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??

Friday, June 09, 2006

Act II

Was going to put this under comments to the previous post but then decided to just post it separately because it was getting kind of long. Thanks for the responses so far. They were greatly appreciated.

I've been looking into some of the other fields, but I admit only half-heartedly. I am somewhat uncomfortable with not going "all the way" and not having complete autonomy (though not even MDs really have that these days due to the insurance issues). That all being said if I manage to rule medicine and dentistry out, I'd still consider PA or PT.

For now I am putting my hopes on that summer research program I start soon. It might work out because I really do love the underlying science. I think that if I find a job where I am always learning and still contributing something to society, albeit indirectly, that perhaps I can still be happy.

Regarding my playing: I just assumed that because I started so late that there is no hope for me ever being a professional. I haven't even allowed myself to think that there is hope because when I do I tend to get starry-eyed and impractical. I do believe that I could get to a point where I could earn *some* money from oboe playing. Maybe by forming a small group to play at weddings or something like that. That would be several years off but it's definitely possible. But given that I live in an expensive area I doubt that I'd be able to make a real living off it. Plus I don't think I'd want it to become my job. I'm not sure I could take that kind of pressure.

Even though I wouldn't be able to live off it I would still like to be the best I could be. I have daydreams where I become a teacher or professor and have the summers off to devote entirely to music. Surely then I could be the best I could be?

I've always wanted to ask my teachers what my potential is but have been embarrassed to. Maybe a part of me is scared about what they'll say. If they were to say that I am not all that talented at oboe I will be sad. But if they say that I could have made it to the top I may become consumed with trying (however futilely) to live up to my potential.

I definitely can NOT live without playing, that much I know is true. Whether I can be an MD and still play the oboe is uncertain. I think I will have some time, but it's going to be limited compared to what I'd have if I didn't do medicine. If my innate oboe potential is a 500 (random number) I feel that if I go into medicine I am automatically reducing it to at least 250 due to time constraints. Perhaps that is still good enough to join a community orchestra. But maybe I'll get paged during rehearsals or I'll be on call every Tuesday, etc. If I did medicine music will NEVER be first. Medicine will always be first before anything else (even family - ouch!).
But shouldn't your passion be first? Shouldn't I try to hit that 500, or even exceed it?

Medicine and music are indeed doable, particularly for people who are already good at their instrument when they start. And for people who are good at managing their time. I am not in that position though. I'm an intermediate student at best and am a chronic procrastinator. The other issue is that I also have to start thinking about family planning because medical training would run through my thirties and into my forties. So when I add everything up together I can't convince myself that I could still be an oboist if I become a doctor, hence my hesitancy to go into it. I've often been told that you CAN have it all, just not all at the same time. My life choices have brought me to this crossroads where I'd either have to try to have it all or will be forced to give something up. And if I had to give up oboe, becoming a mom someday, or medicine, the choice would actually be really easy. Even if I do think "what if" for the rest of my life. 2 out of those 3 things I am 100% I do want.

When I think about my ideal life it includes involvement in many activities: I'd have a job that is intellectually stimulating, not like my position back in corporate America. Preferably it would be in the sciences because science makes the brain happy. Because I do like people, medicine has always seemed like the right choice, but I am actually an introvert by nature. I wouldn't exactly mind working by myself again as long as the work is meaningful to me. I could always hang out with people during lunch. I do want to help people but it doesn't HAVE to be directly through my job. For example, if I were to do research as opposed to clinical work, I could then go into inner city schools as a volunteer and talk to students about careers in the sciences. One of my chemistry professors does this. I really love talking to kids and would enjoy working that into my life somehow. Besides it might be a better way to give back than vaccine injections. I'd also go back to martial arts and finally get my black belt. The older I get the more I realize how important it is to try to stay fit. I'd have time to play my oboe every day and continue lessons. Maybe I'd even be able to take some continuing ed courses in music or something. Several schools around here have wonderful adult certificate programs. I would love to play both in an orchestra and a smaller chamber group someday. And let's not forget time for spiritual activities, family, and friends. What a busy but enriched life it would be! I've seen it time and time again that I tend to be happiest when my life is balanced, when I am able to include as many of these things as possible without too much stress. I like medicine but am so afraid it's incompatible with this ideal.

My husband too has told me that no matter which route I chose I will always wonder "what if". Maybe I just need to understand that and move on. As wonderful as medicine is every time I make the decision to go through with it I suddenly feel as though I'm trapped inside a box. That I will be in there toiling while the rest of my life happens outside of me. Try as I may I can not get rid of that imagery. When I decide that I won't do it I can imagine a life where I have time to pursue absolutely everything I can dream of. Yet there is also a hint of sadness here because I had to give something I really wanted up. Perhaps it's a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. Do I pick medicine and risk not really being present in my own life? Or do I give it up understanding that I will likely take some regret with me to the grave? I guess I can hope that the joy I will feel through my other activities will make up for it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Seeking advice

Rather than following my detailed schedule for MCAT studying I've been spending inordinate amounts of time every day thinking about the decision. You know the one. Should I do med school? I had managed to get myself motivated enough about the MCAT by seeing it as a way to redeem myself after a mediocre semester. I guess I can still pull it off. But the question remains. Do I really want to be a doctor? For whatever reason I've got it ingrained into my head that this would be the only job I'd ever really like. But I am really starting to doubt this. I would have no issues going through with it if I could be assured that I'd have time for my other pursuits (oboe). But no one can reassure me of this. If anything most people tell me flat out that I will NOT be able to pursue my oboe studies to the degree that I wish to pursue them. As the days go by I am starting to feel that I should just settle for a job I don't hate and have time for the oboe, rather than going for a job I *think* I might like but have no time for anything.

I ask you this: do you think it would be silly of me to give up on the medicine thing for my oboe? Especially when we all know that I will never be up for any auditions or anything resembling a professional oboe career?

For someone like me it's hard to give up something I think I can be excellent at for something I know I will never be great at. Yet the thought of not even allowing myself to give it a try, no matter how futile, makes me sad. I feel like deep down a part of me would rather be the best amateur oboist I can be rather than a physician. If it took me so long to find my passion, why would I deny myself the opportunity to try to get as far as I can? Sure, I can play oboe as a doctor. I should have some free time here and there. But that's all I can ever hope for. Oboe will have a very secondary role once I'm really into the medicine thing. Even though I can never be great I would still like to devote as much time as possible to the oboe. I don't think that an hour here or there would be enough to make me happy.

Any advice? When I look back on my life in about 20 years' time, which choice will leave me feeling better?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Swimming, Soccer, Ballet, Oboe

Hahah! I was watching the news on Fox when a new Dunkin' Donuts commercial come up. It's about a Mom in a van taking her four kids to different activities: swimming, soccer, ballet, and oboe. They go through the jingle several times, each time getting a bit faster. How funny that they picked an oboe! I always love when we get publicity of any kind. I wonder how many, if any, kids across America will be intrigued by the commercial and maybe take it up? You never know.

I think I'm going to have me a donut tomorrow!