Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Still a happy oboist

Hey there!

I feel so sad about having neglected the blog. But things have just been kind of nuts. I just realized today that for the last month or so I've only felt completely well on a handful of days. First I had some kind of stomach virus/food poisoning. Then I had a horrible cold for two weeks. Then I got another bout of food poisoning - the worst ever in my adult life. Now I seem to have a sore throat/flu-like symptoms. I am not any more stressed than usual. In fact, I have been more on top of school than ever. So I am not sure why my immune response is so low. It seems that for some reason I am susceptible to stomach ailments right now and it is those that bring on the other problems. Oh well.

I've managed to maintain my little practice regimen of an hour a day. I really wish I could do more on a consistent basis, but it is really all I can muster right now. I did finally return to the school practice rooms last week and put in 75 minutes one day. It felt so nice and it turned out to be a very productive practice.

I think that the latest stuff that I've been working on is starting to pay off. My teacher had me work on octaves as well as crescendo/decrescendo. When I did these at my lesson today she was pretty happy with the progress. I have to be careful that I always use enough air speed and not try to compensate for lazy air by biting. That being said, my "chops" have definitely gotten stronger. I was able to pull off some decent dynamics. It's really exciting that now my playing is sounding more musical. Oh, and my intonation was quite good today. The only time I played out of tune was when I bit on a B-flat during the octave exercise. Eep. But other than that even when we played a duet it sounded well. She complimented my sound a few times, but other times I wasn't cushioning the reed well enough and was getting a more raw sound. I also got a compliment on a flat chin at one point. YAY! I am so excited that I am getting past some of the embouchure issues that haunted me for months. We are definitely playing more music now at the lessons. In fact she wants me to get a copy of a piece!! This will be my first official piece to study with her. It's the Corelli/Barbirolli Oboe Concerto. All in all it was a good lesson. I showed improvement in the areas I worked on and we found other things to iron out for next time.

So I went to the Imani Winds concert on the 25th. It was really amazing! The setting was very intimate. There were maybe 60 or so in the audience and we were all up on stage with the quintet facing us (their backs to the official seats). They introduced each piece with some information about it and answered questions at the end. It was really wonderful to enjoy great music in this setting. I do love going to the Philharmonic but I must admit that at times it feels overly stuffy. If we're all enjoying the music, why must we act like we're at a funeral? Anyway, Imani Wind's playing was top notch. I especially enjoyed watching and listening to the oboist, Toyin Spellman-Diaz. She has wonderful technique and sound. I went up to her at the end and she was also super friendly and nice. In fact, she even offered me a free lesson! I am a bit nervous but I will definitely take her up on that. It will be so much fun. She's really an inspiration!

Good night :-)

Friday, March 24, 2006

New Blog

I've created a new blog to chronicle all my pre-med stuff.

Sometimes I get writer's block because what I need to sound off about is some school related thing. This prevents me from writing my music stuff at times. So I've decided to make a new home for all that other pesky stuff.

Read at your own risk. It will probably just be a lot of whining!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Couldn't have said it better

I just loved Waterfall's recent post and wanted to quote part of it here:

As far as the sound of an instrument, I think the oboe is without question has the most beautiful sound in the entire orchestra. When the oboe plays--even if it's not soloing--it's like all of the other instruments are just humming in the background. My heartbeat seems to quicken just a little bit whenever I hear that lovely, familiar, mournful sound among the others. It has a warmth to it that the other instruments (except for the piano, which is just a little bit warmer) don't seem to have.

Do you know that sense of familiarity you get whenever you hear your name called out in a crowd? Someone may be calling out to someone else, but you turn anyway because it's your name. Well, that's the same feeling I get when I hear a piano or an oboe.

I know *exactly* what she means.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Weird source of inspiration

I feel like I haven't posted in forever! I was very busy with midterms last week. My, were they bad! It's interesting how you can get into a study groove and not notice the days go by. It's only after you're done and in the process of de-stressing that you realize how sucky it was to be preparing for exams for two weeks. I started early enough with Organic Chemistry yet I still ran out of time. I studied right up until the end and ended up with a B+ by the skin of my teeth. My Biology grade isn't in yet. I'm afraid to look at it considering the cram job I pulled (yet again). I VOWED this time to stay on top of Biology! It should finally get more interesting now that were are going to do development.

I'm still liking Organic Chemistry quite a lot. And I do enjoy the lab course too. It's come to the point where I need to seriously consider graduate studies at least as a possibility. I am still completely intimidated by the idea of being a scientist, but sometimes when I think about my strengths I wonder if it would be a better fit for me than physician. Then again I've really been enjoying my volunteering at the OB/GYN clinic. When I am there I am always humbled and honored by the trust the patients place on me (and I'm a nobody still!). I can definitely see and feel myself being a physician someday. But I am *still* afraid that the price might be too great. I MUST be reassured that I can still pursue my oboe studies to a degree which fulfills me.

I had a lesson last week, in the middle of midterm craziness. I scheduled it this way on purpose to force myself to keep up with the instrument. I ended up taking too many days off during my last round of exams. This worked out really well and I mean to keep it up from now on. I did manage to practice every day during the craziness even if it was only for a short while.

The lesson turned out much better than I expected. I had warned my teacher that I wouldn't have new reeds to bring in and so we skipped the usual reed business. This allowed me to play much more than usual which was good. She noted some improvement with the embouchure and having slightly more control. She wants me to keep working on developing flexibility (pitchwise and dynamics).

We ended up playing duets during the lesson and it was great fun! She had assigned those duets for me a while back (in October). I had sight read them during a class but I was still playing quite out of tune so we didn't really try to perform them together. This time we played them together and it was very exciting for me. Once I got over my nerves I was able to play with some expression. And my intonation is SOOO much better than what it had been in October. My teacher noticed that too and she also said that my sound was great. While playing I did notice that my sound didn't stick out (negatively) like it had a few months back. I want to say that what we played sounded like "real music".

She assigned me quite a few more duets for next time as well as three other little etudes to prepare. This is a big shift from what we had been doing where I was playing basically no music at all. What does this mean? Is this just a little break? Or am I finally at the point where I am ready to play more than just long tones? She does still want me to work on the same basics but she says she wants me to incorporate it into these easy pieces. She did also mention that she has another adult student who is looking for people to play with. Interesting development.

Today I attended an orchestra rehearsal at my husband's school. Their orchestra is quite small and mostly made of community members not students. The lady who is playing second oboe there has only been playing for 2 years. I was pretty shocked. As much as I want to be playing with others already, I don't want to rush things unless it's going to be good for my growth. But I couldn't help but feel that I could certainly do at least as well as they were doing. I had already practice some today but when I got home I ended up practicing my duets for another hour. I think it was the very best playing I have done yet! I think I was inspired by future possibilities. My dream is still very much alive!

Monday, March 06, 2006


So far I've been unable to duplicate my miraculous feat from the other night. It's ok though. It will come in due time.

PY, good luck to you with your Grade 8 test!

I checked out the ABRSM website and the concept is very interesting. Maybe I should take a performance assessment at some point. They have representatives in Queens. As I've mentioned before I am always out to compare myself to other students because I have NO idea where I stand. Could I play in a high school level band? Or am I still playing at a junior high level? I guess it depends on the school. My friend is a high school music teacher but her band is playing really simple things like "Twinkle, Twinkle". Yet the kids in the Columbia University Orchestra are so good that I wonder how their high school bands must have been. A lot of them could have easily gone into a conservatory instead and in fact many of them are dual-enrolled at Julliard or Manhattan School of Music, or at least take lessons with professors from there. Are all high schoolers this good?

Anyway, so I checked out the ABRSM oboe syllabus to see where I fit in. I was looking around the site but couldn't find where they talked about the tempo for the scales. I could have sworn I read something about that at some point last year on that site. Well I could probably play just about any scale *very* slowly. And the ones that have 4 or less accidentals I could do a bit faster. I think I am at somewhere between 80 and 100 for eight notes (2 notes per beat) for those.

In terms of the repertoire I am not familiar with a lot of the material and the pieces I *have* heard of are on the more difficult side of the spectrum. I looked through my collection to try to find some intermediate level pieces and found several grade 4 pieces and a grade 5. Here's what I have:

(1) Tambourin - Hasse
(2) 4th mvt of Concerto No. 8 in B-flat Major (Vivace) - Handel
(3) Rigaudon - Rameau
(4) Sarabanda - Corelli
(5) Cui - Orientale (this one is the grade 5, all others are 4)

I have (1) and (2) on Music Minus one recordings and I heard number (5) online. Here is my impression of them:

(1) Ugh! Too fast for me and with difficult articulations. Also kind of long.
(2) Could probably play this so-so with a lot of practice, just don't expect any fancy cadenzas or anything of the sort. The notes are not the challenge: playing in tune and with dynamics control would be. As would be endurance.
(3) Ditto what I said for (1). Also seems like an intonation challenge with lots of high notes at the end when you're tired.
(4) Doable technique-wise at that slow tempo. The challenge here would be expression.
(5) Ok I am not sure I understand why this piece is grade 5 and the others are 4. I have been able to play the notes of this piece for a few months now. I think that with practice I could definitely do this one.

So let's ignore that grade 5 one because I *KNOW* I am not anywhere near that level. Most of the 4 ones are still out of reach for me but I could perhaps get to in the foreseeable future. If I can play some of the 4 stuff albeit badly then I guess I am not grade 1 nor 2. This leaves grade 3 as the reasonable choice where I could be comfortably challenged. The scale requirements are reasonable for me. I do need to practice the minors and arpeggios more. Maybe I will use these as a guide. Too bad I don't have any of the grade 3 music. Anyone have any suggestions for which one of those I should get?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

What was that?

I'm sure many other music students do the same thing that I do every once in a while. Sometimes in the middle of practicing I will take a moment to play a snippet of some piece that I really like but is still way too hard for me. Even if you fumble it it's still fun to play real music.

One of my favorite little pieces to play badly in the comfort of my own home is the intro (first 4 bars) to "Le Tombeau de Couperin". I attempt to play this one at least a few times a week. Sometimes I play it ultra slow so that I can get all the notes, but then it doesn't sound very fun. Other times I play it at tempo and mess up the arpeggios but manage to save the trill-like second bar.

Well, tonight something miraculous happened. Maybe it was because I was so relaxed. I was getting tired of my one note exercises and decided to do my little Couperin thing. To my amazement, on the first try the first two bars both came out correctly for the first time ever. I was so amazed that I just stopped playing and screamed! HAHA! My husband was there and he clapped for me while I was busy laughing and screaming.

That was such a high! It's hard to express just how elated I felt right after I had nailed that. I wanted to smile so hard that my face would crack. Music is so wonderful :-)

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I wanted to start doing mini reviews of the concerts I go to, but I am rusty in terms of writing formally about music. Plus I'm also quite lazy. Maybe lazy is not the right term. Overextended.

I went to see Il Divo on the 11th of February and kept meaning to write about it. I'll admit at this moment that as much as I love Classical music, I know very little about and have listened to very little in terms of opera, or any Classical singing. It may be a cultural thing. Classical style singing sounds very foreign to me in comparison to the singing that I grew up with and am used to. So the few artists I am familiar with are of the "light" variety. I think that with time as I grow as an instrumentalist I will come to slowly develop a better appreciation of opera. But anyway, that's a whole other post.

Hayley Westenra opened up for Il Divo and ended up singing for almost an hour. I hadn't heard much about her other than her being young and that purists don't regard her as a serious Classical artist. I actually quite enjoyed her performance. Her voice was strong, clean, and pleasant to listen to. She reminded me a bit of Lorenna McKennit (she even did one of her songs!) but with a bigger sound. She had a tiny trio accompanying her and they did a nice job. The music itself was simple but her singing kept things interesting.

Il Divo, in contrast, was "big" on everything. They had a mini orchestra (yes they had an oboe!) and also a pop style orchestra. The setting was a bit dramatic: Grecian columns and laser lights. The music was at times "big" and so was their singing. I think that individually they have great voices and I especially enjoyed the duos. My favorite of the singers is Urs, the lower tenor. Carlos, the baritone, has such a strong voice that it sometimes distorted. Sebastien, the pop singer is quite good, but it was weird at times when he tried to emulate a more "classical" sound. It felt a bit contrived. I wasn't a huge fan of David, the higher tenor. For some reason he kept making me think of castrati.

Anyway, some of the arrangements were well done, using both the orchestra and the band well. On other songs I felt like we could have used more orchestra (read as: more oboe solos!). Kidding aside, I *was* surprised that there really weren't any real solos from the orchestra. Most times it was all tutti or the singing was so loud when the solos happened that you missed them. What bugged me the most were some of the voice harmonizations. As I mentioned earlier, they sounded really good when two or even three of them were singing at a time. But when all four came together the harmonies would sometimes get muddled. I don't think it was an intonation problem, it was just a matter of the arranger's taste. That, or the boys need to work on their dynamics.

That all being said I did enjoy the concert. Live music is always a blast. And who can resist all that virility?

So my next concert will be Imani Winds on the 25th. I'm looking forward to that because it's a wind quintet. And just today I got a flyer for a concert on the 26th where they will play "Rhapsody in Blue" which I love. Not sure if the hubby will let me go to concerts two days in a row though considering that we're technically living off loans. *sigh* Hopefully by May 2007 I will have money again because I am definitely going to this concert. NY Phil is FINALLY playing Brahms's 3rd! YAY!

Ok back to Organic Chemistry.

But this is what I'm most looking forward