Saturday, March 29, 2008

Artless and gay in the major, pathetic and sad in the minor.

The above is Rimsky-Korsakov's description of the oboe in Principles of Orchestration...not nearly so verbose as Berlioz, and much more ambiguous. (Found here, which, though in awkward and unprofessional looking format, has the whole text of the book.)

I've heard back now from all of the grad schools I applied to. I was rejected from Mannes, which I was expecting, and waitlisted at Cincinnati, which was both a pleasant shock and a disappointment. I sent an email to the oboe teacher at CCM asking a few questions along the lines of "how many people would have to choose not to attend before I would get to go?", though I haven't heard back yet; the deadline for acceptance at CCM is April 15, and (as far as I can tell- I've sent an email, also as yet unanswered, asking) the deadline for GMU is after. Unless, then, I hear back differently from GMU, I can conveniently wait and see if I get in to CCM, which, though not exactly likely, wouldn't require a miracle either.

I've had several people suggest that I could take a year off and re-audition, and I'm also thinking about taking a year off and applying to music history programs, or going for performance and possibly transferring. If I got in to CCM off of the waitlist, I would definitely go, but I'm less sure about GMU.
The teacher at GMU is one of my role models, and one of the people I respect most, but I am well on the way to having my own strong opinions by now and the combination of her very strong will and the fact that I've only had a few scattered lessons with her since high school makes me unsure if I could stand up for myself to her. With my teacher now, for example, I've gotten to the point where I am able to argue my interpretations, and I think that I would be able to do so with a new teacher, but habit is hard to break. For example, I'm not sure that, if I went to GMU, I would be able to bring myself to transfer either to another oboe program or to a music history program.

I've been thinking about music history for a while now, and more seriously since I've had so much fun writing my recital program notes and since the experience of auditioning. I love the oboe, I love playing it and playing in orchestras, and certainly playing Berlioz right now (and getting the EH solo) is not helping to dissuade me, but I really got burnt out over audition stress and preparation, and that isn't promising for trying to make that my career. At the same time, I come back to the fact that I just can't seem to let it go. I'm afraid that if I went after music history, I would have a hard time being successful because I would still be spending all of my time practicing instead of researching. What I really want to do is both. I want to get a masters in performance, and then get a masters in music history. But, people don't really do that. Well, I have to make a decision eventually, but not today.

Speaking of Berlioz, we've had our second Berlioz rehearsal, and it was still wonderful; the brass had a sectional before the rehearsal, and we did movements 4 and 5. The mad grinning of nearly everybody in the orchestra (including my teacher) continues, and I personally am just about in heaven. A tip for the trilling part in the fifth mvt: one person plays only the trills, and one person plays straight eighths. According to my teacher, this is what the Chicago Symphony does, and it's really a brilliant cheat. Much easier and much cleaner to the ear, with no important difference in volume.

And speaking of disagreeing with your teacher, I've continued to have rehearsals of the Bax Quintet with my strings, and my teacher has been helping us. Which I really appreciate, don't get me wrong. However, my teacher and I have very different opinions of what the right tempos for the Bax are, and this leads to slightly awkward rehearsals in which we butt heads while the string players sit there noncommittally. I tend to like things fairly slow (read: Romantic and overwraught), while my teacher wants everything to go faster. Granted, faster tempos make the piece much easier to get through, but at the expense of sounding wrong (to me, and sometimes to him as well). We've ended up compromising a bit, but more on my side. After all, it is my recital. And I think the string players are slightly more on my side, though possibly only because we've been rehearsing things at my tempos for quite a while now.

A question about EH reeds. I don't make EH reeds, and I have always ordered them from Stuart Dunkel and been pleased with the quality. Lately, though, I've found that I just cannot get a decent dynamic range out of them, which is problematic since I'm playing a very dramatic (operatic) EH piece on my recital. Since learning to make EH reeds in the next three weeks is not a feasible option, does anyone have a suggestion of where to order good EH reeds?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Sorry to be absent so long- after getting back from spring break I had a very busy week and even busier weekend. (Papers, church gig, concerts, work, etc, you know.)

The orchestra started Berlioz rehearsals last night. It's amazing what a difference people's attitudes make in both the energy of a rehearsal and the quality of the music. Everybody's excited about Symphonie Fantastique, and you can tell. I'm playing EH, so I get the lovely solos in mvt 3, and we're doing the oboe not only off-stage but in the balcony. It's a very neat effect, but we'll have to do some placement fiddling because our hall is round and you get a "whispering wall" effect- the oboe sounded much louder than I did. Our conductor passed out Berlioz' exciting Programme, which, if you've never read it, you can find here. Ah, Berlioz.

(If you'd like to hear recordings from my camera under my chair (made at the request of my violist roommate for a sort of experiment) of the 5th mvt Dies Irae, I have two here. I will say that next week we will hopefully be actually playing in tune, and the trumpets will hit at least 3/4 of their notes.)

Speaking of orchestra, our Tchaikovsky concerts were last weekend. Neither were bad, but Saturday's just a little off in many ways. We weren't really prepared, having had spring break in the middle of our rehearsals, and nobody was thrilled with the music. That said, with the exception of one bit in the Tchaikovsky which, according to my string playing friends, nearly fell apart, Sunday's concert actually went quite well. The unfortunate thing about this concert was that while Tchaikovsky is an incredibly emotional composer, I was too concentrated on notes and playing in tune and not missing entrances or key signatures or dramatic dynamics to really get involved. The result was incredibly draining concerts (emotionally and physically) with little satisfaction in my playing. But, as I mentioned, the energy of the group is so much better with Berlioz, and so I think it will be a truly exciting concert.

In other news, I was rejected from Northwestern. As with Temple, I'm not surprised, but I'm more disappointed as I really loved the school and thought it was my best audition. I'm still waiting to hear from CCM and Mannes, which happen to be the two auditions I was least happy with.

I do sort of have exciting news, though. The school's gouger has finally returned! I got a short lesson from my teacher about splitting/pre-gouging/gouging, and I'm pretty proud of my reeds made from tube cane that have resulted. It's a very different gouge from the one I was ordering, which is Jeanne's .48-.60 gouge, and the cane I have seems to have a fairly large diameter, so my reeds have seemed unusually closed and thin, but I'm getting used to it, and I do think I'm going to get a successful reed or two even out of my experimental batch. Plus, it's just so much fun. (Actually the best part was the glee of my roommates
when I let them watch me split and pregouge cane (*bang* "Whoa!" *shove!* "Let me try?") and then let them do some as well.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

And now for some waiting.

On the one side, I am now completely done with grad school auditions, and can concentrate completely on my recital. On the other side, I was incredibly disappointed in my audition at Mannes. I didn't realize how much the school was over my head until I walked into the practice room hall. It seemed to be the day when all of the oboes where there, and I got psyched out and couldn't get centered again before I went into the audition. Also all of my reeds (nine of them) stopped working. I don't know what the cause was, because NY was about the same temperature as DC and didn't seem wildly less humid, but all of the opening squished down and I couldn't get my nice warm and controlled tone to come out, only my whiny and squeaky one. Well, that's not entirely accurate. After the first piece I played I used a second reed, which sounded much better, though still not my best. (Back in C'ville, two of the reeds have died, and all the other seven sound lovely.) I'm just really disappointed in myself- I loved the school, and, though the reeds impacted my audition, I completely let my nerves get the best of me. Also, I didn't get to play either of my two best pieces. They let me choose my first piece, so I started with the Mozart Quartet, which is a good warm-up/ feeling out the room piece as it's not nearly so touchy as Paladilhe or Poulenc and not so finger intensive as an etude. However, they then only had me play the Gillet etude, during which my nerves ran away from me with embarrassing result, and two excerpts, Ich habe genug and Roman Carnival. At least I sounded really nice on the etudes, particularly English horn, which I closed with. Also, I got to "meet" Elaine Douvas (principal oboe, the Met) and Tom Stacy (EH, New York Phil), not that the audition panel even took the time to introduce themselves to me.

Aside from that, I've had a gig playing EH in a Bach cantata with the Rockbridge Choral Society, which went very well. It's a good group, and all of their instrumentalists were very talented. The other two oboists and I decided that oboists have a "look"- we all looked familiar to each other despite never having met. Thoughts? I also had a gig playing a piece with choir at a church, which was unremarkable.

I've just come back from spring break, during which time there were very few people in the music building. This, then, would have been the perfect time to paint the floor of the building containing the practice rooms. The first day after spring break is NOT the perfect time to do this; it's not very fun to practice when you feel sick from paint fumes.

Next (and final) orchestra concert we're playing Symphonie Fantastique, which I am incredibly excited about. I'm playing 2nd/EH and picked up my music today.
-No EH except for the mvt 3 solo
-I'm tacet for mvt 2, the ball, which I really like
+I get to play the Dies irae theme and the witches sabbath idee fixe theme
Anyways, it's one of my favorite pieces, and a great way to go out with my orchestra.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

At last, my last audition; Authenticity

I have my last audition, at Mannes in NYC, on Thursday. I'm playing the same pieces as every other audition I've had, so I'm nervous but not unduly so. Last night I was pretty stressed, but night-time is always when my nerves come out to play, so I feel much calmer today. And I must say that the above-par practicing session I just had was also really helpful in banning some of last nights nerves. Good luck wishes, as always, are welcome.

A few Orchestration classes ago, we analyzed two arrangements of
Boris Gudonov: one (the original) by Mussorgsky, and one (done after Mussorgsky's death in an attempt to revive the opera) by Rimsky-Korsakov. (I put the second parentheses because I think it's much harder to demonize R-K for re-orchestrating the piece if you know his motives, that he was trying to make the opera successful, and also that he stated that should the original become successful, his should be discarded. But it's not really relevant to what I'm discussing.)

My professor gave us a brief description of the two composers; Rimsky-Korsakov was "the most educated and Westernized" of the members of the Mighty Five (a group of Russian composers) and Mussorgsky was "the least educated, most authentic, and most original" of them. Then I was angry for the rest of class: authenticity is one of my biggest pet peeves in musicology.

He later, when discussing differences between the versions of the piece, said that some consider Tchaikovsky and R-K to have used tones/timbres that are "too bright", making them "less Russian" than composers, such as Mussorgsky, who use darker tones.

Now, the trouble with authenticity is that it's an issue across both classical and popular and folk music, and because of this it's very hard to talk about coherently and without saying something that becomes problematic, which I’m sure I will. Authenticity deals with issues of power, and who has power in society, and this is a very different issue, or can be, when you're speaking about classical music made by "dead white guys" and popular and folk music, a good deal of which, at least in the US, is made by black guys. (If you're talking about Europe, which I suppose I am, the issues are a little different because of the higher percentage of popular and folk music also being created by white guys, but then, race issues in general are different.) HOWEVER. I still have something to say about it. Just as it would be wrong to eliminate a composer from a genre or such because of lack of education, it's also wrong to say that R-K is less authentically Russian than Mussorgsky because he was more educated. Now if he were, say, educated and decided to renounce all Russian ways of composing and start writing French impressionist music, all right then. (Cough, Samuel Beckett, cough, whose wishes over his (rejection of Irish) nationality should be respected.) But this is what Grove says about R-K: "Indeed, it is no exaggeration to call Rimsky-Korsakov the main architect of the ‘Russian style’ in music, a style which is instantly recognizable to a worldwide public today. The sheer volume of his heritage consolidated the common idioms of The Five by dint of constant repetition; his completion and editing of his colleagues’ works established the concert repertory of Russian music; his professorial toil ensured the continuity of the style into the following generation; he was also the first and most important exporter of the style to Western Europe." This is what R-K says about composing Russian music: "Russian traits – and national traits in general – are not acquired by writing according to specific rules, but rather by removing from the common language of music those devices which are inappropriate to a Russian style." Rimsky-Korsakov was not trying to reject Russian music or composition and in fact embraced his Russian identity; thus he shouldn't be excluded from the genre of "Russian composition". It's true that his ideas about the Russian style are much less extreme than many, but this just makes him a different composer, not an "inauthentic" one.

I suppose that my thoughts really are that excluding composers, etc. from genres or styles with which they associate themselves is unfair and a misuse of power. No one should be able to say "Oh, you don't count as this sort of composer, even though you identify as such," whether the genre is pop or classical. (I do know that this gets tricky- what if a composer associates himself with a school completely unrelated to the reality of his music? What if, say, Wagner had decided he was a Neo-Classicist? But then, what if Wagner had composed in a style between the one he chose and neo-classicism?)

Now, it's of course okay to explore differences between R-K and Mussorgsky (again, cough, Samuel Beckett, cough- it’s alright to explore the ways in which his "Irishness" is revealed in his works), and I of course don't object to the statement that R-K had more education and incorporated more Western aspects into his music, but to say that R-K was less authentic because he had more education? That's unfair. The only way then to be an "authentic" Russian composer would be to only use Russian folk melodies and to completely eschew any forms which did not arise without any influence from other countries.

(This almost gets into issues of consciousness in composition; there's a tendency when speaking of non-classical music to remove self-awareness from the composer or lyricist. If Mussorgsky were more authentic because he was less educated, does that mean that authenticity is based on a lack of knowledge? Mussorgsky was certainly aware of the choices he was making.
It also sort of brings up issues of fabricated traditions. If traditions can be created (see country music), where does authenticity even come in to the picture? Why can't any tradition then be fabricated, and why can't a tradition be expanded upon and still be just as authentic?)