Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Ins and Outs of Breathing

Yesterday, I was able to attend an all woodwind masterclass given by Alexa Still (professor of flute at Oberlin Conservatory) called “The Ins and Outs of Breathing.” The class focused on the pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs, the late tubist of the Chicago Symphony.

The class started with an explanation of the respiratory anatomy, complete with handouts and diagrams.

From there, it extended to an explanation of proper posture:

  • Feet flat on the ground
  • Knees directly above the feet in a relaxed position
  • Hips directly over the ankles
  • Shoulders directly over the hips.
  • Keep the neck area loose.
At first, this posture may be a little awkward, as it will make you feel like you are leaning forward or tipping over. However, try taking a deep breath in this position, and you will find that it’s easier! The main point of checking posture is to make sure that one is not doing something to inhibit breathing.

Ms. Still continued the class with a few exercises:

·         Arms out, thumbs down. Move your thumbs up as you take a breath.
·         Breathe in 4, out 4. Then in 3, out 5. Then in 2, out 6. Then in 1, out 7. Then finally, in half and out 7 and a half.
·         Use your right arm as a measure of your air. Put it up 1/3 of the way to your shoulder and take in 1/3 of your air capacity.  Bring it up 1/3, and then another 1/3, and then bring it down 2/3.
·         Hardcore: All air out, hold as long as possible. All air in, hold as long as possible.

The main point of these exercises is to help you become aware of how much air you truly have.

“There’s a limit, but you can maximize what you’ve got.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Brief Introduction to Ensemble Librarianship

So… what does an ensemble librarian do, exactly?

In its most simplified terms, an ensemble librarian is the person responsible for preparing, distributing, and collecting all of the music that is to be performed.

It sounds like a simple job, right? As musicians, we arrive at the first rehearsal and expect that music will already be on our stands, just waiting to be played. We don’t often (or at all!) think about all of the work behind the scenes that goes into preparing that music.

Preparing just one piece of music, however, can take a lot of time.

The ensemble librarian must:

  • Pull a skeleton. A skeleton is one copy of every part that will be kept in a safe location. This way, even if every single member of the viola section loses his or her part, there will always be a backup copy.
  • Number the parts. Parts are numbered in score order, and then given a letter to denote each individual copy. For instance, Flute I’s skeleton will be given the number 1, the first additional copy will be 1a, the second will be 1b, and so on.
  • Erase all unnecessary markings.
  • Fix all errors in the parts (also known as doing errata).
  • Put bowings into the string parts.
  • Check for and fix any bad page turns.
  • Determine proper part divisions.
  • Put music in the proper folders.
  • Distribute!
At Interlochen, we also create Listening Lists for the students, in which we list a few recommended recordings of each piece. Recordings are available on CDs or records we place on reserve in the library, online listening databases such as Naxos, and various other Internet sources such as composers’ websites or YouTube (especially for the newer band pieces!).

In addition to this prep work, we also attend every rehearsal and performance of our ensembles so that we can make any changes or hand out any additional/replacement parts as needed. I spend five hours in rehearsal every day, and then I return to the library to work on the next session’s music.

If you're interested in learning more about ensemble librarianship, check out the following resources:
  • Major Orchestra Librarians' Association website:
  • A Manual for the Performance Library by Russ Girsberger
  • The Music Performance Library: A Practical Guide for Orchestra, Band, and Opera Librarians by Russ Girsberger and Laurie Lake

Preparing music requires great attention to detail and is a very time-consuming process. Next time you receive music, please take a moment to thank your librarian. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Advanced Oboe Institute

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the privilege of attending some of the Advanced Oboe Institute classes during prep week here at Interlochen. This was my first time seeing Elaine Douvas in action, and all of the wonderful things that I had heard about her are true.

The first class I attended was a roundtable discussion about college auditions and beyond, which was led by both Ms. Douvas and Mr. Stolper. While class was underway, campus was placed on a severe thunderstorm warning. The lights kept flickering on and off, which made for a very interesting atmosphere. A few key points from the discussion:

  • Keep an audition notebook. Make lists of the schools you plan to visit and apply, as well as their repertoire requirements. Write down your thoughts and impressions. Get organized by keeping everything in one place!
  • Multiple day workshops, like the Advanced Oboe Institute or the John Mack Oboe Camp, give students a much better idea of someone’s style of teaching than an hour long sample lesson.
  • Never take an audition without your teacher’s blessing. If you don’t do a reputable job, the committee will look up who you are!
  • In auditions, they are looking for someone who is teachable. It has been said that great actors can be made out of anyone. It’s the same principle.
  • You could put everything into the oboe and come out with nothing. Think of every possible way that you could have a life in music and not set your sights on one of those orchestra jobs.
  • You can get a year’s worth of work done in the summer when you don’t have to worry about classes. Take advantage of it!
Other classes throughout the week covered solo repertoire, etudes (Barret, Ferling, and Vade Mecum), orchestral excerpts, and, of course, reed making. Like my posts about the John Mack Oboe Camp, I’ll narrow it down to the ten biggest things that I took away from class:

·        The two axioms of music are to delay crescendos and to delay decrescendos. Move all dynamics to the right to avoid doing anything too soon.
·        If Barret was smart enough to write the book, he was smart enough to know what dynamics he wanted. Don’t change them!
·        You must learn to phrase within the tempo.
·        Make a list of things that would make you sound as a singer sings, and incorporate them into your playing.
·        A slur is not a phrase mark – it just tells you when to tongue, like it tells a violinist when to lift the bow.
·        The big rule of mixed articulation is that all notes must be equally heard.
·        Sound like a wind instrument, not a lip instrument.
·        Think of something you know to learn something you don’t.
·        Playing should have the same inflections as speech. Don’t deny the natural curve of the music.
·        The subtext of your warm up should be that this is fun, this is easy, and I can’t wait to play for you!

My next post will talk about training and prep week in the ensemble library. But now, it’s time to enjoy my first day off in a week and a half! Well, after a few visits to the library to meet managers and faculty... But I can't complain :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

John Mack Oboe Camp, Part II

As promised, a few notes from the second half of the week with Martin Hebert teaching:

  • Crescendos and decrescendos are not steady changes in dynamics. They are more curved.
  • Your tongue is its fastest around age 19. From there, it only gets slower. Learn to double tongue!
  • To leap up to a high note, think of a cat jumping up onto a chair. Don’t use too much or too little energy. Use just the right amount!
  • Rules can be broken if done convincingly.
  • Be aware of which notes have more zing. Let notes stick out when you want them to, not when the oboe wants them to.
  • Be careful how literally you take some markings. Always consider the overall shape of the phrase.
  • Practice chunks at a slow tempo, but also practice chunks at full tempo. Be able to start anywhere in the piece.
  • Always plan and prepare your breaths.
  • Don’t get too attached to reeds. They’re not going to last very long!
  • Know your phrasing. Think in fast motion even if you’re playing in slow motion.

JMOC was incredibly informative and inspiring, and I've already begun to incorporate some of the lessons into my own practice sessions.

I’m ahead of schedule with my work in the library, so I’ve also been able to attend some of the Advanced Oboe Institute classes here at Interlochen. Elaine Douvas is teaching this year, and I’m continuing to learn a lot. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity for such intense oboe study with such fantastic teachers over the last two weeks. I’m close to filling an entire notebook in that time (I will probably finish it off tomorrow!), and I don’t think I have ever been this inspired to play the oboe. I’m very happy I’m spending my summer at Interlochen, “where music lives” :)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

John Mack Oboe Camp

It’s been awhile since I’ve had Internet access/time to write!

I had an absolutely fantastic time at the John Mack Oboe Camp. It was my fifth year attending, but I think it might have been my favorite. The camp seems to get better and better, and I left feeling unbelievably refreshed and inspired.

One of this year’s teachers, Linda Strommen, recommended putting together a summary of what we learned. Here is my list of the ten main ideas that I took away from the first half of the week, during which Ms. Strommen taught:

  • We as musicians can create pain, but we can also take it away.
  • Ignorance is not stupidity. It is an opportunity to learn.
  • Articulation is only as good as the tone on which it is produced.
  • Become your own best teacher.
  • Sing! Even if you don’t have a great voice, it will help you to define your concept.
  • Evaluate your music. What was Barret trying to teach in each etude? Why is each orchestral excerpt an excerpt?
  • Going slow is not remedial. It’s professional.
  • Predestination: You must play each note like it must go to the next note.
  • Make connections between etudes, solo repertoire, and excerpts. For example, the circular motion of Barret Articulation Study #10 is similar to that of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin.
  • Dream big, work hard and smart, and enjoy your colleagues.

I will try to post about the second half of the week in a day or two.

I’ve been at Interlochen for three days now, and although it has already been incredibly busy, I couldn’t be happier to be back. Stay tuned for updates! :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Interlochen Ensemble Assignment

There are eighteen large ensembles that rehearse during the camp season. All of these ensembles, consisting of both vocal and instrumental groups, are divided among the seven ensemble library interns. Each intern is assigned two, three, or four ensembles. Although this can seem unfair at first glance, we all have close to the same amount of work due to the different demands of each ensemble.

This year, I will be working with the World Youth Wind Symphony and the Junior Band. For each of these bands, I will be responsible for preparing, distributing, and collecting all music. I will work closely with the ensemble manager, conductor, and sectional coaches to make sure that everything runs smoothly!

The World Youth Wind Symphony is the top high school band at Interlochen. They have new repertoire and new conductors every week for six weeks. They perform every Saturday night with the Interlochen Symphony Band (the second high school band). This band is abbreviated to WYWS, and is pronounced “why-wiss” or “wee-wees.” I personally prefer “wee-wees” :)

The Junior Band is the only band for kids in grades 3-6. The program consists of three separate two-week sessions, and students can stay for one, two, or all three sessions. Each session concludes with one concert.

In addition to these groups, I will also be the bowing and errata assistant for the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, the top high school orchestra. Orchestra librarians have to mark string bowings into each individual part, which is a very time consuming process. Doing errata consists of detecting any inaccuracies in the music and correcting them, thus avoiding wasted rehearsal time. With pieces like Stravinsky’s Firebird on the docket for this season, there will be quite a bit to do!

Training begins in about a week and a half, and I am very excited to begin. I had really wanted the opportunity to work with both WYWS and Junior Band. I love that I have both extremes (the youngest group and the top group) in the band division, and I am looking forward to learning a lot from my focus on band this summer!