Just a thought: when someone is doing a job (I’m talking music here), rather than being envious or sad that you didn’t get chosen how about taking joy in their work? I find that a very good way to handle things.

Try it. You might like it!

20. March 2022 · 4 comments · Categories: Ramble

What fun to finally get to play again with San Jose Chamber Orchestra. It’s been so very long. Also fun was walking to work, of course.

BUT most fun?! Getting to play with Daniel Gurevich next to me after all these years. What a fine, fine player he is. I’m angry with myself, though: I should have had a photo taken with him! I even had the pleasure of seeing and chatting with his parents. Why didn’t I think of a photo?! (Surely it can’t be about my age, right? (Hm. Don’t answer that!)

Of course playing with him makes me marvel at the passing of time. It doesn’t feel all that long ago that I met him, a young, very enthusiastic oboist, or conversed via email with his father, yet here is he, a grown man, ready to get that playing job somewhere.

I’m not ready to deal with time passing this quickly, but of course I have no choice! So it goes.

Bravo, Daniel … and bravi tutti to the other young wind players there. (I was guessing I might very well have been the second oldest person on that stage. Eek!)

San Jose Chamber Orchestra has a concert this Sunday evening, and we had our first rehearsal today. Here is a first for me: I only have to walk eight minutes to get to work! It’s quite lovely. (Of course the weather has been warmer than it should be: I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was freezing or if it were too rainy!) You can read more about the concert here.

An interesting side note: many years ago I conversed occasionally with the father of a young oboist named Daniel. I so enjoyed “chatting” (via email) with the father, and one special day I got to meet him, along with his son. This young boy is now grown into quite a fabulous oboist. He attended Julliard and San Francisco Conservatory, doing miles more than I ever did as a young player! Today? Well, he sat next to me. He is playing this set, and it’s just lovely to have him there. (I wrote about him earlier in this post, where you can also hear him play.

Time. It flies by. And students, they pass us oldsters by. (I was never actually Daniel’s instructor, but still ….)

30. January 2022 · Comments Off on Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho …? · Categories: Ramble

This week I head back to work. I do so with a bit of unease, due to the virus, but we need the income and I am boosted so I suppose I will be okay should I manage to catch Covid.

We wind players are required to be tested twice a week since we can’t play masked: we have to arrive early but, as far as I know, are not compensated in any way for our extra time. (WILL all of us arrive early? I’ll bet not. And I’ll bet we have to start rehearsals a bit late because of that. But time will tell.)

What happens should one of us test positive is a mystery to me, as we’ve been give very little information about that. Strings, harp, percussion, and conductor will all be masked, but are not required to have N95s, KN95s, or KF94s. Certainly those are encouraged, but cloth masks and surgical masks are also permitted. Not requiring N95s or the like is a mystery to me. A cloth mask is, as we all now know, insufficient. (Thankfully no masks with valves, bandanas, or neck gaiters are allowed, so at least there’s that.)

I will be wearing my KF94 (which I researched to be sure it was good enough) whenever I am able, but I have a lot of notes and not all that many rests that allow me to put it back on, and it really probably doesn’t matter since I’ll be exposed to anything out there during the 3+ hours I’m with my masked and unmasked colleagues.

Will we be placed 6 feet apart? Doubtful. Does it matter that we won’t be? Doubtful again. We are in an enclosed space and we are sharing air no matter what.

I will be so very, very glad when Covid Times are less difficult to deal with. (Note that I don’t say “Covid Times are over”? I don’t believe we will ever be “over” this.)

So heigh ho, heigh ho for me and my colleagues. Stay tuned for updates.

14. January 2022 · Comments Off on Navigating … Backwards · Categories: Ramble

I was to be involved in the Symphony San Jose concert next week. Alas, Omicron has had its way with us. The concerts aren’t canceled, but are postponed until April 2 and 3 (the main page mentions this, but someone has yet to update the concerts page). We aren’t the only Bay Area group to change plans. A number of friends have also had their concerts canceled or postponed. Several, though, still have concerts scheduled and some have made the tremendously difficult decision to cancel out. It’s a wise move, but it’s painful: if we don’t work, we don’t get paid. Most of us have no vacation pay, little or no sick pay, and have, in the past, played even while ill. I have a feeling that after Covid (will there BE an “after Covid”?) we might be more likely to not play while sick. I’m hoping so!

Some of the Big Guys, like San Francisco Symphony, have continued with their schedules. They have the money to purchase testing and have tested everyone frequently. Up until yesterday San Francisco Symphony had not canceled anything, but that changed yesterday. From what they posted several musicians tested positive and their 2:00 matinee was canceled. The audience did get a treat, though: the soloist, pianist Jan Lisiecki, treated them to a recital of Chopin. (Still, I am not at all interested in attending a concert in person at this point!) They haven’t announced that today and tomorrow’s concerts are postponed or canceled, but I will continue to check their site as well as a musicians’ group I’m in where we fill each other in on all the news.

I’m hopeful that this variant we are dealing with will soon start to diminish in our area. From what I read it is already doing that. I still have Opera San Jose’s Carmen scheduled for February and our financial situation will great improve if I can finally get back to work again.

Trying to pull something positive out of the times we are living in, I suppose I could say I’m being forced to be more flexible! I’m a control freak in so many ways (like all of them, perhaps?) and Covid Times do not allow me to be that way.

So let me ramble about how I’ve dealt with the times we are living in, concerning my career.

When Covid first hit our area we were shut down completely. My last playing job back then was Il Trovatore with Opera San Jose. The final performance was March 1, 2020. I continued to teach in my home studio for a very short time, but then I stopped doing even that.

Remember those initial days? We didn’t really even go outside! Mail was left to sit in the box, or brought inside to wait to be opened for a week or so, in case the virus was transmitted via objects like mail. We washed all of our ordered and delivered groceries. I learned how to teach students via Google Hangout, Facetime or Zoom. (We eventually moved fully to Zoom, and thankfully it has improved over time and now it’s usually rather comfortable to teach that way, although in-person lessons are a vast improvement.) I thought I’d get the house really clean and even wash my windows (nope!). But we cooked a lot. We ate well (I’m married to an incredible cook). And I was thankful, and continue to be, that I am married to someone who is easy to hunker down with.

Slowly we learned that we were pretty safe doing some things. I went out for my daily walks (at first wearing a mask, later having one around my neck in case I encountered others). The walks were pretty amazing: I could walk down our busiest street and it was empty!

Slowly some arts groups learned how to stream things for those of us who were desperate to “attend” concerts. In particular I got hooked on the “Live from London” series, put on by the VOCES8 Foundation. (If you can support them I recommend that. VOCES8 is my absolute favorite vocal group, but they featured other groups as well in their series.) Opera San Jose also featured streaming videos and did quite a good job. Eventually I was hired to record for one of them, doing Mozart & Salieri in their newly created space. THAT, on August 17,18, and 19, 2021 was my first time back to work. Yes, it had been over a year since I’d had any work performing. Symphony Silicon Valley (soon to be renamed Symphony San Jose) started up on August 14 with two outdoor concerts, and we were back on stage September 29 through October 3. That was an interesting concert to begin with, as I had the rather important English horn solo in Dvorak’s “New World” symphony (The Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World”, Op. 95, B. 178).

Since that time I’ve done a symphony set, followed by the final Harry Potter movie with symphony, and yet another symphony set. That’s not a lot of work for a musician. My last day of symphony was December 5. Since then? Nothing. But work begins again on January 19, when we do the American Masters set with Symphony.

Why do I write all this? Partly because I’m trying to put together “My Life under Covid’s Reign” so I can remember how things went. Partly so my students and anyone else who is interested will see how this has hit the performing arts. I’m not even sure how much work I lost: when we first shut down I was deleting the concerts as they went by on my calendar. I know I lost a lot. A full year of opera and symphony, plus whatever was scheduled from March 2020 to the end of that season (we end our seasons around June). It was obviously a financial drain, and I’m forever grateful to my students for sticking with lessons … and even attending more than usual since they didn’t have school/sports conflicts for a time. While I lost a significant amount of income, I feel for my colleagues who don’t teach, and who performed SO much more than I did in the Before Times. Some retired. Some went out and searched for new jobs, but many were living on unemployment for a long while. Filing for unemployment is VERY difficult. I tried. I cried. I gave up! (I’m grateful that I never really needed it … again, thanks to my students!)

Now we are back to work, but it’s not normal. We are tested. We are masked when possible (the conductor, strings, percussion, and all backstage folks, along with the audience are always masked, and winds and brass are supposed to mask up when not playing). We are all required to be fully vaccinated. And we all still wonder if this is the day we catch the dreaded beast. Or perhaps it’s the day we are, again, shut down completely.

I could go on, but my brain is tired. (I used to blame reeds. I think today I’ll blame Covid! Certainly I will blame only myself for all the typos I’m sure exist here, though.)

Stay well. Stay safe. Get those boosters!

Shortly after I got into San Jose Symphony (RIP) I became music librarian, and I also worked in the box office for a time. At one point the organization’s offices moved to the basement of the building pictured here. It was a windowless and rather dreary place, but I did love some of my colleagues there.

Today the building is being demolished. Some group tried to stop it, saying that it was part of the “Brutalist Period” or some such thing. They lost. So down it goes. I can’t say I’m sorry. It’s not exactly a gorgeous thing. But seeing it and thinking about those days I did have a flood of memories come pouring back, and I wonder where some of the people are that worked there way back when. I lost touch with nearly everyone.

(These photos are a bit crooked but I’m lazy and so they will just remain crooked!)

05. October 2021 · Comments Off on And About the Changes … · Categories: Ramble

I forgot that I said I would fill you in on the changes …

We have new chairs.
We have new stands.
We have new sound shields.

I’m delighted to say we are now Symphony San Jose. (I hope they change the website soon.)

I am not a huge fan of reviews, but yes, I do check them out. Usually my heart starts pounding as I read, fearing I’ll be mentioned in a negative way. This time I can rest easy.

From Paul Hertelendy:

The beloved hit number here is the slow movement with the spiritual-like theme (later in a vocal adaptation dubbed “Goin’ Home”), rendered with exquisite poise by English hornist Patricia E. Mitchell.

And on San Francisco Classical Voice, from David Bratman:

Patricia Emerson Mitchell’s English horn solo here, vibrato-filled and emotional, was a highlight.

… and I’m honored. Truly. Thank you both.

But of course if I accept these positive and kind words, I must also accept the negative. And the ONE review I have by memory, from 1975 or 76 is this: “The Overture was marred only by the bland English horn playing.” (She was right: I had water in a key so I had to play Berlioz Roman Carnival’s English horn solo softly and not do ANYTHING with dynamics, for fear of a huge wrong note coming out. The water had completely covered the key hole and it was as if it wasn’t opening!) I don’t remember any positive reviews. Only the bad stick in my head. I know another negative one, but don’t have it by memory: we were doing Sibelius’s Swan of Tuonela and I really just couldn’t grasp the work at my young age. The reviewer wrote something like “even Patricia Mitchell wasn’t at her best” or some such thing. (He was right.)

But anyway, being back on stage was frightening for the first night’s rehearsal, but after that I felt as if I managed to find my sea legs (or I guess stage legs!) and things fell into place. The English horn felt like “mine” again … as if it was part of my body. That’s what I want. And I could do things with dynamics that I love to do.

I had mentioned somewhere (Here? I can’t remember!) that I would write about the kind words I received after rehearsals and concerts, so now I’ll ‘fess up.

First rehearsal: Some folks complimented me. I didn’t deserve it. I played “okay”, but it wasn’t really me. Not even close. So I worried. The next day I spent in a bad place as I fretted over what I felt was very under par playing.
Second rehearsal: Ahhhh … felt so much better. Compliments accepted BUT … well … I always have a “but” … if they complimented me on the first night when things weren’t good, perhaps things weren’t as good as I think for this second night?! Hm. Still, it did feel better. BUT because I was complimented fear set in: what if I disappoint these friends who had kind words for me? What if this was the only night I was happy with things? What if I do something absolutely horrendous at a performance and am entirely humiliated? (Yeah, I honestly go through all of this … it’s kind of a lose-lose situation I put myself into sometimes!)
Dress rehearsal: I played 22 notes. There was no time for more. It felt fine, but I didn’t really have a chance to figure out if it was what I wanted to do.
1st Concert: Felt great. Played as I like to play. But was it just my imagination? I received very kind compliments. OH DEAR! What if I disappoint everyone tomorrow? (Can you believe I do this to myself? One friend who used to play with us got it … she used to always come up ONLY after the final performance, because she completely understood my neurosis!)
2nd Concert: Felt even better. But again, insecure and ridiculous me wonders if I only imagined it. But I trashed those thoughts. I was happy with my playing and I know I have to hang on to that!

Yes. That is how crazy I am! I may as well be up front about it. I’ve been this way forever. There is just this constant inner conflict between the “I think I’m pretty good!” and “I’m a sham!” It’s always been that way, so I doubt it will change.

What HAS changed is that I can tell the negative voice to shut up. It still sticks around, but at least I talk back to it now. I think that’s what many of us have to do — I don’t believe I’m the only one who struggles with this. We have to acknowledge the negative voice. We have to accept that it is going to show up. But we can yell at it. We can tell ourselves that that voice is, very often, a lie. We can tell ourselves, when it’s true anyway, that we DID do a good job. And then we can go on. No matter what, we have to go on. There are more concerts to be played!

We had our two Symphony Silicon Valley concerts this past weekend. They were outdoors, so I wasn’t as apprehensive about playing them, but I must admit I was quite surprised at the number of unmasked audience members. Of course it was outdoors, and odds are it was safe, but it still just was jarring to see nearly 3,000 people and so many with no mask.

After the second concert two students came down front to say hi. It’s been ages since any of my students have come to one of my concerts, so I was quite pleased. One even brought me flowers! What a surprise that was, and I was able, then, to send a thank-you card made using one of my flower photographs. (If you haven’t visited my photography site please do go enjoy some flowers there.) I’m always quite diligent in sending thank-you notes to students. Many are very good at saying (and writing) thank-you, but not all. So I teach more than just oboe sometimes. (When did sending thank-you notes … or even saying a simple thank you … go out of style, I wonder?)

Next up is our opening set for our regular season. I play very few notes, but every one of those notes will be heard: we are doing Dvorak’s New World Symphony and I play the English horn for that. I honestly can’t remember when I last played a symphony concert on which I had a big solo.

And yes, I get nervous.