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!