Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Highly colored oboe timbre becomes tiresome if used for too long"

So, this is my Post-Tonal Analysis book. I really love the subtext that they're creating with the cover illustration. "Over the course of this class we will strip away your ability to see the entirety of a piece, as well as the intricacies surrounding it. Instead, your understanding of the piece will become dim and out of focus."

Excitingly, I get to present the oboe and English horn to my Orchestration class on Tuesday. Any suggestions of things I shouldn't forget to mention would be helpful. Currently I've gotten thus far in my brainstorming:

For oboe:
A lot of composers seem to give oboes the "easy" part. (This isn't something I've done a lot of thinking about, but I noticed it last weekend when playing Peter and the Wolf and yesterday during orchestra sectionals when rehearsing Firebird.) Some composers (cough Ravel, Tombeau cough) dramatically don't, though.
Tonguing. It works differently from bowing. Also, we have fewer named effects and fewer specific notations, but we can still play notes of just about any length, from incredibly staccato to barely differentiated.
Breathing. Breathing is not optional, and must especially be taken into account during solo passages, where stagger breathing can't be done. Also, breathing for oboe (and bassoon?) works differently than for flutes and clarinets.
Range and changing tone. Low register v. high register. Our range is pretty much low B flat to high F sharp, and nearly all of that gets used in orchestral parts. Don't try to make the oboe come in softly below about E flat or D, especially if it's a first oboe part. Also, try not to really go above E in orchestral parts.
You don't have to worry about reeds, that's our job. This is a personal issue of mine with the orchestration book, which makes a big deal about the trials and tribulations of double reed players. Composers shouldn't have to care that reeds are finicky- pieces should be written for the "ideal" oboist. The players will deal.

For EH:
I'm planning to do a sort of montage of famous solos- New World, Ravel Piano Concerto, Roman Carnival- and say "These are the sorts of things that English horn is famous for playing. We can play fast and technical things, and sometimes it's a fun break, but there's a reason that all English horn solos sound similar."
Tone. EH has a darker and smoother tone throughout the registers. Also, take advantage of the low register.

Suggestions of pieces which I should use to demonstrate would be most welcome.

A close friend of Mozart reported that on the last day of Mozart's life, he participated in a rehearsal of the unfinished Requiem with Mozart.
"On the very eve of his death, [Mozart] had the score of the Requiem brought to his bed, and himself (it was two o'clock in the afternoon) sang the alto part.... They were at the first bars of the Lacrimosa when Mozart began to weep bitterly, laid the score on one side, and eleven hours later...departed this life."

"from the boiling cells
By strange conveyance filled each hollow nook;
As in an organ, from one blast of wind,
To many a row of pipes the sound-board breathes.
Anon out of the earth a fabric huge
Rose like an exhalation, with the sound
Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet--
Built like a temple, where pilasters round
Were set, and Doric pillars overlaid
With golden architrave; nor did there want
Cornice or frieze, with bossy sculptures graven;
The roof was fretted gold."
Milton, Paradise Lost, 1. 706-717

Sunday, January 27, 2008

At least the narrator didn't actually say "mournful" or "melancholy oboe"

Today I played Peter and the Wolf with the city high school orchestra, who got to play in the Paramount Theater (aka a real theater which has concerts, and theatre, and dance, etc.) in a fundraising/ children's concert, and I had a lot of fun. The orchestra was quite good for high school, the theater was good acoustically and also gorgeous, the winds, all of whom were hired from around town, were great, and I played well on top of it all. (I actually got two compliments about my playing: one from a French horn who complimented me on my dark sound, and one from the conductor, who said I played the part best of anyone she'd had in their five years of doing this concert.) The best part, however, was that after the concert they had an "instrument petting zoo." It was actually the first time I'd done something like that, and it was great. The kids were so cute and small and adoring. It was a little awkward when they wanted to touch all over my oboe, or play it, or when the parents told them the wrong name, but that was all made up for in the kids' utter enthrallment with all of the instruments. Here's to building the future of classical music!

In other news, the duduk is coming to UVA! An Armenian group is coming in February and doing a concert, a dance workshop, and an instrument demonstration. I'm quite excited; I plan on missing class to go to the demonstration (because of course they're holding it in the middle of the morning).

My music classes, Post-Tonal Analysis and Orchestration, are both shaping up nicely. Analysis makes my brain hurt a little bit, but it's interesting and an area I don't know very much about. Also, my oboe teacher is in the class, as it seems he needs one more 400 level class in order to get his doctorate. Orchestration is pretty awesome, especially the instrument demonstration parts- we had our principal second violin come in and talk/show some string instrument specific effects and techniques. The book for that class is pretty great, because while it is indeed informative and easy to understand, it's also given to statements of blatant obviousness (did you know that it's possible to write out a score and parts in either pencil OR pen? and that people also now sometimes use computers and can even input the notes into a computer themselves instead of hiring someone to do it? This book was written in 2002.) and bias (it describes oboes in a passage which reads "In addition to being an uncommonly taxing instrument, the oboe is a sensitive and somewhat unpredictable one as well. Notes must be humored and cajoled; the reed is delicate and must be "just so"; temperature and atmostpheric conditions can produce unexpected and disastrous results. In short, the oboe is something of a temperamental
prima donna."). I have in fact already deeply annoyed my roommates with the number of things I've just had to read to them out of the book.

Oboe-wise, I have another audition (Temple) a week from Monday, for which I'm playing two Ferlings, the first mvt of Mozart and the first mvt of Poulenc, and excerpts. I've also started working on my recital program, specifically the second mvt of Poulenc and the Bax. I'm quite excited to start working with my strings. That is, once we figure out a time when we can all five be in the same place.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Prokofiev perpetuates negative stereotypes!

While at Cincinnati I auditioned for 45 minutes in front of the single oboe professor and his video camera (with a mini lesson, unrecorded, to follow), at Northwestern I auditioned for 15 minutes in front of the three oboe professors and their notepads. This is really rather representative of the schools as a whole, I think.

But first my audition. They had me play the exposition of Mozart Quartet Mvt. 1, all of Poulenc Sonata Mvt. 1, Roman Carnival excerpt on English horn, Tombeau excerpt, and sight-reading from Barrett. I was a little nervous after practicing the night before, because it was quite cold and dry, and my reeds were protesting the fact. However, the next day, though even colder (it was stuck in the single digits all day) according to the weather channel had about 65% humidity, and my reeds revived. In fact, they revived to a state better than the one they began in, dark and full but vibrant not stuffy. This audition, I was very happy with all of my playing- including EH, which went quite well this time after I changed excerpts- except for my sight-reading. I suppose my nerves got the better of me, but I was quite disappointed and surprised at how much trouble I had with a fairly easy sight-reading passage. Usually (and by usually I mean always except for that audition) I am a very good sight-reader, both in true sight-reading and in orchestral run-throughs. I suppose that if I could have picked one part of my audition to mess up it would have been sight-reading, but still.

I was happy with the Mozart, which was not too awkward on the tongued runs, and which was vibrant, bouncy, and dynamic. The Poulenc also went well; I thought I was very lyrical and connected, I had a wide dynamic range, and aside from the low C I didn't have any problems with the high or low notes coming out attractively. My downward runs were a little bit mushy, though. Roman Carnival was perhaps on the slow side, but I had a good tone and good phrasing, and I think I played it very well. Tombeau was quite good, though not perfect. It was one of those times when I was almost watching myself play the excerpt rather than actually playing it myself; I didn't rush, but I did play it a little faster than I was intending, and I was afraid that I was suddenly going to spiral into a trainwreck. However, that didn't happen. Instead all of my notes come out, the tonguing breezed by, my grace notes were quick and appropriate, and I didn't slur the B and C# together in the last three measures. It was still a little scary, though.
I'm really very happy with how I played- I think it was pretty close to the best of my ability- but even if all of the applicants are on an even level I have about a 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 chance of being accepted. Still, nothing I can do now. Besides, after being so disappointed about my CCM audition, it was nice to be satisfied with my performance in this one, no matter what the outcome. It's also an assurance that I won't just screw up every audition I take.

And now on to my sweeping generalizations about the school. :-) CCM to me feels very new, almost too much so. The buildings feel almost cold because they're so new and shiny, although the practice building, which is not new, is better. The people, on the other hand, are very warm and inviting. Despite this, I'm not sure it has the right feel for me, though frankly that's not super high up on my list of considerations for where to attend grad school. Northwestern, on the other hand, felt a colder people-wise as an immediate reaction, though admittedly it was much less so on Saturday when I actually had a chance to talk to a few people and when I met the oboe teachers. I think that in actuality it felt less cold and more...professional. I also loved the campus and the feel of the buildings, which were old and broken in. Gothic architecture mixed with weird "modern" building styles, and it just felt right. That seems like a fairly lame way to put it, but what can I say, it's true. I like places that feel, well, old and distinguished, yet broken in and comfortable, and that's a pretty accurate description of how Northwestern felt to me.

In additional oboe news, I get to play Peter and the Wolf on Saturday in a fund-raising concert for the high school here. The school orchestra plays with hired winds and percussion in the big theater downtown, it's all very cool and I'm sure the kids have a blast. So my project this week is learning Peter and the Wolf, and making sure I have an appropriate reed.

Also, while I tried to buy an Innoledy gouger (and in fact got as far as actually paying through Paypal), it turns out that there is a 4 month waiting list. Now, I should, I admit, have suspected this, but there was no mention of it anywhere on the website, which did in fact let me purchase the gouger. It seems like letting people know upfront would be much easier than having to charge and then refund each purchase.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

1 down, 4 to go.

My first grad school audition, for Cincinnati College-Conservatory, was on Saturday. To be frank, I was not particularly pleased with my performance- while it could've been worse, it could have been much much better. The first (and I suppose largest) problem was that I somehow warmed up too much, and so I was tired (though I couldn't feel it and was, I guess, distracted when I was actually warming up) before I even started my audition. I was fairly pleased with my Gillet etude, though I (as always) feel that I could have played it better if I'd had another go at it, and my two oboe excerpts (Beethoven 3 and Bach "Ich habe genug") went quite well. Paladilhe was good but not as good as at my jury, I don't think; the first part went well, and then my embouchure started slipping and my fingers started getting nervous in response. Poulenc was going along nice, although he stopped me partway through. However, my English horn excerpt somehow was really bad. I don't really know what happened, because it was the Ravel Piano Concerto, which I have played in concerts. But, whatever. Bombed that. Also, I played the Mozart Quartet very near the end, and unlike Poulenc, where there are plenty of gaps for getting one's embouchure under control, in Mozart there are not. So I sounded tired and a little flaily in that, since because I was worried about my endurance, my tonguing started to slip.

I suppose on the whole I'm happy with the audition, even though it wasn't my best playing possible, because I really got my nerves under control. And now I'm resolved to rock my other auditions. I just wish that my first audition hadn't been for my top choice of school. Because I'm about 95% sure that I didn't get in.

So...5 more days to practice for Northwestern. Bring it on. I will absolutely not warm up too much.

I'm back down at school now, and while yesterday I practiced in my apartment, today I went to Old Cabell. It's nice to be back in the practice rooms, where there is appropriate light, and a mirror, and a real stand, and acoustics which I know how to work with. Who would've thought I'd be wanting to play in our practice rooms. I also saw quite a few people, which was nice, and found out that although I haven't received my jury sheets yet, they haven't been lost, exactly, just misplaced inside the office, and I will have them relatively soon.

My reeds seem to be working again (knock on wood). I have a new batch of cane, some new silver Pisoni staples (aka the magic staples), and my corners have returned. So that's looking up at least- my reeds weren't exactly bad in Cincinnati, but they were edging on bright and squished, and I felt like I had to protect my sound too much to really get the tone and the dynamic range I was hoping for. In other reed news, I bought an Innoledy gouger! Or, to be more precise, my parents bought it for me. I was really surprised when they told me this, because I had been counting on paying for it myself with the aid of Christmas money, as I told them and they agreed, but I didn't protest too much. :-) I also, of course, effusively thanked them. I'm quite excited to get it and start having a little bit more control about the quality of gouged cane that I'm making reeds out of- I've found lately that a lot of the gouged cane I've been getting from Jeanne hasn't been that great.

Classes start tomorrow, and music-wise I'm taking lessons (obviously), independent study for my recital program notes, musicianship (dictation and sight-singing), post-tonal analysis, and orchestration. Plus orchestra, in which I'm playing Firebird this concert, which starts tomorrow as well. Outside of the music department, I'm taking an English seminar on Milton's Paradise Lost.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

This is it!

Tomorrow morning, my dad and I will drive up to Cincinnati, I will practice that evening, and wake up the next morning to go and take a theory assistantship test at 8 in the morning, warm-up, and go and take my first grad school audition at 11. I'm as prepared as I can be, and I'm feeling pretty confident, although (and when is this not the case? Very rarely) I wish my reeds were a little better. Still (knock on wood), I know my stuff. I'm still terrified and stressed out of my mind, but yesterday seems to have been my freaking out day, so hopefully that will hold. Today I was much calmer, actually, and my practicing went well, especially in the morning, with the last half an hour this evening being finger-tied and weird with my reeds. Which is as it should be-it's like a dress rehearsal. I know I'll be able to pull it together on Saturday, so tomorrow is really the only day to worry about; once it's the morning of, it's too late for anything but intense butterflies in your stomach and really shaky hands afterwards.

My wonderful friends have kindly been distracting me with pep talks:

D: "Your oboe could start playing everything a half step sharp! Or, your hair could catch on fire and all of your clothes could fall off! You could be killed in a freak carnivorous plant accident before you even get to Cincinnati!!"

These are surprisingly effective, actually.

Additional wishes of good luck and/or pep talks are most certainly welcome, and I'll let you know how it went when I get back.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Happy 2008!

I drove down to school today to have one last lesson with my teacher before my first audition on Saturday. It was helpful, and simultaneously calming and incredibly stressful. I know what I need to work on polishing (basically, being polished, that is making sure my phrasing and direction and connections come out, and, as always, fingers in the etude), which is nice, and I'm feeling fairly prepared. I was especially pleased with my Mozart quartet today. This is partially because I have huge tonguing issues, and I've discovered the magical way to tongue all of the sixteenth-note passages in the piece. I've been doing them slur two-tongue two, and I've discovered that if I do that but play the first beat eighth-slur two rather than eighth-tongue two, it's much much easier. I was also fairly pleased with my Poulenc and my Beethoven 3 excerpt, and considerably less pleased with my etude and Tombeau. My teacher and I decided that I should plan on still practicing Tombeau but on playing "Ich habe genug" instead of it unless I'm asked for a fast excerpt, since I'm showing off my technique in the etude and Mozart. I'm actually more comfortable with this, though I'm frustrated by my inability to play Tombeau when in the presence of any other person. Still, I sound very nice on the Bach, so it's a good trade off.

However, I'm really disappointed with how unfocused and undisciplined I've been over break. My fear of embarrassing myself at auditions is just stress, but I know that I'm not at the top of my game, and had I spent the past month at home in C'ville, I would be. So I'm frustrated that I couldn't manage to get my act together recently- the fact that it happens to a lot of people when they're on break is no excuse. A lot of people don't have very important auditions coming up. Anyways, I spent the whole trip down incredibly stressed out, which at least will cause me to practice like mad for the next four days + Friday morning.

The sudden intensification of my stress is at the very least a reminder of how very much I do want this, by which I mean going to grad school for performance. The past week or so I've been longing after musicology grad school, for several reasons. I do really like music history and researching and writing analysis. My teachers think I write and analyze very well (I may have mentioned Professor Will's opinion about what I should be doing in grad school before). (Nearly) every musician I've ever talked to has told me "if there's something other than performance that you can do, do it." I could probably get in a better school, and get more money. I could still gig and play oboe. These combined make a pretty strong pull. I mentioned this to my mother, who thinks I'm just worried I won't get in anywhere for performance, and my friends, who were very helpful and supportive. Basically, I have not suddenly decided that I don't want to go to school for performance. Thus, I will still practice my ass off for auditions. When decision-making time comes, and I know what my options are, I can a) go to grad school for performance, b) go to school for performance and take additional classes to keep my options open, c) go to school for performance for a year and transfer, or d) take a year off and practice, gig, and work, and apply for grad school in musicology the final year. So I have many options, and need not be stressed about this. I'm grateful for that, because, as I mentioned, my audition freak-out is in full swing. Still, as I also said, it's a nice reminder just how much performance means to me. Because it really is still my first choice for What I Do With My Life. It's just...not the most practical of the options.

I continue to have strange reeds, but I have enough good ones (and will continue making reeds this week) to feel secure about playing my audition. The one problem with my reed-making is that I have suddenly begun to make reeds with very long and sloppy tips, with bad definition from the heart. I haven't figured out why this has suddenly started happening, because I have not consciously changed anything recently about my style of reeds. However, my results are consistent enough that it's not a fluke. Well, perhaps when I get back to C'ville my reeds will spontaneously revert to their usual form.

A very cool website which my friend found: Musipedia. It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like, an encyclopedia of music. However, unlike, say, New Grove, it's an encyclopedia not of music history or theory or such, but of actual pieces and themes within pieces. You can search by keyword of course, but you can also search by melody (intervals and relative rhythm count, but not specific pitch or rhythm), contour, and rhythm. I had a little trouble finding results when I tested it with known pieces, but it's a pretty nifty resource. Classical, folk, and pop music are all included, and if they don't have a song you're looking for, you can add it. Once you find a piece, Musipedia provides sheet music and a recording of the theme, as well as links to a websearch, details including the Parsons code (melodic contour), and Amazon and Sheet Music Plus if applicable.