Thursday, October 27, 2005



They're over!

Exams are over. At least for another 2.5 weeks. :-)

Happy times are here again tralalalalalalala!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One more thought

I just have to say that this feeling of "brain exhaustion" is actually pleasant and addicting. It was exactly what was missing from my job before. It's no easy feat to study this much, but it feels so satisfying to actually be using that hunk of meat between my ears. I didn't realize it would take this much to actually tire it out though hahaha.

But, in all seriousness, I am very happy to have the opportunity to do this. To be in this country and not somewhere where women are treated like second class citizens. To be able to return to my alma mater, almost all expenses paid. To have the support of my loved ones though they don't quite understand what I have gotten myself involved in.

Not many people will have the chance to start over. It may never be fiscally feasible. Or may not be possible for a variety of other reasons. In my own case I had to work out a lot of issues before I was able to take the plunge. I am still so very happy I am trying this. Even after these past few weeks. I am thankful to God for the opportunity and for the strength He is granting me day to day in this path (I really need it).

Now I just need some extra lighting so that I know which way to go at the fork that lies ahead.

Running on empty

By this time tomorrow I will be done with tests. For about three weeks anyway.

Can someone please remind me . . . drill it into my thick skull, show me pictures of the circles under my eyes . . . that it would be a good idea to keep up with my courses as they go along instead of cramming a month's worth of work into about a third of the time.

For whatever reason I had been avoiding sitting down and working through the lecture notes/readings to understand things, especially for Biology. I was intimidated by the material because it had seemed so difficult in class. But I've come to realize over the past few days that the concepts aren't that hard at all. Everything fits together really nicely and the amount of hours it took to go from "huh" to "oh, I get it" were a lot less than I anticipated. Had I known this beforehand perhaps I wouldn't have procrastinated as much. 9:45 PM the night before the test should NOT be when I finally complete my thorough review of the lecture notes. That should have happened a week ago and I should have been simply reviewing for a week, not cramming in new material less then 24 hours before the test.

Amazingly, I am doing so much better than how I did as an undergrad. And to be fair to myself I did have three tests all in a week. I actually started studying two weeks ago, it's just that Bio was the last one so it was the one that kept getting put off.

Let's hope I have finally learned my lesson. The stuff is definitely challenging but it's not like I won't EVER get it. If I just put the time in, it will sink in. And it's much better if I put in 4 hours every day instead of two weeks worth of 12 hour days. Have you any idea how it feels to be thinking Biology for 8-10 hours at a time. Forcing my mind back to Bio from its fanciful departures is torture. I miss my fantasizing. UGH. If I have to see the word "pyruvate" again it will be too soon.

The main reason I need to stop procrastinating in school is so that my music doesn't pay the price for it. Poor little Luna has not gotten enough attention from me over the last two to three weeks. It all started after the Double Reed Day. The inside of my upper lip was sore for days. I have decent sized teeth and even if I am not biting on the reed my teeth are against my lips while I am playing. With the amount of playing I did that day I am pretty sure I was biting by the end of it, so I had tiny teeth marks in there. I gave myself a two day break from practicing but that and the upcoming tests lead for me to get off schedule. I've been playing more like every other day this month which sucks! But as of this week I've been back on track and playing every day, working back up to an hour. It's crazy how your chops start failing if you don't exercise them every day. *sigh* At least today I felt a bit more comfortable with the embouchure again. But I am having trouble with intonation. Hmm, let's blame the reed! Yeah, that's it. :-p

I hope to make an update on what I'm working on musically over the weekend. Now back to pyruvate.

Monday, October 24, 2005

2 down, 1 to go

*sigh of relief*

I just got out of my Orgo exam! *applause*

What an intense experience it was studying for that test. I studied Organic for about 12 hours a day for the last 3 days (in addition to the work I had done previously). My brain feels like mush. And the bad news is that I still have Bio to contend with. And unlike with Orgo I am both behind in Bio and don't enjoy studying it.

Then again this was the same predicament I was in last time and I ended up doing much better on the Bio exam.

I think I did ok on the Orgo. At least I was able to formulate answers for each of the questions. It's really frustrating that our professor likes to give super difficult tests in order to have a wide range of scores. Going through such tests can be very demoralizing. It wasn't like that this time, but it certainly was like that for the first test.

So in about 3 more days I will be able to leave the 7th circle of hell and take a break from the hard core studying. WOO HOO! I can't wait!!

By the way I think I found a group that I might be able to play with soon! Our school has a wind ensemble. They had a Halloween concert on Saturday and since I was on campus studying I got to see them rehearse. I wasn't sure what to expect. To be honest, I thought they'd be a bit smaller. They have something like 10 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 6 flutes, 3 tubas, 3 euphoniums, about 10 trumpets and trombones, and 1 oboe. Yes, 1 lonely little oboe! I went up to her and asked her if there were others and the first words out of her mouth were "Are you an oboist?". Tee hee! I told her I started playing recently and she said that perhaps I could audition next year, but one of the clarinetists next to her told me I should try out for next semester instead. Next semester will be even more grueling for me so I may have to wait until September 2006 anyway, but regardless I was excited about the group. It's not quite the wonderful sonority of a well balanced orchestra, but it might be a nice place to get my feet wet. I'm not sure if I'd be able to hear myself at all though. Let's see what happens. :-)

Glycolysis, here I come!!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Staying alive, staying alive

YAY! A breather. I miss being able to blog every day. These days I may not get on a computer at all. The days of spending 10 hours sitting in the same chair staring at my monitor seem so far away now. Like a dream. In fact it feels like those entire 8 years were a dream and that now I've woken up to my real life. Only bad thing is I'm 8 years older hahah! Seriously, though I may whine about feeling overwhelmed I still prefer this 10000 times to what I was doing before. I can't even believe that I did that for so long!

We're just about halfway done with the semester already. And you know what that means - MIDTERMS!! The reason I have a few seconds to type this up right now is that I took my first one tonight. It was for Biology Lab. I may have mentioned before that we dissected fetal pigs. We also spent some time doing some histology (looking at tissues under slides). Our midterm consisted of 30 "stations". At each station was either a microscope or a pig (or part of one). The 10 microscope stations had unidentified slides in them. We had to first identify the tissue (e.g. kidney vs. pancreas). Then we had to identify what the structure the microscope pointer was pointing to. There were also some function questions like "what is the function of the cells in part a?" The pig stations had 5 pins each. Each pin would be set within a structure that we needed to identify (If you want to see VERY graphic pictures of it go here, but be warned that they may be disturbing). We were quizzed on absolutely everything from major organs, exotic side views, and every single artery/vein. Oh, and we were given only 90 seconds at each station. Boy, did those minutes and a half fly! After that stressful hour we then had an hour of essays. We were asked things like "describe the path that a CO2 molecule would take from the fetus's skull to outside the mother's nose" and "what are the ramifications of a fetus forming without a foramen ovale". I am sooooo glad that test is over. Though it is technically the easiest of my three midterms it was also the most stressful one because of the format of the test. I think I fared out ok which is good because I'm hoping that motivates me for all the studying that lies ahead. I have to study a good 8-10 hours each day for the next week. *gulp*

My Organic chemistry exam is on Monday and Biology is on Thursday. I am loving the orgo material right now but our professor is notorious for making her tests impossible. The mean in our first one was a 52/100! So I need to overstudy. Biology will also be very difficult and long as we're doing the ugliest topics (glycolysis/Kreb's cycle in all their gory detail) . Oh and I am very behind in that class. So what else is new.

Speaking of being behind and feeling bad about myself. This morning I was in a particularly foul mood. When I got on campus I was overwhelmed by a desire to practice. I had my oboe with me because I was expecting to stay around late. So instead of going to the library to study for my upcoming test I checked into a walk-in practice room. I hadn't played in 3 days which is the longest non-playing stretch I've had since returning to school. As soon as I took out the instrument and played the first few notes I teared up. It was a mixture of sadness, hapiness, and rapture all at the same time. At that moment I was so grateful to be doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I had missed my oboe so much and I was so happy that I was still able to play. I realized yet again how music is indeed my true love. It's going to be a continual and painful struggle for me to balance things so that I can make time for it. But for that moment time froze and it was just me and Luna. And the world seemed absolutely perfect. Even my reed cooperated with me during my session and did not sag in pitch in the upper register. I was able to get a nice, well-rounded 70 minute practice session in: long tones, scales, technical exercises, and an etude. I emerged from there feeling refreshed and at peace. This allowed me to devote 3 intense hours to going over the material before the exam. I went in with a much more positive attitude than I would have had I not practiced.

The dental vs. medical battle has been raging at full force ever since I've been back at school. Days like today I feel very strongly that though I may be more interested in medicine from an intelletual point of view, that I HAVE to follow the path which allows more favorable lifestyle (i.e. dentistry). Why is it so hard for me to let go of the physician thing and just settle into dentistry happily?

I just need more days like today where it is 100 percent clear what is most important to me. Because then the choice is obvious.

Anyway, today has been good. I had a nice practice session which invigorated me and I think I did ok on my first test. If I can get to next Thursday I will have yet another chance to get my butt in gear and stay on top of things so that I can play more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Have oboe, will travel

I ended up driving 6 hours in heavy rain last Saturday in order to attend the Double Reed Day at Schenectady County Community College. Though I'm not sure if I would do that again, I am happy that I participated in the program.

Leading up to the event I was getting very nervous about whether I'd stand out in a bad way. I was pretty sure I'd be the worst one there and a part of me wondered what I had gotten myself into. Then I figured that there was no way it was going to be filled solely with prodigies or professionals.

The first session focused mostly on the English Horn. Though I have yet to ever hold one in my hands I definitely plan on playing EH some day. It is, after all, the reason why I even started the oboe in the first place. The session was pretty high level so it didn't go over my head. The presenter spoke about bocals, reeds, fingerings, and repertoire.

After that we attended a faculty recital. The following were played:

Vivaldi - Trio Sonata for Oboe and Bassoon
Mozart - Oboe Concerto (mvt. 1)
Beethoven - La Ci Darem Variations for 2 oboes and EH
as well as a couple of pieces for bassoon and piano

All the oboists had nice sound, though their embouchures were quite different. There are so many ways to peel this potato, I guess. The bassoon pieces were interesting but I felt like there was a lot of air hiss going on at times which detracted from the beauty of it. Is that normal for bassoons?

After lunch, I attended my very first master class. I didn't know what to expect; at first I was worried that I'd have to play. But my fears were unfounded. Two high school girls got to be in the hot seat. The first one worked on the first movement of the Mozart concerto. Picky little piece of music, isn't it? The student didn't have it all under her fingers yet but she did reasonably well. She had a nice sound and good intonation. The "master" (is that what you call them?) focused mostly on phrasing in her comments. It was very helpful to hear how real oboists think about phrasing and expression. I have definitely only scratched the surface with that. The second student worked on Saint Saens Oboe Sonata which is one of my favorites. She did stupendously on the second movement. The master thought so too; the only thing she thought she heard off was that one note sagged in pitch. I was amazed. That kid is 16 years old and has a superb sound and wonderful musicality.

Following the master class we attended a reed making session. By this point it had become apparent that I was most certainly the person with the least amount of time on the instrument. However, when it came to reeds I was actually way ahead of the pack. More than half of the players didn't even make their own reeds and another quarter of them were trying to get into reed making but were still pretty much clueless. I realized just how much I have learned from both of my teachers about reed making!

Next came the double reed ensemble rehearsal. In all we had the following numbers: about 20 oboes, 8 english horns, 12 bassoons, and a contrabassoon. This was my first time sitting in such a big section and I started getting very nervous. Like sweaty nervous. Not very good. With the humid conditions outside I was feeling like my reeds were mushy and a sense of panic came over me. Thankfully I was able to get myself together before we started playing. The conductor made a joke about who would give the starting pitch. Our first attempt at tuning was kind of scary. The sound was pretty strange and discordant. Eventually we managed to tune up. We practiced the Milhaud piece first. I had no idea how crazy the harmonies would be. No wonder some of it sounded off to me: parts of the piece were bitonal! Woah! Thankfully we didn't do it at the marked tempo of 138 so I was able to keep up with it. Either that or the adrenaline allowed me to play faster. The next piece was the Habanera. It turned out that the solos were assigned to a single player which was nice because I didn't have to worry about that high E-flat. Trying to play endless measures of staccato pp tired out my mouth. The last piece was the "Dog Day Tango" which was written by the composer. This one too had some strange harmonic ideas but it sounded better than I was expecting (my part seemed kind of boring when I'd practice it at home). There was one part in the beginning where he told us that only one oboe per stand should play it and I got to do it. Woohoo. That was sort of close to a solo. I realized that it's hard to hear yourself over a big group. I guess it's different in a real orchestra where the instrumentation is more balanced, but then you have to play over the brass. I was a bit frustrated that I couldn't hear myself but oh well.

Following that rehearsal we went into separate room for small ensembles. I'm not sure who's bright idea that was because I was too tired from the one hour non-stop big ensemble rehearsal. When I got to the small room I was greeted by water in my G key hole. That was a first for me. Now I understood why everyone kept blowing into the sides of their instruments. My small ensemble turned out to be an ob, ob, EH trio and we ended up working on the La Ci Darem variations. I didn't think I'd be able to catch up but somehow I was able to! The English Hornist commented that my sound is great for only playing for 10 months. And she was also impressed that I was able to keep up. Haha, so was I. Those variations were actually tons of fun. And after not being able to hear myself for an hour I welcomed the chamber music experience. Though I still want to play in an orchestra some day I think I will also want to be playing in a smaller ensemble as well. They're two totally different experiences I think. Anyway, those variations were so fun that I think I want to pick up the ob, clarinet, bassoon version. Only problem is that then I'd get stuck with the hard part. *gulp*

The last part of the program was the recital where we listened to the first and second movements of the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto and the Poulenc Trio for Oboe and Bassoon, among others. Both were great. We also got to perform our three little pieces for big double reed ensemble. I'd say it turned out well though I wonder what the audience made of the sonority. I guess I'll never know. I'm glad that's over though so that I don't have to work on those pieces anymore and can focus on my own stuff.

I found out that the 2007 IDRS conference might be in upstate New York so I will definitely try to attend that when the time comes.

All in all it was a great experience. It was fun to hang around so many other oboists. I realized that though I have a long way to go, I've already learned so much and have come a long way. Had I attended this event with the sound I had before I would have stuck out like a sore thumb. The fact that I was able to blend in was amazing and speaks a lot for how wonderful my teacher is. I am really so indebted to her for guiding me along the right path. The entire day I kept realizing just how much she's given me already. I am so thankful. I need to let her know that!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Back from the dark side of the moon . . .

. . . and boy was it an exhausting expedition.

September started out innocently enough. I was excited about *finally* being back in school full-time. I'd only been dreaming about it for the last 4 years or so. I bought all my books early and set up my study area at home. I bought breakfast foods so that I could grab something to eat before the commute in. Loads upon loads of laundry were done so that my student wardrobe would be all set. I was ready. Or so I thought.

The first thing that caught me off guard was physical exhaustion. I hadn't been that tired since the year I taught second grade. Like a big old nerd I was carrying two giant science textbooks along with some notebooks around. I had no clue how much walking I would be doing. According to the old NYC wisdom that 20 blocks equals a mile I was walking over a mile on some days. With the 30 pound backpack. The one hour commute each way probably had an impact too. All I know was that I was chronically tired those first two weeks.

Perhaps that's when I managed to start falling behind in my courses. I was studying at least a little bit every day so I felt that I was on top of things. But during the week of the 18th, things started to fall apart. I had both an Organic Chemistry and a Biology test coming up, on the 26th and 29th, respectively. When I sat down to figure out where I was at that week, I suddenly realized that I was not in good shape at all. A period of panic (but not much useful work) ensued.

I had an oboe lesson on Wednesday the 21st. I had been looking forward to it and was hoping it would help me recharge. Once we got the practice room door to finally open (there was an issue with my key) the lesson went off to a reasonably good start. But somewhere near the end I started struggling. At one point my teacher told me that I wasn't committed to doing the correct embouchure yet, that I could now form it but for some reason wasn't able to hold on to it. I was completely devastated. In hindsight I definitely read too much into it; she was just stating the obvious. But at that moment I felt like the world's biggest loser. I have been studying with her for a few months now and we've been talking about the embouchure since the second lesson. How could it be that I still hadn't managed to perfect it? I think I can say that the hour right after the lesson was the low point of my first month back at school. I walked out of the lesson with my little water container in hand (it was a baby food jar). Can you believe that it slipped out of my hand and onto the college steps, cracking in many pieces? I nearly lost it. I bent down and carefully picked up all the pieces and deposited them in a glass recycling bin and then I found a quiet corner on campus and wept. I felt just like that broken jar, shattered and useless. How could I still not be good at absolutely anything? It seemed that the only thing I was good at was being bad at many different things at the same time. How could I love music so much yet be undisciplined? How could I quit my lucrative job to go back to school and then fall behind within weeks? Why did I lose control of my health and appearance so that now I felt so frumpy, old, fat, and ugly next to all the young students at school? Have you ever had those moments? Where absolutely everything sucked? And then it was followed by guilt. How could I be there wallowing in self-pity when there are people all over the country and the world with real problems? That thought shook me up somewhat and I was able to continue plodding along.

I guess since I had reached a low point there was no where to go but up. But the climb up was not immediate. I studied hard for my Organic test that weekend. Yet when I went in on Monday I panicked and blanked out. I left the test knowing that I had not done very well. From there I went to study Biology with some others from the class. But again I was met with disappointment. They were clearly well caught up in class and were talking about things that I hadn't prepared yet. Feelings of dread were about to come over me again but I decided to take control of things instead. I excused myself and went off to a library to study what I needed to study. I realized I had two options for the Bio test. Stay unprepared and feel as badly as I did after the Orgo test or give it my all and try to actually do well. The latter seemed like an insurmountable task since I was quite behind in Biology but somehow I managed to study mostly non stop for about three days. I was nervous going into the test on Thursday but I tried to keep a positive attitude. Rather than sit and panic for 45 minutes like I did for Orgo, I dove right in. I opened the first page and just started writing (usually I look at the entire test first). After an excrutiating 100 minutes of thinking and writing the test was over and I was feeling GOOD! I think I may have actually aced it! Even if I don't though, I finally figured out how best to study for all of my classes. And now that I have things under control I am feeling much better.

I think I tend to get into these hopeless states when I lose control of the things I am supposed to do. Both my husband and I are sacrificing so much for me to have this opportunity. I can't afford to keep procrastinating and doing poorly. I have no excuses for it! I *must* learn proper time management as that will be the only way for me to do everything I want to do in the coming years.

So after feeling very horrible for about three weeks I am finally around the bend. Having learned how to study for my courses (which is the thing I am supposed to be doing) I am now feeling much better. Even the desire to practice my oboe daily has returned! Once I have those two things going I can add a few workouts a week and I will be golden.

Oh that was another thing. I did attempt to go to the gym nearly two weeks ago. And what happened? I somehow managed to strain or pull a neck/shoulder muscle and I am *still* in pain from it. Ugh!

And I did write to my teacher to tell her that I felt horrible about disappointing her at our last lesson. She wrote me a very nice email back and said that I was doing incredibly well and that I simply have too overly high expectations (I've heard that before *giggle*). She assured me that embouchure and the other things we've been discussing are things that take years to "perfect" and that I am certainly on the right track. *sigh of relief* As much as I do enjoy learning science my music is still the most important thing. It would absolutely break my heart if I never reached my musical goals. As long as I am on the right path for them I don't care how long it will take and I will be happy. And the rest of my life will be ok too.

The school did finally approve my commuter locker so I no longer have to break my back. Perhaps now my shoulder/neck will finally heal. I ended up getting a B on the Orgo test. Not great, but not overly bad either.

Ok not sure if this all came out very clearly but I am rushing to get it down before I head off to church. I will try to update more regularly now that things have mostly normalized.

Thanks for your support!