Monday, December 31, 2007

I had a lot of fun in NYC.

I got back on the evening of the 28th, and I've been pretty good since then at getting down to work. (Thank goodness.)

My Pisoni staples continue to be fairly miraculous. I only have two, though, and I really need to buy more. However, I have a silver staple and a brass one, one of which is far better than the other. I have them marked with numbers in pen on the cork, but do I ever remember to check which is which when a reed dies? That would be a no. This time I will, though! I will check, and then I will know which is the wonder staple, and then I will buy more of that one. Finally.

My reed luck has been wildly on and off recently, and very hard to predict. I think that the latest batch of cane I bought is kind of off and also more widely varying than usual in hardness of cane and in diameter, so I'm having trouble getting my reeds to come out. However, I'm also finding it very difficult to predict my success with the reeds I do tie on. It seems that every reed which seems as if it will turn out well become horrible and odd, and every reed that starts out strange or unusually bright/dark/hard/soft/etc turns out well. Some of this I attribute to my miracle staples (that was what happened with the magic reed that I had a while back and dyed blue with mouthwash), but some of it appears to just be the cane playing tricks on me. However, better playing tricks than flat out refusing to work. :-)

My auditions and trips to CCM (Jan 12th) and Northwestern (Jan 19th) are all planned out, and my father is being incredibly nice and going with me to both of them. I have to say it'll be nice to have a car for both of them rather than having to deal with a strange city's public transportation on top of audition stress.

I have a couple exciting links, though I found one at Oboe Insight, so many of you will probably have already seen. Still, I thought it was worth posting here.

Fourteen Wacky Events in Musical News This Past Year: Featuring a French hornist who "tramps around the South Island [of New Zealand] dressed in 19th-century attire," "a balcony brawl that stopped the show on opening night of the Boston Pops," "a Genoa 'Julius Caesar' production with an added role, a guy strolling around in a crocodile suit 'representing the timeless spirit of Egypt,'" and many more, including a commission by the Kazakhstan Orchestra from Borat's brother.

Also, take a look at the first record album cover
here. A good look. Notice the instruments on the cover. Now look at the album's title.

This is either a little late or quite early: a hilarious recording of the ending of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, found at a website of musical bloopers. Make sure you listen all the way to the end- the problem is not the out of tune strings, although when I listened to the recording the first time I thought that and it made the ending even better. I have to say that I think that this is one of the funniest things ever, and I wish I knew what the reason behind it was. Did the organist go insane? Was he or she drunk? Incredibly confused? Playing a prank?

Happy New Year's Eve everyone! Have fun and be safe. I will be spending the evening dressed as a medieval princess at my mother's costume party. :-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

My Christmas Eve gig went fairly well, although it was a long program (a short "concert" followed by a service) and by the end my reed and my chops were giving out a little. Aside from that, though, I was happy with my playing and I thought my tone was pretty good. The tuning was fairly dreadful as a result of switching back and forth between the organ and the piano, and also I think because the strings didn't adequately tune to the organ's pitch. I found it very difficult to play in tune with the organ, and the strings, and the flute at the same time. Also, the flute and I had been moved from where we sat at rehearsal to behind the organ, which meant that the conductor was very hard to see, particularly when he played the piano. This resulted in one near trainwreck in Silent Night, when the flute picked a completely different tempo. I just inserted rests into my part and came in when everything had gotten back together. Still, it went well all in all, and the congregation seemed to enjoy it. The choir also was very good for a church choir; I was impressed. I approve of the director as a choir director if not as a conductor.

For Christmas I've gotten, among other things, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra recording of Tombeau, Beethoven 3 with George Szell and Cleveland, and Leonard Bernstein doing Dvorak's New World with the NY Phil. :-)

Now I'm off to pack- I'm going to New York for two nights with my cousin and my little sister. I hope everyone else's Christmases and Christmas gigs went well!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's amazing the difference five minutes can make.

I know I've been going on and on about my recent oboe issues, and I'm not going to start that up again. But I was practicing this morning and got around to my excerpts and started on Tombeau. And it was wonderful. My last lesson of the year we'd worked on Tombeau, and it had just gone horribly, (although that was because I had not known we were going to work on it that day and so hadn't practiced it at all), and this was especially disheartening because generally, well, I rock that excerpt. It's one that I can play well, and musically, and with all of the notes clear and coming out. After that lesson, though, rather than getting into practicing it, I just let it (and all of my excerpts) sit some more. Today I finally picked them back up, and I was reminded that oh yeah, I can actually play the oboe. The Paladilhe was going pretty smoothly today also, as well as my Ferling etudes. The Gillet has reached that horrible stage where my fingers suddenly forget how to play everything, but I will persevere. The first movement of the Mozart Quartet just needs a lot of run-throughs. I suppose that's true of all my pieces, but I feel like I need to do just a little bit more work on musical elements of the Poulenc and Marcello.

I think I've finally kicked myself back into gear.

I saw Sweeney Todd last night, and I have to say I heartily approve. I was grossed out enough that I didn't completely love it, but the cinematography etc is amazing, and I was pleasantly surprised by everyone's singing ability except for perhaps Alan Rickman. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, though, did quite well, and were brilliantly cast. Also, the secondary roles (Johanna, her sailor boy-Antony?, and Toby) were cast for voices, and they were good voices. I was quite impressed, especially by the boys. Johanna was good, and appropriate for her character, but uneven. Tim Burton did take out all of the choir numbers, which I don't like, but as the choir was replaced by organ and a large quantity of brass, I can't complain too much.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas gig rehearsal

As I mentioned, I have a gig for a Christmas Eve service, and tonight was the rehearsal for it. I was a little surprised to find out that the orchestration was chamber strings, flute, oboe, and organ, but hey- I like people who like oboe. It should have been a fairly uneventful rehearsal; we're playing the usual sort of orchestrated Christmas carols, though they're done in a very English way as the conductor is British and the church is Episcopal. However, the seating is odd, with us in the back of the sanctuary in a corner, and with the flute and me separated from the strings, and there is the aforementioned organ. The organ plays approximately 20 cents flat. Not only is that a hard pitch to tune to and to maintain, it doesn't sound right. Unusually sharp orchestras sound bright and, well, sharp, and when we play with this organ, we sound dull and wrong. Unfortunate.

Additionally, the conductor is very hard to follow, especially when he's conducting a piece in three. This is because while he does 4/4 patterns correctly, and uses a French 6/8, which I at least know, he conducts three with beat two on the inside rather than on the outside. It seriously confused me at first.

I also felt bad for the flautist, who seemed to be a young high-schooler, and who was filling in for whoever will play at the service. The conductor pointed some serious glares at her early on in the rehearsal. Plus I would have had a better time had I not had an intense allergy attack involving sneezing and a runny nose all day.

Still, it's all going to go well, and I'm getting paid, and I do like playing silly Christmas songs. Also, one of the other violinists complimented me on my sound, and asked for my card, for future gigs. The only problem with that is that I don't actually have any cards. Apparently, though, you can buy print-your-own-business-cards, so I think I'm going to do that this weekend. I have been thinking for a while that I should have cards.

I've heard that the Washington Balalaika Orchestra is currently looking for oboists and bassoonists, but I don't really have more information about that. I sent them an inquiry, though, so I'll put anything that I find out here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My parents' house

I've been home for Christmas break since Saturday afternoon, and since then I've been wildly unproductive. Coming here always plays havoc on my practicing schedule, at least at first, and it's making me nervous- I have much less time, and a much more important goal, now than I did during summer break. It's not that I've been doing nothing oboe-wise, but it's been pretty much the bare minimum. And it's not as if I've been sitting around all day reading (I wish that I were doing that- I'm about 70 pages into reading Dracula for the first time and loving it)- I've done my Christmas shopping, and helped my mom with hers, and gotten boxes of Christmas tree down from the attic and all sorts of things like that- but what I'm doing with my time is really not what I should be doing.

I do, however, have a gig for Christmas Eve now. I got woken up yesterday morning by a call from Lazo, who is an oboist but who also arranges gigs for a large number of other musicians in the DC area, asking me if I were free to play a Christmas Eve service. One rehearsal tomorrow, at which I first see the music, and then a service on the 24th at 10:15 pm. Pays well, and hopefully will be a good group of musicians. I met Lazo last March or April at a friend's senior (oboe) recital, and he got me a gig up in Maryland in May. It was absolutely the best gig I'd played up until that point- Mendelssohn's Elijah, and quite a few of the instrumentalists were from military bands.

Having discovered Obohemia, I have to say that these two comics (comic one, comic two) pretty much sum up my view of life. Especially the second. :-D

I'm still planning to buy an Innoledy gouger, aided in part by Christmas money and in part by my job, sometime soon. I'm quite excited, especially since using my school's gouger never panned out. As far as I know, the school's is still sitting in the oboe locker, waiting for its repairs to be approved by the music department.

This is an interesting sound recording played on a reconstruction of a Greek wooden aulos. I'm not sure about the authenticity of the piece, but the sound of the instrument appears quite similar to that of the duduk, though not as extraordinary. It's also quite different from the "Hellenic aulos" recordings on the site, as those instruments appear to be made of metal.

Friday, December 14, 2007


The gift certificate was used to buy a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas CD. :-D

I feel like I've had much less of what I like to call "oboe angst" this year than I have in the past. Today, however, it was back in force. My practicing slump and the fact that I'm going home for the holidays in two days was amplified by my being all hormonal, and the result? An attack of "I've chosen the wrong track and now it's too late, how could I have been so stupid." Which does just happen sometimes. Today, though, it was particularly aggressive. When I'm practicing less, it's much easier to get swept up in thoughts about doing academics instead of performance, and the possibility of doing the former while still playing and having gigs comes strongly and persuasively to my mind. And it's true, I could do that, but it's also true that I wouldn't be satisfied. My angst, though, adds an "I think" to that last statement. I maybe wouldn't be satisfied, but maybe I would, and it would save me a lot of trouble and money (and failure?).

I also today got caught up on the things that I can't do because I'm choosing performance, like trips to England this summer with some of the best English professors at my school, or visiting my friend in California in January, or taking a trip to spring break. Sometimes I worry that my friends will get frustrated at me for not being able to travel during winter break and spring break because of my auditions. And truly, my friends mean everything to me. But I do what I need to do, because I want to succeed and I know that it will be very difficult to get what I want.

I do still come back to the fact that despite my stray thoughts, pursuing performance is what I want to do, and I can do it and need to do it. I love playing oboe, and I love it in a way that will not be satisfied by making it an "also." It can still be hard, though, to let go of what the people you respect wish you were doing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

'Tis the season to be busy.

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote something here. Our orchestra had their holiday concert with the choir, which was silly and fun and involved a version of The Night Before Christmas with a narrator and music that sounded like John Williams after a little too much eggnog. Although, sadly, it had grown on me before the end. If it hadn't been accompanying a cheerful poem about Santa I think it would have been a lot better. Because Santa is in fact not an alien.

That week we had the music department party, and I got a department recognition for the recital I gave last year, which made me really happy. They gave me a certificate, and a gift certificate for a music store around here. I haven't decided yet, though, if I'm going to spend it on useful cds or frivolous ones.

Then this past weekend, Thursday through Sunday nights, I was in Roanoke, playing with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra for their holiday concerts. It was interesting, because the three concerts were in three very different locations. One in a cavernous civic center/gymnasium, one in a ballroom, and one in a high school auditorium. The civic center was really horrible to play in, because it was so huge and the stage was so big. They were actually using microphones to allow us to hear each other and to balance the sound within the orchestra and with the choir. The other two concerts were much better in that respect, because I could actually hear the other woodwinds.

They were silly little holiday pops concerts, and the director was more concerned with putting on a show than paying attention to his orchestra, but still, it was nice, especially coming right after juries. Because that, playing in a symphony, is what I want to do. I really can't emphasize enough how much I prefer orchestra to solo performing. And I got to play with very good musicians, although nobody was being particularly serious. It's hard to be, during a concert like that, especially when your conductor is wearing a badly fitted santa suit and zooming around on a scooter. I did feel like I was being taken seriously as a musician; I didn't have people asking me what year in school I was and then telling me slightly patronizingly that I sounded good. I was just one of the players. I really hope I get the opportunity to play for them again. That would be brilliant.

Also, a couple of the principals from my school were also playing in the symphony, and I went out to lunch with the viola teacher and the bassoon teacher and had fun and helpful conversations about music, grad school, reeds, bocals, instruments, double reed things, etc. with a side of (gentle) gossip about both people about my school and the viola section. I brought up the conversation about tone that I had seen on the Oboe BBoard, as well as the idea that almost all oboists are obsessed with having a dark tone despite the fact that most of the top positions are filled by oboists who don't particularly. The bassoon teacher said that it was the same for bassoonists, which I suppose is logical. It was interesting, though. I also had a conversation with one of the cellists, who coincidentally used to work in admissions at Mannes and informed me that a lot of people lately have been unhappy with Tom Stacy as a teacher, which I appreciate her telling me. It's a wonderful feeling to know that all of these people, who you look up to, really want you to succeed.

Last night was the 40th Annual Messiah Sing-in, which I played at, and had a blast. It's really casual, and there are a lot of good musicians who come to play and sing. They fill our hall, minus the balcony, with people who come to sing. Handel, whatever my opinions about his music in general, wrote good oboe parts. He was still in the era where orchestra meant strings plus oboe and horn. Also, I got to play first oboe, which is always nice.

I'm very close to being done with exams; I have only my diction exam and a short music paper for my American music class left. I'm going to write the paper on Copland's Quiet City, which should be pretty interesting.

Unfortunately, I'm having a practice slump, which I need to get over immediately. I have all of my grad school auditions except GMU's, which is nice, but the first one is still on January 12, which is rapidly approaching.

On a different note, I am becoming fascinated with Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, seeing as it's being made into a movie. I approve of casting- I was wary because of the need for, well, singers, but having heard several song clips on the movie website, I heartily approve. In fact, I like Helena Bonham Carter better than Angela Lansbury, which I'm pretty sure is musical blasphemy. I've finally listened to the whole soundtrack (Original Broadway), and there's some pretty cool music. I especially like the choir numbers with the Dies Irae, which I'm a complete sucker for. Include that in your piece, and I am almost guaranteed to think it is pretty cool. In fact, somewhere I came across this podcast
about the use of the Dies Irae in music, done by Doug Adams, who wrote extensive liner notes for the complete recordings of the Lord of the Rings movies. I haven't listened to it yet, but it should be really interesting.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Duduk (The Armenian Oboe)

I came across the name "duduk" in a thread on the Oboe BBoard and I had never heard of the instrument before, so I looked it up in Wikipedia. I have to say that I was expecting it to sound very raucous and nasal, like many of the other non-western double reed instruments. It is completely different. I'm not sure how to describe it; one of my friends said that it sounded like the human voice- that perfect mixture of woodwind and brass sound. It's very dark and wide sounding, and very old. Perhaps like a wooden flute in tone. Wikipedia informs me that the instrument has been used on the soundtracks of Alexander, The Passion of the Christ, Gladiator, and The Chronicles of Narnia, where it's played in the "Narnian Lullaby."

(On a side note, it's especially cool that I found this out because of the Bax Quintet which I will be playing this spring. I worked with my adviser last week on the first movement, going through the score with a recording, and I was struck by how clearly British the piece sounded. You could tell that it was written for a British oboist (Leon Goosens, actually), because of the wild quality that the music evoked. It's very low and intense and "coarsely blown," as one marking says, and starts with a rhapsodic solo oboe line that is very Eastern in feel (Orientalism and all that), but still seems so British to me. There's an intriguing duality in British pastoralism, between the happy, simple pastoral (whether gentle or rustic) and the wild, intense, dark pastoral. Perhaps the latter has something to do with the country's Celtic roots, fairies and such? I'm not sure. Anyways, the first movement of the Bax works within that second kind of pastoralism, though the third movement, in which Bax bangs the listener over the head with folk songs, is a reassertion of nationalist rustic peasant pastoral. One of the key things which that first movement reminded me of, and something that really anchored it in Britain for me, was the Narnian Lullaby.)

Some online recordings of the duduk. I highly recommend you go and listen, because I think this is the coolest instrument I've ever heard, and these songs are stunningly beautiful.
Jivan Gasparian, Hovvakan
Jivan Gasparian, Mayr Araksi Aperov
Vatche Hovsepian, Hovern Engan

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Fall semester juries were today.

I played Gillet etude #15, and Paladilhe Solo de Concert. I've been playing the Paladilhe almost all semester, and I was at least approximately ready to perform it four weeks ago at the masterclass I played in, (I'm still a little mad that I only got to play about 10 bars of the piece the whole time at that thing, but that's really not important.) so I wasn't too worried about it, with the exception of the two note issues that had suddenly appeared yesterday. But the Gillet? Gillet etudes are hard- not as hard as Singer, I don't think (For a while last year I was working on Singer etudes, but they tended to be four pages long and disheartening rather than inspiring.), but still pretty damn hard. So I was nervous about that one, seeing as I have trouble with it when I'm just by myself, let alone being graded for it. It seems it was with good reason. Oh, it wasn't horrible and it could have been a lot worse. But there were a lot of little mistakes and flubs and extra note-slides, which add up. It was certainly not the best I could have played it.

But I played that first, and followed with the Paladilhe. I'm having a really good reed day; this is probably the best reed I've ever had for the jury since, perverse things, they like to all suddenly die two days before, leaving me with that one that kind of leaks, or quacks on the low notes, or just kills your embouchure. Anyways, that was not the case today, and my reed was clear and responsive and played the whole range. Perfect for Paladilhe, where you don't need a super dark reed or a super bright reed, just one that is very clear. And I played the Paladilhe well. Very well. Expressive, and all the notes came out, even that low D which you slur to on piano from an octave up. I had one note disaster about halfway through the fast section, but it miraculously didn't ruin the rest of the piece. I missed another note or two, but ended strong. It's so rare that I'm satisfied by my performances, that they live up to how I sound in the practice room, and that this did made me really happy.

Now I have about 6 weeks to work the Gillet up, along with Paladilhe, Poulenc mvt 1, Mozart Concerto mvt 1, and excerpts, for my first audition, Cincinnati.

Tonight is our holiday concert. Yay! Bring on Sleigh Ride.