Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I'm practicing like mad these days, and to quell my nerves about playing prinicpal for a group I've never heard before I took a lesson with the mysterious G (reed making demigod). Feeling much better about things in general (although this is a very nerve-wracking thing), MG said to watch out that my vibrato is too much in places.


For years I have struggled to have any tiny wiggle, my long-ago undergrad years peppered with jury sheets complimenting my tone or rhythm but "needs more vibrato".

I did all those undignified huffing exercises, where you slowly try to build up those diaphram muscles. I studiously avoided the evil throat or lip vibrato that is only fit for instruments like the saxophone. I tried making wavy lines over the long notes to remind me to kick in the "wobbles". Nothing worked for me - all the other oboe players were doing it, but I just didn't really hear it.

Then my 2nd year of grad school (!) I started singing in the (very good) school choir. I took some vocal lessons (what the heck, they were free with my TA-ship) and discovered that vibrato is actually a NATURAL occurance.


Totally against everything I had been working so hard on for years, and these crazy singer-people were saying, don't do that! Apparently if you use good air and keep your body relaxed the sound kind of "spins". You actually have to freeze muscles to NOT have vibrato - which can be damaging to the voice over time (many rock type singers strain their voices singing super loud straight tones all the time).

My vibrato is sort of a weird combination of diaphram throat and even maybe lip vibrato, it just sort of comes out and I don't think about it at all. Except sometimes on big long notes in a cheesy solo I punch it up a bit, maybe a bit Kenny G (OMG say it isn't so!) So thanks for the heads up MG, I'll keep a lid on in the symphony - even if we're playing schmoltz.

One more thing - I totally use vibrato on the clarinet. I know some people say that is a big no-no, but I think it sounds good in moderation - NOT all the time. And I've had compliments on my sound from actual clarinet players, so there. Always seemed very unfair to me, that oboe players were beleaguered by not only the horrible reed problems (sorry clarinet players, you have NO room to talk) but also the vibrato issues that were a completely non-issue for my clarinet collegues. So unfair.

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