A while back a musician (NOT an oboist and please don’t ask who it was!) wrote something on social media that concerned me. The person had a very important upcoming job and wrote about fears and whether they could manage to really do it. It was really negative and worrisome. This person’s job was already announced and tickets were being sold.

Don’t do that.

Don’t do that to the organization.
Don’t do that to the audience (if I saw the post I might hesitate buying a ticket AND if I did go I’d be listening with even more critical ears than usual!).
Don’t do that to yourself.

Yes, we all have fears. Yes, many of us worry about our upcoming jobs. And I’ve been at fault for writing about my fears in the past. But it causes problems. The organization surely doesn’t want to see our worries in print for the public to see. The audience isn’t encourage if they see a post like that either. And it really sets us up for failure.

I used to be negative (not in print, perhaps, but still…) in order to “protect” myself. If I failed, I could say, “See, I knew it!” If I succeeded I could be pleasantly surprised and so could all who heard about my fears.

It’s not healthy, and it’s simply not necessary.

Sure, we might fail. That happens to nearly everyone (if not all) in the performing business. That’s pretty much a given. But we shouldn’t go in with the failure attitude.

And yes, I’m talking to myself here! I need this constant reminder!

Just a short rant: I’m weary of being bored by musicians. It seems as if many are working so hard at being flawless, but they do nothing more. C’mon … go further! Expression is a good thing. Truly.

And remember, too, that much of the time you have to do much more than you think! As I tell my kids, play to the back row, and imagine they aren’t really getting it unless you overdo it. My dream is to say to a student, “Well that was a bit over the top!” So far that’s never happened.

If I feel nothing when you play, I don’t think you’ve done what you thought you did. Unless YOU feel nothing and that’s how you want it to be.

25. October 2023 · Comments Off on Mimic if you want, but eventually maybe make it your own! · Categories: Ramble

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.

23. October 2023 · Comments Off on The Truth · Categories: Ramble

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!):

03. October 2023 · Comments Off on Hearing Conversations · Categories: Hearing, Ramble · Tags: , , ,

First of all, I have to say I’ve been so very grateful for the responses I’ve received regarding my journey of hearing loss. I linked yesterday’s post to some social media places and I was just so touched by all the comments. So many loving people are in this world!

I don’t plan on writing about this every day — or even every month! — but today I thought I’d mention a bit about how hearing conversations has changed.

When I was younger I was the Best Eavesdropper Ever. In a restaurant I’d be listening to several conversations at once (although we all know that means I wasn’t being as attentive to the one at my own table as I should have been!). Hearing loss changed that. If there is more than one conversation going on my brain sort of shuts down. It’s just too much information, I guess, and it all become a jumbled mess. Restaurants are the worst for this, and there are some restaurants I can no longer go to because they are just too noisy and I want to scream. I must say that the outdoor spots that opened up during Covid have really been quite the blessing for those of us with hearing loss!

At orchestra this past week there were times I couldn’t hear the conductor because there were people nearby chatting while she was talking. Again, my ears just seem to say “forget it!” That is so darn frustrating and if I were the confrontational sort I might have lost it and said something. Instead I just shut down. I don’t like to shut down, but it’s my way of coping. I wish more people in orchestras realized how distracting those conversations can be. It’s true, in fact, that others around me — those with two good ears — were equally frustrated, so it’s not just us hearing impaired folks that are affected. I will never understand why some people will talk when a conductor is giving instructions. Even if the conductor isn’t speaking to them I find the chatting pretty darn rude.

Okay, rant over. Promise!

When Dan and I were on our trip and out walking I’d look over at him and say, “What?”, thinking he had said something. Nope. It was someone to my left instead (we try to always remember Dan needs to be to my right), but because I don’t hear in the left ear my right ear informs me that the speaker must be to the right. It’s kind of crazy making.

Sitting in the English horn chair in the orchestra is quite nice for me since I’m to the left of the oboes … I can hear them! Sitting principal in opera I’ll still hear the principal winds, which is quite important, and I DO hear those to my left, but it’s as if they are coming from my right. Again, crazy making! But I will Make It Work. Period.

Teaching isn’t a problem. One on one is just fine. I hear my students quite well, both when they play and when they speak (well, except the ones who are nearly whispering … I have to work with the shyer ones to get them to speak up!). One on one in any situation is always comfortable, so that’s great.

Oh … and not music related, really, but at church I now sit in a pew on the right side, but I sit at the far left so no one is to my left. That works well. I usually wear my left ear plug because the amplification frequently means I’ll experience distortion. When we sing it can be strange — sometimes I simply can’t hear myself at all. Hm … perhaps that’s a very good thing!

Well, if that subject header made you think I was retiring, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that. But it’s time I talked about something I’ve dealt with since April, 2009.

Yes. That long ago.

I had written about the incident then, but hadn’t really discussed what happened next because, well … because talking about one’s hearing when in the music business can be a bit tricky. People will make assumptions once they know someone is dealing with a hearing issue.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the beginning.

On April 23, 2009 I had vertigo, which was something I’d not experienced before. I remember telling our conductor that I was feeling a bit dizzy, just to warn him that I was sort of “off”. On April 26 I had an awful migraine in the morning and then had to play Carmen that afternoon. I get migraines on occasion, and I call them “eargrains” because the tragus of my left ear is so painful to touch and I know that means a migraine is coming on.

But on April 29 I had a horrible experience. I had vertigo, and a headache that actually caused me to cry and worried Dan so much he asked if he should call an ambulance. I couldn’t stand or I’d throw up. And I had opera in two hours. (Fortunately I was able to call my wonderful sub and he came in for that performance.) I was a mess, and the next morning ended up going to the doctor. She said she thought it was labyrinthitis, sent me home after doing some tests to make sure it wasn’t something worse, and I waited it out.

It did pass. I felt better. But then I had tinnitus in my left ear. It was pretty awful and I went to see an otologist. It turned out that not only did I have tinnitus, but I also suffered hearing loss. It wasn’t horrendous, but it was still troublesome.

Fast forward some years (and more migraines) later. I returned to have another hearing test and my hearing had deteriorated enough to qualify for a hearing aid. It was a tremendous help at parties and restaurants: the hearing had gotten to a point where I just withdrew at noisy events because I couldn’t hear. The funny thing was I was MOST comfortable in the orchestra: I didn’t notice the tinnitus, and I didn’t feel the hearing loss caused any problems with my playing. The majority of my colleagues didn’t even know I had the hearing loss problem (I didn’t wear the hearing aid at work because the sound was so darn tinny).

About a year or so ago I went in for a new hearing aid. I’d been neglecting wearing the old one a large part of the time. My audiologist said that was a mistake — the ear can just shut down eventually if it’s not working. But oh this new hearing aid was a life changer! I could wear it at work. The sound was marvelous. I was overjoyed. And I nearly felt normal. Still, very few in the orchestras knew about my situation: I was still not ready for the looks, the possible judgments on my playing if I was out of tune … that sort of thing.

Again we fast forward to a week before our huge trip this past summer (so mid-June). Dan and I were walking downtown and I told him I felt like my head was in a bubble or something. He suggested perhaps I had a clogged ear. I tried to get the wax out using the drops one can buy. No change. In addition my hearing aid seemed broken … until I held it up to my right ear and realized it was working just fine. So I made an appointment to see a doctor. She took one look in my ear and said it was as clean as can be. NO wax. So off to get a hearing test I went.

Profound hearing loss in the left ear. Sigh. When the speech recognition bit was done I simply couldn’t understand anything! It was all distortion and ugly sounds. The doctor suggested prednisone and, thankfully, said I could travel. My hearing aid was useless, so while I brought it with me on the trip, hoping the ear would somehow heal itself, I never could put it to use.

I thought my career was over.

I have always said “I am not my oboe,” and I still believe that to be true. I still, though, hoped to play a bit more. One possible goal was to play through the 2025/26 season so I could say I’d been with symphony for 50 years. Could that still happen?

Yes. No. I don’t know!

What I do know is I played last week and if people are being honest I was fine. I use an earplug in my left ear the entire time to avoid distortion. I use the right earplug when everything is tremendously loud (I do NOT want to sacrifice that ear!). So I am taking one day at a time and we’ll see what happens.

Oh, and if you are wondering, the damage was NOT caused by loud sounds. The doctor made that very clear. It was the migraine, most likely. Did you know migraines can result in hearing loss? Now you do.

So that’s my story. And I’m ready to go public with it because it helps people understand why I might not respond if they are to the left of me. I am going public because I think people should know that music really can continue even with hearing loss. I’m going public because, despite my loss being caused by something other than loud sounds, I hope my colleagues and students will wear earplugs when they are able since we all know that loud sounds CAN certain cause hearing loss. I’m going public because it is my way of processing this loss.

I’m writing this quickly, and odds are I’ll go back and edit on occasion, but I just wanted to finally get this out there for all to read.

12. July 2023 · Comments Off on Eventually … · Categories: Ramble

At some point I have a lot to write here. News, news, news! But not quite yet — that will wait until about September 10 or so, I think. I know I’ve been horribly negligent regarding updating anything about oboeinsight, and I’ve not done any posting aside from my Sunday music. But so it goes sometimes.

At the moment (and since our departure on June 28) Dan and I are traveling, and will continue to do so for quite a while. I will, in fact, be missing the first Opera San José production in September because they start rehearsals while I’m away and I decided it wasn’t fair to come back and attempt to play the opera on a couple of rehearsals after no playing oboe for ten weeks. And yes, I won’t have played: I don’t travel with an instrument. This time I’m not even traveling with a reed (I did that the last time). We travel light: carryon only no matter how many weeks we are out, and an oboe simply is a burden. (In oh-so-many-ways … HAH!)

Because we have house sitters we can blog, so if any oboeinsight readers are interested in our travels just hop on over to pmtravelingtimes and you’ll see photos and read a brief synopsis of each day (or sometimes two synopses). We are currently having our morning coffee as we sit in our lovely VRBO house in Lisbon. This is our final full day here.

16. August 2022 · 2 comments · Categories: Ramble

Sorry, folks, but I do believe my writing days may be over. They have, in fact, been over for probably five years or so. I keep thinking I’ll get “it” (whatever that is!) back, but it hasn’t happened and so all you get here are YouTube videos that I enjoy. Sunday Morning Music continues. But that’s about it.

Maybe next month the writing bug will hit …?

Naw. Doubtful!

But hey … enjoy some children singing. I’m sorry to say the majority of my students say they never sing. They, in fact, look horrified when I ask if they sing. I urge them to give it a go, but I’m not sure many have tried. So these kiddos just make my heart happy!

When I was growing up my family sang. The Happy Birthday song was sung in four part harmony. We sang in the car. We sang at church. One of my brothers and I sang while making mud pies.

We need more singing in this world.

11. July 2022 · Comments Off on Lessons in Humility, Maybe? · Categories: Ramble

I’ve had two experiences recently with recording my playing. I must say, hearing myself isn’t pleasant. I know it’s important — people say that over and over. But I just don’t like it. I hear every little mistake, everything I wish I’d done differently.

But it sure is eye opening! (Ear opening, really.) I have a list of things I need to now focus on. Air. Less vibrato. Carrying the phrase through better. And oh so much more.

I have always feared that I’m rather arrogant. (A close family member once told me I was a snob.) I suppose this is all good for me. Nothing to be arrogant about when I hear myself!

The first recording was for a wedding I had played: the microphone to record me hadn’t been switched on (all weddings have an “oops moment” and I think this was that moment for that wedding). For me it was a lesson in, “you thought it was all about you and no one watching the streaming ceremony could even hear you, you silly person! Fortunately the pianist, who is also a great sound guy (thanks Rick!), opted to have me come in and play to the recording so he could then make the recording “complete”. I didn’t care about it for myself, but I did think the wedding couple should have a nice recording! I was more nervous doing the recording than I was playing live. THAT is how recording works for me. Always.

The second, which was for an upcoming job, I had to do on my own and that was a challenge and more than a little unpleasant. I suspect that will be the first and last time I ever do that. My understanding was it was merely so singers could practice to the recording, although I’m not all together sure of that. I wasn’t flawless, but I did the best I could. And it’s done.

Now, though, I am just breathing a sigh of relief: both recordings are done. Over ‘n out. Whew!

25. June 2022 · Comments Off on Playing for Experience · Categories: Ramble

There are times when a student really needs to play a solo being worked on in front of an audience. The experience of doing that is so important. But where to play?

Wellllll … if you are a church goer I can highly recommend that. It can be a very safe place to play, and the congregation will be quite appreciative if you have prepared well and are ready to do that. (I did attend a service once where the playing by a beginning adult student was so poor that it was incredibly painful and someone in charge even came up to me after and apologized — I suppose because I was a professional — which was rather sad. So DO prepare, and ask your teacher if you are ready to do this please.)

You can also play at senior centers and rest homes. You have to be ready to have some interruptions by your “audience” but even that can be a good thing for you: you learn how to keep going and not let distractions cause an issue with your playing.

You can play for your school if you have talent shows or the like. (But of course some students can be brutal and mean so only do this if it’s a safe option.)

Perhaps, if you are young, you have a parent with a workplace that allows music in the lunchroom for entertainment. Ask!

The most important thing is to get experience performing in front of a live audience. It helps one deal with the inevitable (mostly) nerves. It is also informative: do you have the endurance to get through a work? (I played a solo in my senior year of high school and I’d never tried to get through the entire work without stopping. Turns out that between my nerves, the reed battle, playing band works right before the solo, and lack of experience I learned a painful lesson: I couldn’t play the entire piece without falling apart!)

Just some ideas for you … don’t just assume that “I play it perfectly at home!” is enough to guarantee you can play it well when you are in a performance.