking about doing. Though I must admit I've been thinking a lot too. So much so that sometimes I feel like I lost my writing voice temporarily. Hopefully it will return from its vacation.
In addition to the good advice I got from William a week ago, I also got some advice from the owner of this blog. Look ma, it's another blogging oboist. I sent him a short email greeting and he kindly responded with a pretty long and useful email. He too said that it is very important to start being a musician instead of always planning for when you'll be one. That being said when you also have a full-time regular job you do have to plan in order to get that practice time in. He mentioned that having routines really helped him so I decided to give that a whirl. On Monday I told myself "by 7 PM I will be downstairs in the basement practicing". I also told myself that I would have two 45 minute sessions that night. Lo and behold by 7:15 (only 15 minutes late) I was down there beginning my first session. That lasted until 8:05. Then I went upstairs to put some rice on the stove and take a break. My second session went on from 9:15 to 10:00. It worked really well that day and I will definitely keep working with that.
The line that struck me the most because it was exactly what I needed to hear was "don't be afraid to make some mistakes!" I've been alluding to working on a new embouchure. I had suspected that mine wasn't correct and when I heard my recording nearly a month ago it was confirmed. I had been improving technically but my sound was not any better. After playing one note for Jackie a few weeks ago she found several things wrong with my embouchure. I had started biting, probably due to the faulty reed I had used for nearly two months. Also the corners of my mouth were pulled back as in a smiling position. She demonstrated the correct embouchure and gave me tips about how to think about it. For the last two weeks I've been doing a lot of exercises just with the reed and with long tones, trying desperately to perfect my embouchure. I felt like I had to start all over again because the new muscles I was using were tiring out in about 10 minutes just like back in Dec/Jan. I rerecorded myself about a week ago and was excited to hear improvement in my sound. The notes were more centered and the sound was a bit closer to the ballpark of a true oboe sound. However within days I started having nagging doubts. Am I really doing it right now? Why can't I get my upper lip completely in? Is the embouchure really circular now? etc, etc, etc. It was getting to the point where I almost wanted to stop practicing until I could verify with a teacher that I was now doing it correctly. But I knew that not practicing at all would be even worse. Already the weeks of doing only long tones were pretty much erasing the tiny bit of chops I had built up. My husband encouraged me on Sunday night. He asked me why I was pressuring myself to go from a wrong embouchure directly to a perfect one. He didn't think that anybody could do that and said that even the pros probably went through several wrong embouchures before getting it right and that the process took them months, maybe even years. So when I read "don't be afraid to make some mistakes" the next morning I realized that I actually don't have anything to lose by continuing my mission. If when I meet with Jackie again my embouchure is still wrong then she will help me fine tune some other part of it so that I can get closer. I am pretty sure that what I am doing now, although not perfect, is definitely way better than what I was doing before.
As an adult learner it's very hard to not expect too much of yourself. You always feel like you're racing against time. You have decades of time to make up for so you want to be ultra efficient. Sometimes you want to cut corners, but this is not really a possibility if you really want to get good. You feel that perhaps you can intellectualize things to give yourself an advantage but at the end of the day your fingers will pay no heed to that. On top of all this you have the day to day struggle to get practice time in. And let us not forget the "frustration gap" (from Jay Light's Essays for Oboists). As you improve you set your goals higher and higher.
I guess all these things I think about are actually normal things that musicians deal with. But as an isolated adult learner it's hard for me to find people who can relate to all this. My friends are all busy working, having kids, etc. And the ones that are musicians are already good and have figured out how to balance work and music. I don't know any other thirty year old who just started an instrument and is completely obsessed with it and with the idea of playing in an orchestra someday. It's hard to find others who believe in me and in what I'm doing. That's what's nice about the internet. I've been able to meet other people for whom music is very special and who do understand these struggles and cheer me on. It's too bad we can't all hang out and go for a coffee or something.
Right now I feel a little lost because I technically don't have a teacher. My semester is over with my original teacher and I did not sign up for the summer mainly due to scheduling conflicts. I've had some reed lessons with another teacher who I really like but I am not sure if she is willing or able to take me on. If she CAN take me on I will be so excited because I know that I will improve tremendously. But then I'd still have to deal with severing ties with the person who taught me how to assemble my instrument and get those first notes out. I'm sad about that. But for now I guess I shouldn't think about it. I need to keep working on that embouchure and once my supplies from in from RDG I need to make a few more reeds.
Tonight will be our first quartet rehearsal. We've now added a flute to the mix. I am very excited about that because it's a very cool and dear friend who's an amazing musician. Also it takes pressure off me being the first voice all the time! HURRAH! One of the books we have is for flute, clarinet, bassoon trio. I had been playing the flute part before but most of it is uncomfortably high for me. I'm thinking that tonight I will use that book to take breaks. They can play a tune or two from there to give my mouth a break. I'm very concerned about endurance tonight. When we met for the trio a few weeks ago I was playing a lot of repertoire and lasted for over two hours. Now that I've been doing just long tones with my new embouchure I tire VERY quickly. I am nervous about spoiling things tonight so I'm hoping they are ok with doing the trios in between quartet pieces so that I can take breaks.
I am scared to play a lot of music because I tend to forget about my embouchure when the notes are flying by. But I do feel more secure with it this week than last week. Besides the pieces we have are all intermediate level so they're not super hard. They're easier than that Handel Sonata I had been working on. I do still play the first mvt sometimes because now it sounds better (that was the piece I did the sound comparison with).
Though I'm a little scared about tonight I am more excited than anything else. It's really magical to make music with others. Especially this style of music. So let's hope that my mouth can take it!