Friday, December 31

Why practice?

This is probably the most fundamental question to the amateur: why practice, why play at all?

There are people like myself who were once very decent players, but who have stopped for years and now face a steep uphill battle to regain what we once were able to do. People ask me if I play in groups and/or if I have any concerts coming up. Well, no I don't. So then, why practice? Why go through the frustration and difficult task of re-acquiring the skills of the oboe when what I hear coming out of my instrument is less than unsatisfactory?

The word "amateur" comes from Italian and means someone who loves. Unfortunately, in English and French, it is often associated with someone who is not really serious, “unprofessional”. This is wrong, the word "amateur" should only be applied when one is really serious about something: one loves the task and therefore no pains are too great.This is how I feel about performance. This is why I practice: I cannot imagine stopping.

But, owing to the likes of Albrecht Mayer, Cynthia Steljes, Christoph Hartmann, John Abberger, Bart Schneeman and so many others, why bother trying? Surely I cannot even begin to aim for what they are currently doing so well, so who am I to pretend to be an oboist in the face of such mastery? I have no answer to that. I play because that’s what I do, end of story.

Maybe I will play again with a group, maybe not. Maybe I will play on stage again, maybe not. Maybe I will make a You-Tube video only to be ridiculed and know that the critics are right..... but maybe something unexpected, and sorely wanted, will occur.

This is why we practice.

May the year 2011 bring us all lots of opportunities to practice and play for for well receiving audiences; may Providence grant us the purpose and nurture us on our way!

Tuesday, December 28

New-Year’s wish to all: TIME!

No, this is not an add for a legendary periodical!Star

Prospero año y felicidad!
Bonne et heureuse année!
Glückliches neues Jahr!

Well if life begins at 40, I feel like I must be 80 because I don’t feel like a toddler, but rather like someone who wants to settle down and put into practice the wisdom life acquired through blood, sweat and tears.Tire la langue

Truth is, there are SO MANY THINGS I want to do, but I realized that 24h/day and 7days/week doesn’t allow for much. So which do I choose among:

Musically, I want to: At home I want to: Professionally: Adventure Craves: My body wants to:
Re-Learn the piano and harmony (incl. jazz). Read Lord of the Rings! Make Studio Jam a serious tool. Lots of blogging and Tweeting! Do nautilus and stretching.
Get a cello and a flugelhorn and build a simple repertoire. Install the new bathroom lights and caulk the sinks & tub. Make CBIOOWTy a real development library. Helping neighbours with their dogs’ behaviour and tricks. Do body-building with an expert trainer.
Find some musicians and play with them. Paint the house and organize the garage & basement! Publish on Real Time collaboration and Music Technology. Take my dogs to Gatineau and other parks every week. Do winter cycling and snow-showing.
Do a bunch of orchestrations in Finale. Fix the dogs’ walls and build a backsplash. Learn and program in Python, QT and for mobile devices. Research into parapsychology and religious mysticism. Learn Tai-Chi and Brazilian martial arts.
Learn to improvise in Cuban and Jazz. Get wood turning tools and make oboe bells! Build my own collaborative web sites. Off-roading! Learn fencing and archery!

… and these exclude those that cross my mind on whims!

Assuming I have another 40-50 years to live (and unlimited money!), I can certainly do all that and much more. Problem is, I have observed that a person’s attention span is usually limited to “today” and “this week”. We are capable of imagining “this month” and we can stretch our patience to “this year”, but beyond that becomes hope, dreaming and wishful thinking… planning, yes, but still nothing tangible to satisfy our immediate emotions.

As the song says “If I could save time in a bottle…”, so one has to chose what is most precious. In my case, many of the choices are imposed on me: I must work on reducing pain, preventing injury and slowing down natural degeneration. After that, my dogs require a fair bit of time to care (living sentient beings are note mere chattel) and a house demands upkeep… both of which could benefit from a stronger body!

By God’s Grace, may my job predict stability and calm in the foreseeable future or I would have no time left for music at all. So a choice must be made and I gladly choose the oboe, forsaking other leisures and interests.

Even so, how many hours a day are necessary to practice long-tones, make reeds and do scales just as a warm-up so that practicing the repertoire (alone) will yield real results in preparation for playing with others? Considering my last public performance was in 1998 (well below professional grade) and that I have essentially not practiced for 10 years until last summer, how many hours must I devote to attain my former abilities, humble as they were? No matter, the joy is in the journey and/or the chase!

So for the New-Year I wish unto you all the wisdom of time. May your minds be at ease with clarity in what matters to you, in your lives, and may your environments (social, professional, family and neighbourhood) leave you the time to spend on what matters and the discipline to use it right.

Happy 2011 to everyone:
may peace and happiness in truth guide us all!

wimpy [ weather cane mouth | reeds ]

For those of you who have done Linear Algebra, the part on matrices, you’ll recognize the equation:
wimpy weather + wimpy cane + wimpy (tired out) mouth =  wimpy reeds….
By wimpy reeds, in this context, I also mean wimpy sound!Agressif

Many of you in the U.S.A. are experiencing weather that we, in Eastern Canada, take for granted: lots of snow and dry-cold weather. Well, over here, the weather is about as expected (between
–5 and –15°C…. sorry, I don’t do Farenheit). But that doesn’t really matter as the heating in the house keeps it at a comfortable 19°C. What is the killer, for the sound, is that the humidity in the house has been dipping below 28%…… in the summer, it goes as high as 93%, before we turn on the air conditioning, then it stabilizes at 55%.


My reeds that were playing soooooo nicely a month ago just went wimpy last week, with undependable stability. For the past few days, the sound that was sooooo mellow a few weeks ago just turned to into a buzzaphone!

One thing I have noticed regardless of the weather, though, is that when my lips get tired, I tend to bite instead of support with my gut and the sound goes (relatively) sour. Relatively, because a reed that played warmly and darkly will still do so, but will add a definite buzz to it.

Ah well, I guess I’d better leave the repertoire alone for awhile and just concentrate on long tones!Clignement d'œil Also, we can expect worse in terms of humidity with the temperatures falling to –30°C in late January and Februrary, so I’d best work on the power humidifier a bit!

Monday, December 27

Return to the (virtual) public spotlight?

Well, my preference would be to start playing with some ensemble, preferably chamber music. But I don’t know a whole lot of people right now with whom I can play – and not many people can introduce me to musicians seeking oboes right now. But – TA-DA! – You-Tube is out there where people are posting themselves left and right! Hey, maybe there’s some potential there for me?

Why play in public?

That’s an excellent question because I really don’t have an answer. Of course, some psychologists would argue that I need to be heard because of some childhood trauma or for some narcissistic need to expose myself… yyeeaaaahhh NO!

But some time ago, Hannah’s Oboes was selling a really special (and expensive) Oboe d’Amore and I was rather disappointed when someone else bought it (sigh!). I told her that I was glad it was sold to someone who would play it in concert: such a special instrument deserves to be heard.

THAT’s why I want to play in public. I don’t think I’m so great or anything, but I believe the oboe is an amazing instrument, music speaks directly to the soul and people need – especially in these parts – to share in its spirit. MP3s, streaming radio and CDs will just never compare with even a mediocre live performance: there is a connection that occurs. Of course all artists need to express themselves, and expression needs an audience, but its the shared experience that matters.

The stage still lures me strongly, in part because I want to make-up for some failings and in part because I live in denial that I have ever left it. In my soul, I "hear" the sound that I want, the character that the music should have, the voice that should be expressed when I play. Although it is very aggravating to miss the mark when I take my instrument and listen to myself in a recording, I cannot stop aiming for that voice, that character, that soul.

Now, what to play?

I have always been wild about the baroque, finding it easier than the post-impressionist or contemporary repertoire most players in my circles would usually prefer; they thought baroque was harder. But surprize, surprize, it seems now that the other way around is happening! It might be that, since the summer, I’ve been concentrating on sound so much that this is now best reflected by the likes of Debussy and some lesser known ones. At any rate, I have to limit myself to the one MMO CD I have and a few MIDI files: my “ensemble” will either be the CD or my Digital Piano played by the virtuoso Hewlett Packard (though less impressive than Angela Hewitt!!!). I’ll keep playing around and see what comes out well on my recordings.

Sunday, December 26

Back to my (blog) roots!

I had lost this URL during a SNAFU with Google services – not their fault, nor even mine fully – so I started another one (having "hautboys" - with a y - in it) under the impression that I had lost this one. Luckily, I got this one back! Everything from the temporary one (and more) is here now.
The URL name is important to me because the nick-name Robin Des Hautbois has followed me since my high-school days: I considered it a sign of predestination! Robin des Bois is French for Robin Hood (Robin of the woods or Robin of Sherwood) and the spelling testifies that I remain with the modern instrument (the y was the spelling for the baroque/classical instrument).

The SNAFU is kind of funny, because I really do find the sound of the baroque instrument far superior to the modern instrument in a few ways:
  1. It is usually darker, deeper and mellower.
  2. Though it has less projection, it has a larger feeling to it. 
  3. It has a built-in echo quality that I compare to the deep honk of the Canada Goose, but without the honk! 
  4. It is best approximated by the modern oboe d’amore: I have wanted one since the age o f 15, when I first saw one in an encyclopaedia!
But at this point in life and looking forward, I don’t want to give up the ease offered by the most modern keywork and to learn a new set of fingerings (most of which are rapid forkings) could very well cause a relapse of tendonitis….. one of the reasons I had to quit so long ago. I still consider this state (non-musician) to be a purgatory. Besides, with Albrecht mayer’s recommendations to Ludwig Frank and the Dupin Imperial’s classical bore (played by Christoph Hartmann), the sound of the modern oboe is moving back to its origins while keeping its modern benefits!

Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 23

Christmas: an oboe is (re)born.

The Yuletide season has always been special to me. My parents and I would always make a big fuss over decorating the tree (which we used to fell straight out of the woods, a 15 minute walk outside our front door) and making cookies while listening to high calibre Christmas music including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (unsurpassed recordings of the 1970s) and now with very special Polish Choirs (Stefan Stuligrosz) and Soloists. But 1985 made the season really special: on Dec 14th, I got my Lorée oboe, the one that would bring me to the Conservatoire de Montréal and follow me faithfully through the ups and downs of life.

The first thing I did was to play it with my father’s choir at a Christmas concert. The choir never had another instrument with it before and no parts were given to me: I elected to improvise counter-melodies and flourishes around the song. “Improvising” is used loosely, I had pretty well practiced what I would do and it never budged from the simplest arpeggios mirrored licks. The experience was a resounding success: never the same again.

Birth and rebirth

That was the birth of my oboe. A week ago marked our 25th anniversary together and we gave each other presents for the occasion. I gave it its present during the summer: had it revoiced by Laubin’s finisher! The present it gave me was a renewed passion, far greater then ever before, for both the instrument and playing it.
My wife and I actually got our Christmas presents during the summer and fall: for her, its photography. But it is during the holiday season that I will be able to use them to produce something. My revoiced Lorée plays like a dream, especially when using reeds shaped with my Kunibert Michel 7.25 shaper. My job allows me to take the week off between Christmas and New-Year’s day, so guess what?
I realized, a little while ago, that although I can play in tune and with decent dynamics alone (as testified by recordings), there is a big difference when playing with recorded accompaniment such as Music Minus One and MIDI files. So I’ll be working on a recording of myself playing with MMO and MIDI. If its not too embarrassing, I’ll make some You-Tube postings of it.
In the meantime, I wish you all a Very Happy Yule and all the best for the New-Year. May playing music (oboe, singing, anything) bring cheer and memories to share for years to come!

Monday, December 20

First breath.... again!

Well, I never thought I'd do a blog! After having laughed at social-networking for years while building web-sites that never quite serve the purpose right.... I finally decided to use the blog service.

Having posted quite a few replies and starting posts that have generated enthusiastic participation on the OboeBBoard (excellent spot, by the way!), I hope that this blog will be a useful tool in keeping the hot stuff in one place. Topics will include reed-making, breathing and sound, posture and physical endurance (lips, hands and others), specific performances and almost anything suggested by the comments.

I furthermore want to chronicle my process of re-mastering the instrument (and the art of music) after having left it in the closet for far too many years. Any oboist will concur on what horrible difficulties even a short leave of absence from practicing can ensue. But in the process of re-discovering the oboe, some things have already improved beyond my short-lived pro-days, though other issues are lagging far behind.

This blog should be interesting to amateurs and hobbyists of all ages, advanced music students and perhaps even seasoned pros who might find some reassurance here. This blog will discuss the joys and challenges of playing the oboe with fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease, but mostly how a former (short-lived) pro. lost his way during years of Engineering school and is now being reborn to this wonderous family of instruments with the help of computer technology.

But, you know what? With the much more relaxed attitude my lifestyle now affords me (that is, I don't have to panic for the next concert every couple of weeks), I have been able to experiment with my sound, reed-making and style and I think they have actually improved significantly over way-back-when.... though my technique and endurance are nowhere near what they used to be!

So, God willing, I'll be back on stage soon enough. In the meantime, I'll work with recorded accompaniment and MIDI. I'll put up some clips on You-Tube soon enough, but not so soon as I'll embarrass myself! ;-)