Friday, December 22, 2006

Wisdom gained

I had a good lesson with J Wednesday evening. The first thing we did was go over reed tying. I had started loosening up on the tension and my reeds were turning out somewhat loose. This was causing problems with overtying to compensate and with leakage. We also reviewed knife sharpening on a block (as opposed to ceramic sticks) and I got some lingering scraping questions answered.

After that we spent time on embouchure. I've had ongoing issues with this (which I'm sure has been somewhat frustrating for my teachers). We ended up having a nice conversation about what my motivations for reverting back to a wrong embouchure could be. For some reason I was spending a lot of time "readying" my embouchure before even putting the reed in my mouth to play. J helped me understand that the embouchure doesn't really begin until we start playing and that all those readying efforts are a waste of energy and tend to make me overly nervous. She made me see that it's ok if the note is not perfect from the get-go, that that's why we want flexibility in our embouchures so that we can adjust it. She also helped me see that my ears are perfectly capable of discerning whether the note is sounding well or not. This may all sound subtle or obvious but it's actually a paradigm shift in my playing. I had been in "helpless" mode where once a note was sounding I judged it as good or bad but didn't really think of it as mutable. If reeds were acting up some day and things were sounding bad I would think "oh poor me" rather than "what can I do to make this better". I feel that this is going to help me tremendously with my line problem because now I will think of my playing as dynamic. Rather than be a passive process where the music happens to me and the instrument is controlling me, I want to be the "driver of the bus" as J says. These insights came at the perfect time because as I mentioned before control will be the theme of my third year of oboe study. Before I had only a vague notion of what this would mean. Slowly it's becoming clearer.

The final subject we talked about was vibrato. We only talked about it a little bit. She reiterated the exercise she had given me the last time and explained that while I may be doing vibrato now without it, it will help me gain control of my vibrato. There's that word again! I just hope it all clicks some day.


So, I've been having issues with rushing my practice sessions. I suspect that this may be a common problem for adult amateurs. Now that I am over the stage where I wasn't producing sound consistently and am able to bungle through music, I tend to just want to only play "real" stuff. Gone are the days where I would patiently spend an hour on just long tones and slow scales. Now I do a few long tones and some fast but sloppy scales and then start playing music. This is exactly what I didn't want to do, but here I am doing this almost on a daily basis. Part of why I wanted a method book is that they have little etudes which are somewhat satisfying to play but also deal with technical issues.

I realized that the solution is not to revert back to only long tones and play no music at all. What I really need to do, and should have done a while back, is double my daily practice time. I have the endurance to do it now. And a lot of days I have the motivation too. I've just been too disorganized and lazy to get it to work. This morning I tried something I hadn't done in a few months: I practiced in the morning. My morning practice session turned out to be an hour long and I did long tones and slow scales exclusively. Contrary to the weary feeling this gives me in the evening, it actually felt quite good first thing in the morning. It helped me wake up! And my E major scale was all the better for it.

Now when I get home I can look forward to a second practice session which will be all "real" playing. Rather than procrastinate until 10PM when I am too tired I think I will want to jump right into it because I perceive that type of practice as not being drudgery. Woohoo! I think this might work. As long as I can get up at 7AM ...

I've recruited my husband to help me with this because I really feel strongly that this is the only way that I will continue to progress. An hour a day is not enough anymore. My progress has slowed to a crawl and I'm just not addressing all the issues I need to address on a daily basis. I'll let you all know how it's going.

In case I don't have time to write again this weekend: I want to wish everyone all the best for the holidays! *hugs*

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I found a link to this article about Liang Wang on the Oboe Bboard. The article was interesting and is indeed useful to share with others who don't understand our plight. What intrigued me more about the link was that there was a sound sample of the Marcello oboe concerto. When I clicked it on I was glad to hear the opening chords of the second movement as this is the one I've been working on.

I must admit that his sound wasn't what I was expecting. Just this week I was reading a thread on those oboe boards about the American sound and how it's gone in a wrong direction, blah blah blah. After hearing the clip I am starting to wonder if maybe some of those comments were right. I certainly don't want to put him down as I could only hope to play a fraction of how well he plays. But there is something off about the sound. Maybe it's the recording, but it did seem a bit clarinety to me. Nothing wrong with the clarinet of course, but this is supposed to be an oboe. Overall the performance was good but the sound did seem to lack some of the ring I was expecting. Or maybe there's something weird with the vibrato. Or was it the interpretation? Is he phrasing oddly or ending phrases abruptly or something? I can't quite put my finger on why I wasn't more impressed with the sound. Gosh, I hope I'm not talking out of my @ss.

Here's a link to the oboe sound gallery. I'd be curious to know which are regarded as most beautiful and which are regarded just good by other people (all oboes are at least good mwahahah). Compare Wang's version to De Lancie's. The latter is hauntingly beautiful and powerful to me. The Robin Williams version made me chuckle, though I guess it's probably the most historically accurate. It's like a dress with way too much lace. If I ever have time I'd like to look into all those clips some more and figure out which are my favorite, etc.

I don't mean this all to be a rant, I just want to understand what's going on so that I can learn from it and apply it to my own, very VERY humble, playing.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Now I'm officially on gig hangover. That's the part of it that really sucks. One of my first thoughts right when we ended the final performance was "when will I get another gig like this again?" It was so great to play in a group. In fact, this whole experience got me thinking about that in general. Why is it so fulfilling for me to play in ensembles? I mean, I play a pretty "showy" instrument in that there is a decent sized solo repertoire and even in an orchestral setting there is a chance for one to stand out in solos. I remember that when I first started playing oboe that was one of the things that worried me. Initially I was ONLY about the whole ensemble thing. And even now it's still what makes me happiest. I suspect that after always feeling like an outsider everywhere it is especially wonderful to be a part of something bigger and feel like I actually belong. But the cool thing that I am noticing as time goes on is that my instrument has such a unique sound that it tends to stand out even when it's blending in. Kind of like me. Even though I can mingle and socialize just fine, I am always very different from the crowd. In a good way, I hope. As I continue to grow I am a tiny bit less scared of the soloing aspect. I was pretty stressed right before my solos but I have to admit that I was also excited to be heard. Speaking of which, I might have some very low quality (and possibly illegal) sound clips from one of the performances. If I can clean them up some I might be able to share them.

So here's a recap on the performances:

Opening Night: This was by far the most nerve-wracking performance. Everyone in the cast and even some of the musicians were very nervous. I had to keep thinking to myself that this was just like any other rehearsal. Looking out into the audience would make my heart flutter. We ended up being placed on one side of the audience, below the stage. We weren't hidden like in a real pit but at least the audience was not facing us directly. They had to turn their heads to look at us. I never looked anywhere but at my music while I was playing but during my breaks I would look out. Every once in a while an audience member would look at us for a while. So I can only imagine that some were staring during my solos. Eep! J made two new reeds for me and I ended up playing on the better one of those two. It was somewhat hard and I felt that I was loud, but apparently the sound people made everything sound balanced. The nice thing about the stout reed was that it responded well on my fake EH solo (the high pressure one). The lyrical solos came out ok but not great.

Saturday afternoon performance: Is there some kind of bad luck with middle performances? I woke up to find that neither of the two new reeds sounded good. The sound seemed very honky to me. My sister-in-law and her new boyfriend came out for this performance and he started falling asleep a few minutes into it! They ended up leaving after intermission. This turned out to be good because I had some major drama going on second act. During intermission I played around with the reeds some more, trying to get them to soften up. Things seemed to be going ok but during my favorite fast tune I started noticing issues with my higher register. An entire section ended up sounding an octave lower. At that point I wasn't sure what was going on and I ended up swabbing before the next fast number. That one started out ok but then I noticed that certain higher notes were not sounding right at all. For a second I panicked and thought that perhaps the oboe had broken! I look at the page and see that a perky solo is coming up. I swab again semi frantically and go in for a few notes but something was still wrong. The good thing was that instead of a weird different note I was now getting a more familiar gurgling sound. Water in a hole! I quickly thought. I busted out my cigarette paper with only about 10 measures to go before my solo. There was nothing in any of the usual culprits and I almost started panicking again but then I had a Zen moment and realized that it had to be in the tiny octave key. Sure enough the darn thing was a mess. I managed to clean it up with just enough time to play my solo. *phew* The rest of the performance was less eventful. I was pretty proud that not only did I figure out the problem but I managed to remain relatively calm (at least on the outside) throughout the ordeal.

Saturday evening: I had a long break in between and tested all of my reeds once again. For this performance I used the new one for fast numbers and was able to get an older one to work for me for the slower numbers. The softer reed had been playing very sharp before which was why I had ignored it but for some reason the intonation was fine on Saturday. I was glad to have this reed because it allowed me to play around with the dynamics (at least as much as I am capable of at this point). So all in all, this was the best performance for me. Oh, and the trumpet players went all out at the end which is always fun (albeit painful) to listen to.

I will miss the Merrily "orchetra" but have good memories of my "official" debut. In a way I am glad to be able to refocus on my own stuff for now. I didn't play Marcello at all last week nor my scales. Last night I was able to spend time on long tones again and I was actually happy about that for a change. I'm hoping for some more of the same tonight.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A picture is worth a thousand words

Oooo, it's past midnight. That means that it is now officially my 2nd year oboe anniversary!!!! I'd just like to take this moment to thank God for the oboe. Two years later and I am still as marveled by it as the first day. I always find it difficult to put my very strong feelings about this into words. Lately I've been comparing these feelings to a nova. Hopefully some day I will be able to express this all through my playing and thus share some of this bliss with others.

For now I just want to share a picture of me and Luna in the pit:


I couldn't have asked for a better present on this occasion than to be in an ensemble playing genuine oboe parts. I'm taking this as an auspicious sign. Hugs and kisses to you all!

Friday, December 01, 2006

In the pit

Ok, so I'm still not sure if we'll be literally in a pit, but I am definitely officially a member of the "Merrily Orchestra". *bows deeply*

Last night was our fourth rehearsal out of 5 total. The very first one last Monday went pretty well. I didn't feel very nervous because I figured that they weren't expecting perfection anyway. Driving into the City for my second rehearsal, however, I was a lot more nervous. I had had the music for 3 days and could no longer play the "oops, this is my first reading" card. Luckily, my slow solos are technically easy so I wasn't nervous for those. Well, maybe just a tad nervous on some high hard-to-tune notes. But really the only nerve wracking part is near the end of Act 1 where I am playing a witty little EH solo (on oboe). I messed it up the first time and wanted to make sure it came out correctly. I'm all alone (besides the rhythm section) and the timing has to be perfect with the singers. Oh, and the piano and bass are quite syncopated and I have to tune them out in order to stay on time. Oh, and there is one 6/4 measure thrown in when the rest of it is in 4/4 cut time. It's only 7 measures long but those are the longest seconds ever. By the time I finish my heart is pounding. I've managed to not mess up the notes but even last night one of the directors still wasn't happy with my phrasing. I'll work on it some more tonight.

My favorite pieces to play are the one song that's in 3, just because it's funny and the bass line cracks me up, and the last slow piece of the play because I have a pretty solo which I get to play multiple times.

Even if they never call me back again to do this sort of thing, I am very grateful to have this opportunity now because I am learning quite a lot. For example:

* The absolute most difficult part of this has nothing to do with intonation, sight-reading, or even endurance. What's killing me is dynamics. I never thought of the oboe as being particularly loud, especially after my latest gigs, but if I am not being careful I feel that I stand out too much. Maybe it's a timbre thing too I guess. Obviously if the three trumpets and trombone and the 3 saxes are playing, I get lost, but when it's just reeds I have to work VERY hard to blend in.
* Related to the above is the whole "quiet entrance" phenomenon. NOW I FINALLY understand what other oboists are talking about when they complain about this. I am not playing in every song and sometimes my breaks are a few minutes long. Why then do I have to come in pianissimo on some low note?? Have they any idea how hard that is to do? Especially when you haven't played on your reed for a while and it has dried out. You (or at least I) have NO clue what the thing is going to sound like.
* Clarinets and flutes can play very very very softly. *boggle*
* Thank God I have been working on scales with more than 3 accidentals. These folks love B-flat and B major.

All in all, it's really turning out to be a fun experience. Our last full run through is tomorrow and then we perform Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening. I'm not sure if I already mentioned this, but Saturday will be my 2 year oboe anniversary. I feel that it's a good sign that I will be performing on that day. Though I have played a few times at church functions with the oboe these upcoming performances are my first "real" ones (i.e. it wasn't my friends who just let me play for fun). And potentially the audience may be quite large and may include other musicians. *gulp* No matter, I will try not to let nerves get in the way and will simply think of it as celebrating the anniversary of my best decision ever.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Moment Musicale

Check out this email I got today:

Hi Hilda --

My name is XYZ; I am co-musical directing "Merrily We Roll Along", a full-length musical written by Stephen Sondheim going up in Lerner Auditorium December 8 and 9. We are looking for musicians to play the Reed 3 part, written for clarinet, english horn, oboe and tenor. If you would be interested in playing oboe and any of those other instruments that you might play that would be fantastic. We are getting close to show time and are still very short on pit musicians.

More information is below; let me know if you're interested.

I am excited, but scared that I'm not good enough. I can only go for oboe because I am too rusty on sax and it would mess up my oboe embouchure.

Monday, November 20, 2006


In a little less than 3 weeks I will have been playing the oboe for 2 years. Can you believe it? I certainly can't. Because I can no longer imagine my life without the oboe, it feels as though I have been playing a lot longer. However, some days when I am working mostly on only "basic" stuff I feel as though I am still very much a beginner. I think that the reality is that I am somewhere in between; it's probably safe to say that I am firmly entrenched in the "intermediate" category. Considering the reputation my instrument has for being difficult, I guess I've progressed well in 2 years' time. What's even better is that I am still completely in love with the oboe. Even more so than before if that's possible. I have my moments where I feel discouraged, but all I have to do is listen to a few recordings and I am reinspired and re-energized. Hearing the oboe or EH still puts a huge smile on my face and makes my eyes well up. Every day I thank God for it because it has changed my life for the better forever.

I realized over the course of the last week that this upcoming year's theme will be control. At this point I have at least touched on all the basics. The goal now will be to gain control of them so that I am in control of my playing. I have to get to the point where I know what will be coming out of my instrument at all times. Right now I may try to play pp, but it might turn out a little louder than expected. Or I may get no sound at all. I spent a lot of this past year on my intonation so that major area is my best one. This coming year I need to spend more time on breathing/air flow, vibrato, sound, and dynamics. Oh, and reed making of course. At least I am starting to see some progress with the reeds. The one I took into my lesson yesterday was my best looking reed yet. She had to work on it some but they are turning out better and better. I took a picture of my new reed corner and will share it with you once I get it to the computer. I'm convinced that creating a comfortable place for me to work on reeds at is part of what's helping me improve.

I am excited about this coming year because I think that at the end of it I will finally be making some really beautiful music. At that point, hopefully I can really start to work on the repertoire, both etudes and solo pieces. Maybe at some point next year I will finally find a nice group to play regularly with.

Speaking of which, my bassoonist friend called me recently and is interested in restarting the quartet. I don't want to get up my hopes too much, but so far this has been the only group I've been happy in (aside from my duet buddies). Apparently he has a project with a Brazilian singer where we'd be accompanying her on some Villa-Lobos music. I think that means it will be hard! We might also prepare some more modern quartet pieces. I'll rejoice about it when it actually happens.

For now I guess I have to put up with well-meaning but clueless arrangers. My husband got invited to a church concert by an ambitious arranger. He even wrote in some parts for oboe. But then he forgot to show up to the rehearsal last week. And the papers are a mess. The rehearsal was another complete fiasco. The concert is this coming Saturday. I am not sure if I will bother participating or not because at this point it will probably end up just being my husband on piano. All the brass and wind players were very discouraged and will probably not show up to the concert.

I have another lead on a possible group, but have to look into it first.

The good thing is that tomorrow I meet up with my new duet buddy. We were supposed to be a trio but that didn't work out. I should get to play some more EH again tomorrow. WOOOOOT! I came *this* close to buying a Fox EH that a friend of J's was selling. But then I decided to hold off because I really didn't want to use up my entire savings and because I figured I should just keep focusing on oboe for now. I'll have one soon enough :-)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Chinny Chin Chin

My last lesson went reasonably well. My reed wasn't as good as the one from last week; she had to work on it a lot longer. But it turned out ok at the end. Again, not great enough to play with others (not that I am doing that anyway) but good enough to use at home for practice.

I'm happy to report that she did notice improvement with the long tone/dynamics exercise. I was able to produce the different dynamics on demand (pp, mf, f, ff). She upped the ante by asking me to go from ff to pp on the same note. I wasn't able to control my air flow well enough and the sound ended up stopping. So that's one thing I will need to work on for this coming week. Also, my vibrato has taken a nosedive. The problem is that when I try to work the vibrato in, I tend to get louder. There are just so many things to think about! Well this week I need to try to figure out how to work the vibrato in without the dynamics changing. I also need to work a bit more on not going sharp with the fortisimos. More reed rolling exercise for me.

My teacher was quite happy with the slow movement of the Marcello. She said that the intonation was great and she liked my dynamics. I've also improved in terms of air flow and line. It doesn't sound as disjointed as before where I was worrying about just note at a time instead of entire phrases. The two negative things she noticed were that I was moving my fingers more than necessary (especially with the half hole) and that my chin was moving around. Problem is that I don't even feel it moving. She thinks I may be doing it to try to tune up my notes but I wonder if it's me trying keep my embouchure in place. Either way I have to practice with my mirror again to make sure I am not chewing or otherwise moving my jaw/chin. UGH! I am quite disturbed by this habit because it's almost subconscious or something since I don't feel it happening. When will my corners and chin just stay in place? Hopefully soon!

I may have some playing opportunities coming up . . . more on that in a later post.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hilda 1 Reeds 87

Last Sunday I had a lesson and took two reeds in for inspection. Guess what? One of them was actually good! I've had nearly good ones before where my teacher would fix just a few things on them, particularly on the tip. But this reed's tip needed NO adjustment at all. When I looked at it under her light I almost got goosebumps. It looked how it was supposed to look! WOOHOO! She made a few scrapes in the back and that was it. The sound is not amazing but it plays comfortably and acceptably. I have been struggling so much with knife sharpening of all things and it was really hampering my progress in the reed making front. I knew that the knives felt better this weekend and that must be why the tip came out well. Let's hope that I don't have to make another 100 reeds before I get the next decent one.

That was the good news. The bad news is that E-flat minor kicked my butt. And the other bad news it that my embouchure still needs some work. It's improved, but as I tire I struggle to keep my corners and chin in the right place and sometimes I bite too. Is it normal to still be dealing with this? When do the child students rid themselves of these habits?

I guess I'm paranoid because I didn't get to play the Marcello at my last lesson. After celebrating the reed success (my other reed was a complete dud by the way) we did long tones and ended up staying there for the remainder of the lesson. So I left wondering if she noticed something really wrong with my tone production or she just happened to want to return to basics on that particular day. I know that we moved very fast at the beginning so maybe she just wants to backtrack a little bit for thoroughness's sake. She said that I am focusing way too much on intonation and that my sound has suffered somewhat because of it. Apparently I've started to overcompensate with my embouchure to ensure the proper intonation. She'd rather me not play perfectly in tune but focus more on getting a stronger sound. I'm been dampering my sound too much in trying to sound beautiful and in tune. At one point she told me I was trying to skip a year to which I replied that I have a lot of years to make up for. I think she really feels my pain for wanting this really badly but having a complicated life now.

My first few days of practice after the lesson felt weird. I spend the majority of my practice session doing long tones and slow scales. I do think I really needed it though. Today I finally felt better with the exercises she gave me. I think I am starting to understand where she's going with the sound thing. I don't have to damper the sound in order for it to sound pretty. Quite the contrary. When I am not biting and my chin and corners are correct, the sound that comes out is a lot more vibrant and "singing". It's a little harder to control the volume but I wasn't doing that well with the before anyway so now I am following her suggestions about air speed and support. Let's see what happens this coming Sunday.

In terms of the Marcello, I've been focusing on the 2nd movement ever since I switched to the C minor version. It's VERY hard on my chops to get through the whole thing. In fact, my embouchure tends to die out somewhere halfway and I need to take a few bars of rest before continuing. The good thing is that the soreness I feel is at the corners of my lips so hopefully that means that I am working that area and that it will get stronger soon, enabling me to keep the correct embouchure for longer and longer periods of time.

Sometimes I wish we were also working out of a method book too. Maybe it's because I'm a nerd or because I am so frustrated at not having start young and want to make up for that, but there's something satisfying about being able to say "I finished xyz book". *sigh* I just feel a constant need to be evaluated and to know how I'm progressing in all areas. Why is it that method books are not normally used with adult students?

And with that question, I am off to bed. Tomorrow will be another long day at work and I have to come home and practice AND start another reed before we go out to the movies. :-D Happy playing everyone!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mannes revisited

Whenver I contemplate winning the lottery my thoughts inevitably gravitate towards this program. I just realized that it's probably possible to do the entire thing part-time at night. Sure, it may take 6 years, but at least I know there is a way, albeit impractical, to get a little bit of the conservatory experience. Hanging out with a bunch of music geeks is so appealing to me. But I'm sure it's not lovey dovey at all. I bet you that even these adult students are competitive. Oh well. I can always dream.

Time to go practice now.

Friday, October 27, 2006

An attempt to catch up

Now that the doctors at work have switched to digital recording, I borrowed one of the old mini tape recorders from them. The idea was to dictate my posts as I drove around, since that's when I tend to get most of my inspirations for writing. The plan hasn't quite yet come to fruition. But since I've become at least partially optimistic in the last few years, I do still have hopes of updating my blog more regularly.

One of the things I thought about this week was that I've been trying to keep the blog fairly impersonal, focusing mostly on music. I figured no one would want to read about my daily struggles outside of the practice room. But then I realized that this is part of why it's been hard to update it lately. Back when I was at the corporate job I had ample free time and a LOT of mental energy to devote to my music. I could easily come up with blog entries dealing with music and just music. That's not the case right now. I feel pretty inundated with everything going on and am unable to write about music on a daily basis. In order for that river to flow again I need to relieve myself of some of the things burdening me.

So what's been going on?

* Hmm, let's start with lite fare. One of the kittens has a new home. Our friend from church took her in. The kitten now has a big family which includes a 5 year old girl, an almost 2 year old boy, and a male puppy! They've named her Suzy.
* We've named the kitten we're keeping Cleo.
* My brother and my husband took their CPE tests last Wednesday. If my brother passes he will qualify to graduate and will be granted his Associates Degree (even though he has over 90 credits . . . long story). If my husband passes then he only has to take three more courses and he too will get his AA. I am more worried about how my brother fared as it was a retake for him and they only get 3 tries before the schools give them a hard time. He really needs to have something good happen to him so that he can use that as impetus to get things going in his life again. I feel like he's committing the same mistakes I made in my early 20's. I wish there was a way to protect him from it all but all along we've hurt him by not letting him fall and learn to pick himself back up.
* My sister-in-law (who lives with us and just turned 19) enlisted to join the Army and is leaving on January 3rd. I think the magnitude of this hasn't quite hit me yet as I am in denial. I have a hard time understanding her decision and seeing how it will be for the best. But I can't impose on her my vision of what her life should be. I guess all we can do is pray for her health and safety.
* Since August 5th, all of our parents are living in the Dominican Republic. This is the longest I've ever been away from my mother. It's been good and bad. There is so much tension (more on my end at this point) between my dad and me that though I miss her it's healthier for me to have him farther away. At this point, however, I am starting to miss him too. I wasn't quite ready for how much their retirement would upset my own life. Our Sundays were set in stone, now I feel that we are wandering around a bit lost ...
* ... now that we're on the subject of Sundays, we haven't gone to our church all month. I can't remember the last time I missed that many Masses in a row. I may have been 12 years old. There is all kinds of drama going on with our church band. Be careful what you wish for, indeed. I have never felt comfortable with the Mass I started attending 14 years ago. It's a Spanish Charismatic mass which means that it's a lot livelier than what I was used to. Over the years as I've gotten more and more involved with the music I seemed to forget about my initial unease and just rejoiced in the camaraderie. But for the past few months I've been feeling a noticeable void in my life. I've started to feel as though I have become spiritually barren. This makes sense since I have not actively worked on my spiritual side in many years. Add to this a recent meeting about music reform at our church, my husband's continual involvement with an artist who has frequent Sunday gigs, and my general sense of exhaustion/saturation and you get an ugly mixture. Tomorrow we met with our pastor regarding our absence and the future of our group and of that mass. I don't know what I want at this point, but I do know that I at least need some time off to examine my options without any pressure.
* Work is very intense. So intense, in fact, that I have no time to think about how intense it is until I get home feeling like an overripe fruit which splatted onto the ground. I thought this was what I wanted. Because I have indeed conquered procrastination in one fell swoop (at least at work). It is impossible to procrastinate when patients are waiting, phones are ringing, and doctors are paging you. I do admit that there is a certain rush to all this. But this constant sensation of rush and stress is unhealthy I fear. Were it to be better if I was higher up in the food chain? Or would the added responsibility make it unbearable?
* Despite my chronic fatigue (I think it's finally beginning to subside somewhat) I still find myself compelled to stay on this pre-med route. Without it my life seems to have no direction.
* Well, there is one exception to what I just wrote. Let's just say that it is pretty clear to me that my biological clock is ticking. So I find myself frequently daydreaming about a life full of diapers, play dates, and music.
* This is followed by daydreams of me actually doing something about my health. I've been feeling quite unhealthy lately and the desire to change that is slowly growing inside me. Perhaps it will gain enough momentum to actually lead me to make some healthy changes in my life. But who has time to fit working out into an already hectic schedule? And eating healthy requires SO much planning. And a lot of money.
* The next thought is that even if I were to get into perfect Mommy shape there is still a logistical problem to deal with. My husband's schedule right now is so hectic that sometimes three days go by where the only time we spend together is while we are sleeping.
* In spite of all this, I do still have my musical goals. And part of my problem is trying to figure out how to work out the rest of my life so that I can still attain said goal. Thank GOD for the oboe because though my motivation has been less than desired lately (maybe because I'm so tired!) I am convinced that it is the sole reason why I am managing to keep my sanity. I don't know if I've become a wimp or something, but for some reason I feel nearly completely overwhelmed these days. At one point I was starting to feel quite blue all of the time, but my music pulled me through. I am still more blue than is normal for me, but I am trying to stay optimistic.
* Some questions: How do most people do it? Do they think less and live more? How can you convince yourself that you are leading your life the right way, that you are not in a perpetual cycle of missed opportunities and wasted potential? Will my musical progress ever stop being bittersweet? Will my Type-A tendencies get the best of me and carry me through the long road to becoming a physician? And if so, would that lead to my fulfillment or to me burning out while trying to "have it all" (yet not achieving much)? Or can I break all the chains and lead an unscripted life? Will my creative and academic sides ever reach a truce? To be continued . . .

And so perhaps now that I've gotten all of that off my chest I can go back to the regularly scheduled program:

I thought that E major was evil. Naive little oboe student was I. Left handed D#/E-flat becomes quite easy after a while. I don't remember when it happened but I no longer worry about that note at all. What's kicking my butt all over town right now is the E-flat minor scale, in all its tasty varieties. The Marcello Adagio is also kicking my chop's butt. I play though it once and I am done for the day. What a pain in the embouchure!

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Guess what I did today?????

For the first time ever, I played on an English Horn!!

Sometimes I forget why I am doing all this but today I got a sweet reminder. My first few notes were clumsy but then I relaxed and let the air work better and suddenly I was getting a decent sound out of it. My new friend also remembered that the reason I am playing oboe is because of "Swan of Tuonela" so she promptly placed the music for it in front of me and I played through about half of it. Then I played several other of my favorite excerpts. I didn't want to stop playing because it felt so wonderful.

I'd always worry that whenever I got to play EH that it would be a struggle. Instead if felt quite natural. And it was so,so satisfying to hear its unique sound coming out through me.

It was pure bliss. :-D

And now I know I am not doing all this in vain.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Hi!! I'm still here wading my way through Oboeland. In just a few short months I will have been playing for 2 years. I can hardly believe it. It's become such a big part of my life that I have a hard time remembering myself before it. If even today I sometimes feel aimless, how in the world was I managing before? When I had no real passion in life? Poor little me.

That all being said, for a few weeks it was looking as though things were going downhill. Thankfully I've managed to work myself out of the funk. At least for now. If there's one thing I've learned in playing this instrument (and I'm sure this applies to all others) is that the path will have many ups and downs, regardless of how far along the path you are. The trick, especially as an adult student, is to make sure you progress as much as you can during upswings so that you don't lose too much on the downswings.

After I started this job I was no longer able to keep weekly lessons with T. I am now working in the suburb where I live at which makes it harder to get into the City for things. J is even further away and I haven't seen in over a month now. Having two teachers has been mostly good but sometimes it can get complicated. Especially since I haven't found the right way to tell J about T. I think she wouldn't mind, but I don't want her to think that I've been seeing her less solely because of T. It's really been logistics more than anything. We had no place to meet at over the summer other than her place which is far from me. Then there's the whole reed issue. Their styles are somewhat different so I have to make them differently for each teacher. I am trying to see which ones work out the best for me, but have no definitive answer yet. Oh then there's also the question of what to play. J has me studying Corelli and T assigned me Marcello. I haven't touched the Corelli in weeks because it was the Marcello that I prepared for that audition. Now I am meeting J this weekend and I need to brush up on it. The good thing is that since the Marcello is more challenging, I am finding that the Corelli feels a lot easier.

Am I doing something wrong here in terms of the teacher thing? I am feeling some guilt about it because I am technically lying by omission. I guess I'm afraid of hurting fer feelings. What would you advise? I think I am going to have to mention something at this upcoming lesson. The main reason being that T and I have worked on vibrato quite a lot already and I was supposed to be learning it with J at my next lesson.

I mentioned last time (I think) that my high A has finally started to work for me. For whatever reason that was the note I was having the most trouble with on all accounts. I've always felt clumsy fingering it. The sound tended to be almost hollow sounding and kind of dead. And the intonation was consistently flat. One day while working on Marcello and paying a lot of attention to my breathing and support, I noticed that the A was coming out a lot better. The most striking thing was that it had acquired an unmistakably "singing" quality. In one swoop it went from being my worst note to (sometimes) being my best. The first time it happened it really caught me by surprise. I couldn't believe the sound had come from me. Even the feel of it was different from what it had been. It felt rich like creamy milk chocolate. It was such a gratifying feeling! Of course it tends to only happen when I am doing everything right: when I am paying attention to not bite, to keep my throat open, to support well, and to focus my airstream. I think this may have been what remotivated me. All along I've feared that I would never get to a point where I would sound like a "real" oboe. Having a note sound really beautiful like that made me hope that it could indeed happen. I kept working on it and was able to get a nice tone from other notes too every once in a while. I am not sure if all this is somehow related to the vibrato studies. I think they too have helped me focus on my breathing and phrasing.

At the end of my last lesson T gave me a little summary of how the lesson went (she realized that I really appreciate and need specific feedback). The thing that most struck me was when she said that the "pretty sound" has been coming out more and more often. BINGO! I really loved the term because I had been experiencing the phenomenon for a few days or weeks at home and didn't know quite how to explain. All I knew was that things were changing and that my sound seemed more consistent. I guess it's starting to mature. Weee! I don't want to get my hopes up too far or too quickly, but I am definitely excited about this. I don't know why I want this so badly, I just know that it would make me immensely happy to be able to make my instrument sound consistently beautiful. How did this happen? I would have never guessed that this would become my most heartfelt goal in life. *giggle*

And the other question is what would I then do once I get to that point? I underestimated how difficult it would be to find a suitable ensemble in this area. Sure there are lots of groups, but there are also tons of profesionally trained musicians. Groups are either superbly good or completely crappy. And the whole play-at-church thing is not working. In what, if any, denominations is chamber style music played as part of the service? Apparently my Church is trying to get back into Gregorian Chant. And the other ones around town are playing stuff that's more pop or jazz.

Anyway, I just wanted to write about PrettySound. I am sure that my oboe is thinking "Thank GOD that this girl is finally sounding better!" When I first got Luna I still sounded like absolute crap. A year later I was starting to sound better but a few seconds of PrettySound would only occur every few weeks or days. I think that now PrettySound usually pays a visit at least once per practice session. Hurrah! Oh, dear PrettySound, I love you! Please come back soon. And I hope that some day you come to stay forever. :-)

Sunday, September 24, 2006


As promised here are some cute kittens. They love to play around the pile of music I have in the basement. If you look closely there's my original copy of the Corelli:

There are three kittens total:

Here's the Mommy. She was our friendly neighborhood stray. We used to feed her so she was comfortable with us and allowed me to move the kittens indoors. I couldn't bear the thought of them being cold and wet outside. Also one of our neighbors threatened to call the pound on them.

She's actually a very good cat. Very friendly and docile. She likes to meow a lot which is cute. She also took to her litter and scratching post immediately. And she even likes to play music sometimes:

Watch out, Schoenberg!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hi! I'm Chucky. Wanna play??

For me the hardest part about being an adult learner is not having any one else to play with. I don't quite understand why playing with others is so important to me. It's not that I don't enjoy playing by myself. I guess it's that I know it would be so much more fun to make music with others.

I meant to make this post last weekend because I had a particularly bad music week. Recall that last Monday (not this one that just passed) I was sad because I realized I would have been going to my first Wind Ensemble rehearsal had I gotten in. Then comes my clarinetist friend to the rescue! Our trumpet player friend (of annoying concert fame) was getting married this Saturday and all his musician friends wanted to play at the wedding. Clarinetist told me he'd tell the "director" to write a part in for me. There was to be a rehearsal the day before but that was the day of the farewell dinner for the girl I replaced at work. Clarinetist said I could just sight read the part at the wedding. Fine.

So we drive 1.5 hours into Connecticut with Luna the Oboe in tow. I was speeding to make sure I got there early enough to read through my parts a few times. I can't even explain my dismay when I get there to find out that "director" decided not to include me after all since I didn't make it to rehearsal. Pfffft! I sat there and pouted throughout the entire ceremony. How irreverent of me. I then proceeded to get quite tipsy (on wine) at the reception. That was kind of fun while it lasted. When I got home I slept like a log.

The following day (last Sunday) was supposed to be the first meeting of the "New York Amateur Chamber Music Players Group". I had signed up at and expressed my interest in chamber music. A few weeks ago someone finally organized and official group and set up a meeting for the 17th. Thankfully I hadn't gotten my hopes up too high because the founder of the group is MIA and the meeting did not occur.

And so another Monday came and went as I wallowed deeper and deeper in self-pity. I started feeling like an ugly doll that nobody wanted. Oh yeah, and I was PMSing too.

Luckily, Fr. D saved the day. We met up on Thursday to play our duets and had a ton of fun! I'm also set to meet T again next week and hopefully she can get me back on track. I think I'm almost out of the post-audition blues. Hopefully she will give me new stuff to work on or at least help me organize my practice time better. Hmm, I may even work on a reed or two this weekend!

Well I don't want this post to be entirely sad so here's a pic of the cute kittens living in my basement:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006



Thank you for auditioning for the Wind Ensemble this weekend.
This was the most competitive year ever for auditions, and we
unfortunately are not able to offer you a spot in the ensemble at
this time.

We greatly hope you'll continue your interest in the CU Wind
Ensemble. Because our membership changes from year to year, don't hesitate to audition for us in the future.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


So the trip to school for the audition turned into something of an odyssey. I had set up at my Mom's in upper Manhattan and planned to take the subway down so that I wouldn't have to worry about looking for parking by school. I checked to make sure I had everything before I left. A few steps away from the building I felt that my bookbag was too heavy so I decided to leave some of the books in my car. Twenty minutes later and halfway into my subway ride downtown I realized I left the music behind with my MCAT books. I calmly got out at the next stop and took it back uptown. By the time I got back to my car it was 2 o'clock and I ended up having to drive after all. Luckily I found parking but I ended up losing almost all of my warm-up time. I had just 5 minutes before they called me in. Maybe it was for the best though because I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I waited in the warm-up room. What a relief to be done! I thought my heart would jump out of my chest the entire time. Those were the longest 10 minutes ever.

The good news: My Marcello came out pretty well. I was actually a bit disappointed (and a bit worried) when they stopped me halfway. I didn't get a chance to do the ending which was coming out really well. Then again I also didn't have to battle through the longest phrase in the work, the one I tended to run out of breath on. I think that most of the elements were there. It was a big room so my sound seemed very different than usual but I had no time to really think about it. My intonation was good and I think I kept the rhythm well. I even managed to work some dynamics in there. Too bad I didn't get to do the really soft part near the end. Oh well. No matter, I don't think that the Marcello made a difference. I think that at the end of it I had moderately impressed them and was still in the game.

The bad news: I crapped out on the technical sight reading. The damn thing was in E-flat major and for some reason I allowed this to freak me out. I just hadn't played in that key in a while. Also the articulation of the excerpt was all over the place and I messed it up. I somehow got to the end but it was very sloppy.

The expressive sight reading went better because at least I hit all the right notes. It was a mostly legato excerpt in G minor. I tried my hardest to get the dynamics right and to put some vibrato in there. In retrospect I should have done the expressive one first because then I wouldn't have gotten freaked out by the other one. I think they liked the expressive one but I am not sure.

Walking out I thought I maybe had a chance but as I got near the door I heard one of the three judges say "Ehh" in a negative sort of way. So I am expecting to not get in. I'll find out tomorrow night.

It's ok if I don't get in. I learned a lot from the experience. There are other groups I can join, but I may have to pay because they are more like classes offered at different music schools.

When I walked back to the warm-up room there was another oboist there. I'm not sure how many they're looking to take since right now they only have 1. I figured I'd stand a good chance if I were the only one auditioning. However, if anyone else showed up chances are they have more experience than me since they're likely to be undergrads who've been playing at least since high school, if not earlier. The other girl was doing the first movement of the Saint-Saens Sonata (I LOVE that one!). As soon as I heard the first few notes I thought: I'm definitely not getting in. That piece is so lovely it will impress no matter what. Her sound was good as was her breath control, and her technique was fairly good. But as she went on I noticed that she was quite severely sharp (I even turned on my tuner which was in my bag to confirm - is that evil?? haha). She was also playing the piece a bit too quickly.

I was under the impression that intonation, sound, and rhythm would be the most important qualities to show. I'm really curious to see what they regard as most important. I'm assuming that the other oboist sight read better than me. So they'd have to choose between a good albeit out-of-tune sight-reader or between someone who can play in tune but may get lost in the music. I have a feeling they'll choose the former. Especially since intonation tends to be a problem regardless in large wind ensembles.

Well, it's done. It's 21 months to the day since I started playing and I survived my first audition. I think I'll have a toast to that tonight! :-)

High C

Wow, so much has gone on since I last updated. I went through another dark period with my instrument. All of a sudden it seemed that I was losing some of the things I already had some control of like sound, intonation, and breathing. I made the mistake of recording myself during one of those bad days and I got very discouraged. I almost made a post asking whether the world truly needs another bad oboist. For a few days I almost seriously considered quitting. It was such a horrible feeling. I was tempted to write about my negative thoughts just in case that had a cathartic effect, but I didn't like the idea of those ugly words being here forever. Deep down I knew it would pass and I didn't want to make them more "real" by recording them here.

This bad stretch, like all the others before it, came after a prolonged period of not having a lesson. When I finally went into see J she summed up my troubles in one word: biting. I should have known that's why I was playing consistently sharp and with a weird, pinched sound. This is why it's so important to have someone who coaches you regularly. I knew I was doing something wrong, but even though the symptoms were clear I didn't know how to go about fixing things. And to top it off my reeds weren't helping. It was a difficult lesson because we had to go back to doing a lot of long tones and octaves and they sounded horrible. But by the third day or so my intonation and sound were back and I couldn't be happier.

While all this was going on my audition date (TODAY!) was drawing nearer and I was not spending as much time as I wanted to on my Marcello piece. Things got back on track only about 10 days ago and I had a LONG way to go. I ended up seeing T twice in the last week and since by then I was sounding normal again (which isn't great yet, but is ok) she helped me with my interpretation of the piece. We worked on articulation, dynamics, breathing, and vibrato. For warm-up she had me do some slow C scales since I've been slacking on my regular scale studies. At first I wasn't blowing enough air and my pitch and sound in the upper register were sagging. With her watching and giving suggestions I eventually managed to play my very best C scale ever. When I got to the top C I could actually feel that the note was vibrating and singing. It was my prettiest high C ever! I never realized that when you're doing everything right you can feel that the sound is beautiful, not just hear it. Now that I know what that cantabile sound feels like I am working on trying to get it to come out more often. I haven't gotten it to work up there again, but it does happen occasionally with middle D, E, and F. Every once in a while my high A can do it, but most of the things that note is still my worst sounding of them all.

My audition is at 2:30 today. I can get through the entire piece now without passing out. Part of the problem is that I am not playing it at the marked tempo yet and there are two longish phrases that I tend to run out of breath in. But if I try to play it quickly enough to negate the breathing problem, I tend to play messy. So for the last few days I've worked on finding a balance. I've also had to wean off my metronome and the tuner. That was a lot harder than I expected. Especially the metronome. I find myself doubting my timing while I'm playing. When I played it for T and she acted like a judge she said it was actually good as was my intonation. What she wanted me to pay more attention to was blowing through my phrases more and dynamics. I am going to practice maybe just 30 minutes today before I go in to make sure that my reed is ok.

I have to sight read at this audition too but did not practice for that at all. Let's just hope they don't give me anything beyond my ability.

*gulp* So that's it for now. Next time I post I will be done with my first "official" audition.
Now the piece sounds halfway decent.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sort of Serendipity

That research program left me emotionally drained. Thus the dearth of posts here on the blog. It's weird how when I was at corporate job writing on the blog was cathartic but now it's become very difficult for the words to come out well.

Part of the reason the program tired me out is that it lead to a reawakening of my "to be or not to be MD" debate. Maybe reawakening is not the right word since the debate never ever fully leaves my consciousness. Worrying about the same thing for 10 years plus makes you feel as though you are going around in circles even when you are moving forward. I need to stop chasing my own tail.

The good news is that I got a very lucky break today. I've been officially unemployed since completing the internship. I had been trying not to freak too much about this, giving myself until after Labor Day to start any true panicking. I've applied to a handful of jobs so far and have even heard back from one place. Unfortunately, my schedule didn't work well for them. That position was for a medical assistant at a dermatologist's office. It would have given me patient contact and even surgical assistant experience. All good stuff for future MD or PA school applications. I was disappointed that I had to pass that up but the positive interaction with the recruiter gave me a burst of confidence. Perhaps that was showing today when I took the mother-in-law to her ophthalmologist for laser treatment. Before the actual treatment I went in to talk with the doctor a bit. Afterwards I went in again so that he could tell me how things went and what the plans for her are. Somewhere in the middle of this conversation he says to me "You're too sharp. Are you pre-med or in the medical field?" DOH! Busted! I was taken aback because I certainly wasn't doing anything to try to impress him. I thought I was acting like my normal, non-anal-supposedly-EX-premed self. When I told him about going to Columbia undergrad and studying Computer Science the poor guy nearly had a heart attack. He ran off to get higher level doc and then I had a nice chat with both of them. They were both encouraging me to keep at it with the MD (though they did admit that PA is a good option). They also offered help and said I could go back any time to shadow them. Before I left the head guy asked me for my contact info, which I though nothing of at the time.

A few hours later I'm at the mall (buying the hubby and brother birthday gifts!) and I get a call from an unfamiliar number. I let it go to voice mail and was quite surprised to hear that it was the doctor calling to ask me some questions. The only logical explanation was that it would be about employment. But I didn't dare hope for it. A job at an ophthalmology office the next town away? (I have 3 years of experience working with neuro-ophthalmologists, by the way.) Working with two friendly doctors who are eager to teach? No, it couldn't be. It was several hours before we got in touch and he we did he did indeed offer me a job. Just like that. No formal interview, nothing. Just "when do you want to start?" Holy smokes, this kind of thing usually doesn't happen to me. But I've noticed than when it does happen it tends to be related to medical things. Is that a sign? Oh wait, I thought I didn't believe in signs anymore.

Soooo. I didn't even have to stress out too much about our lack of money. Tomorrow I will call him back to confirm the pay (a quite decent hourly rate) and the schedule. It looks like I will be working 30-32 hours a week and taking only one class instead of the two I originally planned for. As opposed to the other job I almost got last week, this one has a schedule that works perfectly for me. The learning curve shouldn't be too steep since I will be doing a lot of what I did 10 years ago at the neuro-opth office. And I've already hit it off really well with the two doctors I'll be working with. I didn't even have to interview, something I hate and dread with a passion. The commute is 5 minutes. In fact, it's probably walking distance. Oh, and I get to explore the posh town next door: Rye. Oh, and I get to wear navy blue scrubs to work. Fun!

I wanted to cry when this all happened because I felt this overwhelming sense that my life was being touched by a divine power. I've felt so aimless with my career and I was close to the point of despair. It's like I was picked up, dusted off, and set on a paved road. How far will the road lead me? I don't know yet. But right now I am so very grateful.

My musical motivation is a bit low right now, as it tends to get when the medical one goes up. I really need to work on equilibrating them. The good news is that now I will have money to pick up my lessons again. Waaah, I miss my teachers!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Halcyon moment

For some reason even after a Bachelor's in music and paid gigs (sax, electric bass, backup vocals), I still have trouble considering myself a musician. Now there is the whole "oboist" term to content with. All along I've been calling myself an "oboe student". But lately I've been feeling like maybe I've put in enough work to start calling myself an "oboist", even if I do have to qualify it with something like "amateur". I think that it's my reed making efforts which are causing me to change perspective. Though I still have a ways to go before sounding well-rounded, I feel like the reed making alone is enough to qualify me as a real oboist. Who else but an oboist willingly gives up big chunks of free time to scrape bamboo?

Actually, the real reason behind all this is that I am actively working towards trying to enjoy the journey more in all areas of my life. Left to my own devices, I will focus on a goal almost blindly so that days pass by without my even noticing. Then I start feeling as though I will only be happy once the goal is achieved. But how about if it takes forever (or never happens)? I have to learn to appreciate every day as the gift that it is.

Don't mind me. I'm a bit melodramatic because for a few moments this weekend I felt as though I was in my favorite dream. I may have mentioned it before. The first time I remember having it I was 7 years old. The dream takes place at a wonderful village by the water. It is always dusk and there are wonderful smells of plants, firewood, and sometimes food. Soft music (in minor keys) comes from an unknown source. And many of the people I care about are walking about happily, in preparation for a fun night to come. The funny thing is that time seems to stop in the dream because the sun never quite sets and I never do get to find out what it is that everyone is so excited about. The mood is one of anticipation laced with revelry. It is the most peaceful image I can conjure.

I just realized this weekend, as I was sitting at a park by the water at dusk, that part of what makes the dream so wonderful is the feeling of hopefulness. Everyone is so happy because it feels as though the entire world is out there for us to enjoy and be thankful for. Yet no one is really achieving anything at the moment; we just all seem to have limitless potential. But it's not big feats that matter. It's every day things. The sound of waves, the voice of a friends, a beautiful song.

I vowed to try to apply that to my own life. To quit postponing feeling good until I lose those 20 lbs. Or until I can play the Saint-Saens sonata. Or until I have initials after my name. The only time we have is now. I need to learn to live in an eternal twilight.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

La-a-a-ast Le-e-e-e-so-o-o-on

After a 10 day hiatus I had another lesson last night. I was nervous because I think I still wasn't completely over the teary lesson. Then again because of that lesson I have been tring to focus more during practices, to try to better understand which areas need improvement. My current top area of focus is breathing and support, with tonguing coming in second.

It's a good thing that my breathing and support have improved somewhat because the my lesson last night focused on more vibrato studies. She had me do the pulse exercise a lot faster than what I had been doing at home. I was able to keep up with it for the most part, but after just a few minutes it felt like Olympic training! When she had me play the Sarabande from my Corelli with vibrato I got tired by the 6th bar. This brings the whole concept of endurance to a brand new level.

While I was initially afraid that introducing vibrato may do more harm than good, I think it's actually going to work out well. Trying to get vibrato is forcing me to support correctly because otherwise I can't do it at all (or a do a weird, throaty one that doesn't sound good). And using more air is going to help with my tonguing issues. I continue to revert to my heavy saxophone tounging technique. In order to play merengue jaleos I had to learn to use the middle of my tongue because tonguing on the tip made the sound too short and generally wasn't quick enough. Now I have to retrain myself to use the lightest touch possible with just the tip. Right now my tongue tends to get in the way of my air stream so that my playing sounds somewhat discontinous and less musical. I'm excited about this last lesson because once I can get these two concepts moving along, my playing will sound more balanced.

We went over what I should play for my Wind Ensemble audition in September. I had been feeling that the Corelli is not the right piece for that and she agreed. So she'd like for me to start working on the Marcello concerto, which she called a "stretch" piece. After hearing it this morning I'd call it a "big stretch" piece. I only have to prepare the first movement though, which is doable. I do agree with PY's comment on an earlier post that I need easier music to work on expression. Maybe I will use some methods I have at home for that and for sight reading practice. Oh, and I can also work on it tonight when I meet with my duet friend. Which reminds me, I need to start getting ready to leave. See ya!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Update from the black hole

I just finished a presentation I had at work. I had to present a paper on molecular beacons. The papers themselves are something else. The target audience of these scientific journals are people with PhD's in biochemistry, molecular biology, or chemical engineering. So you can only imagine how difficult it is to get through them. I had to look for background information that was more at my level like this before I could even begin to read my paper. Then I had to make a powerpoint presentation and present it to some principal investigators here as well as other interns and graduate students. Can we say INTIMIDATION? I felt quite uncomfortable lecturing about a topic I was still unsure about to people who've actually published papers on that topic. In the end it turned out pretty well. I was nervous and stumbled a little bit through some of my explanations, but the comments at the end were positive.

Between preparing for this presentation and my frustrations with my playing, I've not been playing all that much the last few days. But I am looking forward to returning to my instrument tonight. I plan to just do basics: long tones and slow scales for a few days before working on my piece again. Every time I focus too much on actual repertoire I tend to lose control of things I thought I already had under my belt, namely, embouchure and intonation. It could also be reed related, which means I have to spend more time on that too. I think I've been playing on some bad reeds that have caused me to start biting. Hence I want to use a newer reed which doens't play flat in order to get used to a more correct, open (non-biting) embouchure.

For my next lesson on Tuesday I need to make two new reeds. At our previous lesson T told me that since my goals are "lofty" I needed to get more serious about my reed making. I am going to really put some time into that during the next month before classes start up again.

I've been thinking more about the musical expression thing. I realized that if I have the music in front of me I am capable to analyzing it and coming up with ideas of how it should sound. So if I can do this on paper, theoretically I should be able to do it on the instrument. I think the problem is that it's difficult to be a good critic while you're actually playing. At least it is for me. Maybe this will get easier with time. That's probably what good practicing is about for more advanced students. I often wondered why they'd play the same piece for hours when it wouldn't take them more than a few minutes to get the actual notes under their belts. The difficult thing is figuring out HOW to play the notes. Once you get to a certain level, the notes themselves are no longer the problem. So how do you deal with this while you're still working up to that level? I'm assuming your teacher must help you until you can do it on your own.

I just want to feel that there is hope for me. That the reason I am not expressive now is not due to a tragic personal flaw, but simply to lack of technique and being "green" on the instrument. Sometimes I feel that the sound blinds me. I love the sound so much and it's so exciting that I am finally sounding oboe-like. But I think this distracts me and I pay no attention to actual expression because just making it sound is beautiful to me. Hopefully I'll get over this soon enough so that I can start moving up to the next level.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

I was a bad little reedmaker all week long and so I ended up having to get up at 8AM on a Saturday morning to try to make a reed before my noon lesson. I figured I wouldn't completely finish it but I could at least take in something half-way decent. At my last lesson we spent quite a bit of time going over proper knife sharpening technique. I was very grateful for this because I knew that I had been doing something wrong; my knives NEVER felt sharp before. She got me away from the ceramic sticks and into a real sharpening block. Those had scared me up until then. It's amazing how much more cane you can pick up with a knife that's actually sharpened. I had been using entirely too much force in my reedmaking to try to make up for blunt knives. As a result of this, I ended up nicking my thigh while working on my reed tip. BLOOD.

It's 85 and high humidity so I won't go into the SWEAT.

The drive into the City was somewhat nervewracking because my reed activity made me leave the house late so I was hauling butt the entire time. I even witnessed a fender bender. The strange part was that I totally saw it coming. I was in the middle lane and could see that up ahead in the right lane cars were nearly completely stopped. The folks coming up behind me on the right were going entirely too fast. I quickly shifted to the left lane to get away from the inevitable. I think that about 4 cars ended up ramming into each other. Nothing serious, but these folks will all have to get new bumpers.

I am not making excuses for myself but the fact was that I got to the lesson already tensed up. Or should I saw more tense than usual? We talked briefly about reeds again and then I had to present my scales. She threw me off by asking me to do a different articulation. I fumbled the first few times but by the end I was ok. I'd rate my scale performance as satisfactory. They're improving but there's still a lot of room to grow.

We ended up skipping long tones and going right into the Giga from my Corelli piece. I had practiced it quite a bit over the week and was nervous about whether it would show. I did mostly fine with the notes and managed to include some varying dynamics. In my naivete I thought it was sounding pretty ok but I was missing the big picture. A lot of my choices had been somewhat misguided. T helped me understand ways to better phrase the passages. Everything she said was very helpful and whenever she demonstrated for me it sounded much more beautiful (even though she was purposely not using vibrato). I think that deep down I was feeling frustrated that I hadn't been able to figure it out on my own. She assured me that I was doing more than well and that it would all come with time. But still, I couldn't help but feel inadequate. Why can't my lines flow yet? Why is my air stream wimpy?

It was in this state of mind that we started a "pre-vibrato" exercise. This consisted mostly of controlled shouting so that I could isolate the area I will eventually get my vibrato chops from. I've struggled with vibrato and too much throat/nose in my singing so I've known (and dreaded) all along that vibrato would be a challenge for me. When you add self-consciousness into the mix, it's a recipe for disaster. I battled through the exercises, rarely getting them right. I continued on but eventually broke down. When I tried to make a sound it got caught up with a knot in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears. I was mortified! How embarrassing to be crying in front of one of my beloved teachers. Crying because I couldn't do something. TEARS.

She was very sweet about it and got me water and encouraged me. We went on for a few more minutes but with the instrument instead because I was just too uncomfortable trying to produce weird sounds with my voice. I was able to get a single beat in the middle of a long tone and we stopped at that point.

While I put my instrument away we had a nice talk. I was feeling ridiculous still and wanted to figure out my feelings. I know that I was frustrated but it's not like I wanted to give up. If anything, I was more motivated than ever to get through this hurdle and I wanted to convey that to her. This wasn't the first time I've shed tears on this journey and I know it won't be the last. She made me feel better because she verbalized something I had been feeling for a few weeks. It's like I am about to get to the next level but am not quite there yet. The levels before it were easier and faster to reach. I had been lingering somewhat and have recently started making progress again, to the point where I can sort of taste the next level. Being almost there is what makes one get frustrated. She said that she experienced those points in her own journey and reassured me that I WILL get through and that I will feel very good about it once it happens. And then it will be on to the next hurdle. She also said that not everything will come naturally. Some things I am naturally good at (not sure which ones she meant - I will have to ask her). Other things I will have to work very hard for. The messed up part is that as adult students we tend to focus on things we can measure easily like technique or intonation whereas my biggest challenges are going to be in the realm of musical expression. All these years I've merely been dabbling in music, getting into things half-way but always backing out when I really had to SAY something. I've reached the point where I need to start worrying about how my music is coming out, not just that the right notes are being played. I am so scared. I've been scared of this all my life. I think this is why I've always run very far away from improvisation (even though as a child I composed songs prolifically). I am very afraid that I have naught to say. That all I will be good for robotic playing. Rather than finding that out, I've quit while I was still ahead. But this time I am in for the long haul and I know that I will have to face my nemesis. This is the real reason I broke down. Because I thought for a second "I can't do this" and I had never really thought that before. The feeling of sadness that came from that thought overwhelmed me. I MUST do this.

I don't think I quite believe in me, but she seems to. She said that those things that are most hard are the ones we feel most proud of in the end. So I have to just believe that some day I will play music from my heart and soul, not just from my mind. Others will enjoy what I am playing not only because it's lovely oboe sound but because I am sharing myself and giving the music meaning through me. T said that if I don't share what's inside that I am being selfish. I guess that means that she thinks there is something good in me to share in the first place. Let's hope so.

I am determined to work through this but am still worried about whether or not I have enough talent. Only time will tell. For now, I just need to keep on practicing. That's the panacea.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Happy Birthday . . .

... to me!!!!!!

I turned 32 today! I still feel like a big kid.

I have a good feeling about the upcoming year. :-)

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I just realized something today: Having nearly weekly lessons has accelerated my progress rate! I don't really mean in terms of audible results. Instead, something is changing inside me. My motivation level and discipline are entering a new, more mature level. I've been having longer (75 min. plus) practice sessions more frequently. Rather than feeling like it's something I have to get through I am starting to feel like I wish I had more time each day to practice. This is certainly a paradigm shift. Knowing that I will see a teacher again in a matter of days instead of weeks has given me the incentive to practice better. For instance tomorrow I will be away from home 8am - 11pm. I plan on getting up at 6am so that I can get an hour of practice in before we leave.

That being said, I didn't play anything at my lesson today. It ended up turning into a long reed lesson. It was a welcome change though because I needed more time to prepare my scales anyway! T makes her reeds quite differently from J, so I was fumbling somewhat which is always frustrating. One of the bad things about being an adult learner is feeling like a complete klutz a lot of the times. I imagine that those that start young grow into these things naturally. I, on the other hand, have to deal with my hands cramping up from holding my knife awkwardly. I did eventually almost finish a reed. As in, all the parts of a reed. J's method consists of completely finishing the tip before even starting on the back. Because my tips are never refined enough I haven't really worked much on the windows or heart ever. T''s method has you doing a little bit of everything and so I finally learned how to get clear windows without killing the spine or sides of the reeds. I need a LOT more practice but now I feel that I know enough to be able to practice at home. I am very curious to find out which method will yield the best reeds for me.

My next lesson will be on Saturday which gives me time to prepare my scales (C's and a review of B's and B-flat's) and to get my Giga faster. I was finally able to get through the darn thing (w/o repeats) yesterday. What a workout!

We (well, I) decided to postpone the Ravel piece for now. I was being impatient in wanting to play things beyond me. Maybe I will try it again soon, but for now it doesn't really make sense to try to play it when I don't yet have all the tools for it. My next piece will be the Marcello concerto in C minor. I'm listening to it on Rhapsody now and it sounds quite beautiful. But that third movement does sound somewhat scary. So many notes and most of them articulated. Ahh! Well, I will order it along with the reed supplies I need to restock on. Oh and I need another instrument stand. I've basically killed the one I have. WHy are music supplies so expensive???

So I asked T if it would be a good idea for me to audition for the Wind Ensemble at school and she said YES! I think it would be a good place for me to get some practice sight reading and playing in tune with others. I was worried that it would distract me from my studies but I think that by September I should be on a roll with practicing and the rehearsals will just be additional practice for me (rather than taking the place of practice). This should help my endurance a lot. I'll also continue meeting my new oboist friend for duets from time to time.

YAY! It feels so right whenever I make more space for music in my life. Why am I constantly trying to sabotage this by trying to force myself to live up to old, outdated dreams (i.e. med school)? Go, go PA!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mother-in-law induced OCD

Ok, I have been horrid at keeping up with my blog. The problem is that these days I am NOT at the computer all day long. In fact, many days may pass by before I have a chance to sit down at one. I also have my MIL at home for the summer and it's done a number on me.

Oboe is going well, thankfully. As well as it can go when you're only practicing an hour a day. My repeated attempts at working up to two daily practice sessions have been fruitless. I am not sure why it's so difficult. God knows I want it badly enough. I have never in my life wanted anything as much as I want to get good at the oboe. So why then am I lazy? Maybe lazy is not the right word. I mean I am practicing. And I do see improvement at this rate. It just seems very slow. Perhaps the reason is that as you progress it gets exponentially harder to get to the next level. Trying to beat my scale times was sort of fun for a while, but now I am kind of bored of it. Plus I was starting to focus too much on speed and not enough on clarity, sound, and evenness (is that even a word?).

In the last few months I have made improvements in the technique front. I am able to play faster and clearner than before. This is good because it was one of my weakest areas. Now I feel that my weakest area lies in the air stream. I need to focus on breathing and on how I am using my air. I think that once I do that I will be a more even player. Both of my teachers have now told me that I am ready to learn vibrato but neither of them have taught me it yet. We keep getting distracted by other stuff at lessons. And since I don't really want to rush into vibrato I won't push for it. I really want to feel more confident with my air before I get into vibrato anyway. I wonder if a week is enough time? My next lesson is on Sunday.

I am nearly done with my initial studying of the Correlli concerto. I can play all the movements now close to tempo. My intonation has been good, at least when I am being careful about my embouchure and not biting. I need to just work more on expression.

I am also starting on a new piece. We've decided that it's still a bit hard for me but we'll go on with it anyway. It's an oboe version of Ravel's "Piece en forme de Habanera". Technically it's not all that bad except for two scaley runs. The problem is playing it beautifully. It will be a challenge but I really love Ravel and the Tombeau de Couperin is still years away! I must admit, however, that I've been practicing the intro to the Prelude at 40 (real tempo is 92) as a way to warm up the last few days. I also dabble at the Minuet intro and the Rigaudon solo. I can't help myself! Gimme my Ravel! *giggle*

I passed the 1.5 year mark a few weeks ago. Though the Type-A part of me focuses on everything that needs to improve I think that I should feel pretty good with my progress thus far. I seriously thought it would take YEARS to play scales on the oboe. Everyone had said it was so hard that they had freaked me out. I can't do scales lightning speed yet but I can certainly do any of them slowly enough. And who would have thought that I'd be playing the Habanera piece at 19 months? Now if I could only make myself walk down the stairs for a second practice session tonight!!!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Scales can be your friend

I'm pleased to say that practicing is going much betters these days. I have fallen into a nice little groove after being in a plateau for a while. What helped was making my practices more structured (T's suggestion). It started with trying to work on scales more consistenly. She assigns me a scale for the week to work on in major and all three minor forms. I then decided to keep track of my tempi on paper every several days. Then I decided to make my long tone notes be the ones of the major triad of my weekly scale. My long tone/scale work up takes at least 30 minutes (I make sure I play the scale satisfactorily at least 3 times) and by then I am nice and ready for music. Or on days where time is limited I at least get a GOOD warmup in.

By breaking up my big goal of becoming a good oboist into something more tangible (getting my scales faster) I've been able to feel much better about my practice time. I feel more productive and I can see my improvement. And yes, I can hear it too. My scales are becoming more even and my intonation is improving. My fingers feel more agile. I even think that my sound is slightly better.

Previously when a reed died on me I knew I had a week of bad practices ahead of me as I tried to adjust to a new reed. With this new warmup it now takes only an hour or so to break in a new reed as opposed to days. It's much easier to tolerate a hard reed when you're doing scales than when you're rushing to play real music.

Who would have thought that scales could be so friendly? I will never avoid them again!

Saturday, June 17, 2006


So after that awful performance experience I was blessed with one of my most wonderfully musical days ever this past Wednesday. Even before the Fiasco of 2006 I had been looking around for other people to play with. All three of the other quartet players are out of commission right now. The bassoonist is no longer practicing his instrument and is too busy with his recording studio. The flutist moved across the Tappan Zee bridge. The clarinetist basically tore down his house and is rebuilding it from scratch. This is why I took on that gig in the first place. I had gotten somewhat desperate to play with others. But now I realize that it's best to wait for the right opportunity instead. Luna and I might be alone for quite some time yet still.

Or maybe not . . . Some time last year I joined the Amateur Chamber Music Players, Inc. One of the perks of joining is that you are included in their directory of amateur players and you gain access to said directory. One of the things you must do before you're listed is rate yourself according to this scale:

A. "Excellent."
You know much of the standard repertoire, from many time periods and for a variety of ensembles including your instrument, "inside out." If your partners make a mistake, you can often bring them back in without stopping. You are a prima sight-reader and you consistently sound excellent on your instrument. You already aim for cohesive musical expressiveness with attention to fine nuance on a first reading.

B. "Good."
You are quite familiar with portions of the standard repertoire (perhaps pieces from certain periods or for certain instrumental combinations). You generally sound good on your instrument and sight-reading is not a problem. You usually pay attention to blend, balance, dynamics, and basic phrasing on a first reading.

C. "Fair."
You are in the process of exploring the standard repertoire, perhaps avoiding those works that are currently too technically challenging. You concentrate on not making major mistakes while reading an unfamiliar part, though you are aware of what the others are doing. You often slow down a fast movement for technical reasons.

D. "Etc."
You play a repertoire carefully chosen to be within your technical limitations. On a first reading, you usually aim to get through the music and end together without too many stops and starts in between.

At the time I joined I rated myself a "D". Even still I'd call myself a D+ or perhaps a C-. I am not sure that I am quite yet exploring the standard oboe repertoire. Anyway, there are not all that many other D players. While I do want to challenge myself I don't want to ruin anyone else's experience by stumbling all over the place. So about a month ago I looked through the directory and found one other D oboist in my area. We corresponded via email and then by phone and agreed to meet on Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 14th:

10:30 - 1:20
I am pleased to say that my meeting with the oboist went very well! We were both quite nervous at first and weren't really sure where to start. We talked for a bit about how we got involved with the oboe and what we've done so far. He's been playing for 2 years and it turns out we're more or less on the same level. Though they were a bit on the easy side, we had loads of fun going through duets from my method books. We played for so long that both of us were almost too tired to talk! We will definitely be meeting up again as his schedule permits (he's often on religious missions). I even got to eat lunch at the parish house which was fun!

1:20 - 2:20
I ran out of there and took a bus then the subway to T's house for a lesson. I ended up getting there 20 minutes late - yikes!

2:20 - 4:00
Luckily she did not have a rehearsal or other lesson to run to and we ended up together for quite a while. I was concerned about whether I'd be able to play after my 2 hours with my new oboe buddy, but my fears were needless. The lesson went quite well. I've improved at my dynamics control while doing long tones, though she still wants my forte to be a lot louder. And I'm breathing slightly better too. Other oboists out there: do you breathe through your mouth or your nose or both? I sort of mangled the B-flat scales I had prepared but eventually I got them out. I'm still struggling with the fingerings that T wants me to use. No forked F's at all means that I end up doing some fancy stuff with my right pinky on the B-flat minor scales. Next time we meet I have to prepare B scales. The minors are easy there, only the major scale is a bit tricky. I have no excuse to be sloppy next time.

I played the second movement of my Correlli and she was mostly satisfied with it. She thinks I can play it at tempo (100) even though I've been practicing it closer to 80. So for my next lesson I have to play it at tempo and also prepare the third and fourth movements. She said that she gave me a lot to do because she thinks I can handle it. Cool!

Oh I forgot to mention that at the lesson before this one I asked her what my "level" is and she said I was playing at around a sophomore in high school level. That's pretty cool for 1.5 years I think.

4:00 - 4:30
Pizza break

4:30 - 5:45
My musical day wasn't over yet. I take the subway down to 59th street and walk over to Patelson's Music House. After looking through all they had for oboe solo/duo I ended up purchasing two books of oboe duets for my new friend and me. They were $20 a piece but now we have 41 new duets to play and these are more substantive than the ones in my method books. I also saw several "real" duets that we can aspire to play in the future. There was one with strings accompaniment which looked really interesting. He met some string players through ACMP so whenever we're ready they can help us with it.

5:45 - 6:00
As I sit on a crosstown bus on my way to meet the hubby I reflect upon the day so far. I feel completely happy and satisfied and realize that this must be what it feels like to live like a musician (well without the pressure and financial woes). Everything I had done thus far that day had been music-related. Boy did that feel good! I even ended up playing for 3.5 hours!

I know that not all days can be like this. But wouldn't life be great if I could have days like this at least every once in a while? Ahhhh ...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oily scissorhands (somewhat of a rant)

There are many interesting expressions used in the merengue scene. Many of which, I suspect, only make sense to the people involved. I was reminded of them last weekend as I got through that church "concert" and will attempt to share them.

One of the expressions is tijera' or scissors (Dominicans seldom pronounce the "s" at the end of a word). The word is often used as a verb, tijerear, to mean something like " to heavily criticize other musicians or music". Though the connotation is somewhat negative tijereros who actually know what they're talking about are usually well respected. Of course, there are also many folks who should just be at home practicing but instead are out tijereando.

The other expression is aceitoso(a) which literally means "oily man (or woman)". This one is used to describe someone who has become a showoff. It's also used in a more general sense when someone is having a bad day and acting a bit distant. In fact, if you're not deemed as being down with the crowd for whatever reason you might be called an aceitoso.

Well, after above-mentioned church concert this past weekend I may have just become an oily scissorhands. In a word the whole thing was CHAOTIC. The arranger had interesting ideas but was overly ambitious given the amount of time we had to rehearse and the talent of the singers involved. Also, his harmonic ear is pretty limited. My husband and I kept encouraging him to reharmonize some things but everything we suggested sounded wrong to him because he only believes in like three chords. The sound system was atrocious. I still have no idea what people were hearing. On stage, all we heard was noise. You can't imagine how frustrating it was to try to play oboe on songs it simply didn't fit well in and then to try to be heard over a bunch of amplified instruments. We had three keyboards for God's sake. Then there were the diva attitudes. If you can't sing on pitch you should NOT be acting like a diva. Enough said. Even the MC's had an attitude. One of the them had the nerve to try to cut short the singer from my choir (who was a special guest). He was one of the few real artists there! ARG!

I really care for my friend the arranger but I don't think I ever want to be involved in something like this again. I understand that I am not a great oboist yet, but I will be damned if I am stuck playing at this level for the rest of my life!

Yes, I HAVE become a Classical music snob. My friends will just have to deal. I don't want to play other types of music on my oboe. I don't want to play crappy arrangements where my instrument isn't used well. And I don't want to mess up my embouchure trying to play ffffff.

Where are you oh other serious amateurs??

The only way I can ensure that I will NOT be stuck at that level is by becoming my best which means that I need ample amounts of TIME to practice. So this does actually tie in to my latest posts about my career junk. For now, what feels most comfortable is postponing school thoughts at least temporarily and focusing on oboe and my body.

Monday, June 12, 2006

This is what I'd be looking forward to

I've been a faithful reader of this medical blog for a while. Her latest post is pertinent to what I've been babbling about here. The poor thing basically has no time for anything. She's a resident and a new mom and she and her husband spent a grand total of 8 hours together all week. There would be no time for music in that case. I know that she's a resident and that residency is supposed to be hard. But I honestly don't think I could survive those three years with my sanity intact. And not to mention that the 4 years before that are pretty crappy too. And in today's climate life doesn't get substantially better even when you're done.

It seems that the folks who have made medicine and music work are either older doctors who were able to make a decent living while that was still possible or folks who can afford to go very part-time. Based on all the research I've done with people entering the profession nowadays, the future looks very very bleak.

When I read stuff like that blog I am convinced, at least temporarily, that I never EVER want to put myself through that. Not even for one day. Especially not for years on end. So if I know this already, why can't I just let go??