Monday, February 23, 2009

This Story May Explain Why...

...oboists get a reputation for being a tad bit neurotic. My desire to make it through The Marriage of Figaro only physically fatigued, but mentally unscathed...totally shot to hell the past few days. I do not wish to come off as a whiner, but I was prepared for this opera through and through. I knew my music inside and out, and I had crafted several very nice, reliable reeds to boot. Everything was going pretty well, even though I had a mountain of projects in progress and I fell a bit ill mid-week. All was manageable. Then the weekend came.

I think it all began to deteriorate at Friday night dress rehearsal. A kiln with a profuse gas leak caused the entire cast and orchestra to be evacuated from the arts building mid-rehearsal. Being the type of people we are, those of us in the pit orchestra quickly packed up our instruments and headed out into the 14 degree weather. We were outside for only 20 minutes or so before being allowed back in. I was a wee bit concerned, although not too concerned, since I have a well insulated case and outer case for my oboe. And, it was only 20 minutes, right?

As the rest of the rehearsal progressed, I felt that my intonation was a bit off from its usual tendencies. I thought to myself, the reeds did not like the quick shock of cold...they will be fine. So I thought, until I opened my reed case the following morning to teach my Saturday lessons. Gasp! The six nice, playable reeds I had were either cracked or the blades had pulled apart from each other. Four were not salvageable, as they were cracked. The other two I was able to coax into working...somewhat. I had three other reeds in my case that were fine, but they were old practice reeds. Totally unsuitable for performing in public, nonetheless a three hour long public performance.

I have never been in such a dire reed situation before. I usually have a handful of good practice reeds, several solid performing reeds, and a couple of reeds in progress. With the mountain of projects due last week, I did not have any reeds in progress. After the Saturday dress rehearsal concluded I hunkered down to work on new reeds. Nothing. Four hours later I had produced nothing. Every reed I made had horribly unbalanced intonation. I was on the verge of tears. It was time to walk a way. Embarrassed and full of shame, I called my oboe professor for help. Can I buy a pair of reeds? I have not bought reeds in eight years.
This is how my brain felt Saturday night... a splatter of frustration and anxiety.
Have I totally lost it?

However, my professor did not sell me finished reeds. Instead, she graciously and wisely provided me with a pair of initially scraped reeds, and assured me that I had not lost my ability to make a good reed. She reminded me that I have been making reliable reeds for years, and that everyone falls prey to a bad reed patch from time to time. Also, making reeds under pressure while frustrated usually results in poor quality work. Sigh....I know.

It is Sunday morning, and the opening show starts in a few hours. I am playing on my brand new, very cautiously prepared reeds and the intonation is horrendous. The C was flat, the B was uber sharp, the Bb was slightly less sharp, and the A was so flat it was half way to Ab. Seriously! I could not bring myself to tinker with my reeds any more. I decided I would have to compensate with my embouchure. Needless to say, my lips and jaw were very tired at the end of the performance. However, with all drama and nonsense aside, the opening matinee went very well.

It is now Monday morning. I am in my weekly oboe lesson, and I am recalling the horrors of yesterday to my professor. She hands me her oboe with one of my reeds, and I began to play. It is beautiful....AND IN TUNE! The problem is my oboe...

The excursion into the cold did my poor oboe in. The best news: my oboe is not cracked, which was the first thought that surfaced in my mind as I played on my professor's horn. After a thorough search, the possibility of a crack was ruled out. However, I can not get a proper seal on my upper joint. Multiple pads are unseated, which means most of my keys are leaking. This accounts for the lousy intonation and response I have been struggling with for the past 3 days. Good grief!

Early this afternoon I took my oboe into the repair shop to visit Fred, an incredible Milwaukee area instrumental repairman who is particularly talented at servicing double reeds. Chances are I will not have my instrument back for the Tuesday performance, but I do have a very nice Fox plastic resin oboe as a back up.

The lesson learned: Be more thourough with my diagnostics. It is not always the reed...or me.

Merry Writings!

Monday, February 16, 2009

And So It Begins...

Dress rehearsal week has finally arrived. Over the next week the cast and pit orchestra will spend over 30 hours practicing and rehearsing for The Marriage of Figaro. I am a mixture of excitement and apprehension- excited to perform, nervous about staying on top of my class work. I am trying my best to channel the calmness and wellness I will need. I even bought a package of refreshing & totally delicious mint and tarragon tea to help soothe my senses. However, the experience and the final production are completely worth the stress and exhaustion. There are few things as grand as opera.

What are you pouring your energy into this week?

Merry Writings!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

February Full Moon Dreamboard

Merry Full Moon!

Although heavy cloud cover caused me to miss the largest full moon of the season, the forecast is for clear skies throughout the night. Also, the moon has brought unseasonably warm weather with her. I am rather tempted to wear my peep-toe shoes ....

During this lunar phase my Dreamboard includes just a few elements. I have a very busy few weeks ahead of me, with all of my usual activities in addition to Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsals, performances, and the final exam and projects for the accelerated course is in less than three weeks. The situation lends itself to stress, so I incorporated a tranquill pool of water. The water represents the calm and focus I will need to be channeling over the passing days. Stress causes unease and often opens oneself up to illness. The teapot represents the wellness and balance I will need to cultivate. The chickadee image returns, as I always dream to be an optimistic seeker of knowledge and truth.

Merry Writings!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Meditation

Oh, how I wish every week started like this one has!

When I arrived on campus this morning I was greeted with the most adorable, gooey, chocolaty, frosted-pink cupcake...complete with hot pink sprinkles. A classmate presented me with the decadent confection before our class, explaining that she was in the mood to bake yesterday and thought I would appreciate a cute Monday morning treat. How sweet! Pun totally intended, by the way.

I finished enjoying my cupcake breakfast as I walked into my first class for the week. It was phenomenal. Most of the class period was a guided meditation to help us connect to our ability to perceive, imagine, visualize, and hear things in our mind. We were being guided to our "minds eye and ear" through visual and aural exercises. The session began with recalling a passage of text. We were asked to manipulate the format and shape of the text, to imagine someone close to us reading aloud the passage, and to imagine ourselves orating the text. As the exercises progressed, we were asked to conjure pitches and timbres in our minds to accompany the text. It was marvelous. My senses were tingling at the end of the session.

Although I use my inner eye and ear on a daily basis, it is usually in conjunction with some other activity, such as rehearsal, practicing, or score study. I cannot recall the last time I was physically still and allowed myself to be amazed by my perceptual abilities. My mind and spirit feel nurtured and refreshed after the meditation session. I am thinking I must make this a regular practice.

What do you do to conjure and nurture your inner eye or ear?

Merry Writings!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Land of Creative Opportunity...

Perhaps one of the most interesting comments I have heard this semester:

"Only in America would the gay son of Russian-Jewish immigrants become to be known as one of the most iconic of iconic American composers- the one who personified the cowboy and the Shaker in compositions he wrote in New York! That is why I love this country."

To give some context, the statement came from a professor, a native of Israel, who was reminding us students how America is an amazing land of creative opportunity. This tangent came from discussing the evolution of the earliest forms of ragtime and jazz, which essentially fused elements of West African music with popular marching band styles. Since we are a nation of many voices, the potential for collaboration, exploration, innovation, and creation are seemingly boundless. He reminded us that our creative capacity should not be taken for granted.

That last part resonated with me the most-our creative capacity should not be taken for granted. As a society, do we take creative potential for granted? Do I take it as a given? If so, where do we go? What do we do?

An interesting thought to mull over the weekend. What are your thoughts on this conjecture?

While you mull, listen to the meditative Quiet City by Copland. Merry Writings!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wishcasting... What to Become

This week Jamie asked us, "What do you wish to become?" What a loaded question.

I had to laugh when I read Molly's post, because her initial reaction was word-for-word the same as mine: what don't I wish to become? When I was younger I could always imagine myself doing different things and going different places- a firefighter, a cake decorator, a concertizing musician, a dentist, an acrobat, an arctic explorer, a surgeon, a professor, an ethereal singer in a goth-metal band, a chemist, a yogi, and on ward. It should be no surprise that I was that student who had changed (officially) their major four times during their undergraduate studies. Although my heart led me to music, here I am- back in school to take myself and my craft in a new direction. It has never been in my nature to remain static.

Image courtesy Vert Images

My wish is to become a dynamic river of ingenuity, my mind evermore streaming with inquiry, exploration, and imagination. My wish is that I may always desire to forge my craft in new directions, and never be satisfied with being a stagnant creative bog.

What do you wish?

Merry Writings.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Felix Looks Good at 200

The light dusting of lake-effect snow that fell overnight did nothing to ward off another cold spell. I guess the groundhog meant business. The blustering winds helped to keep me either hunkered down in the practice studio or huddled up in a warm corner with a pile of books. After having difficulties focusing last week, I feel my attentions the past two days have become much less blurry, almost bordering on disciplined. Although I have not been feeling terribly creative or crafty, my bookworm senses have been tingling something fierce. It seems my creative juices have channeled into curiosity, inquiry, and exploration. Which may provide some reasoning for my inexplicable need to write the following brief "essay". I am well aware that my music nerd flag is flying high, but I just absolutely adore Mendelssohn.

Today marks the 200th birthday of Felix Mendelssohn, a truly remarkable composer, pianist, and conductor. Felix was a child prodigy performer and composer, and continued to be thoroughly prolific throughout his lifetime. His compositions include five symphonies, brilliant incidental music, oratorios, chamber music, violin concertos, choral works, and stunning works for piano. Compared to many of his 19th century musical contemporaries, Mendelssohn lived a fairly quiet and conventional life. Deeply distraught by the death of his beloved sister, Fanny, a prodigious musician as well, Felix's health declined. He died six months later at the age of 38.

With the rise of German antisemitism in the later half of the 19th century, Mendelssohn was posthumously assassinated by colleagues- most prominently by Richard Wagner in his pamphlet Das Judenthum in der Musik. The once popular and frequently performed works of Mendelssohn either all but disappeared from the concert repertoire or remained unpublished. It was not until recently that the works of Mendelssohn made a much deserved resurgence. For more on the unearthing of Mendelssohn, listen to this NPR story.

Kevin Kline is a saucy Bottom in Midsummer Nights Dream

Since Mendelssohn was such a diverse composer, I had a very difficult time picking a single excerpt that felt representative of his craft. So...I picked four. All of these beautiful, wonderfully crafted pieces have the power to make me feel like I can transcend time, and that I have been transported to another realm.

The Hebrides- Fingals Cave- a phenomenal trip through Scottish caves on the ocean coast
Violin Concerto, Movement I- performed by a 15 year-old Sarah Chang with the NY Philharmonic. Her green dress is worth the view.
A Midsummer Nights Dream, Overture- incidental music written by Mendelssohn in his teens.
Lieder ohne Worte- songs without words for the piano...simply lovely.

Thanks for reading my ├╝ber music geek post!
Merry Writings!