Sunday, April 30, 2006

My aching mouth

I got in two hours of practice time today!! I wasn't playing the entire time though. Some of the time I used to do harmonic analysis of the piano accompaniment to that Corelli piece I am studying. That serves a dual purpose. I've always seemed to listen to music more vertically than horizontally. It's only now that I'm playing the oboe that I am worrying more about melodies. I do still need to understand the underlying harmony in order to feel that I really "get" what I'm playing. I do tend to harmonize everything in my head anyway, but I like to know what the real hamonization is just in case there are any surprises. The other nice thing about doing this analysis (besides pure intellecual fun) is that I can write out the chord changes for my husband and he can accompany me as I practice. He doesn't really read Classical piano music (and is, in fact, intimidated by it) since what he's played all his life is Latin stuff and started on jazz recently. Merengue piano parts are written in tab.

I spent most of the time on my piece but I did also work on some long tones and octaves. By the end of it my embouchure completely died and my mouth just gave up and looked something like this. Pretty funny stuff! I mean to give myself another workout tomorrow. I have to try to get a lot in before the finals crunch gets much worse.

Today was a good day. A very good day. :-)

Thursday, April 27, 2006


My lesson yesterday turned out better than expected which was a pleasant surprise. I was convinced that my sound had taken a huge turn for the worse because of my forced time off last month. I do have to keep working on intonation and dynamics issues, but thankfully the bad sound thing must have been a figment of my imagination. It's not like I sound heavenly yet, but I am still moving forward. What can I say? Those months of the goose/kazoo/duck/bagpipe really work a number on you. I think I am traumatized!

I ended up not completing two reeds. In fact I only had one nearly finished reed to show. She never really pressures me about them but I am always afraid that she might and I always feel disappointed in myself when I don't go in with a lot of reeds. The reason I hadn't finished that one reed was because my knife was feeling dull no matter what I did. I have a sharpening block that I only use rarely. I've been using ceramic sticks for most of my sharpening. They work well for my teacher and are easy to use. Well it turns out that I was doing it at a slightly wrong angle and was probably dulling my knife instead of sharpening it. Now that I know what to do I won't need to fear finishing off the tips.

My teacher emphasized my need for working on long tones, octaves, and scales every day as well as on being more aware of tension. We worked a bit on the Corelli piece and she seemed pleased with what I had figured out on my own. Next time I hope to have all 5 movements mostly ready. I only presented 2 of them yesterday.

Less than two weeks left in the semester!! This means that pretty soon I will be stepping up my practicing to a minimum of two hours a day. Or at least I hope so! I have nearly 6 weeks off in between the end of the semester and the beginning of my summer research internship. I have some lofty goals for that time: lose 10 pounds, practice 2 hours a day, and start studying for the MCAT. Why can't I just relax like normal people? Hehe, I should have some time for that too. As much as one can relax when the mother in law is in town.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Baroque-y Me

When I think back at the time when I was trying to decide whether to play oboe or clarinet I remember that one of my perceived cons for the oboe was that a lot of its literature is from the Baroque era. It's not that I didn't like Baroque music. It simply wasn't my favorite.

So now I am working on my very first real piece with my teacher and it's Corelli's Concerto for Oboe and String. And guess what? I had a grand old time today working through the gavotta, which is arguably the most "baroque-y" sounding of the movements. I was very surprised at how I seemed to get into the feeling of the piece without really trying. For some reason I always thought that it would be unnatural to play in that style. But I think the instrument lends itself quite well to it which explains why they wrote so many oboe concertos in those days. Tada!

I am glad I proved myself wrong because now I have a ton of pieces to look forward to playing.

I wonder how it will go on Wednesday when I play it for my teacher. I haven't told her yet that I got the music. I am trying to work through it as much as I can to surprise her at the lesson. The piece is just at my level technique-wise. Not too easy yet the challenging parts are all things I can work through slowly. The range is pretty comfortable too. It does have some extreme notes but they are not troubling me. What I need to work on most is intonation and articulation. Oh and dynamics. For some reason I am still not back to where I was before my flu in terms of dynamics control. I was able to play softer than I am now. Maybe it's the reeds?

At one point tonight I realized that I've come really far in the past year. At this point last year I was still struggling with everything. Well, I guess I still am. But now I sound like an oboe. One without vibrato yet though. Hahah. It will all come in due time. It's really fulfilling to be able to work on real music and play it closely in tune and with some semblance of musicality. I think I've gotten to a point where the practice is reinforcing itself. Before I'd be almost afraid to practice because I didn't want to find out how bad I'd be playing that day. For a while one thing would get better while three others would get worse. So on any given day I had no idea what would come out of the instrument. At least now I am consistent. I know what I need to work on and when I practice the next day I usually don't feel that I am playing worse. I guess I had hit a plateau and am now on a new rising curve. It must be because my embouchure is finally closer to a real oboe embouchure.

I have another lesson Wednesday so I will definitely be writing about my preparations for that and the lesson itself. I have to make 2 reeds and am procrastinating on it. My scraping technique has been faulty lately. I keep making my tips uniformly too thin (instead of being slightly thicker in the center and thinning out towards the side). This creates a very raucous sounding reed which even after professional adjustment are barely good enough for doing long tones. I'm happy though because right now I'm still playing on the reed my teacher lent me for the Beethoven. It has a nice sound and I can control the pitch (but not the dynamics) better on it.

Off to listen to some music before calling it a night.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The start of something big

I am no longer an orchestral virgin! WOOHOO!! I still can't believe that I played a symphony. Not bad after playing oboe for only 16 months. I can't even explain how nervous I was from about 30 minutes before it was due to start until we actually started playing. Even during the tuning I was still ultra nervous. I was almost shaking. Part of it too was that I wasn't feeling secure about my playing. I still haven't fully recovered from the days of practice that I lost during my illness. The intonation and dynamics control that I was beginning to gain had become elusive again. My teacher was kind enough to meet me at school today to bring me one of her reeds because I didn't want to play in public with the ones I've been practicing with. Her reed was great, but I hadn't played on it before and I didn't get there early enough to warm up. Plus, I felt a bit shy about the others hearing me. Thankfully, my sound blended in with the others decently enough. And I didn't have any major intonation issues tonight (though some of the clarinetists did hehe).

The interesting thing was that the nerves disappeared as soon as we began to actually play. Oh I forgot to say that the instrumentation ended up being a bit unbalanced. We had 4 oboes, 2 on each part. Two other oboists from the orchestra showed up but left when they saw that there were 4 of us already. The other 2nd oboe was also not a regular member of the orchestra. No bassoons showed up and there was only one French Horn. There were 5 clarinetists and not enough low strings. We even had two guitarists show up and try to play the violin part. It ended up sounding pretty ok even with the weird orchestration.

Back to the music. The first movement was the most fun. Maybe it's because I am really familiar with it so I didn't have to count as much and could feel the music better. I ended up getting somewhat lost during parts of the second movement. We had really long rests and I would get distracted! Oops. I would start worrying about whether my reed would dry out. Or I'd start listening to the music. We ended up skipping the 3rd movement which sucked because I really like that one. But I think part of that may have been because we were lacking in terms of the lower pitched strings and brass. The 4th movement was really fun too! I managed to do pretty well on it to my surprise. There is a little part near the the beginning that I sort of memorized and if I tried to do it while reading I would end up messing up the fingerings. So I had to just close my eyes to do that part and then open them once it was over. How weird! The conductor marked the presto at the end REALLY fast!! I didn't think I'd be able to keep up but miraculously I mostly did.

My only complaint about the whole thing (besides the funky instrument balance) was that it was too short! We ended up only playing for an hour. When he said we were done I thought we were going to take a break and then play the whole thing from top to bottom. WAAAH! Oh, and the only other bad thing is that now I want to play in an orchestra every single day. What have I done? I've unleashed a demon. I knew I would just absolutely love playing in an orchestra. I am still in disbelief that it actually happened. I wasn't able to really think about my FEELINGS about the whole thing while I was there because I was so worried about the music, my sound, my dynamics, etc. But it was great. I really really want to be playing my oboe so much better and so much more. I KNEW that I was right. That once this hit me, it was the real thing. My husband doesn't always believe that I really found my passion but I know I have.

I came home and since I was still yearning to play I ended up practicing my piece for about 45 minutes. It sounded better than it has all week. I am getting back into shape.

So there you have it. I wanted to write more about it. Maybe I will be able to once the adrenaline rush goes away. All I know is that I am more determined than ever to be as good as I can be. I HAVE to do this more than once a year!

Here I am before we started. What a natural! :-D

Check me out in action! Oooh, my chin looks nice and flat.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My Symphonic Debut!

So I stop posting for a few weeks and now I get to tell you all that my symphonic debut will be next Tuesday and I will be playing Beethoven's Fifth! Nope, I am not joining an orchestra just yet, simply participating at a "play-along" here at school. I couldn't be more excited! It's as though my adrenaline has been pumping ever since I saw the first flyer for it last night. I have no idea how it will all work out. Will all the orchestra members be there and we will be doubling up? That's what I'm assuming. In preparation I've gone ahead and borrowed a copy of the full score from the music library. I am not about to blow my debut by messing up with the sight reading.

I have not been a good little oboist. But it was not entirely my fault. I was sick for 9 days! So sick in fact that I missed many days of practice. I am heart-broken about this and now struggling to restart my daily practice habit. Luckily my score of the Corelli/Barbirolli Oboe Concerto came in yesterday so perhaps that will help me get back on track. It's always such a pain to deal with sloppy chops. *cry* Just when I was starting to make real progress I had to go and catch a bunch of viral bugs. I won't despair though, I have next week to look forward to and that alone should be enough motivation.

I went ahead and contacted the oboist I met a few weeks ago at that other school's orchestra rehearsals. She and her teacher seem really nice and once I am done with the semester we will be getting together to chat about all things oboe and to play some trios. It will be nice to meet up with others who are oboe obsessed.

Ok I am going to go practice on my reed alone now!