Dobrinka Tabakova: Turn our captivity, O Lord (from Psalm 126)
The Sixteen; Harry Christophers, Director

I was just listening to a vocal group that was singing a piece I’d heard done by the King’s Singers. They sang it precisely as the King’s Singers sang it, although it was a group of men AND women rather than the all-male King’s Singers. But honestly, inflections, tempo, the whole thing. It was all the same.

Mimicking is a good way to start to learn something (sometimes), but then I hope performers can “own” what they are doing and put their personal stamp on a piece. It kind of seems pointless to me to just do what someone else already did.

Many years ago I had a new student come to the studio. She sat down and informed me that she wanted me to show her how to play the Swan Lake solo. She didn’t want to work on it with me … she wanted ME to play it so she could copy me. So while I’m reluctant to do that sort of thing, I went ahead and played it for her. BUT (maybe you know me well enough to know there was a “but” coming?) I then said, “But maybe another time I’d play it this way instead,” and proceeded to do little things differently. “Or maybe I’d do this…”. And yes I played it a third time. I wanted to show her that there were so many ways to do small things differently. Ways to make it my own. Or her own. I didn’t want her to be just another old me!

She never came to another lesson.

But anyway, this really was about the group I just heard. I was disappointed, as I wanted to hear THEIR rendition, not the King’s Singers. I noticed they had another song on YouTube that was originally done by The Real Group. And guess what? Yep. Exactly the same!

Now copying someone is a good way to learn certain things. If you can’t play expressively listen to an expressive player and figure out how that person did it. Try to do the same thing so you can experience that sort of expressivity. Ultimately, though, wouldn’t you like to be who YOU are rather than being someone else? Use your own voice! Use your own creativity!

Just some thoughts I’m tossing out tonight. Because I can.

My heart.

The world premiere performance of a new work by Donna McKevitt, commissioned by the VOCES8 Foundation for Paul Smith’s ‘Renewal?’ concert for Live From London Summer 2021.

‘Keeping Quiet’ by Donna McKevitt sets a translation of the Pablo Neruda poem with beautiful simplicity and time to reflect on the text within the music, echoed here with dance by Giulia Tonelli and Lucas Valente.

Caroline Dale (‘cello)
Roger Chase (viola)
Directed by Paul Smith

Music performance recorded at the VOCES8 Centre, London by the VOCES8 Studios team.

Ballet performance filmed at Tanzhaus Zurich by Nicole Davidson.

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), “Keeping Quiet” Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid) Jonathan Cape, London, 1972, pp.27-29 (original Estravagario, Editorial Losada, Buenos Aires, 1958)”

Some years ago I received a copy of “Welcome to the Symphony” (for some reason I can’t find my review here now). It was a fun book, and my oboe students enjoyed it as they sat in the living room waiting for their lessons. Yesterday I received a new one: “Welcome to the Opera“. They use The Magic Flute (with words in English) for the opera sample. It’s cute!

As you can see in the first image, there are numbered selections that you can push for sound, just like the symphony book. It’s a cute addition to the music book library!

(I think you’ll have to click on the link. I couldn’t manage to figure out how to load the video with the image. No clue why!)

Oh … here’s one they provide:

I wrote this on Twitter last night. I believe it to be true. I’m a decent player. I know that. (Despite my worry that I’m just faking it and/or people are being nice.) But I’m dispensable. I know that, too.

Something I was reminded of this week: I AM dispensable. I won’t be missed. And I’m okay.

It’s okay to realize this. I think it’s healthy. There are always people out there ready to take a player’s spot. (There are numerous people, in fact, and I always ache for those who don’t win an audition. It’s a rough life!) And okay, perhaps some will miss me … but what I mean by that bit is that the person taking my position will do very well and the English horn (or oboe) playing won’t be missed. It will still be there. And it will be good.

I’m not, by the way, saying I’m retiring. It just hit me (again), as I sat in the Symphony San Jose audience, that we all come and go.

Oh … but in other news … I was yakking (well, texting really) with a friend last night and we were going over who has been in the orchestra the longest (if we include San Jose Symphony in the mix). I’m number three, I do believe. THREE. First is Bob Weil (’65), then Galen Lemmon and Victoria Morton (both ’72), and then yours truly (’75).

For some reason I am now feeling very, very old. Hah!

Young me (but after I cut my hair: when I began it was waist length, as I was reminded the other day!):

Two videos. Two sides to ever story?

This first is older, so perhaps things have improved. I know the person speaking is now with UCSF and is the one doing research on musicians and cochlear implants — the one I mentioned that I could request to join if I did opt for the cochlear implant.

And then this … an oboist!

Giovanni Gabrieli: Deus, Deus Meus
VOCES8 & Ringmasters

O God, thou art my God: early will I seek thee.
My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh also longeth after thee:
in a barren and dry land where no water is.
Thus have I looked for thee in holiness: that I might behold thy power and glory.
For thy loving-kindness is better than the life itself: my lips shall praise thee.

I wasn’t sure I even wanted to write any more about the hearing issue, but then something happened today which I’ll share at the very end of this for a bit of a laugh … and that made the rest of it okay for my head and heart. But I’ll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start):

Wednesday I went to see the audiologist. She had implied she might be able to get my hearing aid to work somehow. After she updated it (I wonder if I could have done that on the app. Hm. I suppose I should have asked!), I put it back in and she asked how things were. Well, they were awful. Just lots of horrible distortion. Plus I still couldn’t hear the little “welcome notes” it always plays when I insert it. So she lessened something on the computer (she adjusts things there as she looks at the screen and sees some sort of diagrams and don’t even ASK me about that because I’ve no clue, aside from seeing that she could remove things from the low frequencies and that sort of thing). Since I HAVE no low frequency hearing she nixed that all together. Still distortion. She pulled everything back. Eventually I said I could go ahead and try it for a while to see if I could deal (and if my brain would finally not hear the distortion). Fat chance, I knew, but at that point it was that or nothing.

I went home. I put my phone up to the left ear while playing music. Distortion. That was about it. I honestly couldn’t hear anything of value otherwise. I played music on the computer with the hearing aid in. Still distortion, but not as horrendous. I took the hearing aid out. NO difference in the volume and no distortion. So never mind. Obviously it wasn’t doing a thing! Perhaps the hearing aid is dead to me, I thought. As dead as my ear, I suppose.

Friday was a meeting at the ENT department. I was assigned to ENT-otolaryngologist Dr. Seth Pross. I immediately thought he was fabulous. I brought along my hearing aid in case he wanted to see it or have me try it, but it was clear he didn’t think it was even a possibility for me. He actually thought I was there to start moving on getting a cochlear implant and I explained my misgivings. He clarified some things, but understood why, as a musician, it might be challenging. He gave me some links to read and I could even contact someone from UCSF where they are doing a study of musicians with cochlear implants (but I suppose I shouldn’t bother unless I get the implant). Meanwhile I told him, “I now have this horrible high pitched F# in my right ear.” I had noticed it the day before when I walked into our bedroom and while it sometimes disappeared it was quite bothersome. I told him I was hearing it right then, in fact. With that he quickly sent me to a hearing test because he wanted to be sure I wasn’t losing my hearing in THAT ear as well. But I did the hearing test and he said all was well with that ear. I again told him the high pitch was still there, but sometimes it made another funny sound. I also told him that if I turned my head one way I didn’t hear it. He suggested tinnitus can behave oddly sometimes. So we talked for a while, I was told to schedule an MRI (to rule out a tumor, which was quite unlikely so no, I’m not worried), and I went on my way.

When I got home the high pitch was just awful. BUT I later realized it was only in our bedroom and the attached computer room where I am now typing this. Crazy making! So it was in our bedroom and it was in the Doctor’s office. But not in the rest of our house? Ridiculous.

To add fun to my day I then had to go for a bone density test. I am really living the high life, I tell you!

Then it was lessons to teach, dinner to eat, Rick Steves to watch. And back to my computer room I went. Doggone high pitch noise was there and getting louder! I had already turned off my computer and printer to see if one of those was making the noise (but why, then, was it at the doctor’s office as well?!). Dan suggested I’d need to unplug everything and then plug things in one by one to see if something was the culprit. I said I’d try that tomorrow maybe, but then I realized the sound seemed to be coming from a certain area in the computer room.

Well waddya know?! It was my darn hearing aid! The thing was in its case but sort of loose in there I guess, and was apparently given some sort of feedback or something. Heh. No wonder I heard it at the Doctor’s office as well! It was in my purse on my lap while I was talking to him. (But hey, the Doctor didn’t hear it, nor did an intern? I think they need their hearing checked. Hah!)

So that’s the funny part that is causing me to write all this. And the good news? Obviously my right ear is working quite well with high frequencies. it was an F#7 I believe. And it was loud, loud, loud!

Meanwhile … I will continue to read about a cochlear implant, but the Doctor suggested I wouldn’t want to use it in the orchestra until I adjusted to it which could take six months to a year. So would it be work it? I would then hear people talking to my left. I would have directional hearing again. There are definitely plusses. Restaurants and parties would work for me (right now they really don’t). I’d also have this thing attached to my head that looks bionic. I’d have a huge thing behind my ear. And they’d be drilling into my skull. I don’t think of those as a plus. But I’m not saying yes or no quite yet. I will think. Ponder. And do more research.

PS If anyone who read this already has done the cochlear implant thing I’d love to hear about it. I’m especially interested in hearing from someone who plays an instrument like oboe, clarinet, or bassoon — one that includes a reed in the oral cavity. I worry that that might cause issues.

This weekend Symphony San Jose‘s concerts include two Bach works. There is simply nothing like Bach, in my little opinion! If you can make it to the concert I do recommend it, and no, I’m not playing. I’ll be in the audience myself!

Meanwhile, please enjoy the marvelous Scott Hostetler playing Alle Menschen müssen sterben.

From his YouTube Page:
J.S. Bach Chorale Prelude “Alle Menschen müssen sterben” BWV 643

One of my favorite organ pieces, played here by a double reed quartet (oboe d’amore, English horn, bass oboe, and bassoon). Surely one of the most beautiful pieces about death ever written.

Scott Hostetler
October 2023

I just played a concert. All went well. I continue to use an earplug in my left ear, but I was assured by the principal oboist (hi Adrienne!) that she would have no idea about my ear had I not told her. So I guess I’m okay when it comes to the quality of playing. Unless she was just being nice. Hmmm.

But playing isn’t as enjoyable, I must admit. I feel rather removed from things. I definitely feel like I’m different. And I don’t like either of those those feelings, as they add some discomfort to the experience.

However, this is the big thing that hit me tonight: I now play as if each time I play it very well might be the last time.

In some ways that makes every concert pretty darn special.