Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

As for me, I had a lot of fun hanging out in Cincinnati with fellow crazy musicians. :-)

The Bach concerts went really well, on the whole. We were performing in a church, which had a really great space for us, with plenty of room for the orchestra, the choir, and the movie projector. Unfortunately the sanctuary was freezing cold, but you can't have everything. We had three rehearsals in the space, one to run through each solo movement for each set of soloists, and two dress rehearsals with the movie running in order to both triple check tempos and let us get our distraction and gawking out of the way. And gawk we did. I'm not sure what I was expecting the movie to be like, but it was not like the actual movie, which is 27 short films, one per movement of the Mass. There was a loose connection between the movements, but in general they were free-standing, and their material ranged from kaleidoscope shots of trees and leaves to children playing to Bach himself to the 3 wise men to an Escher-like scene of birds morphing into fluorescent blue crosses to break-dancing to the "Et resurrexit". Some of it was cool, some kitsch, and some rather disturbing. You can find a trailer of it here.

The nice thing about the format of the film was that we had some leeway between the movements, which gave us oboes enough time to comfortably, though quickly, switch between oboe and d'amore, and also allowed us to remain very closely synced with the movie. In terms of our playing, I thought both performances went really well. The soloists were really supurb, the choir fantastic, and the orchestra definitely holding their own. :-) And though we were dealing with slightly subpar instruments, the d'amore duets turned out really well, and the first oboe played really beautifully on the d'amore solo.

It was interesting playing first with the movie and then the second concert alone, because they felt so very different. When we played with the movie all of the lights in the sanctuary were out, and we played with stand lights. Every time the lights went down and we breathed and opened the Kyrie, I just was swept away by the music. For the second concert, though, we kept all of the lights up. We could see the audience, and it was wonderful to see the looks on people's faces as we played. There was one man in the front row who would have made the entire performance worth it had he been the only person in attendance.

We got a complimentary and lengthy (though heavily focused on the movie) review of Friday's concert here.

Since then we haven't had orchestra rehearsal, until today. We met to read through student compositions, which were surprisingly unobjectionable, and also to read Also Sprach Zarathustra. Now, as we rotate the wind sections through the top three ensembles, I won't be playing Zarathustra next quarter. However, there's so much confusion among the oboes right now regarding the rotation that I stuck around in the (likely) event of one of the four not showing up to rehearsal. I'm so glad I did, because I ended up playing 3rd oboe.

It was stunning. I could not for the life of me stop grinning in utter joy. If you don't know any more of the piece than the opening fanfare, please go and listen to it immediately. It will be completely worth it.

(I would do
anything to be playing in that piece next semester. It's the same concert as the Oboe Concerto, so there may be some shuffling of players out of normal rotation. I don't think I'd be the one asked to play if they needed an extra, but I swear, I would take myself out of the competition right now if I was guaranteed a part in that piece.)

Speaking of the Strauss competition, I've been slacking too much on learning and polishing up that piece. It's daunting to practice, but I really do want to do the competition, so I need to buckle down and get to work. I'm pretty happy with the first and second movements, but I feel like I lose the sense of each movement as a whole. I need to work on having interpretation and technical integrity at the same time in those. And on getting all the way through the pair of them! Plus I'm still learning the third and fourth, though I'm actually less worried about those two.

I'm nearly done with the Gillet etude book, which is rather exciting. I only have three etudes of 24 left! I'm also continuing to work on a couple English horn pieces, and thinking about what I want to play on my recital this spring. I would sort of love to play one piece each on oboe, English horn, and d'amore, but I think that trying to practice on three instruments at the same time for a recital might be a little too much. I'm definitely going to play a piece on English horn, though.I was disappointed to find that our music library doesn't own a copy of the Dring trio for oboe, flute, and piano, but I did find her Three Piece Suite for oboe and piano, which is really nice as well. It's very much like twisted British folk music, and it's fun and flashy without being super hard or way too easy. It would be a nice piece to round out a recital, I think.

Enjoy the freedom to listen to holiday music sans guilt!

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's been snowing on and off all day!

I've never had snow before Thanksgiving before; at home we rarely have any at all before New Years. And I overheard one boy today saying that this was the first time he'd ever seen snow in real life. That made me smile. Unfortunately, the school seems to have taken this as a cue to turn off the heat in the practice rooms. My fingers got so cold today that I could hardly play. But that can hardly be blamed on the snow. :-)

I've been feeling very down about oboe most of the time lately. It's not continual- I'm generally quite pleased, for example, when I play the Strauss- but it's unfortunately prevalent. A large portion of it is my reeds, which have been rather highly unsuccessful lately. Nearly all I do in lessons is work on reeds, and while I certainly like my teacher's style of reeds, and I appreciate him fixing up my reeds and showing me (quite clearly and in much detail) what it is that he's doing, I find it incredibly difficult to replicate on my own reeds. And trying to do so is playing havoc with the way that I generally make reeds myself. I do like playing on the reeds of mine that he fixes up, but I find that they die really quickly, becoming very bright and squished, and are nearly impossible to revive.

I've been thinking, though, after hearing my teacher play in another prof's recital tonight. He played incredibly well, very smooth, with lovely and subtle vibrato, and with absolute control. But it felt very closed off. I felt like I couldn't get in to most of the emotions in the piece. It would have been perfection for second oboe, or maybe even first, and I only hope that I can play like that in orchestra. For solo playing, though, it wasn't enough for me. And while I do like his sound, I'm not sure that that is what I want to sound like. So I'm going to do some thinking about that, and try to find a happy medium for reeds.

Another side result of spending all of my lesson time working on reeds is that, well, I spend very little time in lessons actually playing music. As a result I find myself either not very focused in preparing specific pieces, as by now I know that I won't end up playing them, or frustratingly stuck in my attempts to learn pieces. (In fact, my time management in general right now has been lacking. Some of the problem is that I've been working too much, some of it is that I'm being lazy, and some of it is mysterious, possibly mid-semester malaise.) I've been trying to learn Gillet #21 for about 3 weeks now, and while I can't guarantee that it would be going better with input from my teacher, I feel that it couldn't hurt. In that specific case, I'm just going to move on and come back later, but I feel stuck in a rut technically and musically. And after all, isn't the reason that I'm in grad school, other than that I want to avoid real life, so that I can continue to study? I certainly have my own ideas about pieces, but I like having other ideas to bounce off of, and I just need input. Sometimes a few words, critique, observation, or compliment, can make all the difference in how I view a piece, or a phrase, or my playing.

My teacher says that he's not worried about my musicality or technique, as long as I have reeds that I can fully express myself on. But dear Prof, I am worried about my musicality and technique.

However, life has not been all bad. I played the third movement of the Rathbun 3 Diversions for 2 Oboes in masterclass, playing 2nd instead of 1st, which was a lot of fun and a big hit. Interestingly enough, while I didn't have any trouble learning the second part, when I got up to play my fingers remained very attached to the 1st part. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.

Also, I'm playing 2nd oboe/ 2nd d'amore in Bach's B minor Mass with the chamber orchestra and chamber choir, which is amazing. We have two performances, one alone, and one as accompaniment to the film The Sound of Eternity by German director Bastien Cleve'. I think it will be pretty cool, but it makes the performance a little more nerve-wracking, as we must exactly sync with the movie, and a little more frustrating, as we are tied to the exact tempos picked by the director, rather than those our conductor or soloists prefer (or those at which we can play the runs!). I'm a little nervous about having enough time to switch between instruments, but we have two dress runs, so everything should turn out alright. The choir is really outstanding, and the soloists I've heard so far have been as well.

I recently found a fabulous piece, Madeleine Dring's Trio for Oboe, Flute and Piano, which I'm now dying to play. The only problem? I heard it at the recital my teacher played in, and now the entire oboe studio is engaged in a race to see who gets to it first. You can hear clips of it here in the sidebar.

Plus, I really love the other oboists here. I get along well with nearly all of them, and they're pretty much all very friendly and welcoming. I really enjoy my time spent in the reed room. :-)

We're having a Concerto Competition in January with the Strauss, the winner of which gets to perform with Philharmonia, the top orchestra. I wasn't originally planning on entering, as I was feeling outclassed and also as I just don't generally prefer solo playing, but I've changed my mind. It'll be really good experience, and I'm coming to like the Strauss quite a lot. (Not as much as Vaughan Williams, but Strauss can't have everything.) Besides, I feel that I can in fact play as well as quite a few of the people who are entering. I don't expect to win, but I'm certainly still going to give it my all.

Speaking of solo (and "solo") rep, I've worked out how I'm going to space out the performance aspects of my degree. We're required to do one recital, one excerpt board, and one more performance, either a second recital or a solo board. My plan is to play one recital this spring, one (late) next fall, and the excerpt board the spring of my second year. I do feel much better having figured this out. The nice thing is that they're fairly short recitals- 3 pieces instead of 4- which makes the fact that they're fairly close together a lot more manageable.

My most exciting news, however, is that I now have an Innoledy gouger! After being on the waiting list since January, about 2 or 2 and a half weeks ago I got an email that one was available. About a week later, it showed up on my door step. It's fantastic. For anybody who's never encountered an Innoledy gouger, here is a little vido I made demonstrating, though without a piece of cane. I'm planning on making another one when actually gouging.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This is about (liberal) politics; I completely understand if you do not read it.

In many ways I'm very proud of my country right now. I'm disappointed in California and the other states who passed propositions limiting the rights of gay Americans, but I'm proud of the US for electing Obama, and of my two states. Both Ohio and Virginia went blue, Virginia for the first time since 1964.

I wasn't intending to post anything here, but I came across a few things which perfectly express how I feel about this election.

"...for a very long time we have been told, if you do not support every action your government makes, you are unpatriotic. If you are against war and militarism, you are not a real American. The real America/fake America argument wasn't something that just came out of the woodwork a couple of weeks ago, it has been there all along. And I will say, that I think that for a long time, we, on some level, believed it. I did. I suppose I accepted it, thinking that, "okay if that is what patriotism is, I guess I'll plan my future as an expatriate."What Obama did is phenomenal, not just for the history he's made, but for making it possible for all Americans to be patriots again by demonstrating that there is no "real America" or fake America, just America. He really has given something back to us, and in giving him the presidency, we've given it back to ourselves."

"I couldn't believe how fast it had happened. One minute, Wolf Blitzer was saying the polls in the west coast were about to close, and then seconds later, they called it for Obama. I thought "no, wait, make absolutely sure, don't jinx this for us!" …
... I've always liked Obama (I remember watching his speech at the 2004 DNC and saying "that man is going to be president someday"), I just didn't understand what he meant to do with nothing more than hope. I wanted pragmatism. I wanted details.When he became the nominee, … I still didn't get my hopes up, because I was terrified of being disappointed; surely, something would go wrong."

"I truly honestly believed that we would be hashing out the election results for weeks. I was even prepared for what happened in 2000 to happen again. A clear, decisive victory was the last thing I had expected. I flipped over to CNN, and I wish I could remember the exact phrasing for posterity's sake, but the text at the bottom of the screen actually had "Barack Obama" and "president" in the same sentence, and I stared at it for the longest time. It was real, and it was happening, and it was happening now. And then I was reading y'all's reactions, and I found myself unable to feel any of the same joy or excitement or jubilation. I think I was shocked, mostly. My eyes were a little wet. And the thing is, I don't think I had realized until that moment how much I had lost over the last eight years, until the moment that I got it back, and that loss was suddenly what I was aware of. I realized right then that I had lost faith in pretty much anything this country stands for.

It's not over. One election doesn't solve anything--no matter who you elect, that candidate still has to live up to his promise. No matter what change you want, you have to get out there and make it yourself. But for the first time in a very long time, it felt like the country had opened its eyes again and remembered its name."

I was 13 in 2000, and 17 (just 6 months too young) in 2004, and I remember election night, sitting in the dorm room with everybody so incredibly hopeful, almost sure that Kerry would win. I wrote the next day, "all I can say is did you honestly think that Kerry was going to win?" It's been four years, but I can say that I probably did, certainly more than I admitted to anyone, including myself. This election, I didn't even dare hope. I honestly didn't believe that the majority of people (and actually of people, no interceding electoral college issues this time around) in the US, let alone so much of a majority, would support Obama. My sister called me immediatedly after they started to call Virginia as blue, and my friend after they announced Obama. Both times (I hadn't seen McCain's concession at that point) I couldn't muster up any excitement- what if it reversed, if they were wrong? I couldn't deal with having my hope up. This morning, then, when I looked and saw that Ohio was still blue, Virginia was still blue, Obama had still won, so many states had swung to blue, was amazing.

I know that change is going to be slow, but I've been walking around all day with a grin on my face, and I'm feeling cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nothing like the oboe... knock you out of Oboe Angst. Recently I've felt entirely unhappy with my time management, reed making, playing abilities, and musicality. However, a good practice session, helpful lesson, orchestra rehearsal and a successful masterclass shook me right out of it. Thank goodness.

Last night in masterclass I played the first page of Gillet etude 20, which was quite a kick of adrenaline. I was pretty pleased with how it went, especially since I was actually able to play it through twice. The first time my nerves really got the better of me, but the second time I was able to be expressive, and not too pinched on the high notes, and really emphasize and be musical at the spots where I wanted to be rubato. So all in all, a success. I actually played last week in masterclass as well, the first two of the slow movement excerpts from Beethoven 3. Those went very well- they're some of my absolute favorite excerpts, and I try to be incredibly sensitive to the mood of the movement and express all of the little changes. I got a compliment from one of the other oboists on being appropriately gloomy, and really evoking that the movement is a funeral march, which was lovely, but a little bit funny to me. I've never had a problem with not being melancholy enough in those excerpts; I actually tend to get too bogged down in it and have trouble sticking around the proper tempo.

We're doing the excerpts out of John Ferrillo's book, though, and I think that having the piano play along with you on excerpts is actually incredibly helpful, both for the person performing and for those listening. I find that I am frequently guilty of not really knowing how my part fits in to the orchestra as a whole.

Yesterday I also finally had orchestra again- all of last week my orchestra only rehearsed Tchaik 6, and I'm playing 2nd in two excerpts from Tchaik's Eugene Onegin, and 1st in Tchaik's Rococo Variations instead. I appreciate the need, but, well, I was already jealous of the people playing the symphony, and then to not have orchestra for a week! Plus, we have a concert next Wednesday, and this was the first rehearsal for two of those three pieces. Unfortunately, Rococo Variations was one of those two, and yesterday was also our first rehearsal with the soloist for the piece. And our first rehearsal with the student conductor who's conducting it. It was a bit nerve-wracking all around, but tomorrow's rehearsal will be much better. Still, it struck me as a bit unprofessional, and rude as well, to not have even looked at the piece as a group before bringing in the soloist.

My classes have in general been entirely boring and uninteresting. However, we did have one thought-provoking article for my music history class, "The Good, the Bad, and the Boring," by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson.
Honestly, it made me furious. Here's why:

"But it is hard to see what can be the purpose of musicology if not to advise people on what to hear and how to hear it."

"...the work of "primitives"- composers deliberately ignoring mainstream compositional principles in favor of something equally consistent but less refined."

"[A good piece]...stretches established notions of good style just far enough to be recognizably new, without going so far beyond the norm as to alienate the listener."

My comments to that are pretty much that the second quote there has invalidated, to me, any point that this author ever has made or will make in the future. Yes, because the purpose of analyzing literature is to make sure that nobody ever reads pulp fiction, the avant garde isn't real art, and anything that doesn't conform to the exact bounds of mainstream Western-European art music is "primitive".

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the class, we couldn't really have a good discussion about the article.

In my lessons, I've mostly been working on reeds. While I find my teacher's method of reed making very easy to follow when he is demonstrating, and I absolutely love the results, I find it both very difficult to duplicate and very difficult to completely ignore when making my own reeds. As a result, I've been spending a really large amount of time on reeds recently and been quite frustrated about my results. However, my teacher's comments have been getting more and more positive, so at least I'm improving. I'm confident that eventually it will all start working together, rather than at cross purposes. We've also been working on reeds because I've had to make reeds for oboe d'amore, and also started making English horn reeds. While I was incredibly frustrated by my d'amore reeds, which my teacher helpfully rescued for me, I have to say that I was blown away by how easy it was to get a functional English horn reed. Now I just have to make a functional English horn reed that doesn't leak copiously. :-)

I'll fill you in on all of the d'amore goings on on Friday, after our workshop performance of excerpts of the Bach B-minor Mass, but I will put up a link here to some pictures showing off the school's d'amore and some rough recordings, for anyone who's never heard a d'amore, to give a feeling of the difference between it, oboe, and English horn.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Six things about me:

Patty ( tagged me to post "to write six things about me, personally, that my readers might not know."

1. I hate mayonnaise with a burning passion.
2. I lived in Germany for two years.
3. I have very long hair. I wish it were a dark reddish-brown, but it's actually a sort of generic very dark blonde/light brown color.
4. I'm absolutely crazy about fantasy and some sci-fi, both books and tv. Some favorites include
Robin McKinley, Buffy, Neil Gaiman, Doctor Who, etc.
5. My favorite color is jewel tone red, and I like to dress my bedroom up like I live in a Pre-Raphaelite castle.
6. I collect elephants. I have absolutely no idea how or why this started, other than the fact that I made a stuffed elephant in 8th grade Home Ec.

I would have posted this sooner, but my sister came to visit me this weekend, and was able to switch her flight to one five hours earlier than her original one. While this was very nice, and much more convenient, it meant that many things I'd planned for Friday afternoon did not get done. She was here until Tuesday, and I've been catching up on things Tuesday afternoon and today. I do have a post to make about my first (surprise) Bach rehearsal, and playing on masterclass on Monday, but it will have to wait. If I go to bed now, I have time to practice before class tomorrow. :-)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A whirlwind of a week (and a half)

Last Sunday I got sick, last Tuesday I started working at my non-music job (I do research for a company that creates websites), then I had to run around like crazy to get all of my homework done because my cousin came on Friday to visit me over her fall break, and left on this Tuesday, the day of our first orchestra concert.

On top of that, I've been under the impression from Friday until about 15 minutes ago that I had a rehearsal today on oboe d'amore (I'm playing in the Bach B minor mass), so I've given myself a crash course in making d'amore reeds. I'm glad that I have some more time to get my reeds polished, because I really like to make good impressions on new conductors but I also feel a bit cheated.

Last Monday we had our first "real" oboe masterclass (since the first was mostly an oboe petting zoo), and I played part of the Strauss concerto. From rehearsal 9 to rehearsal 17, to be precise, which is the B theme and recap in the first movement. I felt absolutely dreadful, but I was fairly happy with how I played. I need to work on not playing the 32nd note runs too fast. They turn into lazy glissandos in which you can't hear individual notes. I also need to work on bringing the high notes into the phrase. I'm pretty happy with the bell-tone sort of sound I'm getting on them, but they don't connect across the bar.

I also have my lessons on Monday. I'm not thrilled about that, because Mondays are by far my busiest day (I have my first class starting at 9 AM (8 if I go and practice, which I have been) and my last ends at 9 PM), but my lessons have been going pretty well. The last two we haven't been working on reeds, which I prefer, since while I love my prof's reeds I haven't been able to make reeds anything like them on my own, and instead we've been working on the Strauss: the portion I played in class, and the second movement. He has a computer program (I believe called Smart Music) which plays a piano accompaniment along with you, with a huge list of repertoire. It doesn't follow your tempo changes generally, but it does wait at ritards and cadenzas and the like. Plus, because it doesn't follow you, it really gives you a chance to pay attention to the accompaniment while you're playing without having to worry about leading. Obviously that has some negative aspects, but it's nice to do a few times. I've also been working on a Gillet, which I'm trying to get musical and melodic, without losing my fingers. My prof wants me to prepare it for a masterclass, but I'm not sure I'll be able to get that comfortable with it. I suppose I did play one for my auditions, though.

On Sunday I met for the first time with my woodwind quintet, which was fun. We just read through a few pieces (Neilsen, Ibert, and one other I've forgotten), but the others are all really fantastic players, and we'll be able to do a lot together. We have another rehearsal on Friday, so we'll get to do a little bit more work.

Last night, then, we had the first Philharmonia concert, which was both the gala concert opening CCM's season (with $150 seats and a champagne intermission to accompany them) and the start of our Tchaikovsky festival. It was incredible.

I was up in the balcony for the first piece, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto 1, and when the piece opened I was struck by so many things. That sound was coming from from the group I play in. That's what we sound like. I get caught up in being busy, and frustrated with classes, or reeds, or my fingers, or any other number of little things, and I forget that I'm here, I've made it this far. And while there's so much farther to go, this is my dream, and exactly what I want to be doing with my life. I don't know how to express it in words, exactly, but it was an intense moment, both the music and that on top of it. That sort of sigh exhale where your hands come up over your mouth.The pianist was fantastic. She's a student here, either masters or doctoral, and she played beautifully. She was confident, polished, and musical, and managed to lead the orchestra exactly where she wanted to go. It was perhaps the first solo I've heard that made me think "Wow. I want to do that, to play with an orchestra as well as just in one." It was inspiring.
Romeo and Juliet was the best we've played it, and I know that if it wasn't my personal best it was at least very close. It's a woodwind heavy piece, between the opening chorale, small passages throughout, the large melody section in the middle, and the closing chorale, and we managed to be very well in tune with each other. And we played our hearts out. While 1812 wasn't consistently the best we've played it, the end was certainly powerful, in the way that 1812 is, and the opening cello chorale was beautiful and intense. At that point there was nothing to save ourselves for, and we ended with a bang. Literally, since they had cannons rigged to shoot confetti into the audience at the end of the piece. Plus, we had an approximately 20 person brass choir standing in the aisles of the auditorium for the last section of the piece.The intermission was interminable, and the stage was boiling hot, but the concert was such a wonderful experience. I realize a lot of my reaction was because I hadn't had a concert since the middle of April, but I was very pleased with both myself and the orchestra.

Oh, I also was able to go hear a concert by the Cincinnati Symphony. They did Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and Shostakovich's 8th Symphony, which I'd never actually heard all of before. It was very good, though there were some odd acoustics issues. However, I was on the floor, rather than in the balcony, so perhaps some of it was just my seat. I also don't approve of their concert dress, which is white tie and tails for the men, and either all black or black skirt/pants and jacket with a white shirt for the women. It tends to look very uneven in terms of level of formality, since the women have much more lee-way in their dress and the men are wearing the most formal outfit possible. Still, that's not particularly relevent to their playing, which was really great.

My next projects, other than learning my new orchestra and quintet music, are to make some English horn reeds, and finish my d'amore reeds. I ordered some gouged and shaped EH cane staples, so I'm going to see what I can work up. Although my d'amore reeds (which, for those who don't know, can conveniently be made with oboe cane and a d'amore shaper) aren't finished, I'm hopeful that they will turn out well. And if not, I now have much more time before I need them for a rehearsal.

Plus, now that my schedule, with me now working and all, has settled down, I'm going to try to regularize my practice schedule. I'm not getting as much done as I need to be, and I want to be able to play the Gillet in my next lesson. (The fact that my reeds seem to have settled down a bit- knock on wood- after having returned to my own way of scraping will help with this too. There was a while there where I felt that every spare moment I had was spent merely trying to get reeds I could play on.) I also need to find an EH piece to work on. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"If we play those measures any faster, the strings' arms will fall off.

There're more of them. And they'll come and get you." So says my orchestra conductor.

Orchestra continues to be fantastic, though unfortunately I don't get to play in Tchaik's Symphony 6. I'm amazed by the quality of the strings, though of course I shouldn't be. We're playing Romeo and Juliet, which you may know has intense, fast, bowed scale runs, and the entire string section can play them cleanly and together with each other. This compared to my previous orchestra's strings, who tried their hardest, but, well, hardly any of them were music majors.

It's still intimidating to be playing first, if only for the counting issue; there's much less chance to follow on entrances, and no-one to blame except myself if I screw up. However, I think that playing first in this orchestra is one of the best things musically to happen to me in a long time. The conductor is really pushing me to be more expressive, more expansive, more exaggerated, and just more audible as well. And of course I'm also being pushed by the rest of the woodwind section, who are very talented. The bassoons in particular are wonderful to sit in front of.

In my lesson this Monday I once again didn't play a note and we worked on reeds. My teacher makes reeds which are wildly different from mine, much shorter and with a longer, more defined tip and a stronger spine, and while I love the way his reeds sound, and play, in trying to make my reeds like his I'm about zero for 15. So I'm temporarily reverting to my normal reeds in order to fill up my box and give me something to play on in orchestra. (He also makes reeds using completely different steps, which compounds the problem. His first scrapes are very concentrated on the tip, which he gets to the point of clearly playing a c before taking more than just the bark and a few brief strokes off of anything else. I like to get my heart and back started before concentrating too much on the tip.)

I did manage to get music to prepare for my next lesson, though. I'm going to go through Barret from more of a teacher's perspective, and keep working on Gillet. Plus, I'm working up the Rathbun duet with another girl in the studio, playing the second part, and preparing part of the Strauss Concerto for next Monday's masterclass.

This past Monday, we had a presentation on the making of Fossati oboes, and got to both hear and try out seven different Fossati oboes. Coming from a Howarth perspective, I found most of them even more extreme than Lorees in terms of sounding narrow and bright, and feeling very resistant. There were a couple that were more open, but I have to admit that I wasn't thrilled with any of them. I did also try the oboe of the girl I'm playing duets with, which I really loved. It was a Loree, but a little bit older (unfortunately I don't remember the serial number), and felt very dark and open, yet controlled. Really lovely. I also introduced her to the trick of switching bells on oboes- I discovered summer before last that a great deal of an oboe's sound is in the bell, and that if you play another oboe with your bell on it, it will sound very close to your own oboe.

I ended up dropping my Broadway class, not because of the amount of work or time it required per se, but because of that time and work didn't fit well with my required schedule. I was really sad to give the class up, since it was my only discussion class, and on a topic I find really interesting, but the professor is letting me stop by his office and pick up all of the articles which he hands out to the class. So I'll still get to read analysis of Les Mis and Superstar, even if I won't get to discuss it.

In terms of my other classes, I've had two of the three of them cancelled in the past two days. History and theory continue to be pretty basic, and I haven't really had a class of piano yet. I think the most frustrating thing about classes, actually, is the lack of discussion, as there's no room for me to argue with the professor. :-)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Classes begin!

After yesterday and today I've gone to each of my classes for the quarter, with the exception of oboe masterclass. I have to say, I'm a bit underwhelmed with my classes. I think that my expectations were too high.

My history class will be very close to the two medieval and renaissance classes that I took in undergrad, and the professor is quite scatterbrained. Plus, her comments, though probably not meant that way, got me all up in arms about not putting modern musicality and musical sensibilities onto the ideals of the past. My theory class will in fact be much easier than it was the first time around, as the class isn't a seminar and doesn't require a 14 page paper. Piano will be enjoyable and friendly. And my seminar on Broadway and opera will be both interesting and frustrating. The subject matter is great; we're talking about 9 musicals, including West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Mis, and Rent. However, I don't get to write any actual papers. Instead we have a class long "journal" and 9 one-page papers on topics that would suit much longer ones. I'm still a little unsure of the professor, who came in and wrote an outline on the board for such topics as "class introduction" and "syllabus," but who seems pretty funny and engaging, and a little bit eccentric: he looks exactly like a tall Joel Gray, and since taking a class in poetry at age 16, he has written his name all lowercase in imitation of e. e. cummings.

But while my classes were a bit underwhelming, orchestra was fantastic. I'm playing first on Tchaik's Romeo and Juliet, and second on 1812. Rehearsal started with Romeo, and I have to say that I was completely terrified the whole time we were playing that piece. It was the first time I'd played first in a real orchestra since, well, high school, and I'm so
used to having my teacher there in rehearsals to give me helpful tips. (I was also nervous because I'm told that the conductor is very intense and can be sort of mean. Yesterday, however, probably because we were all sight-reading, he was very nice.) AND YET. AWESOME. The cellos started going, and I started grinning madly, and all was well. 1812 was obviously less nerve-wracking, partially because of the fact that you can only hear the winds as a whole about three times in the entire piece. (I have to say that Tchaikovsky? What is up with that piece? That whole extended full-orchestra-unison section on running scales in the middle? It is very strange and boring.)

The brass! The bassoon! The STRINGS! Oh, the strings. We have so many of them, and they are all top notch players, mostly masters and doctoral students. Unfortunately they're sitting 1st - cello - viola - 2nd, which is not an orchestra arrangement that I care for, but they're rocking it. Plus, it means that I'm sitting smack in the middle of the middle/low strings, which I love.

I held my own in both pieces, which made me feel pretty good about my playing. That was nice because the few days before Wednesday I'd been very frustrated at my inability to concentrate when practicing, and I was feeling very unmusical and disconnected. And then I got to rehearsal, and all was well. I need to get some louder reeds, though, playing first, and with that large of a string section.

This morning (far too early this morning) I also had a short lesson. I watched my audition tape, and was very pleasantly surprised to hear myself. I was unhappy after the audition because I had perceived my tone as being very flat and heavy, but on the recording (and in person at the auditions, according to my teacher) I actually sounded quite vibrant and sparkling. I do still need to work on having a more consistent tone, though, and on making sure both that my fingers and tongue are absolutely lined up and that I don't let my fingers get in the way of my air on pieces like the Strauss. I also got a compliment on my vibrato which absolutely shocked me, as I have to really work for my vibrato, and I've never thought of it as particularly fluid. Apparently my work over the spring and summer has really started to pay off. :-) I also got some tips on reeds, and I'm going to try making some that look more like my teachers, with a shorter scrape and heavier rails.

Things to work on this quarter, then, include:
Consistency and fluidity
Not scraping the rails off of my reeds
Dynamic range
Emphasizing the small notes

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The waiting is finally over!

I've passed my history and theory diagnostics, and taken my audition. Tomorrow classes and orchestra start. And I am so excited.

The diagnostics weren't nearly as bad as I was expecting, merely because they were multiple choice rather than the short answer I'd been led to expect. I only wish that I could find out more specifically how I did on each test- you only needed an 80 percent to pass, and "P" or "F" was all the information you were given. Nevertheless, I am very glad to have passed out of the remedial classes, since the classes you're required to take are another round of review classes. I begin with 801 and 801, Early Music and Post-Tonal Theory. While I was expecting the history and theory classes to line up, I will say that these are the two classes respectively that I'm most looking forward to finishing with. While I like early music, I've had two overview classes on it in the past two years, and one of my classes my last semester at school was post-tonal; we even used the same book. At least, though, I'll do well in the class.

I'm also taking a seminar on Broadway and opera, which I'm excited about. I love writing papers connecting music on the pop side with music on the classical side or modern music with historical music, and hopefully I'll get to write one for this class.

Oh, yes, I'm taking "piano for dummies" as well. I'm actually looking forward to it, as I do enjoy playing piano, musical books and such, but have long since forgotten most of my training.

Having signed up for classes, I have also now been able to purchase Microsoft Office for a ridiculously low price at the bookstore, access library resources, and pay my bill. I still have to find a work-study job, but now that I have Word I can work up my resume and do so.

I had my audition on Saturday, and found results out yesterday. Orchestra and band placement here uses rotations, so audition results are almost meaningless, but I'm perfectly happy to start out my year playing a lot of Tchaikovsky in the top orchestra. I only wish I knew what part I was playing in each piece! Rehearsals begin on Wednesday, and there's no sign of music. Unfortunately, my rotation means that I probably won't have any chance to play in the pit for an opera, but perhaps next year.

I wasn't thrilled with my audition, missing the high F# in the Mahler, and losing the more sparkling tone that I'd been cultivating in my practicing, but it wasn't a bad audition either. Clearly it was serviceable, at least.

I've been enjoying Cincinnati's culture the past couple weekends, going to the Celtic Festival and Oktoberfest with some of the other CCM students I've met and having a really good time. The Oktoberfest in Cincinnati is apparently the second biggest in the world, second only to Munich's (the original).

And I've even found another oboist here who plays on a Howarth! Success. :-)

Tomorrow I'll let you know how my first classes and rehearsal turn out. Today I'm going to make reeds, as all of mine practically committed suicide yesterday.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Summertime, and the livin' is easy.

Until yesterday I'd only lost one plaque in the, oh, seven years I've been making reeds, and I only lost that plaque after I bought an extra one, just to be safe. So I've never really worried about having an extra plaque, despite the fact that most people seem to keep several on hand and lose them frequently. Well, yesterday I lost my second one, and no backup. Luckily I was able to borrow one for a few days from another oboist while the new 3 I've ordered come in the mail.

I tried out both of the gougers in the reed room- unfortunately neither is well labeled and so I can't tell you what kinds they are- and they're really lovely. Unlike the gouger at my old school, both have handles, making the gouging process a lot easier on your thumb as well as your wrist, shoulder, etc. And while so far I've only made reeds with cane from one of the gougers, I must say that that gouger works very well with my shaper and my oboe. The next batch of reeds is going to be from that same machine, but I'll try the other one soon and see how it goes. Then when I've actually met some of the other oboists here, I'll be able to say what the makes of the two gougers are.

I'm actually having reed luck so nice that it's making me nervous. This is good for my practicing now, and I just hope that it continues to be good when I have my all important audition-for-everything.

I've finally listened to recordings of all of my audition excerpts, something I know I should have done much earlier. I'm very glad I did, because I had the tempo for mvt 3 of Mahler Symphony 1 completely wrong. I also was pretty far off with the Strauss Concerto, but there was at least a reason behind that. My freshman year for my spring jury I played the first movement of the Strauss. I was nowhere near good enough to play it, but for some reason I was working on it at the time, and so it was my jury piece. I played it pretty slowly, in part because of my teacher's personal aesthetic but mostly because I had to in order to get the right calm and pastoral sort of sound. Anyways, that was the way I learned the piece, and I haven't played it again since then. I'm glad that I listened to a couple clips of it though, because now I have the fingers to play it at the proper speed...and it's much easier on your lungs that way! I'm pretty happy with the way my preparations are going, and what with having to play from mvt 2 of Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, my double-tonguing is progressing nicely.

When I'm not practicing I've been...well, a lot of my time has been spent watching House, listening to the score of Jesus Christ Superstar, doing nothing much on the internet, and, this past weekend, going to the Ohio Renaissance Festival. But my other time has been spent reading Burkholder, Grout, and Palisca's A History of Western Music in order to pass my history diagnostics. It's a very dull book directed at freshmen music majors, but it is at least helping me remember all of the little bits of music history that I haven't had for three years. Plus, I have learned at least one interesting piece of information. It seems that in 17th c Spanish lyric theater most parts were played by women. So while, as in most opera of the time, both leading roles were generally soprano parts, rather than being played by a woman and a castrato, in Spain and Spanish territories both were played by women.

Also, for those who don't know Mahler's 1st Symphony, a recording of the third movement can be found here. It's absolutely gorgeous.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Counting down the days...

I have now moved into my apartment in Cincinnati, and begun my two weeks of waiting until orientation, which starts on the 15th. I've discovered that I don't have a bill until I register for classes, I cannot use my student ID to buy Microsoft Word from the bookstore for a very low sum until I register for classes, I cannot use the library proxy until I register for classes...the list goes on. This is slightly frustrating. However, I was able to get my student ID (in which I look approximately 15) late last week, and as of today I have a very awkwardly sized locker and a key to the absolutely lovely reed room. They have TWO gougers! And three pregougers! And lovely cubbies so that I don't have to do strange things in order to fit both my instruments and my music and whatever other various and sundry items I need into my locker. I believe that tomorrow I'm going to soak some cane and go try out the gougers. I'm quite excited about this. :-) I've also discovered the music library, which is quite nice and full of spooky little corners, strange staircases, and flickering lights. And a huge amount of instrumental music. My only complaints are the lack of comfy chairs and the fact that it's not actually in the music building- UVA spoiled me with that. Still, those pale in comparison to the much larger number of books.

I have also learned that I will never need to attend a football game, because if I choose a strategic practice room I can in fact see the scoreboard from there. I in fact learned this not by accident, but because they have been testing the speaker system in the stadium. They've chosen to do this by playing a clip of recording cheering/yelling/chanting that's about two minutes long. On a loop. With a half second of silence in between. I say they're testing the speakers because the reason must either be that or that they're trying to slowly drive the music students insane.

I made several reeds just a few days before moving here; I know that reeds always change drastically in different locations, but I figured that since Cincinnati is pretty much parallel with Fairfax, and has pretty much exactly the same weather, it might be all right. It was not. My reeds dramatically died, after which I revived them for a day, after which they all dramatically died again. Especially in the upper registers. I have to say, that wasn't the best start to my "practice very, very hard for your scary conservatory orchestra auditions" schedule. And in fact the first batch of reeds that I made here also were significantly lacking in their upper registers, which is problematic, considering some of the music I need to play. Mahler 1. The Strauss concerto. However, the fact that I made a reed today (*knock on wood*) that can handle the entire Poulenc sonata, I think perhaps my reed making, and particularly my upper register reed making, is acclimating itself. Thank goodness.

I must go now, as the music library in which I'm typing is about to close, but I'm back for good with my oboe blogging.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Back in business. Well, almost.

Hello all! I'm back from my awesome three week vacation to the UK, during which I visited Canterbury, York, Edinburgh, Oban, Inverness, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cardiff, and London. It was generally short on music, with the exception of listening to Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Scottish Symphony while at Fingal's Cave and to music of all sorts on long train rides, and going to a concert at the Proms at Royal Albert Hall. We heard Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Bach, orch. H. Wood), Concerto for Horn and Violin (Smyth), Prelude in C sharp minor (Rachmaninoff, orch. H. Wood), Symphony No. 2 (Rachmaninoff), played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

You know why I like the British? Because they really have no shame. The arrangement of the Bach was for organ and full neo-Romantic orchestra, including 7 French horns, tuba, 3 parts per ww plus auxilaries, and gong. It was an interesting arrangement, based around pairing instruments with their respective organ pipes, but, well, Bach it was not.

I wasn't wildly impressed with the concerto, as the violinist wasn't able to project in the hall and the horn wasn't given enough of a part, but I liked the idea behind the second and third movements, a romantic duet and fae fox hunt respectively.

The Prelude was quite similar to the Toccata and Fugue, though less jarring as a result of the fact that it was a heavily Romantic piece to begin with. It also sounded exactly like the soundtrack to Disney's movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Honestly, if you want a taste of what Wood's arranging is like, just listen to that soundtrack.

Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 is one of my favorite pieces of music; my first year of undergrad the orchestra played in for the final concert of the year, and while I didn't get to play in it in concert, I did get to sub for one rehearsal. Ever since then, I've been hooked. It's melodramatic and heavy, sweeping and romantic, and contains both beautiful light ww and string melodies and powerful brass fanfares. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra played a very interesting version, some of which was very good and some of which I didn't like at all. Their tempos were pretty extreme; all fast sections were race-speed, which I rather liked because of the slightly manic air it gave the piece and because the orchestra played them very well and together. The slow sections, however, tended to either be rubato to the point of ridiculousness or entirely too moderato. I also would have liked to hear the orchestra play in a more standard hall, because there were quite a few balance issues, such as a strange obscuring of the opening theme of the 4th movement and overly loud clarinets and percussion, which I can imagine were at least exacerbated by the very large round hall and the risers on stage.

Despite these various issues, I really did enjoy the concert and the orchestra. The sheer power, hanging masterfully on the edge of loss of control, and impeccable balance of their brass section really made the symphony, even though they were occasionally too loud for the rest of the orchestra. As a section, they were sublime. As far as the oboe section was concerned, I liked the sound of the first oboist, though unlike the last time I heard the orchestra I wasn't entirely impressed; there was nothing specifically bad about her playing, but nothing specifically noteworthy either. I was much less impressed with the English hornist. He had a very choppy sound which made him sound quite amateurish, and while I liked his (very British) tone, I thought it was obscured by the above. There was no real sense of direction in his playing: it didn't sweep you up and forward, and as a result the English horn solos sounded a bit odd and stagnant rather than passionate. I also wasn't pleased with the first clarinetist, who had a very strident tone which reminded me of German players; it didn't match with the rest of the ensemble.

My final thoughts? The power and drama of the music and the passion of the brass section made up for the shortcomings of the group as a whole.

I've bought a new "
Double hollow-ground, razor-style" reed knife (Philadelphia Reed Knives Co.), which I will like once I get used to hollow ground knives again, and a new sharpening stone (fine grit diamond stone), which I love. I have the excerpts for my auditions in September. Aside from the fact that I leave early on Saturday morning for a week long family vacation to the beach, I'm ready to get back into the swing of things and practice up a storm.

My audition excerpts: Bach, St Matthew's Passion; Mozart, Symphony 41; Mahler, Symphony 1; Saint-Saens, Organ Symphony; Tchaikovsky, Symphony 5; Strauss, Oboe Concerto pp. 1-3.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

The reason for the lack of posts is that my life has been very full lately. I've had my sister's graduation, helped my roommate move, packed, moved up from my apartment down at school, gone back down to clean and help my roommate finish moving, and done a lot of shopping for things for my new apartment. Now I have to finish shopping for my apartment, move into my apartment, and then a week later leave for my trip to Britain.

Oboe practicing seems to be getting left by the wayside (along with computer use), and now it's caught up with me. Oboe withdrawal. This combined with my whirlwind last week has finally resulted in my feeling cranky and anxious, so tomorrow I plan to sleep late, and practice. And possibly read a book, depending on what else I have to do.

I finished work last Friday, and as a going away present, my boss bought me a gig bag. I've never had one, resulting in the awkward oboe-music-purse-waterbottle carry, so this is really a love gift. I'm quite sad to leave the job, and look forward to my name showing up on a couple of pieces as they get published, and on the Mozart Society website as credit for my mad German proofreading skills. :-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Music is the brandy of the damned.

Lately I have been making a lot of reeds and gouging a lot of cane, and honestly, reeds are pretty much the ultimate evil at the moment. I'm having a lot of trouble getting my knife sharp, and it seems like all of my cane, regardless of how it felt when I gouged it, is either far too soft and flexible or cracks as soon as I start scraping. Granted, early cracking is better than cracking the moment before the reed reaches a playable stage, but I'm beginning to get frustrated. Regarding my knife, I've always had trouble getting my knives really sharp, and I'm actually using what was my second best knife right now, and have been for several months since I lost my good knife. I think that I'm going to buy a new knife. (Suggestions? The one I lost was RDG's double hollow ground knife, which used to have a different name, and which I liked, but having options is always nice.) Regarding my cane, though, there's not really anything I can do except have a lot of patience and go through a large number of early stage reeds.

I must admit, my wonderful practicing plan is, well, not exactly going on schedule. I keep getting distracted by my shiny (metaphorically- it's actually second hand and in many, many pieces) Vade-Mecum, and deciding to play that random new etude instead of the Ferling I'm meant to be working on. Ah, well, such is life. I was practicing English horn the other day, running through my book of English Horn Solos edited by Thomas Stacy, and I came across this piece, Faure's Sicilienne. Take a listen (the actual piece starts around 1:10). Sound pretty much exactly like the Harry Potter soundtrack to anybody? Oh, John Williams...the truth is, I absolutely love John Williams. I know that he steals his themes from anyone and anywhere, but the results are so wonderful that I can let it pass. Plus, I actually think it's very cool when classical music gets reused or redone in popular music, so who am I to complain when Tchaikovsky shows up in Star Wars, or Faure in Harry Potter?

I received an email from CCM letting me know that I have to take a piano proficiency test. Obviously this isn't a strange and shocking turn of events, but I had forgotten about it, and I have to learn a real piece of a certain level, know all my scales 2 octaves, sight-read, and transpose. Conveniently I have all summer to practice, and the internet, from which I can get free sheet music. Plus, after my orchestration class this past semester, my thoughts end up along the lines of "at least I only have to learn a piece meant for piano, with only two staves and no transposition!'

I've been going home every weekend to visit my friends, parents and sister, but this week it's for a rather more exciting occasion: my little sister is graduating from high school! I'm very happy for her, especially since she's incredibly happy to be done and excited about college, but boy does it make me feel old.

That's rather a change, really, as recently I've been having moments of "wow, I'm going to be in grad school next year; people are going to expect me to know things!" While I felt like I knew what was going on, and could give advice about all sorts of music related things, this past year, next year I'll not only be at a brand new school, but I'll be at a brand new intimidating conservatory-like school. I don't feel old enough to be a grad student! I don't feel knowledgeable enough, or advanced enough. And yet, they let me in, so clearly I'm doing something right.

I'm actually very excited. It will be weird, though, to be at school and have graduated from undergrad. Besides, they don't even know about my school up there. Oh, I am so very much looking forward to being at school in the fall, to being in the middle of that atmosphere.

I thought I'd found a way to easily get my recital recording up online (I don't know if anyone else is interested, but I did have one person ask me), using Unfortunately, even though my files fit the size limit and are the correct format, it's not working. I'm going to try again later, but is anyone interested in hearing my recital? And does anyone have a suggestion for a place to upload them? What I like about muxtape is that rather than, like sendspace or some such website, having to download the files, you can just stream them and listen to them online. (You in fact cannot download the files, but I'd rather have that than being unable to listen except by downloading.)

I bought myself an Ipod with the money from my music department award, and decided to have the back engraved, which you can do for free. I wanted to find an appropriate music quote, something a little bit melodramatic, to fit my personality, without being too too. I finally, after long deliberation and wishy-washy-ness, decided on the quote in my title, "music is the brandy of the damned." Upon typing the quote into the order form, however, I was informed that I had chosen "inappropriate text"! Come on, Apple! So, I settled for "music is the literature of the heart." It's not quite as good, but I rather like it.

At work, I've been entering Niccolo Jommelli's Miserere into Finale. I leaned the other day that there may actually be enough interest in the piece to have a real edition made; usually the work I do is for a specific production being done by someone who has contacted my boss. In this case, as the person who inputted, formatted, and edited the piece, I would get my name on the edition. I also, as I found out today, get to write the opening note for the edition. It won't have any lovely program note stuff - I'm not in charge of that much - but I do get to write the information like "the voices were originally notated in soprano clef" and "while dynamic markings have been distributed among the parts, articulation markings are for the most part as notated in the manuscript". I find it rather exciting, really.

Monday, May 26, 2008

There are two problems which eternally belong to summertime.

Sunburn? No. Too many bugs? No. Heat? No.

First, practicing and advancing without a teacher. As, I think, many people do, I have trouble practicing specific things, rather than whatever catches my fancy that day, when I don't have a specific event (lesson, audition, concert, etc), and so I don't end up getting much done during the summer. I tend to start many things, and not work up any until the last few weeks, when I have to get ready for my audition or what have you. This summer, though, I am making a plan. I'm going to work on remedying my rather spotty knowledge of Fehrling, and go through the etudes two by two, and also work on Le Api, which has been neglected pretty much all year on account of auditions and the recital. I'm also going to pick a solo, possibly the Vaughan Williams Concerto, which I love.

Second, surviving months without orchestra rehearsals without insanity. I don't really have a solution for this, other than going to lots of concerts and listening to classical music a lot. I noticed this year in particular that I'm really liking every piece of classical music I listen to. That said, this year will be even worse than usual, because my classes don't start until the end of September, rather than at the end of August.

Speaking of UC, I went with my mother to Cincinnati this weekend to find an apartment, and found a lovely and affordable one. (Pictures here of the apartment with someone else's furnishings, and of the Music Hall.) While there, I managed to get free tickets to two May Festival concerts. One was Faure's Requiem and Vivaldi's Gloria, the other Berlioz' Romeo et Juliette. While they were suffering from the problem, as many festivals do, of too few rehearsals with the soloists, both concerts, and especially the Berlioz, were very good. The hall was huge - it apparently sits around 3500, and as the home of the Cincinnati Symphony I find myself wondering approximately what portion of seats they typically sell - and the choir correspondingly vast, with about 225 singers. It was a bit overkill for the Faure, though they had a smaller choir for the Vivaldi, but for the ending of the Berlioz it was spectacular.

I've been reading Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks, which is pretty interesting, though slightly frightening. The conclusion of each section, dealing with things ranging from synaesthesia to musical hallucinations to the sudden acquisition of tone deafness, can be summarized as "well, we know what causes this, but not how to prevent it or fix it." A few interesting facts, though: According to one study, 1 in 23 people is synaesthetic. The number of people with absolute pitch is wildly higher in countries, such as China, whose languages are tonal.

Ah, yes, graduation. Having had a little over a week to get used to it, it isn't quite so strange to have graduated college, but it is still a little bit bizarre. For instance, late last week I was unsubscribed from the music major mailing list. And of course the fact remains that when I go back to school in the fall it will be in another state for another degree. Though the day before graduation and the day after were perfectly lovely, it rained the day of and was about 5 degrees too chilly to be entirely comfortable at the morning ceremony. However, my department ceremony was inside, in our hall, so it didn't affect me too much. After the chaos of the morning, backstage with only 25 music majors and 12 professors was lovely and well-organized, and the ceremony quite short.

You may remember that my recital was a "distinguished major project," for which I would graduate with no distinction, distinction, high distinction, or highest distinction. My English major roommate had been assured that she would know what she'd received before graduation, but knowing my department's track record, I was skeptical that I would. Sure enough, the professors were wandering around before the ceremony looking smug, and I didn't find out until I was standing on stage. I was well and truly shocked (my mouth literally dropped open) to find out that I received highest distinction. Although I was quite pleased after my recital (admittedly a little less so after listening to my recording), I was really surprised. Also, the benefit of a small department, I was one of several to receive an award that came with a $250 check.
I believe I've written in here before about "departmental recognitions", for which you are nominated by a professor. Usually they give them out in the fall and winter, but obviously graduating fourth-years won't be around come next October, so they gave ours at graduation. I've gotten them before, once for course work and once for my third year recital, but I have to say that this one meant the most for me. I got one for my term paper for theory, and then one for my two big English horn solos in orchestra, in the Ravel Piano Concerto and in Symphonie Fantastique. Obviously as someone who aspires to be an orchestral musician, it meant so much for me to get a recognition for my orchestral playing.

After the ceremony, they had a lovely reception and I got to say my good-byes to my professors, with many promises, which I firmly intend to keep, to keep in touch. And then it was back to my apartment for a joint family party, exhaustion, and melancholy. It's a very strange thing, graduating college, because the way in which you grow up during college is so different from the way you do in high school, and also because college is so very strongly tied to a specific place. I love this campus, and the buildings and the hall, etc, and it is strange and sad to think that I will not be playing in our hall again. That said, while it will be sort of hard at the end of the summer, I've gotten over my maudlin for now, and the lasting emotion, I think, is accomplishment. Which really is as it should be, now that I've gotten my last statements of "ooh, look what I got" out.

If you're interested, I have a few pictures from my recital and from graduation (you can see my long-suffering roommates, unless they mind) here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Not Dead Yet!

It seems like all I do lately is apologize for disappearing. (Not that I'm planning on it, but I promise if I ever do discontinue this blog I will let you know.)

My life recently has been fairly boring and unmusical, until Sunday, when I graduated and it started being taken up with work and a side of maudlin. Now that I've got a schedule going again, though, I'm going to get my practice schedule back on track and gouge a lot of cane before I leave and have to give the school's gouger back. Mostly these past two weeks haven't been worth writing about, but I do promise that soon I'll let you know about graduation. (And my graduation day surprises!)

One brief note before I go get some sleep:

I learned in this podcast about the Dies Irae that the score to Disney's The Lion King was written not only by Elton John, but also by Hans Zimmer. I've always like that score, and now I just like it more. The (a?) use of the Dies Irae in the movie can be found here around 2:20; also note the opening English horn solo. Now that's why I love my instrument.

Again, I will be back! Hopefully tomorrow!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hello again.

Having free time is pretty wild and crazy, and I'm taking advantage of it by being very bad about practicing and making reeds.

Orchestra is finished for the season, we had our last concert on the 13th and then two additional rehearsals, one with the youth orchestra and one reading new compositions from composers at the school. The concerts went brilliantly. Despite the fact that Golijov's Night of the Flying Horses is pretty poorly organized and so not much fun for the orchestra to play, the audience enjoyed it. The cello solo, Schelomo, was gorgeous, and the orchestra part much fuller than is typical for a concerto, so they had fun with that. And the Berlioz. Oh, it was lovely. I thought it went really well at the time, and after listening to the recording I definitely think it was a top performance by us. AS for my solo, on Saturday I got water in my G key, and so on the loudest of the solo, the high A, I burbled. On Sunday, though, there was no water and everything went smoothly. I was really pleased with my playing at the time, and I got cheered by the audience, which was a wonderful surprise, but I have to say, having listened to the Sunday performance on recording, that my vibrato was pretty weak. Still, aside from that I was quite happy with my playing.

At the rehearsal with the youth orchestra we read The Planets. I'd never played the piece before, so I was really excited. We had probably 120 people on the stage- we had to play at the high school in order to have enough room. Of course it was pretty rough, but it was still a lot of fun, and I hope that the high schoolers enjoyed it and maybe even got something out of it. I felt really bad for the girl sitting next to me, who was playing the third oboe part (I was on E horn), because her part was over half bass oboe, which we obviously didn't have for only a rehearsal, and her oboe was having severe and strange water problems the whole night, mostly in the low octave which was of course where bass oboe and third oboe fall. She basically couldn't play anything.

The next Wednesday, which was the final orchestra rehearsal, after which I got a little teary, we read new compositions. It's always hard to do that; we don't get the pieces before hand to look at, and frequently the pieces are quite complicated or unusual. The results can be pretty funny, and I feel bad for the composers, who really want to hear their pieces performed. We do try, but a lot of the time things go wrong, and people get frustrated. I try very hard not to laugh, funny results regardless, because it's so hard for the composers sitting in the audience to know that the orchestra is laughing at the antics of our concertmaster, or because the flutes got very confused, or what have you, and not actually at their piece. We also read through the orchestrations from the class I took this semester, which was interesting. Despite many pre-cautions, a good number of the parts had impossible notes, or were lacking key pieces of information and such. Playing these was made even harder by the fact that my orchestration professor conducted them. He was having a lot of trouble getting enough information across to the orchestra, and he was hard to follow as well. So those pieces didn't go very smoothly, though it was still nice that we were able to play them. It was a little unfortunate that the close of our season was so awkward, though.

Since then, I've been writing very long papers, and otherwise finishing up the year, including fighting with the music department over getting the recording of my recital. Well, less fighting and more being bemused over how long it seems to be taking them to get the recording moved from the office to the music library a whopping two floors down. I was told on Friday that the librarian would come and get it that afternoon, but it's still not there. I want to hear it, and there are a lot of other people asking me for it as well.

I have also, of course, been starting to figure next year out. I have now been officially accepted, and given an 85% scholarship, which means that my tuition costs for a year are around $3350 and makes me very happy. I've started looking for an apartment, and resolved to start actually practicing again, rather than the rather weak imitation I've been doing this last week.

I learned from my friend, who sent me a science magazine in the mail in order to inform me of this, that a certain species of hummingbird makes noise with its tail, which vibrates much in the manner of the reed of a musical instrument. More.

It was my 21st birthday yesterday, and I got a lovely little collection of oboe related things, as well as a couple books and some earrings. I now have sheet music for the Paladilhe Solo and Saint-Saens Sonata, two Moleskine staff paper notebooks, and three new colors of purple thread for reed-making (I may have mentioned before that I can only make reeds with purple thread).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Such a tease.

I know, I've done it again...disappeared with no trace. Since my recital, I've been catching up on all the work that I didn't do before my recital, and finishing up the semester. I promise a post or two after Friday, at which point my last paper of my undergrad career will be turned in, with the fairly interesting things that have been going on.

This is just a quick post to say that I found out today that I got accepted to CCM! (And just in the nick of time, as my deadline for GMU was May 1st.) I'm pretty stunned, and wildly happy. So thanks to everyone for their well wishes. :-D Now I just have to, oh, find a place to live, and work out how I'm going to pay.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


It's a very strange feeling, finishing the last piece of your recital. You bow, walk off,'s over. What? People come up and ask "How do you think it went? Are you glad it's over? Bet you're going to relax next week," and my head is still going "Wait, it's done? Really? What just happened?" It's sort of an extension of the performing mindset- the pieces have never gone by so fast as they did today.

I was intensely nervous this morning, but I ate a banana (Bananas contain some chemical that apparently makes you feel calmer. I heard this from a reputable source, though I recognize the effect may be all mental. Still, I actually find it very effective, so I don't really care.), and got to the hall quite early, and had time to do some sound check/warming up which made me feel a lot better. Being able to hear your reeds and your fingers working really helps. And speaking of reeds, I had such good reed luck, better than I ever do. I had options, and the reed I ended up playing on really did everything. High, low, reedy, sweet, soft, loud, multiphonics. Which, needless to say, made my recital a lot less nerve wracking. (...Reed gods, please do not now curse me because of my boasting. Please.)

But as to my playing. With the exception of a few spots, I was actually really happy with how I played. I was a little nervous in the first movement of the Poulenc, so I had quite a few squeaks from lazy jumps, but after that I got more into the swing of things. I honestly am not sure I've played the second and third movements better than I did today. I didn't have any tonguing issues in the third movement, and I think that all of my dynamics and registers were musical in the third. (I hit all of the notes in both the ff and pp low Bb-Eb sections!)
The Pasculli went well too, especially the death aria (slow, melodramatic, minor) section. The only problem I had with the piece was that the end, an extended and difficult triplet run, which I had worked very hard on this past week and finally been able to play, ended up far too fast, and so I flubbed a lot of the notes anyways. Luckily, that was the (only) part of the recital where I was covered up by the piano. (Cooper, I used one of your reeds; I really like them. Very covered and warm, just the sound I aim for!)
The Rathbun duet was great, and everybody really liked it (possibly cause it's only 7 minutes long :-P), though my teacher had a counting Moment (tsk tsk). But we really hit on the bouncy, vibrant mood of the piece today. (Options for a description as told to me by audience members afterwards: two robots having a conversation, or two ducks having an altercation.)
The Bax quintet, because of the acoustics, was really hard to hear from onstage. But I have been assured that it sounded together and balanced from the audience.
I thought that my cadenza-solos turned out well, especially the one which opens the piece. There were a couple scary moments, and I wasn't holding together in the second movement - which is slow, lyrical, and high and has forty measures with only a single quarter rest, the hardest part of my program to get through - as well as I would have liked, but all in all I was happy, and the ending was great.

I'm a little surprised with how pleased I am with how I played, but I'm really not going to complain too much about that.

Next? Finding out if I've gotten in to Cincinnati.

14 hours to go...

I've had a lot of exciting oboe adventures lately, from my final orchestra concerts (at which I was actually cheered for the EH solo in the Berlioz) to a side-by-side rehearsal of The Planets with the youth orchestra, to, as of tomorrow, my recital. I have lots of things to say here, but right now I'm going to go to bed and try not to stress too much.

Wish me luck! I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Arnold Bax, Oboe Quintet: Program Notes

Quintet – Arnold Bax (1922)

Arnold Bax (8 Nov 1883 – 3 Oct 1953) is best known for his tone poems, which take their subject matter from Celtic myth and scenery. However, his compositions in many genres reflect Bax’s obsession with Ireland and Britain. The Quintet, dedicated to the British oboist Leon Goossens, is no exception to this, featuring folk-like melodies which invoke England, Scotland, and Ireland.

While Poulenc’s Oboe Sonata gives a rather intimate portrayal of personal grief, the overarching narrative of Bax’s Quintet is more nationalistic. The main theme of the first movement is a long, sinuous melody introduced by unaccompanied oboe. Heavy with accidentals and augmented seconds, the exoticised theme seems foreign to Bax’s musical tendencies, but it in fact references a side of the pastoral frequently investigated in Bax’s works, that of Pan and fairies, “dangerous, unpredictable, sensual, and libidinous creatures,”[1] even as it calls up images of Milton’s “gorgeous East”[2]. While this theme forms the majority of the movement, the movement ends with a sunny G major molto tranquillo coda, foreshadowing the banishment of all exoticism through the cheery folk-tunes of the third movement.

The second movement of the quintet serves as an intermediary between the orientalism of the first movement and the nationalism of the third; the strings open with a lush pastoral melody before the oboe interjects with an ad lib “melancholy” solo featuring augmented seconds and sinuous lines. The very slow tempo, low tessitura, soft dynamics and uneven meter invoke a sense of quiet and pervasive sorrow. Despite an increase in ornamentation, intensity, and chromatic tones in the middle of the movement, which create the sense of a B section, the movement is deeply unified. As in the first movement, the return of the A section is followed by a molto tranquillo tonal coda.

Bax contrasts the feminized, exoticized melody dominating movement one with the final movement’s masculine British folk songs. The themes of movement three are three rollicking folk-song-based melodies. The first is a newly-composed jig which uses Scotch snaps and uneven phrase lengths, against a duple counter-melody, to slightly unbalance the listener. The second theme, similar in feel to the first, again sets compound meter against duple accompaniment. However, it lacks the first theme’s snaps and irregular phrases, and has the feel of a rather square march instead of a lively jig. The final theme, slower and more restrained, is a variant on the folk song “The Lament of the Sons of Usna,”[3] and is perhaps more famous from its appearance in Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. The B section of the piece consists of an extended, cantabile version of the third theme for the cello under oboe embellishments recalling the orientalism of the first movement. At the return of A, references to Bax’s earlier exoticism are replaced by aggressive repetitions of the first and third themes. The piece ends with a vivace statement of the first theme by the oboe which leads to a strong, full G major chord.

In one sense, Bax plays the stereotypical roles of the oboe, the “pastoral, melancholia, and orientalism,”[4] to the hilt in his Quintet, but the piece also provides a clear example of Bax’s tendency to emphasize the “musical evocation of nature”[5] over personal expression. Here the “chillier violence”[6] of his pastoral landscapes has unsettling overtones. Movement one, in which the opening modal/minor melody is subverted in the major tonality of the final two measures, and movement three, in which the B section references the first movement’s exoticism before falling back into folk songs, serve as small-scale pictures of the piece as a whole, which moves from the melody of movement one to those of movement three. Written in the years following the First World War, perhaps as a statement of nationalistic support, Bax creates a narrative in which feminized music designed to evoke Eastern cultures is conquered by masculine music which represents the West, and specifically the history of Britain.

[2] Milton, Paradise Lost, 2.3
[3] Foreman, Lewis. Bax: A Composer and His Times, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2007. p. 212.
[4] Burgess and Haynes, The Oboe, p. 240
[5] New Grove Encyclopedia of Music, "Bax", Works

For expanded analysis or citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing of [dot] polyhymnia [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jeffrey Rathbun, 3 Diversions for 2 Oboes: Program Notes

3 Diversions for 2 Oboes – Jeffrey Rathbun (1987)

The second piece on my recital composed by an oboist, 3 Diversions for 2 Oboes was written by Jeffrey Rathbun, Assistant Principal Oboe of the Cleveland Orchestra. An active composer as well as performer, Rathbun has written orchestral and chamber pieces, many featuring the oboe, and teaches at schools including the Cleveland Institute of Music and Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. 3 Diversions for 2 Oboes was written at the request of fellow Cleveland Orchestra oboist John Mack and premiered in July, 1987 by the composer and Mack.

Diversions is a set of three miniature movements, neo-Classical in feel, arranged in the traditional order of a sonata (fast-slow-fast). Here Rathbun isn’t writing an elegy or telling a love story; the piece is called an “interesting, listenable, and challenging oboe duet,”[1] and it’s an apt description. Pasculli wrote in order to remedy a lack of virtuosic oboe pieces, and Rathbun, a similar lack of clever, playful, accessible new music for the oboe. The two oboe parts share melodic and accompanimental material fairly equally, the lines dove-tailing, overlapping, and swerving around each other, and both explore the high and low reaches of the oboe as well as multiphonic effects. As a whole, the piece plays with the range of effects available to the oboe, and also explores the unity of sound which the two instruments can achieve.

Characteristics of the first movement, marked Allegretto, include wide leaps, syncopation, grace notes, and snappy 16th-note interjections. Neither conventionally tonal nor decidedly atonal, the movement and piece as a whole move not through chord progressions but instead through a series of pitch centers.

The second movement, Lento, pairs a slow melody, lyrical despite plentiful leaps and a series of tremolos, and the two parts are extremely unified here As the movement progresses, after a brief increase in energy it becomes ever more restrained. The range of the melodic theme is lowered and condensed, and the movement ends on a multiphonic approximation of a major triad.

The third movement, marked Vigoroso, is the most energetic of the three. With a syncopated and jazzy (theme 1), perpetual motion (theme 2) feel punctuated by rapid arpeggios (theme 3), and multiphonics, the movement looks back to the second movement of Poulenc’s Sonata. The themes, rather than being developed, are fragmented and reduced; for example, the first and third themes combine into a three-against-four pattern of scale fragments, and the second becomes almost purely rhythmic. Despite the multitude of motives, there is a steady and dramatic drive to the piece’s finish, where aspects of all three movements combine and whirl into the piece’s final note, a unison middle C.

[1] Jeanne Belfy, review of Color Factory,

For expanded analysis or citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing of [dot] polyhymnia [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Antonio Pasculli, Fantasia due sopra motivi dell ‘opera “Un ballo in maschera” di Verdi: Program Notes

Fantasia due sopra motivi dell ‘opera “Un ballo in maschera” di Verdi – Antonio Pasculli (c.1900)
Antonio Pasculli (13 October 1842-23 February 1924) began his musical career as a performer, and it seems likely that most of his impetus for composing was the lack of sufficiently virtuosic music for the oboe and English horn. Pasculli declared himself the “Paganini of the oboe,”[1] and the title seems to have been well deserved. His extant compositions, which include ten fantasias, nine of these on operatic themes, are mostly for oboe and piano, but Pasculli also composed many arrangements, now lost, for the wind orchestra of Palermo, which he conducted.[2] In addition to his solo career, which began in 1856 and lasted until 1884 when he was forced to retire because of sight problems, Pasculli was professor of oboe and English horn at the Regio Conservatorio di Palermo from 1860 until 1913.[3]

The opera paraphrase or fantasia for solo instrument and piano was a popular form at the end of the 19th century, and the virtuosity of Pasculli’s compositions is characteristic. While the choice of English horn rather than oboe for both this piece and Pasculli’s first Fantasia on “Un ballo” is rather unusual – of Pasculli’s nineteen surviving pieces only three include English horn – Verdi was the composer most frequently used in Pasculli’s fantasias. Fantasia due uses six themes from “Un ballo,” focusing on the love triangle between Ricardo, the hero; Renato, the villain; and Amelia, the heroine and Renato’s wife. However, Pasculli changes the order in which the themes appear in order to manipulate the narrative of the opera.

The piece opens with the opera prelude’s opening theme, but the English horn melody and piano accompaniment give way quickly to an English horn cadenza which leads into a prolonged statement of Ricardo’s first aria, “La rivedrà,” in which Ricardo sings of his love for Amelia, his “star”. Here the piano plays a florid accompaniment as well as a low, ominous statement of the music from Ricardo and Renato’s duet. The English horn remains unconcerned with this hint of tragedy, launching into a second cadenza and restatement of Ricardo’s aria, here accompanied by jaunty music from Amelia and Ricardo’s love scene in the second act. However, this reprieve is short-lived. While the English horn continues to elaborate on Ricardo’s aria, the piano plays both Renato’s music and the melody of Ricardo’s aria, drawing the English horn into the ominous duet. This slowly fades out, and after a pause, Amelia enters the scene.

Here Pasculli breaks from chronological order, introducing the music from Amelia’s Act Three aria, “Morrò, ma prima in grazia,” in which Amelia, threatened with death by Renato, asks that she be allowed to see her son before she dies. This theme is the emotional heart of the fantasia, opening up the English horn’s dynamic and expressive range. “Mournful English horn obbligato…is a traditional pointer of the isolated heroine,”[4] but here Pasculli merges the two, giving the English horn a note for note statement of Amelia’s lament, complete with phrasing, articulation, and many of the aria’s dynamics. The col canto piano alternates between simple chordal accompaniment and short echoes and harmonizations of the English horn melody. The section ends with a reworked, though vocalistic cadenza, before an abrupt change of mood occurs.

The tragedy of the opera seems imminent, with Ricardo and Amelia dead as a result of Renato’s jealousy, as music of Ricardo and Renato’s duet returns in the piano under a virtuosic sixteenth-passage for the English horn. However, despite the flashiness of this section, which implies a drive to the piece’s close, Pasculli is unwilling to submit to the opera’s story. The music of Ricardo and Amelia’s love scene returns in the English horn, and though the ominous music of Renato’s duet briefly surfaces in the piano it is quickly surpassed by additional themes from Ricardo and Amelia’s scene. Over these, the English horn’s second virtuosic passage expands on a sunny F-Major arpeggio. A final statement of Renato’s duet music, rhythmically augmented and sapped of energy, is overcome by four measures of repeated tonic chords. In the world of Pasculli’s fantasia, love at last triumphs over tragedy.

[1] Days of Bliss are in Store, Anna Pennington, Dissertation, The Florida State University College of Music, p 1.
[2] Days of Bliss, pp 58-9.
[3] Preface to Hofmeister edition of Fantasia due, Christian Schneider.
[4] "Un ballo in Maschera," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition.

For citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing of [dot] polyhymnia [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.