Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lessons learned

I realized that using just the date as my title is redundant since the editor already dates the entries. So I guess I'll try to come up with something creative again. Oh, the pressure!

I had my lesson today and overall I'd say it went quite well. My last few had not been entirely good. I felt as though I was frustrating my teacher. I tend to regress during my music lessons and act like an adolescent. I can't help it. It's like I'm watching myself do it but can't stop it. Maybe subconsciously I am acting that way to make up for having missed out on the whole music experience as a child. That would be pretty pathetic. Today I resisted the temptation to do anything childish like whine, make excuses, be overly nervous and jittery, etc.

Today there were only two minor incidents. Both because I used the word "weird" to describe something about my playing which I didn't like. She wanted me to be very specific (e.g. What about my high E's was I not satisfied with? They used to have a closed, muted sound.)

As usual we go over reed stuff first. I won't bore folks with reed details but I'll mention that I've been too heavy handed with the knife. So she went over a modified grasp using only three fingers that will force me to have a lighter touch. I didn't really have a reed to show today because I killed the one I was working on (tore the tip).

Next we worked on the reed alone exercise and then scales. She was excited that I had indeed made progress with my embouchure. I was so relieved. If I had had to hear her tell me one more time that I need to commit to the new embouchure I think I would have cried. It's been lots of months of hard work to try to change my embouchure so I am so happy that it's finally showing. And sounding - my tone quality definitely has changed for the better as I've adopted a more circular embouchure. She said that it seems that now I am just putting the finishing touches on it. WOOT!

In terms of my scales and etudes she noted improved intonation on all of them and said that I don't have any technical issues, that what I need to work on now is "line". I must pay more attention to the air and dynamics and phrasing issues now that I am getting a better hang of the basics. I knew that was coming because I was feeling that my playing was not quite as musical as it should be, what surprised me was the comment about not having technical issues. I've had this notion since childhood that technique is the difficult part of music. I'd listen or watch pianist play difficult pieces and what would amaze me was the physical aspect of it. How can they move their fingers so quickly? How do they always hit the right note? But as I got more and more involved in the musical world it always seemed that the professionals would never count technique as the hard thing, they'd say that expression is harder and more important. I always found this odd or counter-intuitive for some reason. I guess since I've always looked for precision and "perfection" in the things I do, I was sort of thinking that same in terms of music. When I played the sax the only exercise my first teacher would give me was scales. Every week he wanted to hear them faster and more precise. I think I have translated that to my oboe studies. Obviously I've had a lot of sound production issues since the oboe is a whole different beast, but I *have* been focusing a lot on technical things because I was still thinking that it is what divides the beginners from the more advanced students. But now I see that technique is not everything. What good is perfect technique if your playing is lifeless and doesn't say anything? Very interesting thing to think about. I definitely need to dwell on it some more.

I am not sure why she made the technique comment since I still feel so inadequate. A lot of my intervals are not exactly in tune or are messy. My scales are not always even. Maybe my fingers look funny as I play. But I guess what she means is that compared to everything else, all that should be the least of my worries. Perhaps, after all, some of the sax playing HAS been useful to me in my switch to the oboe. Weird. (Oops, there's that word again. I think it had officially become my most overused word.)

I'll still focus on technique because you can't play beautifully without it. But I *will* start thinking more about the other things. Those things I was taking for granted but which I see now are the TRUE measures of "goodness" (hehe, not sure I will refer to my playing as "greatness" any time soon).

At the end of the lesson she assured me that if I stay focused how I've been that I will conquer all the basics and that then we can work on my repertoire and playing lots of music. She even said that playing with others is in the horizon. It sounded like I can think about being in smallish groups some time this year!! YAY!!! Maybe I *will* audition for the Wind Ensemble in the fall. *does a little dance*

Well, I am off to write out a schedule for myself for the next few months. Things are going to get really crazy really fast for me and I have to ensure that I will still have at least an hour for my oboe. Hopefully when the semester is over I can finally go up to two.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

January 19, 2006

In typical me fashion I procrastinated about the whole career decision to the point where I almost missed out being able to apply this year. The school set up an arbitrary deadline of 5PM today for you to submit a ton of paperwork to the Dean, including 6 essays (one of which was to descibe why you chose the field you are going into). Well, silly little me hadn't started any of the essays (not even the ones I COULD have started) because I was too busy being confused/overwhelmed/scared by the decision. When I went in to speak with my advisor on Tuesday I figured she would tell me that I had to wait it out anyway in order to be sure of my decision. But that's not what she said. She told me she expected my stuff in by the deadline. That was less than 48 hours away!

At 4:59 today I handed all my paperwork in, including 18 pages of essays. Ouch my aching head!

This is only the beginning of a whole year of craziness for me. I am trying hard not to freak out. I went from being confused and living day to day to being a med school applicant. Suddenly there is a LONG list of things that need to get done during the course of the year. Scary things!

I will need strength from God in order to manage my time well. The only way I will be able to do all this and still be able to play my oboe is if I take control of my life and my time. I have to stop procrastinating and I need to stay on top of everything.

Anyway, here is part of a quick note I wrote to my teacher today. We should be meeting on Sunday for my next lesson.

I was unable to practice last night because of the writing, but the night before I practiced for a little over an hour. I'm starting to understand how it is that serious players practice many hours a day. Sometimes I feel like I've done nothing but long tones and some scales when the hour is up. If I wanted to also practice my repertoire I really need two hours minimum.

On Tuesday I ended up doing arpeggios in the key of C after my usual warm up. I hadn't seriously worked on them before because my intervals were just way too dirty. Now they are ok enough to not hurt my ears. It was quite a challenging exercise! I had about 20 minutes left to practice my Jacob pieces before my mouth got overly tired. Your reed is still working wonderfully for me, but my two reeds are hit or miss.

I am about to go down now to practice. I'm thinking of working on some technical etudes today (maybe from the Sellner book) and maybe devote some more time to the pieces.

If only I had 2 or 3 extra hours each day :-)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A decision

Might it really be over? The career dilemma of the millennium? I wonder this as I sit here typing my "why medicine?" essay for my advisor . . .

Remember when you were younger and you were starting to fall "in love" with someone? At first you'd deny it to yourself. Other would start to notice but you'd deny it to them too. You would try to talk yourself out of it, finding countless faults in your object of interest. This would go on for a while until eventually you'd be unavailable to contain yourself and would submit to the forces of love. My career decision journey has been very similar to this. I think I am finally ready to take things to the next level.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Rock star!

Who would have thought that one day I'd be a rock star???

The Spanish rock/pop band I've been rehearsing with (as back-up vocalist) since October *finally* made its debut. It was very strange being onstage as a singer and not an instrumentalist. I felt a bit uncomfortable because I am more at home being in the back actually making the music. Thankfully I remembered my days as a ballet dancer and remembered to smile and interact with the audience as much as a shy person could. I'm not particularly shy face-to-face, but I did feel weird being the only girl in the band. It's not like I'm a sex symbol. I am a nerd at heart and felt uncomfortable that I would get the wrong kind of attention. I was hoping that folks would see me as a serious member of the band, not just there to be looked at. For the most part I think that's how I was perceived. Not showing much skin helped.

Anyway, don't think that I'm really a singer. I have no true vocal technique. The only reason I can sort of fake this is because it's in a pop style not too dissimilar from what is used at my church (at which I've been singing for over 10 years). From the beginning the lead singer was more interested in someone who could harmonize and stay in tune than someone with a huge, powerful voice. I can make myself blend easily. Last night the sound engineers worked wonders for my weak little voice. He made me sound as loud as the lead singer. Woohoo!

I hadn't been in a club in years. Probably since my las gig as a saxophonist in 2000. Gosh did I feel old and frumpy last night. And chubby (to not use the "F" word). Most girls there looked like models. I tried not to dwell on it too much before we went up on stage, but I was definitely more than a bit self conscious up there. After we played we stayed for a little while and I kept wondering where my youth went. I can't help but lament for the times that have passed. It's not to say that I am not happy now. In fact, I am the happiest I've ever been. But I do wish I had had more fun when I was younger. Especially back when I had that size 6 body. *sigh*

I had a nice oboe session tonight. It was only an hour but I focused mostly on long tones and sound. I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable with my embouchure. It's a lot more circular than it used to be. I hope that my teacher sees improvement in it this time. I think it has to be better because my intonation has been consistently better too. Even my high A sounded ok tonight! I ended up making a tiny adjustment to one of the little screws that seemed to help things (my side octave key didn't seem to be completely overriding the regular one). I hope to play more music in my upcoming sessions.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Still alive!

Hey! I'm still here and still practicing every day, though not always getting the full hour in this week. The program I'm in will be over tomorrow and then I should have time to update more frequently again.

I had two bad days of practice earlier this week. I think this was because I had a BAD fight with my father on Sunday. It was so bad that I had physical symptoms of rage and everything and then felt ill/tired for the next two days. On those two days my practicing seemed to go back but I did it anyway. Luckily last night things were back on the upswing. My embouchure is feeling more confident and my intonation was good. Even that high A was sounding better. Yay!

Is it normal for your emotional state to affect your playing?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

I'm not tone deaf!

Hahaha! I had fun doing this test I found on Patty's site.

The results are in. I'm not tone deaf. :-p

Hearing Test Results
You correctly identified 26 tunes (out of 26) on the Distorted Tunes Test. Congratulations! You have a fine sense of pitch.

Thank you for taking the Distorted Tunes Test. More information about the the NIDCD's research into tone deafness is available from Dr. Dennis T. Drayna's web page.

As I was taking the quiz I was asking myself "are there really tone-deaf people?" It's not an entirely facetious question. Music has always been such an important part in my life and I have always been able to hear it well. I have never really stopped to think what it would be like to not be able to understand pitches at all. I read up on it a bit and while the term "tone-deaf" is used casually to refer to those with no musical training (and little talent) there really is a medical condition that prohibits some from hearing differences in pitch. These people can not appreciate music. How terribly sad. :(

High A

Been running around a lot but I've still managed to play both yesterday and today. Yesterday I didn't get home until 11:30 PM and that's when I ended up practicing. My neighbors must love me!

Today I practiced before leaving for my friend's house. I got another hour plus in. Oh, and I also discovered that I have been doing something wrong all along. I had been trying to finger high A using BOTH the side octave and the regular octave key. I remember this coming up with my first teacher and I could swear that he said it was ok to use both. But maybe he meant either, not both at the same time. Anyway, my high A's have ALWAYS given me a hard time. Not just pitch wise. They always sounded completely wild. Airy, raspy, gurgly, you name it. It never sounded like a normal oboe note. No wonder!!

Wow, if I can get that note to speak normally from now on it will be a whole new chapter for me. It hadn't really come up in my lessons with my new teacher because I rarely play in the higher register with her. We've been focusing on fixing my embouchure and sound and usually stay in the low register. At home when I'd play music for fun I would always avoid the note.

I read up in 4 different books that the A is normally fingered with the side octave key only but can also be fingered with the regular one. All of the books said you should never use both at the same time. I hope I haven't damaged the mechanism somehow by doing this. I really need to take it in for a re-adjustment anyway. I have a feeling something is not right up there because the A doesn't really speak with the side octave key, only with the regular one.

I feel so silly now!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Day 3

Ok so today I practiced a little over an hour. Well, I was downstairs for about 80 minutes, but I'd say maybe 60 tops was playing. When people count practice time do they count the few minutes in between things while you think about what you just did or what you will be doing next?

Tonight I did feel my chops start tiring at around 30 minutes and by the hour mark I could barely make the embouchure anymore so I stopped. Am I practicing enough at this point? Or am I practicing too much for a beginner embouchure?

Tonight I did long tones, crescendo/decrescendo long tones, and some octaves again. Then I did scales for about half of my practice time. I tried to get them to be in tune and smoother/even. I tried both your suggestions. I think I am getting better at starting in one motion. I am also trying hard to start with the narrowest embouchure possible. It's easier when I start practicing and am fresh and only doing one note at a time. As I do more notes and get more tired I have to fight the smiling tendency more and more.

I worked on the Jacob pieces some more. My favorite one is the Air at the end. I also played through the Scherzetto some tonight. I am getting somewhere near the ballpark of the marked tempo.

Tonight I had trouble with my side octave A again. I really do feel sometimes that it's something with the instrument. It was coming out quite fine at first then it started gurgling. I did have some water in the tiny key at the very top (the one operated by the side octave key) so I figured it was just that. But when I played again it was still coming out gurgly/fluttery. I tried blowing harder, blowing softer, super open embouchure, pinched, everything and it was still acting funny. I changed reeds and still had the same problem. I decided to just keep playing and avoid that note as much as possible. Then at one point I thought I felt something sort of click and then it was sounding sort of ok again. Perhaps something is out of adjustment? Is there anything else I can try before taking it to the shop?

Ok, good night!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

January 4, 2006


I started practicing a bit later than I intended because a friend called and we talked for an hour. So I ended up only getting in 45 minutes.

I played on one of my reeds tonight (the first one you worked on - the one with the too thin tip and the heavy heart). It wasn't flat tonight. The only issue I had with it was the low C not responding very well.

I started with long tones again tonight, focusing mostly on not biting and intonation. Though I still have a ways to go in terms of being consistent with intonation and embouchure I feel that I've definitely made progress from where I was a few months ago. My playing is a lot more in tune.

I worked on the middle E and F and side octave A again (strong air!), and also on the C-D change exercise which you suggested. The nice thing about focusing on little things is that you can see improvement quickly. For instance I was working on a C scale before doing that exercise and it felt clumsy at the register break. After I did C-D-C-D for a few minutes I went back to the scale and it was smoother. Voila! Now I just need to do that with all the other pesky intervals every day for a few years! *giggle*

The rest of the time I worked on scales (eigth notes at 80 - did C, F, G, and D major several times each).

I definitely wanted to play more tonight but I have to go to bed now because of my commute to Newark. I was in good spirits tonight while I practiced. It didn't feel tedious even though I didn't play any real music.

Ok, good night!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

January 3, 2006

Ok so I went down to my basement to practice for about 75 minutes

The first thing I usually do is try a few reeds to see how they're
faring. The two that I started and you worked on yesterday were
both a tiny bit hard today and somewhat flat. Your reed was great
so I stayed with that one and didn't go back to the others (I'll
try to break them in some later this week).

I did some long tones mostly in the lower register but also tried
the higher E, F, and G (the notes that were sounding kind of weak
yesterday). The G was ok from the get-go but the E and F took a
while to start opening up. I have to think about the egg in my
mouth again in order to get those to not sound muffled.

I didn't do any real scales tonight but instead worked on some
technical exercises from an old book I had lying around (Tunes for
Oboe Technic). They were easy tunes but I wanted to play something
more musical now that I had a nice reed.

I did the octave exercise you gave me at our other lesson in between
the tunes. And other similar exercises I found on the web (for
register changes/octaves).

I worked on my two Sellner exercises a bit also (#7 on page 11 and
#7 on page 15). I also worked on the Siciliano and Air Jacob
pieces. Did I leave my music on your stand? I ended up playing
from the piano accompaniment sheet music I had at home.

I think that was it. I wasn't particularly intense in terms of
technique tonight but I did try to zero in on my chops as much as I
could and also tried to focus on strong air. I'd say it was a nice
practice because it left me wanting to keep playing (but my mouth
was too tired!).

Self-fulfilling prophecies

So I had my lesson last night at my teacher's apartment. It was my first time going there since we had always met either at the school where she teaches or more recently at a practice room at my school. For some reason that made me nervous as did the fact that I hadn't practiced as regularly as I would have liked since our last lesson. Oh, and I also managed to crack one of the three reeds I had been working on!

We ended up spending most of our time on reeds which is fine since I was in my reed slump of 2005. Turns out that one of the reeds I worked on had a tip that was almost too thin (compared to the overly thick heart I left behind it). Woohoo! An almost too thin tip is sort of an improvement since I never got close to taking off enough from the tip before. That was the reed that had a decent sound but was flat. She was able to balance it out by scraping the heart down some and clipping the tip (she also had to bring the tip back somewhat). The other reed was, as usual, not finished enough. I also bought one of her reeds so tonight I should have at least three decent sounding reeds. Let's see what happens.

I was dismayed when she confirmed that I was *STILL* reverting to a bit of a smiley embouchure. In fact I was doing all sorts of funny things with my mouth. I think that now I am so aware and nervous about doing it right that I move my mouth into like 100 different positions before I even make a sound. Every time that she forced me to just set the position once and play immediately I would actually do it right. The less worked up I got about it, the better it was. UGH. Point is that I can now form a correct embouchure. Now I have to build up my chops so that it stays correct. And I need to R-E-L-A-X.

The other problem (ok maybe I should call it "area of improvement") was air speed. This is a new one. Well, not new in the sense that it wasn't around but new because we hadn't gotten around to that one yet. So I guess that's progress too. Eventually I calmed down enough to form a decent embouchure but then I was getting some weak sounding notes. I thought it was something with my fingers but my teacher pointed out that it was lazy air (and she was right). I had been having trouble with E and F up in the middle and the high A. It dawned on me that the air problem was more broad. For instance, some times when I play real music (as opposed to exercises) I get a feeling that I am sounding "unmusical". Perhaps this stems from my air deficiency. There was a bar in the piece I played last night that never came out how I wanted. It had a register change which I think I usually backed off from so that it always sounded insecure. When I played it with "warm, beautiful" air as my teacher suggested it finally came out how I had been feeling it. She suggested I work on some of the intervals that were giving me a hard time. I am going to try to work those types of technical exercises into my embouchure regimen somehow. The only way that my lessons will progress is if I commit to getting these basics down.

I just realized that I am so afraid of never blossoming into that player I want to become that I may be sabotaging my efforts! Like I think in my head "I am always going to suck. I am going to play this wrong" and then I do and then I say "See, I suck". I am trying to deprogram myself from that mentality lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I *know* I can do this if I just let what's inside come through (and remain focused and disciplined). The only way that I will get to where I want to be is by diligent practice. Nothing else. I need to just stop with all the silly mind games already.

I think my teacher picked up on my funky mood last night because when I got home today she had emailed me about the lesson and she happened to mention that she wished we had had more time to actually play. It's so funny because last night after my lesson I kept daydreaming about the day when I'd go in and play beautiful music for an hour. She wants me to send her a daily email about my oboe activities/questions so that I can get help from her in between our lessons. I think she sensed that I tend to talk talk talk during lessons because she's the only other oboist I know in real life. So hopefully if I can get things out during our emails then we'll have more time to play during lessons. Sounds good to me! Plus now I will be accountable for my practicing every day. *gulp*

Maybe I will copy my emails to her into the blog for a while because I'd like to keep a record of them. Even before she suggested this I was thinking of keeping a daily account of my oboe activities anyway. This will force me to do it.

Hope everyone is having good practice sessions/rehearsals!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Last day of vacation

Before I forget: HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful time and that this year will bring all much health and happiness.

Here is a funny video of our grand entrance on New Year's Eve. My mom wanted us to arrive at my cousin's singing traditional holiday tunes. Keep in mind that most of my family is tone deaf though: Video (will probably take a long time to load).

So my lesson it today finally. Between the two of us I think we got it rescheduled about 3 times. I was supposed to bring in 3 new reeds, but I managed to crack one in half again. I need to learn to channel my frustration elsewhere while I am reed making LOL! The other two that managed to survive are so-so. One has an ok sound but is flat. I am always afraid to keep working on them and ruin them. I know I should probably clip it some but the tip is already so thin that I am scared.

I am a bit nervous about my lesson because my practicing was all over the place during the month of December. I've done better the last week but I'm hoping that I won't be noticeably worse than last lesson. Also, my husband and sister-in-law will have to come to the lesson with me because we have rock band rehearsal right after it. I did tell you all I'm singing backup in a Spanish rock band, right? I have to try to get a picture of that!

So today is sort of my last day of vacation. Starting tomorrow I will have to commute to downtown Newark every weekday for 2 weeks to attend the "Gateway to Dentistry" program. I am *PRAYING* that my participation in the program will clear my mind up one way or another regarding the profession. The program is over on the 13th and classes start the following week. So technically I do have one more lazy Monday, but for some reason I have a feeling it will be hectic as hell. C'est la vie.