We just played for the Zoomtopia2019 conference opening. Sometimes our job is pretty fun. (I did have to wake up a lot earlier than usual, but hey, for this? Why not?!)

11. January 2019 · Comments Off on Coming Up · Categories: A Musician's LIfe, Ramble, Symphony

Next week I have a Symphony Silicon Valley concert. I will be stepping up to play principal so I am preparing for the change of hats. (Don’t worry, our regular principal oboist, Pamela Hakl, will be back!)

Yes, playing first oboe is quite different to playing second. In some ways there is a bit of a freedom: I won’t be thinking about playing under the principal which can sometimes cause issues with attacks as I try not to be too loud. But of course there’s the stress of being in the hot seat.

I prepare in many ways. I of course practice my part. I listen to a variety of recordings. I make sure I know what’s going on in other sections and especially make sure I practice the solos and tricky bits. (I mark anything technically difficult with an X, either over the passage or to the side of that line of music.) I also play through the entire concert — even the easy whole notes and loud bits — so I make sure my mouth is strong enough to get through the works.

This is a taxing concert. I don’t have huge solos, but I play a lot in the Dvorak eighth symphony. I play enough that I worry about getting through it. When I watched a video on MediciTV (a great source! And no, I don’t get any perks by recommending them here.) I noticed that that particular orchestra used an assistant principal oboe. I have played that part as well in the past. I sure could use that myself, but wasn’t offered that option and didn’t think to ask.

We are also doing the second piano concerto by Brahms. What a gorgeous work.

Here is Jon Kimura Parker (our soloist) talking about the work (2011 YouTube video):

That slow movement he talks about, and the incredible cello solo, is something I’m very much looking forward to hearing, played by our wonderful principal cellist, Evan Kahn. And yes, the horn (“The horn, the horn, awakes me at morn!” Anyone remember that?) has a very important role at the very beginning and more later, so it will be a delight to hear Meredith Brown play as well!

But then it’s a pleasure and honor to hear all of the musicians of Symphony Silicon Valley play. I hope you can be there!

24. June 2017 · Comments Off on The Energy It Takes · Categories: A Musician's LIfe, Teaching

We “play” our instruments. But playing is just so very wrong … because, believe me, it is hard work. When I’m done with a performance I’m beat. The next day I’m often in recovery mode. Oh the energy it takes!

And then there’s teaching.

Teaching, like playing, takes a ton of energy. The focus is sometimes so very difficult. I have to remove all the clutter of current events — be the events distant or in my own home — and focus on the one student who is playing his or her best (I hope) for the lesson. I have to listen so very carefully. And I have to attempt to get each student to learn to listen as well. That can be tricky.

“What did you hear?”

The first time I ask a student that question I get a befuddled look. Sometimes I think the student has decided I’m an idiot! “Oboe!” might be her response. Or “Notes!” might come from him. Of course what I really am asking is “What did you hear that you would like to do better next time?”

I think I’ll put it that way this next week and see what my students come up with.

As I have told so many of them, one thing about what we do is that it can always be better. It’s the fun and the curse of this profession, I suppose. No room for boredom. But sometimes rather frustrating!

Today I had seven students. I’m now depleted of energy, but my weekend has begun and I don’t see another student until Tuesday. Time to relax, recuperate, and look forward to the next week of teaching.

30. September 2010 · Comments Off on Working Musicians · Categories: A Musician's LIfe

I don’t have any real “days off” — nowadays I consider a “free” day to be one where I only have one rehearsal or a couple of lessons to teach.

So true. A full day off is rare for us. we might not work a 9 to 5 job, but We R Music, or so it feels. (Today I woke up with the opening of the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto singing in my head … does the oboe never stop?!) Of course a lot of us (me!) whine a bunch, but we do the job mostly because we love it. (If I say that enough today perhaps I’ll start to believe it again; I’m in a “is it time to retire?” mode for some reason.)

Read the entire blog entry that I quoted above to know what this little blog conversation is about.

Or maybe don’t. I’ll just continue to talk/write to myself in that case.

This is the sort of week I try not to look at as a whole. Instead I look day-by-day, so that things seem a bit more manageable. And busy means 1) employment and 2) I’m not bored! “Better busy than bored” is something I’ve been known to say, and I’ll stick by that, even as I whine.

But here I am, saying I’m busy, and yet I’m still in my robe and pjs. Ah, the musician’s life! And I’m not nearly as busy as my friend and colleague dk, who holds down a “real” job and still manages to be one of the best musicians I know. Go figure.

Here’s what’s on my schedule for the week, running from this past Monday through this coming Sunday:

  • 12 private students (five lessons canceled due to conflicts either on my side or theirs)
  • one morning (through to 1:00 PM) at UCSC (which means an hour + on each side for commute)
  • six opera services (at least 3 hours and 15 minutes each)
  • one 4 1/2 hour job in Santa Cruz (ditto the one hour of commuting time from above)

Hmmm. When I look at it that way it doesn’t look nearly as difficult as I was thinking! How ’bout that? And most of my colleagues have to drive much further to and from opera. What a baby I can be! Of course this doesn’t include any practice or reed making time (I’m not sure I’ll find any of that, actually). Nor does it include errands/chores/meals (and I’m not sure I’ll actually get lunch today, to be honest). So there’s that. But really … I think I am fretting over a whole lotta nothing. Some things never change eh?

I absolutely love Marriage of Figaro. It isn’t exactly a breeze for principal oboe, but it’s not a killer, and I love the little solos and duets I have. What lovely things he wrote for us, don’t you think?

10. October 2009 · Comments Off on One Down, One To Go · Categories: A Musician's LIfe, Ramble

With opera it’s so long I can never type what I typed above. But yes, it really is one down, on to go … and tomorrow by 5:00 I’ll be finished with Ravel (and Brahms). And I’ll be sad and missing it the next day, I’m sure. Of course things move on … so at 7:00 tomorrow night I have a woodwind quintet rehearsal. The fun never ends!

So how did tonight go? Hmm. I think it went well. I’ve been told it went well, too. But of course I need to hear that a number of times before I really buy into it.

But I’ll be honest (!) and say this: I think I played well. I really do.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m uncomfortable saying (or writing) that sort of thing.

I ran into someone at the reception who missed the first half and he (jokingly?) said, “I’ll just have to check your blog to see how you did.” Or something close to that in any case. And of course then I worry! Do I write too much here? Duh … of course I do! Do I shock people with my insecurities? Probably. But I hope I also bring the reality of what we do closer to readers.

The musician’s life is a curious thing. Full of fear and bravery and insecurity and ego. It’s a very odd thing, really.

This is an essential, and frustrating, part of a musician’s life: to never believe that your last performance was quite good enough.

I was talking to students about this yesterday; as we improve, we know we can improve more. Perfection seems to be that unattainable goal. We do something well and think, “It could be better!” It’s frustrating sometimes, and can cause a lot of distress, but if we look at it from a different perspective it can be challenging and even invigorating.

I read the quote here. Of course reading about the oboist that Jon Kimura Parker heard I’m also thinking, “He’s probably testing a reed, and has to see how it will handle the solo!”

11. August 2008 · Comments Off on The Musician’s Life (in L.A. anyway) · Categories: A Musician's LIfe, Links

Lashinsky, who plays for the Long Beach Symphony, said top-dollar assignments are so coveted that musicians don’t think twice about clocking in sick or even bleeding, as she has.

“When I was doing ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ a cabinet fell on my head,” she recalled. “I wrapped it up, put on this beautiful scarf over it, and went to the gig. Afterward, I had a colleague take me to the E.R. I got 14 stitches.”

She laughed ruefully: “I’ve worked with a 103 fever in an orchestra pit. I’ve worked with a popped lung. If you don’t work, you don’t earn.”

Well, many of us can relate to the above! Yes, I’ve worked sick. I’ve played with a cut finger that bled all over the oboe too. (Never needed stitches, though.)

I think the salaries must be higher with the L.A. Opera, though.

“I’m going into the music business,” Gray said. “There’s no such thing as job security.”

Heh … good thing this young bass player already says this. Even if he doesn’t fully know what it means yet.

Still, I wouldn’t give it up. 🙂

27. March 2007 · Comments Off on How To (Attempt To) Make It Work · Categories: A Musician's LIfe, imported, Ramble

Planning on living the life of a musician? Think you have what it takes? And do you understand how few get the Big Gig that will pay for a “normal” life. (Okay, so no musician ever really lives a normal life … when you lose most weekends and a lot of evenings normal doesn’t happen.) Do you realize you may live your entire life as a freelance musician? It isn’t that you aren’t good enough … there are only so many jobs, there are only so many auditions, and you have about 10 minutes to prove that you are the best. Sometimes the best isn’t the best that day. Sometimes the best doesn’t audition as well. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

So be prepared.

Read Jason Heath’s blog. He has covered it all. He’s done it all. Heck, he’s even watched a car burn up. The guy has lived the musician’s life, believe me.

And he has very good things to say about how he survives in the crazy music biz.
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03. October 2006 · Comments Off on Back to who I am · Categories: A Musician's LIfe, imported, Ramble

I can’t tell you how good it feels to get back to everything! School. Private students. Opera. Symphony. Life is good.

It was wonderful to meet with the Santa Clara University oboists again today; what a delight you students are! It’s great, too, that we are in a much better room than we’ve had in the past, and I’m hoping we can hang on to it.

I look forward to my very early mornings with UCSC students. I actually don’t mind the early start; it gets my day going in a very fine way.

Now that I’ve had both an opera and and symphony set, and I’ve taught at both SCU and UCSC, and all my private students have returned, I feel as if my music making life is back to normal. As normal, of course, as a musician’s life can be. Which is abnormal. And all of this makes me feel more like me: abnormally normal … or is that normally abnormal? I am thinking the latter makes more sense.

In the summer I sort of feel as if part of who I am has left the building.

Guess it’s sort of like Sweeney Todd, when he declares, “At last, my arm is complete again!”

But I promise I won’t be making any meat pies. Although I do have sharp knives and razor blades.