Wednesday, January 30, 2013


So our conductor is interviewing orchestra members about their experience in the group and/or music in general.  I am kind of freaking out about my interview, well, because I hate interviews.  I started writing out my entire musical history and will cut and paste it below, but don't plan on using it tonight.  It's much too wordy.  I just want to get across that it's absolute magic to finally be playing the music I've loved (but felt not "good enough" for) all my life. 

Here is my unedited story:

My earliest memory regarding Classical music was from when I was 4 years old.  They had a TV ad for a set of cassettes called “120 Classical Masterpieces”.  Every time the ad came on I remember screaming excitedly in my living room and dancing around to the music.  I told my parents that I wanted to play piano but they replied that there was no money for piano lessons and even less room in our tiny NYC apartment for a piano.  They did get me the cassettes as a consolation prize.  I continued to not have access to musical instruction through high school.  In my second semester of sophomore year at college I registered for the required music history course and that’s when I finally realized I could not go on living without music.  I was finally learning the language for all those things I had been listening to all along.  It turned out that I had favorite chord progressions and keys that I found more pleasing than others.  Learning about all the different composers, their works, and the names of the musical concepts felt like I was being initiated into a secret society.  It was as though I had been living in black and white and suddenly the colors had come in.  I couldn’t get enough of it and switched my major to Music.  As much as I enjoyed learning about theory and history, I still felt as though I had no access to performance.  The preprofessionals in the program were intimidating, with all their talk of 8 hour practice sessions and their having started on their instruments in the womb.  So it wasn’t until after I graduated that I finally decided to pick up an instrument.  But I didn’t pick an orchestral instrument, still feeling not quite worthy of them and feeling that I was “too old” to start at 22.  Instead I went on to study the saxophone and played in merengue bands for several years.

Then one day in 2004 my husband and I happened to walk into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Brooklyn Philharmonic happened to be rehearsing there for an evening concert.  We were free to stand wherever we wanted so rather than sit in front of the orchestra as an audience member I decided to go around and behind them so that I could watch the conductor and feel what it’s like to be in the orchestra.  It was a surreal feeling.  As the music soared and filled that sacred space I felt that it filled all of me as well.  I realized at that moment that I couldn’t die without ever having the opportunity to make that kind of music myself.  I figured that even if it took me 20 years to get decent at an instrument, that I’d still be only 50 and would have plenty of time to enjoy playing it with others.  Due to the dearth of saxophone parts in the Classical repertoire, I was prepared to switch to another woodwind instrument.  My merengue friends all suggested the clarinet, since the fingerings and embouchure were most similar to the saxophone.  I went as far as purchasing a student instrument and even taking a few lessons, but I was terrible at keeping my fingers on the right place and produced only squeaks.  One day I turned on the radio just as a new piece was starting up.  Within seconds I heard the most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my life!  I was transfixed by it for the entire duration of the piece.  It turned out to be “Swan of Tuonela” by Sibelius.  I immediately ran online to find out more about it and that’s when I discovered the English Horn.  To be honest, I had never heard of it before and was barely familiar even with the oboe.  Yet on that day I resolved that it would be oboe that I would study (so that I could later double on the English Horn).  And so my lifelong quest to master the oboe began.  It’s been a wonderful journey so far.  I have learned so much about myself and have grown so much.  I’ve learned about discipline, patience, perseverance.  I’ve learned about beauty and awe. 

I think it’s very ironic that I ended up playing an instrument that is often exposed over the orchestra, given my history of feeling shut out from the Classical world.  And then even after I started studying music my ear lent itself much more easily to harmony than melody.  So it’s doubly strange that I picked an instrument known for its lovely lyrical melodic lines.  But now I’ve come to realize it’s actually the perfect choice.  Through my instrument, I finally have the opportunity to express all the things I had been feeling from a very young age.  I look forward to continuing to grow as a player and as a member of this wonderful orchestra.  For me it’s truly a dream come true to finally be making the music I have always loved and an added bonus to be doing so with an amazing and welcoming group of people.  I feel so blessed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


So for the second week in a row at rehearsal, I've experienced a most unusual phenomenon.  Last week it happened while playing Copland's "Little Horses".  There is a little section of about 8 bars that is much faster than the previous material and then becomes highly syncopated.  For some reason I GOT it.  And I was pretty exposed over the orchestra and that didn't weird me out.  I even nailed measure 17.  I couldn't quite explain what happened.  I am not the best reader but for some reason the rhythms clicked and I was able to finger the correct notes all at the same time.

Today I had the same experience again.  And again it happened out of the blue and caught me by surprise.  It was while playing Beethoven's 9th/4th mvt.  At the allegro assai I have a little part marked dolce then 9 bars later I had written in "solo" last week.  I didn't get a chance to go over this piece like I had wanted since I was focused more on my budding EH repertoire.  I maybe got a chance to listen to it once on youtube.  But pretty much I was approaching it only a bit less cold than last week.  Then the magical thing happened.  My fairy godmother appeared.  Or was it Professor X to activate some mutant power?  Usually when I am playing, some major aspect of musicality is weighing me down.  Maybe I'm breaking the line, or I ran out of breath, I'm out of tune, or my articulation is sloppy.  Sometimes I am struggling just to hit the right notes.  As I'm playing I'm usually focusing on one of these things and a lot of times one of the other areas is weak.  Lately I've been trying to cut the noise in my head and think just air and hope that by practicing, the other stuff becomes more natural.  Anyway, so somehow tonight I was weightless.  I started the allegro assai with some other instruments and then was left somewhat exposed 4 bars before my marked solo.  My solo starts on high A, a note which I can make ring nicely, and I had a rest before it so it gave me time to breeeeeathe.  I started playing and I realized I was alone and projecting well over the rest of the orchestra.  The half notes became quarters and then I was playing several measures of 8th notes AND crescendoing at the same time.  Rather than dropping a plate or two, I was able to keep maneuvering through the passage.  My tone didn't seem to be coming from me.  It sounded, dare I say it, gorgeous.  I wasn't glancing at my tuner because I could tell that the intonation was fine.  I was keeping a nice legato line and had some decent vibrato in there.  Though I had a lot of notes most of it was scaley in nature and it was in D major, a friendly key to play in.  I somehow worked my way to a nice high D climax and then other folks came in and eventually the conductor stopped us.  And when he did, suddenly most of the orchesta erupted into cries of "Brava" and it took me a few moments to realize that it was me they were chanting it to.  What had just happened?  How had I managed to drop all of the usual weight I carry and experience a few seconds of magic?  It was so wonderful and beautiful.  I was so excited about sounding good.  About doing the instrument and the music justice for a change.  WOW!  It really felt like an out of body experience.

But I guess it really was no fluke.  I think over an over again I am proving to myself that practicing is the key.  There is no way around it.  That is a positive realization though.  Because it means that it's not impossible for me to play how I want to play.  If I was able to do it for 12+ measures of (nearly solo) Beethoven, then I have what it takes.  I just need to put in the time and dedication and love.  Then maybe the fairy godmother of weightless superpowers will visit me more often. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Tomorrow is Wednesday . . . YAY

Wednesday is quickly becoming one of my favorite days of the week because I get to go to orchestra rehearsal.  I know we're not wonderful yet, but it's really so gratifying to play this music.  It's somewhat annoying that a lot of purists feel that amateurs shouldn't even touch this stuff.  As though we're just not worthy of it.  I don't see why we don't have the right to try at least.  Even if it would take us our entire lives to truly perfect any of it.

I mention this because someone who is a professional made a comment about how they wouldn't play in our orchestra as a ringer because then it would ruin their experience of the particular pieces we're working on.  OUCH!  I mean, on the one hand I do understand.  She's actually good and it must be mortifying to have to deal with entire sections struggling with certain passages.  But isn't it possible that a good player like that could maybe lift up her peers and encourage them to make better music?  Wouldn't that be gratifying too?  I guess not as much as playing it how it's intended.

Anyway, moot point for me at this point.  If this is as far as I get, I will be more than happy.  If I eventually improve to move on to other ensembles, then that would be welcome too.

Things got a little busy so my practice sessions have been more repertoire review than true practice.  Hoping to work on that after tomorrow since I might be meeting with my teacher next Tuesday.  Quiet City has definitely improved.  I am still having trouble reaching the C# and my high B's and B-flat's feel somewhat stuffy and weak.  But I can play it through well enough for tomorrow.  *gulp*  I can't believe I am going to play EH in front of others in less than a day.

We're working on Beethoven's 9th again tomorrow.  I am starting to agree with everyone else that it's way out of our reach still.  But it was the group that voted for it.  Maybe folks just voted out of popularity.  Am hoping it gets bumped so that the Brahms could replace it.  Still not rehearsing Schubert.   Working on Mendelssohn No. 4/3rd mvt, Ravel's mother goose suite 1,2, and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder No.1.  So I'll be busy tomorrow :-)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Good air

I have a new mantra now as I'm playing:  Good air, good air, good air . . .

I sort of came up with this revelation on my own and then it has been more than substantiated through all the books and websites I've been reading and my past lessons.  Before I never understood why the oboe was always likened to the human voice and all this talk about singing through your instrument.  Finally I understand that the air really is everything.  It's the entire reason why any sound comes out of the darn instrument.  I was always blowing wimpy air into it before, being so preoccupied with everything else:  notes, fingering, intonation, etc.  Yet, a lot of those problems were being created by poor air support.  Or at least were being made worse.  I've completed my first week back at practicing every day and the main focus all those day was improving my support.  Second main focus was regaining my embouchure and endurance. 

Today was my first rehearsal of the new year and it went quite a lot better than previous rehearsals.  I had the chops to last until the end of the rehearsal w/o fatigue.  My intonation was better.  I projected better.  I think my sound was better overall.  I even read well!  We practice Copland's "Little Horses" and there was this funky syncopated part where I was pretty exposed but I actually was pretty close to nailing it.  So proud!!  We also revisited Mahler's Kindertotenlieder No.1, which I really love for the beautiful sad melodies.  As a whole the group sounded better on it and I think I am slightly more expressive than before.  I really want to do it justice.  I tried not to worry so much about technique and to focus on the air and line and I think this created a better performance from me.

I'm so elated right now.  It's always such a high to play in the orchestra but today I think I really pulled my weight.  I owe it all to regular practice.  Boy, what a difference it makes.  The only downside to this is going to be that my reeds will not last as long.  *gulp*  Ka-ching!