I have no idea how many times I’ve heard “I always make that mistake!” Students say it frequently. Truth is, I have even been known to say it. There’s one measure in Cosi fan tutte that troubles me every time I’ve played the opera. ONE measure. EVERY time. One measure out of a nearly three hour opera. Four seconds of music. It’s tricky for me. But I’m required to play it well. I can’t tell the conductor (and audience), “Oh, sorry, but I make that mistake every time!”

So what should one do about it?

Um … easy-peasy: FIX IT!

Fix it so you can’t get it wrong.

That measure is as important as all the other measures in the work.

Saying, “I always make that mistake” seems to give some students (and even me) some sort of permission to mess up. That needs to stop.

I teach my students to isolate the problem. Stop starting from the beginning of the piece. There is no commandment that says, “Thou shalt always start from the beginning.” Go directly to that measure. Spend five-thousand-seven-hundred-and-twenty-three minutes with it. (Yes, I make up goofy numbers like that.) Don’t stop until you can play it perfectly five times IN A ROW. Then make sure you can do the “five times in a row” rule for four DAYS IN A ROW. Make it ten times in a row for a week if you really want to know you’ve probably got it right. Make it a month if necessary. After you have fixed it you should then work on connecting it to the preceding and following measures. Add a measure (or even just a few notes if necessary) one at a time so you know you have it figured out: sometimes it’s the getting there that makes a measure more tricky, after all, and sometimes the following measure causes us to slip up for some reason. Think of each measure as a link in a chain. Make sure that all those links are strong but then make sure they are fully connected so that chain won’t break.

But the point I’m trying to make here:

That measure matters!

Do the rest of the measures in the piece matter?

Yes. Of course they do. That’s a silly question. And a distraction. If a student responded to my “isolate the problem and fix it” with “but the other measures …” I’d probably sigh and explain it all again. That difficult measure has to be fixed in order for the piece to be correct. That measure has to get more attention. Period.

Hm. I wonder if we can connect this to any other issues that are happening at the moment.

I’m gradually going to be cleaning up this site. As it turns out, most of the links I had in the sidebar were no longer working or up to date. In addition I’m finding most images I posted in the past now don’t load. I know that recently whatever we use as a host for this redid something that for a few days made the site disappear, and I’m wondering if that permanently messed with images.

For the most part the site is used for posting links to YouTube videos I think people will enjoy. Other than that I’ve written so very little. I’m still here, but my career is on hiatus due to Covid-19, and I have absolutely no clue when or if I’ll be back on stage or in the pit.

I do continue to teach private students. I have twelve at the moment, and I enjoy seeing and hearing all of them via Zoom or Facetime. I will keep teaching as long as students want lessons. I love teaching, and I love that there are still students willing to put the time and effort into playing oboe. If you are a reader who would like to do online lessons (and now I can teach people anywhere in the world as long as you have internet access) feel free to email me.

Les Dissonances chamber music series started performing on June 17. They were quite careful to only seat 150 in an auditorium that seats over 1,600. I believe I read that the audience was also required to be masked but now I can’t remember where I read that.

Only trouble?

The musicians weren’t masked as they shared the stage. They played Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye piano duo, sharing a piano. No gloves, of course. They played duos, trios, quartets … and Natalie Dessay sang at what turned out to be their final concert.

After four concerts they canceled future events because one musician tested positive for Covid-19.

And this is one reason I don’t believe performers will be back to work in the near future. Here in the United States I am certain we won’t be back to work for a very long time: we have been so much worse about being careful and our numbers are far too high and rising.

I find the news of the chamber concerts in France so troubling. When we began to cancel concerts some suggested orchestras play for empty halls but live stream the concerts — as if we are immune to this horrendous virus. (Or is it that we are expendable? Hm.) One orchestra in Germany DID do a live stream concert in that way (funny, though, that many of their regular players didn’t join in and there were a number of subs or second players sitting principal). They were unmasked and seated normally, quite close together, with no screen protection. Early on we were urged to figure things out. Get back out there. Don’t let music die … don’t let the audiences down … don’t let them forget us!

Truth be told, we musicians (and I’m guessing performers in general) have always been so ready (and urged) to work while ill. I know I even played when I had a fever of 102° (many years ago). I know one player who sat in a pit while ill and, as a special little gift, gave a neighboring musician pneumonia. We have had “the show must go on” drilled in to us for far too long.

I’m grateful for the musicians who have the energy to put together the “virtual performances” we find online. No, they aren’t the same as being in a hall full of people, or being on stage with our colleagues, but they are safe. This time of confinement doesn’t mean the music stops. It means it is offered up differently. It does mean some will be retiring rather than returning (lists of openings are growing, from what a friend and colleague told me). But the music doesn’t have to die. It’s a new time of creativity and careful planning. Performers are creatives, after all … time to create in new, safe, experimental ways.

Here … enjoy this wonderful safe performance of the last movement of the Beethoven Oboe Trio, played by Seattle Symphony musicians Mary Lynch, Chengwen Winnie Lai, and Stefan Farkas.

03. June 2020 · Comments Off on No Words · Categories: Ramble

Black Lives Matter

I may not understand what you are going through, but I stand with you and for you.

03. May 2020 · Comments Off on Empty Stage & Pit · Categories: Ramble

Our stages are empty. Our pits are empty. There will be no summer concerts. It’s possible there will be no fall concerts. It’s even possible there will be no concerts until the fall of 2021, from all I’ve read.

I’m fine. I have always said, “I am not my oboe.” And I’m not. I have loved my career. (I’ve also hated it at times!) I think the oboe and the English horn are just amazing, wonderful, beautiful instruments. I am so grateful for this career I’ve had. And it has been a very long run.

My first professional job, aside from Municipal Band, was San Jose Symphony. I started that in the fall of 1975. REALLY. 1975!

So what a long run this has been.

I’ve performed with some amazing names. I’ve had the highest of highs. I have memories that are just wonderful, amazing, fabulous, and sometimes even unbelievable.

And I’ve cried a million tears. I’ve made stupid mistakes. I’ve made horrible blunders in front of an audience. I’ve cried over reeds. I’ve grimaced over music I thought was just awful.

And I am just tremendously grateful for all the experiences I’ve had. Experiences that have grown me. Experiences that have blessed me. Experiences that have humbled me. Experiences that have boosted my ego.

So if this is the end of my career, I will not weep. I will be thankful.

If it isn’t the end of my career I’ll once again sit on stage and in the pit and, odds are, I’ll even whine again sometimes.

I know me.

But no matter what, I’m not my oboe. I’m not my English horn. And life is good. With or without them.

15. April 2020 · Comments Off on Virtual Music Is All We’ve Got · Categories: Ramble

I’m really enjoying the groups that are putting together YouTube videos for us. It’s all we have for now. And it’s all we’ll have for a while, I think. I’ve been reading articles and some suggest that we won’t have live music again until a vaccine is out there. A health expert said he doesn’t think we’ll have large gatherings until the fall of 2021.

Yes, he is talking about 2021, not the upcoming fall season.

I’ve had a lovely career, and if this is the end of it I will be content, knowing I enjoyed so much fine music, and wonderful colleagues. I am certainly hoping I’ll be in the pit and on the stage again, but who knows? I am not counting on anything. I’m not the one who gets to say when it is safe to go back to work.

But I know it’s not safe now.

Some have suggested we musicians get back on stage and do live streaming concerts for the masses so they can all stay safe and do the social distancing thing but still enjoy the wonder of live music. It seems they forget that that puts all of us in danger. Not only are we much closer than six feet, but we are inhaling and exhaling deeply. It’s not a safe place to be when a pandemic is causing so much death.

Both the symphony and the opera companies I work for have canceled everything through June. So far nothing has been canceled beyond that, and I know they are hoping for the best.

I’m hoping we all stay well. And whatever is best to help with that hope is fine by me.

But here … having something absolutely gorgeous! Thank you, Eugene Izotov, for continuing with your beautiful music making, even during such trying times.

31. March 2020 · Comments Off on The Swan · Categories: Ramble

This is wonderful.

From the YouTube page of Cameron Chiu

I hope this video serves as a comfort during these bleak times. When life gets rough, I always resort to music first. With the combined force of 24 student cellists from around the world, we wish to share that experience with you through “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals. It is a piece of cello repertoire that harnesses simplicity and beauty in a language that speaks directly to the soul. In this unprecedented time of COVID-19 gripping the world, our bodies may be in different places, but our souls can still unite through music. #songsofcomfort

Pianist: Inah Chiu
Producer/Editor: Cameron Chiu

US Cellists:
Brandon Cheng – Chicago, IL
Bethany Bobbs – Paramus, NJ
Shengyu Meng – Los Angeles , CA
Kira Wang – Portland, OR
George Wolfe – New York City, NY
Evan Nicholson – Atlanta, GA
Carson Ling-Efird – Seattle, WA
Meagan Hipsky – Guilford, IN
Shirley Kim – Rochester, NY
James Baik – Houston, TX
Alon Hayut – Ann Arbor, MI
Cameron Chiu – Palatine, IL

International Cellists:
Eugene Lin – Taiwan
Luka Coetzee – South Africa
Seungyeon Yang – Korea
Emma Osterrieder – Germany
Marco Moruzzi – Italy
Sophie Van der Sloot – Canada (Ottawa)
Rachel Siu – Australia
George Wilkes – England
Luis Alejandro Castillo – Spain
Jiaxun Yao – China
Jiaqi Liu – Singapore
Ine Coetzee – Canada (Calgary)

Special Recognition:
Brandon Cheng
Alon Hayut

29. March 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Ramble

Well, these are tough times. Due to that I’m going to start this site back up, just to share some uplifting music and to talk about how we are dealing with things here.

My symphony and opera work is gone for now. Opera is done for the entire season. Symphony is still questionable for later, but for now we have to stay home so obviously nothing can happen.

All but one student has agreed to take online lessons. they are not ideal, but it will at least keep us connected and, I hope, keep them practicing. I love seeing them each week, but online lessons are a lot more grueling than in person lessons. Truth be told, I’d “earn” more by cancelling them all and doing nothing: unemployment pay, with the additional $600 being offered, would be more than I can make from them. I’m simply not comfortable taking money when I really AM able to work. Others disagree. That’s not my problem. We just deal with things in different ways.

(Students faces are blurred out, as I didn’t ask permission to post their faces here and I think they deserve their privacy.)

And here … enjoy this music in the time of Covid-19, please.

… and perhaps goodbye blog.

I am taking my leave and seeing how it goes. It’s time to try it out. If I find I miss it too much I’ll be back.

BUT first I just have something to say to my students and anyone else who is willing to listen to me regarding music: a rest does not always mean take a breath. A rest is not always the end of a phrase. A rest can actually be part of the line.

Think about it.

And now over ‘n out.

For now, anyway.

If I really don’t return I leave you with VOCES8. Of course I leave you with VOCES8 even if I’m back later. I’m nice that way.

Session footage from VOCES8’s recording of ‘Momentary’ by Ólafur Arnalds, arranged by Geoff Lawson. The track features on Ólafur’s album release ‘re:member (choir versions)’ which can be found on all digital platforms.

23. February 2020 · Comments Off on For Tonight · Categories: Ramble

Well, I have to post this. Because I think Caroline Shaw is amazing. And here she is with the Calder Quartet, singing By & By and I’ll Fly Away.