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.