Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Catching up and Countdown to Brahms

I just realized that I had a false start last year as well, where I made a post with full intention of continuing to post regularly only to fall right off the wagon.  I really do have the best intentions.  In fact, though I rarely post these days on many days I "post" in my mind.  I draft up entire entries and even edit them a bit, but never get around to actually typing them up.  The idea of chronicalling my musical journey is still present. Other than being a mother, it's my most intense endeavor.  But unlike motherhood, where it's relatively easy to find support online or through friends, this journey in many ways has been a very lonely one.  While I know do have a wide network of local amateurs that I speak to, none of them were adult beginners as far as I know.  And then even in the realm of adult beginners I am an anomaly because while I didn't play as a kid, I listened and "analyzed" music all the time.  And then there was that whole music major I completed with no true instrumental skills at the time.  It's only know that my playing ability has finally started to catch up to my musical knowledge and ear.  And this junction brings with it many exciting possibilities.  I am poised to have another new beginning.  This oboe journey has not been a straight shoot at all.  Rather it's as though I am traveling down the road while also rotating in spirals.  At first they were tiny little loops.  I would work on one note at a time, then a scale, etc.  As I've improved I've noticed that at any one time I am only able to really handle a couple of major topics to work on. So maybe for a while I am working on intonation.  That improves a little.  Then I start working on articulation.  That improves a little.  And so forth.  Eventually I get back to intonation and start working on it again.  Seemingly from scratch since it's been a while.  But really I am starting at a further point ahead because all the skills have built up on each other and I am better than where I was when I last worked on it.

Right now I feel like I am poised to make a leap into "advanced" student territory.  I have a grasp of all the basic techniques.  I can sight read soooooooooooo much better than when I started.  I am starting to be able to play with some nuance and expression and to actually have control of what I am trying to do even if my ability to create my own concepts is still relatively fresh.  But other than for really fast passages there aren't things that I can't physically play now.  I may not play it perfectly well at first.  But with practice I can fake my way through a lot.  Even though I know it will take 1000x more effort than any of my previous rotations/transitions I am excited about all this is heading.  My baseline is finally decent so now I can FINALLY really start to lean to play MUSIC.

Things I hope to work on in the coming months:
- Finding consistent time to practice every day.  I want to work on my technique building exercises early during the day.  Long tones, scales, etudes, etc.  And then I'd like to add a second practice session at night for my repertoire.
- Articulation - this is probably my weakest area as it's what I've paid the least attention to all along.  I need to clean that up because the music I'm playing now requires more distinct articulation to really convey the composers' ideas.
- Scales and arpeggios - this is another area I've been lazy with.  I've always preferred to work on the slow, beautiful lines and the challenges they present.  But I don't want to get caught being unable to play fast passages.  I'm especially sloppy with arpeggios.  Good thing I don't play clarinet.  It's fun to hear them whipping those out behind me, but they scare me to death!
- Dynamic range - this one is tied to an overall reed issue that I am facing.  I'm getting to where having a one-size-fits-all reed is no longer serving me well enough.  I need to be able to play on harder reeds for when I need to project more, or reeds that allow for better low notes, etc.  This will require me to work on either reed making or reed adjustment with someone and will be a long-term process.  All I know now is that the reeds I've grown accustomed to playing on are usually NOT adequate to play extreme dynamics and this is limiting my expression.  The good news is that I think I found the perfect person for this.  For many years one of my teachers had been supplying me with nice soft reeds.  These worked well until she moved and then they stopped working for me altogether.  My next teacher would then adjust reeds for me and sometimes also give me some.  This also worked for a while until we both started having kids and got too busy to meet regularly.  My current teacher is great but I can't afford to waste my lesson money and time with her on reeds so she's had me purchasing them from a certain supplier.  These work well and are easy and stable to play, but I just feel like I need a little more for special occasions.  Turns out I met someone last year through the local wind ensemble world (Oh, I forgot to mention I'm playing second oboe in a symphonic wind ensemble now too!!).  She's an amazing player and someone who actually enjoys making reeds.  On one occasion she adjusted some of mine and they were great.  But more importantly she gifted me an English Horn reed that basically changed my life.  She passed it along as a dud and told me to "see what I could get" out of it.  Let's not forget that EH was my first love, yet for as long as I've owned my EH I have not been able to get it to speak freely at all.  Enter her reed.  I brought that baby home and played and it was like the heavens opened up, with a choir of angels singing and everything.  All of a sudden all of the resistance was gone from the instrument and I was left with a beautiful, rich tone that was easy to produce.  And in tune!!!  I couldn't believe it.  Needless to say it made all the difference between me struggling through Karelia suite and actually being able to play it in December.  So I definitely need to find a way for our schedules to mesh and to see what I can bribe her with so that she can spend some time with me on my reeds.

Boy did I digress . . .

I started the post with the intention of writing about how excited I am to be playing Brahms at orchestra tomorrow.  I had previously read through parts of the 3rd and 4th symphony with my other group, but it was somewhat disappointing because the music was simply over our heads.  Now I get to work through an entire symphony and polish it for performance.  We are working on No. 2 and I couldn't be happier.  It was actually the only one I was not familiar with and now that I have listened to it a few times I am not disappointed.  The first movement was intimidating at first but then I heard a familiar melody in it and that helped me feel more at home.  2nd and 3rd mvts are oboe heaven.  It is very busy for me and demanding in a way that is not impossible, but a welcome challenge.  The issue with the 2nd mvt is the rhythm.  He sure does love to blur meter and then there is my whole string of solos that start on an upbeat.  Fun time.  3rd mvt is loads of fun.  I just need to find my courage to really be present since my line is so prominent throughout.  I may have mentioned this before that when I listented to my recording of playing from December, I didn't hate my playing (woohoo), but I did feel that it lacked umph.  Partly it was reed related, but partly it was also me being shy and not wanting to come to the fore.  I must leave that behind for Brahms 2 to work.

We are working on mvt 1 tomorrow and I am literally dancing in my seat and very distracted at work already.  Usually this feeling doesn't set in until Wednesday afternoon.  Haha!  I love my oboe.  I love my orchestra.  I love Brahms.  Long live music.  And thanks to God and every fiber of the universe that willed this all to happen in my life.  I may have found my calling way too late in life to even have a chance to make a living out of it, but darn it, I intend to enjoy every minute of my playing!