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.