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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I encourage you to read this interesting and timely article on creativity by Michael Michalko:

So much of what we as musicians/oboists/reedmakers do is incredibly detail oriented,  but we can't loose sight of the bigger picture of creating and expressing ART.  To do this effectively,  we must have a high degree of skill, but this can and should be acquired hand-in-hand with creativity every step of the way. The final paragraph of Michalko's article sums up creativity and creative thinking nicely:

Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.

Oboe and out,


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Penny Game

I use this "game" with students of ALL ages as a way to work through difficult sections.

  Gather 5 pennies and put them on the left side of your music stand.  Play the difficult passage.  If you play it correctly,  then slide a penny across to the right side of the stand.  Play the passage again.  If you play it correctly once more, then slide another penny across to the other side of the stand.  If you make a mistake on any of the passage,  then ALL pennies go back to the left side and you begin again.  Once you can play the previously difficult passage 5 times in a row well,  then try at a faster tempo, etc. This a a great study in patience,  focus,  and most importantly...accuracy.

Or,  if you REALLY want to LEARN a passage thoroughly,  put 10 pennies on the stand. :)

This is great preparation for orchestral excerpts and scales.  Maintain awareness of good body use at all times and you'll really build positive "habits" for a life of great playing.

So, check for spare change in those couches and get practicing!

Oboe and Out,


Listen Up, Gang!

Listen Up, Gang!
Are you dedicated to preparing yourself to this often arduous yet deeply meaningful and important profession? How much? The kind needed to actually be a successful performer, educator, citizen of the world? For a college student that of course means finishing all your practicing and studying before time with friends, family, and significant others--and certainly before video games and pop-music. But there’s more to it that just practicing your art.  There’s more art music (otherwise known as “classical music,” the wonderous stuff you’re at college to immerse yourself in because you feel “passionate” about it) to learn and listen to than you could EVER experience in your entire lifetime, so are you embracing new sounds or repeatedly listening to the few works you know or have known for years?

 If we just stick to the historic “greats”---how much Bach, Beethoven and Mozart do you know?  If you search a list of the 100 “greatest” pieces (I use the “greatest” designation veeeeery loosely), how many sound familiar?? How many could you identify? How many do you know well enough to hum significant parts of? How many pieces do you know for your own instrument? How many can you play? Perform? Hum from memory? If you’re really passionate about this music life, dig in and dig the music. Life is short; there’s lots of music. Go get it!

Some Top 100 lists/links are below to give you a start.  I can't say I agree with all of the choices,  but familiarize yourself with these pieces and let's discuss! :)  :)

 200 Pieces listed here:

100 Great pieces from the 20th Century:

Here's a link to the most "famous" 100,  not necessarily the "best"

Have you checked out Spotify? Wow!  What a grrreat and FREE way to listen to a WORLD of music!! 

Oboe and out,


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Double Reed Day at UW-Madison Coming Up

Oboist Marc Fink and bassoonist Marc Vallon, faculty members at UW-Madison will be hosting their 2012 Double Reed Day on Jan 14th from 1-8pm. I encourage anyone in the region to go!  Richard Killmer, amazing pedagogue from the Eastman School of Music will be leading a masterclass. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from these extraordinary teachers!

Hope to see you there!

Oboe and out,


Monday, January 9, 2012

Performing and Doing Your Best

Here's a link you might find interesting:

Joshua Bell on Messing Up His First Violin Competition

Sometimes it's healthy to know that even very fine musicians make mistakes like the rest of us.  What is more important is how we deal with those mistakes.  Bravo to Bell for telling his story!

At some points in my life I've felt nervous when performing simply because I was afraid to make mistakes in front of an audience. The simple act of one mistake could derail me mentally for the rest of the piece and compound errors. After lots of performing and even more thinking about this,  I realized I was putting fear of mistakes above the joy/responsibility to communicate great music. I  think I'd now be most nervous if  I didn't have anything to SAY with my music.  This has completely changed how I practice and study scores.  Once I KNOW I have something to express,  then I'm focused on that and try my best to share my music with an audience and ENJOY,  truely ENJOY performing.

Some questions I use to help me learn a piece come from Frances Clark's Tests of Interpretation.  Elaine Douvas, the wonderful oboist/pedagogue from Juilliard and The Met Opera Orchestra gave me these when I studied with her.  My students regularly get grilled on these questions too---in their weekly lesson sheets I ask if they'd answered each of the questions. Some students see this as a useless routine,  getting in the way of learning the notes,  but just learning the notes isn't the point of our studies AT ALL!  Studying the structure, meaning, and expressive elements of a piece are the keys to understanding a work and being able to communicate it to an audience.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself concerning musical expression, adapted from Elaine Douvas and Frances Clark’s Tests of Interpretation.

  1. Overall, what is the character of this piece? What do I want to express?
  2. Where is the highpoint of the entire piece?
  3. Do I sufficiently prepare for it and give it the suspense and effect that it requires?
  4. Where is the highpoint of each phrase?
  5. If I can’t feel the highpoint of the phrase, do I sing suitable words to it in an effort to capture its message?

6.   Does everything that I do sound authoritative?
  1. Do I begin each phrase clearly, cleanly, and expressively?
  2. Do I let each phrase end sufficiently before beginning another?

  1.  Is the long rhythmic pulse of the piece set at the beginning and held steadily throughout?
  2.  Do I avoid making overly exaggerated ritards?
  3. Do I revitalize the tempo immediately after a ritard?
  4. If playing the accompaniment, does it give true, basic vitality to the composition?
  5. Do I give full value to all the final beats in the measure or do I hurry into the next measure, thereby impairing the pulse?

  1. Is there a tremendous difference between my fortissimos and pianissimos with infinite gradations between the extremes?
  2. Do my crescendos start softly enough and my acccelerandos deliberately enough?
  3. Do all of my notes have a singing quality? Especially in the upper notes?
  4. Do I give repeated notes and sequences careful treatment?
  5. Is there something of interest going on at all times? If I stop playing the melody, do I make something of the accompaniment?

I hope these questions help you too!

Oboe and out,


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Some Words of Wisdom from Oboist Stevens Hewitt

Stevens Hewitt was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the author of a unique oboe method. Below are some of his words of wisdom.  From the IDRS Journal Vol. 1 No. 2

For the teacher: God does not engage in theology. Do not destroy by reasonings the faith required to play.***

We do not know what Vivaldi's performances in the past sounded like. But, if he were in the hall, would he enjoy this one?***

Ask the teacher for information rather than advice.***

The teacher cannot teach the student something that he does not already know.***

As you study more, you do not rise above a large amount of lesser players. Only the fine players appear even better.***

Do you think you can pay attention to what is required? I doubt it.***

Playing with a metronome is like drawing a straight line with a ruler to fit the blueprint. You must be able to draw a straight line without the ruler.***

Every day you must raise the price of your notes.***

Travel the beaten path. You will have less company than you think. The smart explorer will take the super-highway until forced to hack through the underbrush ***

Do you analyze "if only", or, "next time"?***

Never take the audience back-stage.***

Your performance is not the answer (as in the "Hear and Die" school of playing). It is the question.***

For a musician money is time.***

All men are born in bondage and unequal. Practice is your only chance for freedom and equality.***

Unfortunately for you, I measure myself by what I plan to do, and you by what I hear.***

The notes will not fall off the page into the fingers . . .***

One does not eat exclusively, soup for a week, fish for a week, bread for a week. Practice everything.***

Strike while the iron is hot. If you relax in your progress, or the repetition of your effort before its particular object is obtained, all of your preceding toil will be entirely lost.***

Eat the meal, not the menu.***

Technique is a test of a musician's sincerity.***

The value of an exercise lies only in the manner of performing it.***

Memory of how it feels is your only method.***

The requirement in a teacher is only that he should possess what the student needs.***

The idea of learning is to enhance what you are, not to avoid what you are.***

Practicing is not what people think it is. It is not just something which, when it is operating, you can hear from the outside.***

Learning is an activity. Learning through words is a mirror activity.***

Green wood can be bent. When it is dry it is only straightened by fire.***

Your teacher is not what you think him to be. Think, therefore, of the music. It is something like you think it to be.***

If you still ask "Why did he give me this, and in this way, and can I fit this into my playing?" you did not understand what he gave you.***

The student looked up and saw the devil sitting near him. The student said "Why are you sitting there, making no trouble?" The demon raised his head sadly. "Since the teachers of music have graduated in such numbers there is nothing left for me to do."***

Music is actually too difficult for musicians. It should be left to the music critics, for whom no problem is too difficult.***

As to conductors: Conduct an orchestra as you would fry bananas for "Bananas Foster". (see publisher June Emerson's catalog for the recipe). The more you stir things up with a stick, the more of a mess you will make."