Thursday, December 10, 2015

11 years!!

Yesterday was the 11th year anniversary of the first time I ever played oboe.  Though my total playing time is less than that because I basically took 4 years off during the whole baby stage, that day is always special to me as it was the beginning of the rest of my life.

I will never forget how humbly I approached the instrument and how very low my expectations were.  It seemed like such a daunting task that I thought I would never get out of my basement and would be playing along with music minus one CDs for at least two decades.  I wonder how 2004 me would have reacted if I could go back and tell her that within the same week I'd play in three different orchestras, a wind ensemble, AND a woodwind quintet?  I think she would have never believe it.  Hopefully she would take my advice to get the embouchure right from the get go.

I just wrote a super long email to my teacher recapping my two concerts from this past weekend.  Since I keep wanting to come back to chronicling my journey on here I figured I can just paste it as a post:

Sooooo I made it through my crazy musical weekend mostly unscathed.  For MV saving myself and only playing out during my exposed parts at the pre-concert rehearsal worked.  I didn't tire my embouchure for the concert itself like I did back in May.  We played at the chapel instead of the castle as we usually do.  The chapel has strange acoustics.  The sound disappears out in front of you and you can't hear the strings at all.  Our wind sounds felt dead and didn't seem to resonant, but there was a piece with singers in it and they sounded great.  

Anyway so the Moldau went fine, without any hiccups.  Though I think that now that there are two second oboes they ate me up.  In general when hearing back the crappy phone recording my brother made my oboe playing sounded tentative the entire time.  I didn't make mistakes with the notes but my sound was somewhat "anemic". 

Karelia went ok!!  I managed to play those A's and B's in the second movement quietly and in tune.  In the section that follows where I play with clarinet the second oboists were again a bit loud so it didn't really have the ephemeral quality I was going after.  

My solo that starts with that long G was fair.  My initial attack on the G was too forceful and a bit late but then the rest of the long G grew well.  The long pretty section after that where I am with the strings went well.  When I put my oboe down and went to pick up the English Horn the horn caught the string of my swab, which I had stupidly hung from the stand.  I tried to get it to come out but it was tangled inside whatever the lowest key is.  I had a second to decide what to do and I decided to just try to play it because I was pretty sure that key never gets activated and I needed to start.  Thankfully it didn't affect anything but the look on the first flutists' face was pretty priceless haha.  Anyway, the solo, for what it's worth, was well received as it resulted in some applause in between movements haha.

1812 was mostly fine too.  The piangento solo in the beginning came out better in rehearsal a couple of weeks ago when I had a better reed, and when the ornaments came out clean.  The folk song duet with flute (which I played on oboe after having transposed it by hand) came out ok.  Sometimes I had trouble transitioning into it but was able to come in with the flute.

SO overall the concert went better for me than last time so I am not dwelling on negativity but that being said I am already creating a list of the things that I need to work on next.  Top on my list is that I really want to develop a true spectrum of dynamic range, instead of just mp to mf.  Vibrato and a more robust tone are next on the list.  
Wind ensemble concert was mostly really fun.  The audience was loud and appreciative, which is a nice change of pace from the typical staid Classical concerts. Again, I think I played kind of shyly and was barely audible.   Wind ensemble has exposed my technical deficits.  There are many things I have not been spending enough time on and I can get by w/o them in orchestra for the most part, but not at wind ensemble.  So I need to make more time for scale studies, especially in keys with a lot of flats and chromatic.  I also need to work on cleaning up arpeggios and on articulation.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Three times the fun

Talk about serendipity.  I had been struggling with some drama in my first orchestra and it finally came to head this past Saturday.  As expected, the ensuing feelings were awful.  I cared less about the accusations, which I knew not to take seriously, but about the way that what had been a sacred space for me now felt sullied.  I wasn't unmotivated about the entire musical endeavor, but did feel as though I was mourning the loss of something.

With those emotions weighing on me, I started getting ready for my teacher's mini studio recital on Sunday.  As I'm about to leave the house I see an email from an orchestra I've been interested in for a few months.  One of the first violinists at my college based orchestra told me about them and I attended their concert late last year.  With many pro-level players in the group, they seemed like the real deal.  Shostakovich 5 was handled quite well by them.  Anyway, they seemed to be having some trouble with their second oboe spot.  Now that I've been more involved with community orchestras and other oboists I think I can understand why.  When I first started playing in orchestras I kept wondering why good oboists would come to visit once and then never return.  For a while I worried it was something about me.  Why wouldn't someone want to stay somewhere where they could play first on pretty good works?  Well, the thing is that as you improve and get to a level where the notes themselves aren't as much of a struggle, you want to be with other musicians who are on a similar level, working on expression.  So I think they balked when they saw how our rehearsals would sometimes turn into string sectionals.  Given our proximity to NYC there are a lot of very good amateurs out there and not enough orchestras for them to play in.  Once they are at that high level they prefer to be first chair and so even the more decent groups can't always find a stable second chair.  No worries, ye orchestras.  Enter moi.  While I have improved tremendously since returning to lessons in 2012, I know that I still have much to learn.  And I have to qualms playing second in a good group where I can pick up tips for a good, conscientious first.

With that all in mind, I printed out about 30 pages of music last night in preparation for our first rehearsal on Sunday.  They will meet a handful of times in February and the concert will be on 28th.  That's lightning speed.  My first orchestra works on the same repertoire for months.  My second group meets 12 times before the concert and that seemed liked a bit step above.  Now the stakes will be even higher.  Am thankful to not be exposed as first.  I am definitely not ready to play first in a group like this and am in fact a little terrified about being able to keep up on second.  But I intend to work really hard and fake it 'till I make it.

Here is the repertoire:
Debussy - Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Will not mention to them that I dabble in EH because there is an exposed solo there which I don't think I have enough dexterity for yet.  Am excited the second plays for a bit in the beautiful opening line.  But terrified about some rhythmic craziness in the middle of the piece.)
Dvorak - Violin Concerto.  Sorry, stringsters, haven't ever heard this piece.  Am hoping it's straightforward, but doubt it will be.
Elgar - Enigma Variations.  As in, the entire work.  Woah.  I was familiar with Nos 8 & 9 from Orch1.  But I had no idea how long this piece is.  I listened to it last night and here were more or less my first impressions on the variations:

Theme:  Ok this is beautiful lush string music.
I (C.A.E.):  Woohoo, great oboe duet action.  I need to find a way to play exactly like the first.  *gulp*
II (H.D.S.P.):  Oh wow, that's pretty fast.  Good thing the second only plays a little bit.
III (R.B.T.):  Break time for Oboe 2.  Fun listening to the bassoon.
IV (W.M.B.):   Holy moly, wake up now!  Baroquey exposed oboe duet warning.
V (R.P.A.):  Back to lovely low strings in the beginning.  Hmm and then come mildly terrifying oboe parts that I should be able to handle as long as it's not too fast.
VI (Ysobel):  Cool viola moments.  And a nice mostly stepwise line that I can handle.  I'm even alone for a bit.  Thumbs up.
VII (Troyte):  WTH.  I think my metronome broke.  Very fast and the percussion is scaring me haha.
VIII (W.N.):  Played this before.  Good to go.
IX (Nimrod):  Good old, Nimrod.  As long as they don't play it Bernstein-esque slow I should be just fine.
X (Dorabella): Don't lose focus and you'll be alright.
XI (G.R.S.):  I like the energy here.  Oh look, a low B-flat.  How sweet of you to test my instrument mechanism.
XII (B.G.N.):  Ahhh, cello.
XIII (***):  The calm before the storm.
XIV (E.D.U.):  Very cool to hear how some ideas are brought back in.

Overall, I like this selection of music.  It's outside my comfort zone which means it will definitely help me grow.  Wish me luck impressing this group.  This is the type of place you can make a permanent home.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Catching Up

I feel that before I can start writing on here regularly again, I need to catch up on what's been going on since my last few postings.

I'm coming up on nearly 2 years of working with my new teacher.  In that time we've attempted to meet biweekly with some regularity.  Some months we only met once.  I wish we could meet every week but I typically don't have enough practice time in between to justify that, plus it would quickly become too expensive.  We rarely ever do anything reed related, as I've wanted to take advantage of my time with her to do only music.  Also, she found me a good reed maker during last year's cold, dry winter and I've been using those reeds since.  They have been stable in tone and intonation and I can typically just play them out of the box.  Last year I did meet two other teachers who love teaching reed making and adjustment, so am thinking of seeing one of them a few times this Spring so that I can learn how to make minor adjustments to the reeds I'm buying.  I still don't have the time or money to devote to making them from scratch on my own, though I do hope that somewhere down the line when my girls are older I can do that.  I do find that not knowing anything about reed adjustment is becoming a liability, which is why I want to address that in the coming year.

Anyway, so the past 2 years we have indeed spent a LOT of time on reworking my embouchure and I am proud to say that I think it was FINALLY matured.  One of these days I will try to get a picture of what it looks like now.  I have some comparison shots of when I was doing it wrong.

Because my embouchure improved, as did my breathing concept (where the air is coming from and being more aware of the column of air and the pressure it needs), my tone improved a lot over the past two years.  The flutist from my quintet remarked that it is close to the pro quality I always wanted.  And when I sat in at a rehearsal orchestra in NYC I had a different flutist also remark on my sound.  She was amazed at the sound I was producing as a late & relateively recent starting adult.  She later went on to comment that my speaking voice is very resonant as well and that is likely why my tone is beautiful.  I was on cloud nine!!  All I ever wanted when I started this oboe journey in 2004 was to some day produce a beautiful sound.  I don't think I am doing it consistently yet, but when I get all the pieces together there are some magical moments.  And thankfully these are becoming more frequent rather than ultra rare.  Though I technically reached my goal, I know I am just scratching the surface.  Now I get to think about a whole new world of EXPRESSION, which has just opened up to me.

The other compliment I got recently was from my teacher.  She tends to be tough and her philosophy is NOT to shower with a lot of praise.  But a couple of lessons ago she remarked that I was sounding the best she had heard me sound and asked whether I felt I was playing at my best yet, to which I answered a resounding YES!  She then told me I should think about going to Summertrios.  In prior years she had basically said to not waste my money going to summer chamber things because I wouldn't really be able to get the most out of it yet.  But now she thinks I am ready.  That was yet another compliment!

She thinks that part of my improvement has been joining that second orchestra.  Ahh, yes, yours truly is now not only in one, but two, orchestras.  My second orchestra is a community orchestra associated with a local college.  So it's made of up their music majors, some high performing students from a local boarding school, and serious community amateurs.  It was definitely a step up from where I had been.  I heard about them through a clarinetist I met while attempting to fill in at an opera orchestra in NYC.  I bailed from there because I felt it too much of a challenge for me, but did make that one connection.  He let me know that this second orchestra had lost their oboists, an older married couple that had moved away from the area.  So in the Fall of 2013 I contacted the conductor and he told me they were playing Beethoven 7.  I went to a couple of rehearsals but then chickened out.  But come Spring 2014, I contacted him again.  I told him I was ok with playing second and that he could get a ringer for first.  He replied by saying that I wasn't giving myself credit and that I had a lot of musicality.  They were playing Schubert 8, a Mendelssohn overture, and one movement of a Mozart piano concerto.  My first orchestra had attempted Schubert 8 for a few weeks so I was familiar with the first movement and quite loved it.  When time came for me to go to rehearsal I found myself to be the only oboist there.  I started on second, but quickly realized that didn't make much sense as many essential lines were missing, so then I moved over to the first chair and the rest is history.  On May 2014 we had a very successful performance.  I will never forget what it felt like to truly MAKE that music.  In this group I couldn't hide and had to play everything as expected.  It was really nervewracking but ultimately very satisfying.  For the Fall concert we played Mendelssohn 5.  This was the piece that my teacher believes led to my marked improvements the second half of the year.  I guess it may have to do with the way the first oboe lines in it has a lot of big intervals and long, held high notes.  I really had to learn to use all my tools in order to get my sound and pitch in the right pocket.

Did I mention at any point that I acquired an English Horn?  I may have.  I bought an old (my age probably) Chauvet from an oboist I met through our quintet's bassoonist.  It was a good deal, even with me having to shell out another $1500 to have Mr. Teitelbaum (from Laubin) overhaul it.  So for both orchestras' Spring concert I will get to play EH as well.

Second Orchestra (MV) is tackling Dvorak 8.  Sure, it's only a 2.5 measure solo, but it's as exposed as can get.
First Orchestra (NWSO) is doing Prelude & Liebstod from Tristan and I get to play EH on it.  What a thrill to be a part of the Tristan chord!!  I've got a really funky line that keeps (not) "resolving" down but then resolves up chromatically at the very end.  It's amazing!  I am also playing EH on Debussy La Mer, third mvt.  Am playing second on Mozart 40 (long story).  Will be playing first on Beethoven Leonore 3 and also on the Faure Pavane.  The latter is one of those few pieces I became familiar with when I first started playing oboe and was always a "dream" piece of something I wanted to play.  Since then, I have many more dream pieces but it will definitely be a treat to finally play that along with one of my new clarinet friends.

Ok so we're almost caught up.  Tomorrow I have an oboe lesson in preparation for a studio recital on Sunday.  This will be my first studio recital ever.  Unfortunately, most of her more serious students will be unable to make it due to school and sport obligations.  So it will be more like an "oboe day" than a recital.  In a way that's better because I'll be less nervous.  Her other adult amateur and I will be playing a Barrett duet together (I forget which one, it's in G minor).  I've been practicing both the top and bottom line as I'm not sure who is playing what yet.  We will also be reading through music, including trios where I'll get to play EH.  YAY!

At some point this week I should write about the IDRS conference I attended last Summer.

Back to work.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dusting this baby off

With my youngest daughter being months away from attending school full-time, my long dormant creative side is reawakening.  And I think I want to chronicle the continuation of my journey.  I feel strongly that all the thinking and writing I did in my early years of taking up the oboe helped with my overall growth in it.  At the very least it served as an outlet for my obsession.  I'm once again finding myself spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about or listening to music.  Sometimes even daydreaming about orchestra or rehashing a rehearsal in my head.  No one wants to hear my incessant oboe related chatter, so it might serve me well to jot things down here.  Maybe someone out there might make some connection or simply enjoy reading it.