Friday, January 7

Frankenstein's First Steps

Frankenstein's Monster was a living creature made from parts of dead people. That's what I felt like when I was able to start practising for real again. Sure, I had blown a few minutes every month or so; in fact, about 5 years ago I was able to do a whole summer with 2 hours a day of experimenting on reed shapes and scraping techniques. But that’s nothing like knowing that you can now do up to an hour or more each day and know that the hopes of becoming good again are no longer in vain!FrankenOboe

But Frankenstein's monster had his own problems: despite his huge size and strength, he was also rather weak and helpless. His sense of balance was all wrong, his muscular coordination was shaky at best, the mobility of his joints was impeded by all the surgeries and his speech ability was pretty well non existent. This is pretty much how it is for me, having fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disorder. I remember everything I used to be able to do, I still aim for better, but there are days when I am just not physically able. And also like the monster, let's not beat around the bush, I have a tendency to say what I think in ways that can very well get people irked! This is actually made much worse on days when "fibro-fog" sets in or when pain makes me just plain grumpy and impatient.

The first thing you lose when you get tired is rhythm... or at least that's what they used to tell us at the university. I found that, for the oboe, the first thing you lose is your mouth: endurance along with intonation and dynamics! But strangely enough though, and I had noticed this when I took week-ends off at the Conservatoire, it seems that my tone quality gets better! I guess its the softer embouchure. Well, there might be hope for the monster: endurance is still very difficult for me, but I do seem to be able to play reasonably in tune now. My dynamic range seems alright, but recordings contradict each other depending on the equipment I use. Long tones do help, but with so little time to practice each day, I don't tend to favour them. They are also discouraging because the consistency of sound is more difficult with less practise. Strangely, practising scales and such seems to help with endurance too.

Rhythm is truly difficult, I don't mean patterns and speed, I mean evenness and consistency. I had a problem playing just before the beat even in the best of my days. I find that practising with a metronome is useless unless I record myself: then, I can more easily grasp where and how I'm speeding up or anticipating. It's almost always a function of fatigue: when I'm running out of air or when my gut support is starting to strain, then I speed up. I will anticipate the beats at the beginning of passages when my mouth is tired. Even after several bars of rest, when the lips are tired, I tend to rush the metronome.

Well, at least I know what to work at and there are no angry village mobs out to burn me alive (yet).... or at least I was able to evade those from the past! ;-)

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