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.

A friend and colleague, along with her husband, lost their home and nearly everything in it in the horrendous Bear River fire. I can’t even imagine dealing with that. They are now living in a motel.

If you can help, click this go fund me link. I know every little bit will help!

Well, for me it’s been since my last opera on March 1, 2020. How ’bout you? I haven’t played with any colleagues since then. I’ve played with a few students, but even that has been rare, and we are now back to Zoom only, so no more of that for now. If things go as planned I’ll be back to work next week. Will it really happen? I do wonder, due to the Delta variant.

Meanwhile, I listen to a ton of music. Some of my friends said they haven’t been able to — that it makes them cry. I don’t react that way. Music still feeds my soul!

Maybe because people like this are just so darn good … and what a fabulous work!

Akropolis: Paradise Valley by Jeff Scott

From the YouTube Page:

0:00 I. Ghosts of Black Bottom
8:34 II. Hastings Street Blues
15:53 III. Roho, Pumzika kwa Amani (Spirits, Rest Peacefully)
20:24 IV. Paradise Theater Jump!

Homage to Paradise Valley by Jeff Scott can be heard alongside the original poetry of Detroiter Marsha Music on Akropolis’ 4th album, Ghost Light, here: https://akropolisquintet.org/ghostlight/

Homage to Paradise Valley was commissioned by Akropolis and Chamber Music America, made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2019).

About Homage to Paradise Valley by Jeff Scott:
The historical content of these notes by the composer is provided courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society (detroithistorical.org) where one can find a wealth of information on Paradise Valley and Black Bottom. Poetry by Marsha Music—a lifelong resident of Detroit whose father, Joe Von Battle, was a record producer for Aretha Franklin and owned Joe’s Records, central to the Black Bottom community—was commissioned by Akropolis in 2020 to create poetry to accompany Jeff’s music.

Black Bottom was a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. In the early 20th century, African-American residents became concentrated here during the first wave of the Great Migration to northern industrial cities. Informal segregation operated in the city kept them in this area of older, less expensive housing. Black Bottom/Paradise Valley became known for its African-American residents’ significant contributions to American music, including Blues, Big Band, and Jazz, from the 1930s to 1950s. Black Bottom was eventually razed and redeveloped for various urban renewal projects, driving the residents out. By the 1960s the neighborhood ceased to exist.

Hastings Street ran north-south through Black Bottom and had been a center of Eastern European Jewish settlement before World War I, but by the 1950s, migration transformed the strip into one of Detroit’s major African-American communities of black-owned businesses, social institutions, and nightclubs.

From the Bantu language of Swahili, “Roho, Pumzika kwa Amani” (Spirits, Rest Peacefully) is a lullaby, my humble offering to the many souls who came before me and persevered through the middle passage, decades of slavery, disenfranchising laws, and inequality. I am who I am because of those who stood before me. May their spirits rest peacefully.

Orchestra Hall closed in 1939, but reopened in 1941 as the Paradise Theater. For 10 years it would then offer the best of African-American musicians from around the country. “Paradise Theater Jump!” is dedicated to the famed theater and harkens to the up-tempo style of “jump blues,” usually played by small groups and featuring saxophone or brass instruments.

This video was filmed in 2019 at Central Michigan University. The exclusive Web Premiere of this video was given during the summer of 2020 at Akropolis’ Club Paradise Virtual Soirée, which honored these neighborhoods and their cultural legacy. Read more here

I recognize a few faces here!

Celebrating a very historic day!

27. December 2020 · Comments Off on Yes, I’m still Teaching! · Categories: Ramble

My studio has a couple of openings. If you are interested in Zoom lessons, feel free to contact me. I’d love to add just a few more to the studio, and these days you don’t even have to live near me to have lessons!

03. November 2020 · Comments Off on VOTE! · Categories: Ramble

02. September 2020 · Comments Off on That Measure Matters · Categories: Ramble

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.

26. July 2020 · Comments Off on Cleaning Up · Categories: Ramble

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.