Monday, March 14, 2016

Reeds reeds reeds

I have been very lucky to have a LOT going on the past few months, but of course that means I'm going through reeds faster. I would guess most oboists have tried "saving" a reed - playing the dreadful reeds hoping the "good" one will still be good when you need it! But in my experience reeds don't wait for the big performance...there are so many factors involved that your perfect reed on Monday may be just awful on Friday. So I don't tend to save my best ones, I just play on whatever is working at the time. I have been thinking about reeds more and more, partly because I have been asked to teach at a reed making camp this summer! This is not something I have done in the past, although of course I have taught my students to make reeds (to varying degrees of success). So I've been pondering what exactly makes a reed good, and how to explain that to someone else, and how to consistently make good reeds - which is what we ALWAYS want to do but at least in my case, I just don't! So I'm trying some new things. First I'm naming all my reeds. Boy names. Alphabetical. Has been fun to think of names but also I notice that I can remember George and how he behaved easier than R24, or the varigated blue with a streak on the bark. Secondly, I'm counting my knife strokes. Seriously. I figure why not. So 20 strokes on each quarter before I cut the tip. Then depending on the hardness of the cane, about 100 strokes on each tip quarter, and maybe 40 on the sides of the heart. I use a dial micrometer so I have a number I'm aiming for, but counting seems to work pretty well. Thirdly I'm keeping a journal of every reed - which type of cane and what shape, date, where I tied it on, thread color and maybe if it had anything weird, like soft cane, or really narrow opening or anything. That is something I have tried to do in the past but haven't been very successful at continuing. Seems to help that I'm naming them, maybe I feel more of a commitment. So I'm off to make some more reeds. William and probably Xavier - I mean, what else can you do with X?

Friday, January 8, 2016


I am finding myself in a conundrum. Sometimes my big mouth gets me into more troubling spots!

One of the chamber groups I play with meets at a local church, where they allow us to keep instruments and rehearse for free. We have played for their service, and recently I noticed the choir director passing out parts to the Vivaldi Gloria when we were rehearsing. Thinking I could help this little church choir out with my fabulous playing skills, I offered to play the oboe part with them. I assumed this would be for their church service and that they would probably have someone playing the organ and the church choir. 

It came to light that I was unable to attend rehearsal since I have orchestra the same night as the church choir rehearsals. The director seemed OK with this, and since I have played it before I wasn't too worried about it. Since there is an obbligato part, he mentioned the soprano might give me a call so we can go over that movement before the performance. When I didn't hear from her, I called the director as time is getting short and found that in fact this was not for church service, but for an afternoon concert. He had forgotten to tell me that they had agreed we would just run through the movement right before the concert at two. Still not a big deal, I figured it was just a special after-Christmas event for the church.

Yesterday I went to my chamber music rehearsal, and I noticed a large number of chairs set up in front of risers--as though for a small orchestra and a large choir. I saw some names on stands which made me realize all the A-Team players from the big orchestra in town would be playing for this ensemble. The soloist is apparently not a little old church lady, but the fairly well known opera singer. And instead of offering my services for free to help the little church choir, I am involved in this rather big event with all the musical hoi polloi in town! 

It is possible I could've been asked to play this gig, although I would guess they would've asked a few other people first given the other names in the orchestra. I think I can still do a pretty good job, but I am feeling very insecure about the whole thing, since I had such a wildly different perception of what I was doing! Not really sure why I am dwelling so much on this event. Hoping things go well on Sunday, but I will think twice before blindly offering to help out the next time!

Friday, March 20, 2015


The longer I play, the more I realize I don't know. Last weekend I recorded some English horn trio things, an original piece that was quite lovely. But recording in a studio is sooo revealing! I thought I sounded pretty good, but you can hear the tiniest chirp on the reed, the little bobbles in intonation (or the big ones), and the uneven vibrato or lack, very humbling. So I decided I really need to record myself at least once a week and listen critically. This is something I think every teacher TELLS you to do, but I have only done it once or twice. I pride myself that I can listen and tell, but recordings dont lie. So we'll see if this is a good thing or not.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How can we be halfway through summer?

Well, the wonderful Fireworks concert was cancelled. Hopefully it will happen again next year, those of us in town (and quite a few had come for the concert) played an impromptu march by the river - I think we had aspirations of a "flashmob" but no one was that orgainized! It was nice to see everyone, and I brought my "camping oboe" which is an ancient ring system that my DH got on Craigslist. I guess this counts as a gig. I am working on contracts for the opera, being the manager is a huge pain mostly, but I do like being involved! Also, I am afraid I would never get hired again if I quit. At least for that gig, so I slog onward. The theatre is having lots of growing pains with a new general manager. The "usuals" from the pit orchestra are all worried about being hired this year - I guess I have always figured it was wonderful while it lasted, but not to count on anything. Oddly, this fall they are doing Fiddler - which has a real oboe/EH book, I am pretty much the obvious choice for this but maybe they won't hire more than a combo...seems like a shame for such a big show. With all the trips to visit family and camps and our "free" tickets to the local theme summer is booked up! In just over a week we have our first symphony rehearsal - Opera starts in less than 6 weeks. Excited!!!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

No rest know!

Well, since my last post where I was bemoaning the fact that I had no gigs for the month of July, I now am playing two first oboe things, summer band concerts on clarinet every Monday, and a parade on soprano sax. We are also going to be gone for over a week, and another week in August, so suddenly my summer feels pretty crammed. 

I have been working on articulations and feel like I have made some good progress, although there's always further one could go! One of the concerts I'll be doing is a sub gig, I really hope they are wildly impressed with my playing, so they hire me again. 

The other is our wonderful Royal fireworks concert, which we all thought would be canceled this year, but it looks like we will eek out at least one more year. This concert is for instrumentation of handles will fireworks music, and we play arrangements and original pieces for that ensemble (20-odd oboes, 4 eh, 16 ish bassoons, 8 horns, 8 trumpets, serpent, and percussion). It always ends with fireworks music, and of course there is fireworks over the river set to the music. We play on a floating stage in the middle of the beautiful parks, I love doing this gig every year! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer goals

This summer was really depressing me for a while, as I finish a crazy spring playing all the time, I am faced with no gigs at all until late August. But after thinking this over, it will be so nice to have some actual practice time! So many things go by the wayside as I frantically prepare for each gig in turn. 

Here are the things I hope will be much improved in the next two months:
Soft low articulation
Single tongue speed
Variable speed vibrato

Of course I could go on and on, but I think that's enough to focus on. My litmus test for that low articulation will be Brahms Symphony 2, 2nd mvt, 2nd oboe part. Holy cow what a nasty mess that is! So glad I am not playing it next fall, I will be playing first! Did this on an audition last spring and couldn't believe how hard it was.

For the single tongue speed, I can play two notes in a row quite quickly, almost as fast as my double tongue. I have noticed if I slowly add notes, first three, then four then five, I can actually get going quite a bit faster.  So far these are all same pitch, but I plan to do different pitches in a week or so.  

The vibrato I've been working on for a while, I put the metronome on 60 and start with one about a poor measure, then increased to two, then three, and four, than five. At that point I do a whole note trill for two bars. Immediately following that back to five vibratos per bar, four, three, two and straight. This is way more difficult than it seems, and it's really great to add color to long notes. I noticed that I should probably practice my trills too, but holy cow lets not get carried away! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Backwards practicing

I have always practiced all my major scales pretty much every day. But this week I started playing from the top going down instead of my usual way, starting at the bottom going up a couple of octaves.  Who would've thought this would be complicated any way? I am surprised that even though I have played these exact notes on the way down nearly every day for four decades, when I start at the top I really have to think about what comes next! Who would've thought I had neglected such an easy thing. I guess there really is no limit to what I can practice.