Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The joy of Bach

Today at work I played for the intermediate band class. I had a ton of trouble picking what to play, because I feel that I don't have very many things performance-ready at the moment, and also because I wanted it to be interesting for the kids even though it wasn't a big presentation.

I played half of
Ich habe genug from Bach's Cantata No. 82, and Bacchus from Britten's Six Metamorphoses after Ovid. (I figured that this was pretty short, gave them a wide range in styles and periods, and also had the cute tie-in of B names.) I was really happy with how the Bach turned out- I had heard it for the first time at JMOC this year, and thought it was stunningly gorgeous. It's obviously not hard finger-wise, and I thought I did a nice job of being expressive and musical and period-appropriate. The Britten was a little messier, but I tried to exaggerate the mood, and I did pretty well for not really having played it since spring juries. I guess having learned it at least once before that paid off.

I kind of took a reed break, since I didn't really have time, and I was running out of cane, but I'm starting back up now. Still using my pseud0-Lorrie style- I'm trying her method of scraping to the point of stiff but playable before letting the reeds dry.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A small reed eureka

For the tip of the reed, especially in the first scrapes, angle the knife, but still push straight up. It gives you a clear, inverted-v tip, but it's much gentler on the corners than actually scraping at an angle.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Strings make everything better.

At work today the advanced band and orchestra put Pirates together for the first time. It was so much fun- either the strings are more advanced than the winds, or just having more people made it sound better (that is a good part of it, at least), but it sounded much more ...real. For, you know, an easy arrangement of three songs from a movie soundtrack.

I set up the room for them, since I asked the band teacher how many stands there were, for the orchestra, and he replied that oh, there were lots of stands up in that corner. But I got everybody set up more or less satisfactorily.

Also, I went into intermediate band for a bit today, and ended up playing (nearly sight-reading) an etude for them. It was fun, because they seemed pretty interested, and asked a lot of questions. When I played for the advanced group, they didn't really seem to care. But I said something to the teacher that I should bring in a real piece to play, and voila, on Monday I will be bringing in something to play for the groups. Now to see what I should play...I need something that will be interesting for them. And that I know well, since I will be out of town this weekend. Everything I have seems unpolished, or boring, or both. Ah, well, I'll think of something.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

La Boheme

Today I drove down to C'ville to fill in for my teacher at a rehearsal of Ash Lawn Opera Festival's La Boheme. It was incredible. I knew that they were a "real company" despite only playing in the summer, but I didn't realize how real. All of the singers were very impressive, the orchestra was good as individuals and as a whole, and the conductor was pretty easy to follow and kept everything together. Plus, the singers were good enough that the orchestra could actually play fully without drowning the singers out horribly, which I have to say is a situation in which I have never been. Parts of Elijah up in Damascus were like that, but nothing like this. It made the music incredible, that we were able to play as a whole and to do it that intensely. And, they had a (small) children's choir! Playing with this group surpassed the Les Mis pit of last summer.

( I have to say, though, poor strings. We have 3-2-2-1-1 strings, in a pit which has 2 hns, I think 2 tpt, and trb. They got a little drowned out.)

Also, they are singing it in English. I know a lot of people don't like/approve of that, and I don't think I could make a blanket statement for or against, but I highly approve in this case. It's a good translation, and it makes the music incredibly moving. Mimi's death scene, when you can understand what everyone is saying is awesome, because she's telling Rodolpho that she's fine, she isn't sick anymore, and then when she dies he thinks, or at least "thinks" that she's just asleep, and is asking everybody what's wrong, why are you looking at me like that. So sad. And his "Mimi" was so much better than the recording- no fake sobs. And playing that orchestra part...man. But the conductor stopped us about 10 bars from the end, which was horrible. I mean, the end is only about 20 measures long, it's already like having a rug pulled out from under you. But to stop in the middle? I really wish we'd gotten to finish.

We did play through almost all of it. I was happy with my playing, because my sound/tone were really nice, even if I was having a strangely bad day with key signatures and accidentals. Usually I'm better at things that are sight-read-y. But I played on one of my reeds that I'd made in a pseudo-Lorrie scrape, and it turned out REALLY well. Very good at soft entrances and at holding itself up pitch and tone-wise. So I was pleased at that. (Hopefully I'll be able to make more. Knock on wood.) I was not as prepared note-wise and knowing the work as a whole-wise as I would have liked, but I was still satisfied. Aside from notes I held my own, and most of the players were out of college, and, as I told Lesley, I did only have the music for three days.

I really do love La Boheme, even though I'm not yet super familiar with it. (I did listen all the way through yesterday and today, and play through it Sunday, Monday, and today, but that's not enough.) Part of this is because the music is superb and Italian and operatic and I just love mushy, overwrought classical music. Part, though, is because I know the musical Rent frontwards and backwards. And Rent is incredibly highly based on La Boheme. It's pretty amusing: character names, when the "arias" hit and what they're about (counterparts include "Take Me or Leave Me", "Without You", "Finale A" (there is no "Your Eyes" or "Finale B"), "Light My Candle", "Rent", the scene at street vendors at Christmas, and "La Boheme" including Benny, though he rags on Musetta, not Mimi. There are probably more, but we only had the vocalists for half the rehearsal, so most of Acts 1 and 4 were done without them), relationships, plot, everything. Obviously the sound is completely different from Rent, but I do think that Andrew Lloyd Webber knew his Puccini. I could definitely hear
Phantom and Cats.

I think it's really funny that the most famous aria from the opera is between Musetta and Mark (what would be "Take Me or Leave Me" in Rent), rather than between Roger and Mimi, who are rather dramatically the main couple. Though they do have "O soave faniculla", which is stunningly gorgeous.

I haven't played in a rehearsal like that since orchestra ended at the end of April. By the end of that I was definitely in pain. Of course, the fact that the room was utterly freezing (and I get hot when I play) didn't help. My oboe was actually getting cold while I rested, and many of those weren't super long rests, either. I know why my shoulder hurt, because I've been kind of bad about that recently, but my other arm was getting...fuzzy, a little bit. I can't think what I've been doing recently that would have caused that, so perhaps it was just a fluke from lots of driving and cold and not being used to rehearsal time. I didn't lose my embouchure at all, though, so YAY. I'm pretty sure that was because of the modifications I made to my reed copying Lorrie. It was much lighter to play, while still sounding quite dark and covered. And I have been good about keeping at least mostly in shape this summer.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I love playing in pit orchestras.

So it's convenient that on Tuesday I get to sub for Ashlawn Opera on principal oboe for a rehearsal of La Boheme. I''m so excited- Ashlawn is a real opera company, even though they only play during the summer, and outside. They have really good musicians, including several of the performance professors from UVA. Plus, it's La Boheme, which is a gorgeous and musically exciting show. Of which I now have a copy of the oboe part. (Also, since it's a professional group, they're paying me for the rehearsal.) So I'm taking off of work to drive down to C'ville and play the rehearsal, and then driving back up.

On Saturday morning, under Lorrie's supervision, I took all the keys off of my oboe, oiled them, and then put them back on. It was pretty cool, though it can be disconcerting: some of the keys look very mysterious out of context. But if I did it another time or two, I'd be pretty confident of my ability to do it by myself. Which is a plus, since my teacher is hopeless with oboe repair, and I don't trust the woodwind repair man down in C'ville.

(I gave my instruments to her on Tuesday, not expecting to be doing all this myself, and didn't get my oboe back until Saturday. Which means no practicing for THREE DAYS. I was so cranky by Friday night.)

Lorrie can be such a generous person: I was at her house for 4 and a half hours, had my oboe checked over, and got a reed (she tried to make me a second, but the other pieces of cane did not cooperate), all for free.

And the reed! It's amazing. Extremely free-blowing, in tune all the way up and down the scale. You hardly need an embouchure, just the appropriate placing of air. You could play for hours on a reed like that. However, she was using a new gouge, the middle became too thin and then the rest to balance it, so I'm not sure it'll hold up for a whole opera rehearsal.

But my reeds are behaving quite well also. (Knock on wood.) And I'm trying to incorporate some of her techniques into mine.

Here are some comparative photographs.

One of Lorrie's reeds (again, thinner and more extreme than is possibly usual, but a good idea of her technique):

One of my reeds (perhaps with a slightly shorter heart than usual):

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I have an accompanist for my recital, and a hold for Old Cabell on just about the perfect date. April 19th, afternoon recital.

...*knock on wood*, just for good measure.

A few cool things:

The John Ferrillo Orchestral Excerpts for Oboe book: Oboe parts reproduced as they look on page (including page breaks), accompanied by a blurb that explains any mistakes or controversies in that part, and with piano reductions of the orchestra part. Can be found off of Amazon, as well as other places.

www.store.jewelsinfiber.com: Check out their #18 nylon thread- they have tons of colors.

Tim Goplerud: he's a contemporary composer, and he has some awesome English horn music. The coolest I've heard is a duet for English horn and double bass.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I appreciate the slow Ferlings more and more.

I had good luck with the reeds I scraped my way- one turned out very nicely, all dark and full. I have also had a few reeds belatedly turn out nicely from Patty's scrape.

Having just stated that I'm having good reed luck, I better tie on some more blanks tonight...just in case the reed gods get touchy. (I took a picture of a wonderful reed once...had bad luck for weeks afterwards.)

I've continued to play in the wind ensemble at work. Yesterday I brought in my English horn to demonstrate and then play in lieu of a French horn, and today I mostly helped the kids with their chamber groups. The one I was coaching consists of all beginners, so the piece they were working from was "the easiest one in the book", Angels We Have Heard on High. I tried to get them thinking about balance, and direction, and contrasting dynamics, and then I had them pick another song to read through. Originally they picked the Allegretto from Beethoven's 7, of which I heartily approved (that is one of my most favorite movements/pieces in all of classical music), but it was too hard for them, and also "sounded kinda weird". ...not that the speed they'd picked, despite my best efforts, really helped.

Also, as we were having a very slow day in the office, I snuck off to practice by myself for about half an hour before wind ensemble. It was brilliant. (Plus I got my reeds straightened out for rehearsal, so I sounded much better...more like myself, and less like a high schooler.)

The other music IA and I decided that we needed to be proactive about getting into classrooms, so we put little notes in all of the music teachers' boxes. Hopefully it worked, and there will be less aimless sitting around in the office tomorrow.

I'm taking my oboe and English horn to get looked over by my old teacher, who knows a lot about oboe repair, especially for Howarths. Plus she does it for free. It makes me a little nervous, though, because while she is a wonderful person, and a very talented musician, she always manages to make me feel, well, disappointed in myself and my level of abilities. But I can always use another kick to get me started.

I asked her advice about grad schools as well, and she gave me a mini-lecture about "name brand", "ego-inflating" schools, but she also got me thinking about something I hadn't, going to get my masters with her. I hadn't really considered this at all, partly because I hadn't thought of it, but partly because a) I don't want to go to school that close to my parent's house and b) while I think that for some things, I agree that "name brand schools" don't matter: orchestra jobs, for example, things that are nearly solely based on auditions. For teaching positions, at colleges and such, and also when getting more casual gigs, though I do think it gives you a boost.
But, now that it's been brought up, I can't get it out of my head. A couple of my very close friends commented to me that, despite my very strong aversion to going to school in this area, it might be worth it for the long term gain. Because she would be an awesome teacher for me. She would be hard on me, but I would do it.
So, I'll see. I think I should at least apply. Because hopefully I would get in, and it does have a good overall music program as well.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Oh, high school band

I played in IFTA's 'advanced wind ensemble' today, since their instrumentation amounts to 6 fl, 2 cl, 2 bc, 2 sax, 1 tpt, 1 trb, 1 perc. Poor things. Still they're doing their best. And I thought the conductor was doing a good job with them, though there was a little too much clapping and too little conducting for my taste. But I find that clapping is increasingly hard for me to follow as I become a more advanced player and also as I become more accustomed to playing in a really strong ensemble with a really strong principal. I'm not really used to playing principal, or leading the ensemble, anymore.

Plus the wind ensemble gets to play (a rather dramatically lightened version of) Pirates of the Caribbean. Which, incidentally, is notated very strangely, to my ears. The 'duh rest duh duh duh rest, duh rest duh duh duh rest" part, which to me sounds very strongly in 3/4, is actually written in 6/8. Which means that unless you have a strong ensemble to assert the counter-rhythm, the piece comes out sounding very different from the recording.

None of my Patty or Danna scrape reeds were working particularly well today in rehearsal, and I ended up playing on some older reeds which I'd made using my scrape, so today I made a few new ones in my style, using the .48 gouged cane. My scrape is rather in between Patty's and Danna's, I believe, with the strongly pronounced spine that Patty's scrape produces paired with the longer, more even proportions of Danna's scrape. It struck me how much more comfortable it was to scrape reeds my way...but then, I've been making reeds at least approximately that way for, oh, 5 years. We'll see how they turn out, though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Middling luck on reeds

No music related activities yet at work. I've been alphabetizing up a storm, though, and I found a kid whose last name is Stokowski. :-)

I didn't practice yesterday, though I believe I did on Monday, and by yesterday evening, and again today after work, I got so edgy/antsy. You'd think I'd know by now that it's "oboe withdrawal". I practiced tonight, though not particularly well, and sure enough my mood let up a lot. (Of course my mood does not rest entirely on whether or not I've practiced, and the fact that I'm "home" instead of at my apartment is not helping matters, but playing the oboe will make me feel better the vast majority of the time. It's brilliant, aside from the times when playing puts me in a bad mood because I think I sound bad in whatever various ways.)

I played through bits of Rite of Spring excerpts. They're all so pretty in isolation. I think I really need to listen to that piece again- I didn't like it when I listened to it before, but it's been ages, and I don't really know what it sounds like.

The .45 cane that I have is bad - weird and mushy - so I'm having bad luck with my gouge experiments. I'm not going to try it again any time soon, seeing as I've never really had luck with it. I'm still working on the Patty scrape; I think that once I get it so it works with how I make reeds, it'll actually work for me. But I'm still getting there. The last couple reeds have felt awfully thin in my mouth, but that's more of a cane thing than a scrape thing, the stage I was at. I've got one that hopefully will stay nice, and a couple more that are still reverting to strange every time they dry. It takes me quite a long time to get reeds to the point at which they don't do that...I don't know how other people's reeds tend to be.

My new love for reeds is strange to me, because I typically become extremely annoyed and/or frustrated by the reeds I'm making, especially in the initial tying on/scraping sections. But hey, I'm not complaining. Better reeds are every oboist's friend.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Never take no as an answer from an inanimate object.

I worked on the Vaughan Williams Concerto. One of my favorite pieces, along with Poulenc (which I thought I'd save until tomorrow. Also did some Ferling, on slow numbers, amazingly enough. (Generally if I have my say I do the fast ones instead.) Number 5 is gorgeous!

I'm having good luck (knock on wood) with my "Patty" scrape reeds. Much fuller and darker sounding than the Danna ones, but I'm still getting some vibrancy. They seem to work quite well on the cork staples, too. I'm going to try some next with the Patty scrape, and the thinner gouge, and see what that does.

I was having a Music Thing last night, from watching an inspirational movie about dancing, and from reading too much written by/about other oboists, with a side of looking at grad schools. Terrifying things, really. I haven't really been practicing well, though, and that's frustrating and worrying. I really need to step it up, and keep it there in preparation for auditions. My oboe drive slipped away so soon after I came back from JMOC. I try to be motivated and have self control and what not, but I just keep losing it. I know the solution is stop whining about it and just do it already...but man, the motivation's already my world, how can I make it more pressing?

But all of that also made my oboe drive kick in again yesterday evening. And I feel much better today, especially after that practice session. Hearing yourself sound good, and capable, is always a mood booster.

Looking at all the reed stuff has been good too. I'm getting stubborn- I really want to figure out how I can get my reeds good. It's of course really frustrating sometimes, though. Reeds are really interesting, though. I'm still interested in learning more about short scrape, especially after looking around and seeing some long scrape reeds that, at least to my eye, are "shorter". I think Patty's scrape might be one of them.

I should buy the Tabuteau lesson CDs. Christmas present...

Yesterday I started work at IFTA, a summer school arts program. I'm an IA, which means I'll mostly be making copies and things like that, but hopefully when I'm in classrooms they'll mostly be musical ones.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Yet another reed technique

I was introduced to a really cool oboe website, http://oboeinsight.com/, several weeks ago, but I didn't notice until today that there was extensive reed-making info on it. I'm not sure Danna Sundet's method of scraping is working for me; I haven't really had much luck since I came home, though some of that's just this house. So I decided to try Patty's method.

She starts the tip with a very pronounced inverted-v shape, and makes a very short heart, with the unscraped portion at the bottom longer than I've usually seen. It leaves the middle untouched all the way up the reed, which I think might work better for me.
However, despite having a rather long starting length for scraping the tip, I was ending up with awfully short tips. I can't quite figure out how yet, though. I tied up three pieces, but only one actually got to the blank stage, so I might do some more tomorrow.

I'm also scraping the blanks I tied on a couple days ago, for which I used .60-.45 cane, and I'm rather quickly remembering the problems I've had with it in the past. It gives my reeds extremely wide openings, and makes them very thick-feeling and hard to control. And this is even with Danna's scrape over the spine! There's this feeling, though, that if I could only get it, they'd sound lovely and dark and rich.

Well. Actually I have one reed that feels like that, and one reed that won't work for some incredibly frustrating reason that I can't work out. It's acting kind of as if it has a leak, except that it doesn't. Crows beautifully, though. Clipping the tip almost helped, but not quite.

I really want to buy a French-scrape reed and a German-scrape reed. I think it would be really interesting to try playing on them. (I believe that the British use an American-style reed. edit: Apparently the British use a European scrape reed. This seems to be used both in France and Germany as well. It seems I was slightly confused. I'm not sure about places like Japan and Australia.)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Lincoln Center: truly the center of the universe

I was in New York this weekend (although sadly not to the Lincoln Center et al), so there was no practicing on Saturday or Sunday. Or Thursday, but that was because I went into DC and also out to dinner, not because of NY. I did manage to practice some on Friday before I left. Were I at school, this would be bad but not unusual, but I'm only practicing half as much, if that, as I do at school. Oh well.

My reeds are dying a slow and painful death, because they're all old or just not good. I'll make more this afternoon. I bought some slightly different cane- a thinner gouge. The stuff I usually use is Jeanne gouged .60 -.48, but I'm trying some that's Jeanne .60-.45, which is at least more similar to the numbers they gave us at JMOC. I really have no idea what it'll do to the reeds I make, but hey. Summer is a good time for experimentation.

I've been practicing mostly Bach, but it's been rather fruitless practicing. I'm not concentrating very hard. I need to start working on Le Api, and Poulenc, and Vaughan Williams, or maybe start actually working on some etudes rather than just fooling around on them.

I did look through Jeff Rathbun's 3 Diversions for 2 oboes today. It's very modern, with multiphonics and stuff, and quite hard. It's so fun to play, though. Tons of huge leaps, which I like because they're something I can show off with on my oboe (yay Howarths- my low register is much easier than a Loree's, and my high register holds itself up pitchwise), and the aforementioned multiphonics. I can't really do them in the actual piece yet- it sometimes takes me a really long time to learn new fingerings/notes, but they're very...liberating to play. Also fun to play around with- see what fingers you can add or take off and what that does to them. (Scott would be so proud...) Still, I don't think super modern music will ever win me over entirely. It just can't compete with the classics.

I almost found a show to play in this summer- a theater group near me is doing Secret Garden, but I'm not free the last weekend of the show, and the music director apparently already has too many ringers for the final performances. He was excited when I contacted him because he didn't have an oboe/eh, so I guess he's back to doing the show without, unless someone else contacts him really at the last minute. (Part of me wonders why he can't just do some of the shows with oboe, since he's now going to have to do all without, but I know that you can't do that to the poor singers.)

Also, I saw Spamalot! in NY- such a hilarious show. I really should learn flute or clarinet if I want to try to get any real gigs playing in pits- I think they much prefer doublers, at least for many shows. Obviously something like Les Mis, or probably Phantom, or any of those operetta-like shows there'll be a separate part, but most things are done by "Reed 1", "Reed 2" instead.

Of course, my other plan for the summer was to try to get my friend's sister to teach me to play bassoon, which would be an incredibly un-helpful doubling instrument. But that's okay.