29. April 2015 · Comments Off on Let’s Talk About That Pesky Half Hole · Categories: Ramble

… shall we? Yes. I think we shall.

“We” meaning me!

My students know all about this. When they are playing their scales I’m watching and listening for certain things. If I place a half hole symbol (I have a number of other symbols as well: stay tuned for posts on those!) under a scale name on their assignment sheet it means I heard what I call the “half hole pop”. What I mean by this is that I hear the lower note pop out before the note they actually want to play. This happens because the half hole isn’t fully uncovered at at least the start of the note. Sometimes it’s NEVER fully uncovered. Half of a half hole isn’t a half hole! You do the math. Yes, you might lip it to the right octave. But don’t go there. Fix your finger movement! Uncover the darn thing. Exaggerate the motion for a while.

Then there’s the “half hole hop”. This is when a student actually lifts the the finger off of the key to recover the hole. Very seldom have a seen a student hop to uncover, but to cover back up I see it quite frequently. Unless you are playing a note that requires your finger to come completely off of the half hole key you should NOT life that finger up. Ever.

How to solve these issues?

First, play slowly. Then play slower than slowly. Use a metronome to force yourself to go slower. Let it be the boss of you for a while.

Second, I really recommend you take movies of yourself. These days it’s rather easy: just use your smart phone! I do this in students’ lessons so they can see exactly what they are — or aren’t! — doing. Then, since fair is fair, after all, I let them record me. They are nearly always shocked at how they do what I call a “finger wiggle” without even uncovering the half hole at all!

And listen. My students know that I often say, “What did you hear?” That seems like a silly question to ask someone playing a musical instrument, but so frequently they say they didn’t really listen … we get so busy concentrating on fingering or rhythm or dynamics that we forget to listen! Guess what? I we have to multitask! Yep. Rhythm. Dynamics. Fingering. Notes. Expression. You name it, we have to do it. All at once!

Some teachers insist their students slide the half hole finger. I prefer the pivot method. This works very well for me. My index finger isn’t directly on the entire half hole. Rather, it’s between the key and the little plate to which we pivot when we are uncovering the key. Maybe someday I’ll remember to save a recording and demonstrate this. I disagree with the sliding method, but if you’ve got that down perfectly I wouldn’t argue with you. I don’t like it because it tends to cause the entire hand to move, while the pivot method, when perfected, only moves the index finger. But we can fight over that one later if you’d like. 😉

So be honest. Check out what you are doing with your half hole. No half hole pop and certainly no half hole hop allowed!

28. April 2015 · Comments Off on No Excuses · Categories: Ramble

I am writing this as much to myself as to my students and other readers.

Stop. Making. Excuses.

I always miss that note!
I have a bad reed.
I can’t play this.
I’m too busy.
I’m tired.
I have a bad reed.
I don’t like this piece.
I can’t play this.
I always miss that attack.
I have a bad reed.

Yep, I’ve said these.

Truth is, when you say these things out loud you are doing all of us a disservice. First, you are warning your listener (Teacher? Audience? parent? Other listener?) that you aren’t going to be doing your best. I think we usually do that because that way we’ve said it first … as if to ward off any correction from a teacher or disappointment from a listener. Just don’t go there. First off, you might get it right and surprise even yourself. But even more, you have just given yourself permission to do poorly. Why do that? Why set yourself up for failure? I think, sometimes, that my oboe must hear me. I suggest I’m going to miss a note and I miss a note. I suggest I’m going to fail on a passage and … duh! … I fail. Sad, but true.

Just go for it! Do the best you can do at that moment, with that reed. Stop the excuses. Stop the complaining.

Now I will leave you to ponder … and I will go work on my own attitude and negative thoughts!

27. April 2015 · 2 comments · Categories: Ramble

There once was a girl who cried over reeds.

This girl started oboe between 6th and 7th grade, after playing flute for two years, and had no clue what she was in for. Neither did her parents. Her very first reed was handed to her by her sister’s flute instructor. He said, “Learn how to play an A in tune!” The reed was fibercane. It didn’t even allow an A to be played! Her parents then bought her reeds by Meason or Jones. (Are you cringing now?) The girl heard her mother say to her father, “WHEN will she stop sounding like a duck?!” She heard it. She was surprised — she thought she was sounding pretty good!

That girl started oboe lessons with a lovely woman who actually came to her house. The woman was a calming influence. She made the girl reeds. She worked on them right in the house and the girl didn’t worry quite as much about reeds. That teacher also taught a reed making class at a local city college (now called a community college). The girl learned to wind reeds and carve on them, but had little success in getting them to work well. Still, she loved to wind them. That was the fun part as far as she was concerned. So she had a fishing tackle box (any of you oldsters use that for your reed equipment?) full of reed blanks of pretty colors. The reeds she used still came primarily from her teacher.

Then the teacher moved close to an hour away.

The girl continued to take lessons. Her mother drove her the teacher’s house. The girl loved that because, as she was in lessons, her mother would shop for fabric and the girl would know that she’d be getting yet another outfit! It was a win-win. Except reeds were awfully far away and she couldn’t get to a lesson every week due to the long drive and the expense of it all.

Now that girl didn’t exactly practice hard. Music came rather easily for her even while reed making did not. She was pretty good at faking it, and her teacher didn’t seem to catch on — or at least never let on that she knew. Her mother MADE her practice, though. What a cruel mother, right?! Occasionally the girl would hear, “WRONG NOTE!” yelled from the other room. Her mother knew music, and she knew a wrong note when she heard one.

But it had to happen sooner or later. ABSOLUTE REED TERROR! The teacher continued to make her reeds, but they broke so easily. She would run out of them and dear mother would make emergency trips to pick up more. But they never lasted, and sometimes they just felt all wrong.

And then that teacher stopped teaching her. She had babies and life was busy and the girl had to find another teacher. She tried one but he didn’t work out. Later her high school band director gave her a name and her mother, yet again, was driving a distance so she could have lessons in Palo Alto. (Hi Bob!)

The girl enjoyed her lessons, even while she still didn’t practice very much except on those days when it suddenly seemed like something she wanted to do. Music still came easily to her. Successful reed making didn’t.

The girl cried over reeds. She worried. She fretted. She cried more. She had bad dreams when she could sleep, but a lot of the time she couldn’t even get to sleep! Her life seemed to revolve over reeds. Is she had good reeds, she was happy. (Well, most of the time: she was a teenager, after all, and she thought she was ugly and no one liked her — like most teenagers feel at some point or another!) If there were no good reeds, she was not only unhappy: she was a mess! Her mother didn’t know what to do with her, and they didn’t always get along terrifically well. (Her father tried to ignore the whole reed issue.) Sometimes she thought she would go crazy over reeds. They caused her such anguish it was ridiculous. If you looked carefully you might even see tears running down her cheeks while in a concert. (She is hoping, however, that it wasn’t as noticeable as she fears.)

Okay okay … enough of that “girl” business. You know I’m writing about me!

Here’s the thing: reeds are a pain. They always have been. I’m not a good reed maker. I never have been. There are times when the reeds in my case have all been bad. When I was younger that would have made me cry. That would have had me panicked. But you know what?

Life is too short to cry over bad reeds!

Trust me on that.

I spent far too many years, even as a professional musician, worrying and fretting and even crying over reeds.

So let me repeat:

Life. Is. Too. Short. To. Cry. Over. Bad. Reeds.

Get it?

So now? Now my mantra is, “Play well on whatever is in the box!”

My suggestion to students everywhere? Do the same. Realize that you won’t always have that perfect reed. Sure, strive for it, but also have a flexible embouchure. One that allows you to know what to do with a less-than-stellar reed. And relax, for goodness sake. The more we get uptight, the worse a bad reed behaves.

So that’s my story. World’s Worst Reed Maker? Yep, I consider myself to be in that position. First place. Top prize. I’m probably exaggerating, but I’m an oboe player: we do that.

So anyway, just learn to play well on a bad reed. Learn to accept the fact that you won’t always have that perfect reed. Figure out how to make what you have work.

I know colleagues who will strongly disagree with me. That’s okay: they are probably great reed makers!

Oh … and ALWAYS have at least three reeds. Or more.

More is better. Even if they aren’t all perfect reeds.

27. April 2015 · Comments Off on Boomwhacker Bach · Categories: BachTrac™, Havin' Fun

Rather unbelievable, really!

26. April 2015 · Comments Off on Sunday Evening Music · Categories: Sunday Evening Music

Monteverdi: Nisi Dominus

26. April 2015 · Comments Off on Sunday Morning Music · Categories: Sunday Morning Music

J. S. Bach: Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit Auf
Wartburg Choir; Lee Nelson, Conductor; Kevin Dou, organ; Noah Dwyer, cello

23. April 2015 · Comments Off on Read Online · Categories: Read Online

Lessons — sax/flute/clarinet/basic oboe/keyboard/panflute and trumpet

23. April 2015 · Comments Off on Conflicts and Choosing My Chair · Categories: Ramble

It was suggested a short time ago that I showed more loyalty to Symphony Silicon Valley than to Opera San José, because I chose to play Lord of the Rings and skip opening weekend of The Magic Flute. Perhaps it was said in jest. Perhaps not. I’m not always good at determine a serious comment from a joke. I did feel as if I needed to defend myself. Dan later suggested I write about just how I do choose when I have two job offers that conflict.

Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not. This one was easy, to be honest.

I’ve played Magic Flute so many times I’ve lost count. I’d never played the music to Lord of the Rings. There’s one reason I opted to go with LOTR.

But I chose it for a number of other reasons as well.

We lost 27% of our income from cutbacks at Opera San José this year. What we didn’t lose was the long spread that an opera run takes. We still have three weekends with performances, and we have a week and a half of days that include rehearsals prior to opening weekend. Not all of these days of rehearsals are in a row, and only two of the performances don’t have at least one day between them. This makes for a VERY long stretch of time, yet much lower income overall. LOTR was a run of services (a service is a rehearsal or performance) with only one day of break. It was also a LOT services. Opera was fewer and over about a month. That also influenced my decision.

In addition, I was able to play the majority of opera rehearsals and performances even while doing LOTR, so I will be right back with opera beginning tonight. I actually only missed four services! Another easy choice.

Last set, when we were doing our world premiere, I had to choose between a symphony set, doing music (and the movies) from Fantastia and Fantasia 2. In that case, while I could have made it work and made a bit more income, I felt it was unwise to leave the opera and have someone else learn a new work. It just didn’t seem fair to opera. Yes. I’m loyal that way. 😉

It can be complicated, and I have to weigh a lot of things. For instance:

  • Finances
  • The number of conflicts I have my afternoon teaching schedule which cause me to cancel students’ lessons
  • How much I like or dislike the rep
  • What position I’ll play and what instrument
  • Whether I have contract obligations to fulfill that require my attendance?

I’m sure there are more things I’m forgetting to list. But honest, it has nothing to do with loyalty. I love both groups. I am grateful for both of them. I love my colleagues in both orchestras.

I just have to choose sometimes. It’s not always easy.

19. April 2015 · Comments Off on Sunday Evening Music · Categories: Sunday Evening Music

Nicholas Ludford: Sanctus from Missa Inclina cor meum
Blue Heron

From “Nicholas Ludford: Missa Inclina cor meum (Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 3)” (BHCD1004), released October 1, 2013. The CD is available for purchase at www.blueheronchoir.org. Blue Heron is a professional vocal ensemble based in Boston. Volume 1 of the Peterhouse series (“Hugh Aston: Three Marian Antiphons” (BHCD1002)) was praised by Alex Ross in The New Yorker for its “expressive intensity, even a hint of Baroque flair”. Photographs by Liz Linder.

(If you think you’ve heard this before here you’re quite correct. I’ve decided repeating some things is an okay thing to do!)

19. April 2015 · Comments Off on Sunday Morning Music · Categories: Sunday Morning Music

John Taverner (c. 1490-1545): Dum transisset sabbatum
Blue Heron

From the YouTube page:
This first-ever digital single released by Boston-based professional ensemble Blue Heron features a work of John Taverner (c.1490-1545). Like the music of Blue Heron’s “Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks” series, this is a gorgeous work from the golden age of pre-Reformation English cathedral music. (Very little music survives from this period.) The text relates to the women arriving to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning. In his musical setting, alternating between Gregorian chant and five-voice polyphonic settings, Taverner captures the mystery and awe contained in that biblical story. Research indicates the pitch used at that time in England was likely around A=446, and so this work is sung at that unusual pitch level. The track is available for download through Amazon, iTunes and other fine online retailers.