Wednesday, June 22

Reflexions on Video #2

So a little time has passed since my You-Tube of O Souverain and the following reflections should be made:

  1. My fingers move with much more fluidity and even rhythm than ever before, even in the best of my days and even though my physical condition is much worse than back then: thank IMS for that! I still have to regain speed and re-learn all scales, but I'm struggling much less than I ever used to.
  2. 30 minutes a day is not enough to build real endurance.... or if it is, it'll take more than the one year I spent on it.
  3. Strangely, I can practice for hours, but this relatively easy piece tired my lips enough to sag notes at the end of crescendi: baroque repertoire (especially the technical runs) seems easier.

During the winter, I had challenged myself to do one (small) recording per week, just to motivate myself to practice more and push to better quality of playing…. well….. that didn’t work out! No matter what, as soon as I hear the recordings, I notice “small things” that can be fixed with just one more take, then just another knife stroke on the reed, then another take!
Conclusion: recordings take time away from practicing and making reeds!

Video Production:

Making a good looking video is hard! Lighting is a huge deal and... well... let's just say I won't argue with my wife anymore when she tells me to use wrinkle cream under my eyes!

I bought an expensive web-cam because I thought it best to stream directly into the computer (not possible with affordable handi-cams)... I was wrong. I don't know if I need more RAM or if high-definition is just too much for Windows 7 (I must try Linux now). The choppiness in the video would have not happened with a handi-cam and I could still mix the audio track and synchronize easily enough with Windows Live Movie Maker (Macintosh has the equivalent and Linux is supposed to also): this would allow me to continue to do multi-track recording and use my special recording device.

What has improved:

  1. My sound quality (tone colour) is much deeper and more open, generally better than it has ever been, even in the best of my days. Is this due to better reed making and materials (staples, shaper, scrape technique) or is it due to my oboe being revoiced? This is difficult to say as it could also be due to better attention to what I hear and how I practice.
  2. My general sense of phrasing: articulation and dynamics were probably better years ago, but they have definitely improved since my 1st recording in February and I have definitely refined my sense of short and long term direction for the melody compared to 15 years ago.

What remains to work on:

  1. General sound control and finger technique. My rhythm is more even, but I still tend to anticipate the beat a lot, especially when doing a crescendo or running short on breath.
  2. Better breathing-in: the exhaling is fine, but my abdomen seems tight and I think this contributes to the fatigue.
  3. Learn to fully relax lips in just a few beats of rest.
  4. Acoustics: recording in a room with more reverberation!
    This could mean moving my desktop computer to my dining room… need to try!

Thursday, June 16

video #2, recording #4 - MIDI Accompaniment and Faith in Music

Well over 8000 visitors: BRAVISSIMO! 65 countries: AUSGESEICHNET! To honour all you visitors, I will keep the list of countries in another tab. Eventually, I will put your flags next to your country’s name.

Blog: over 6 months

I started this blog for 2 reasons:

  1. to track my progress as I attempt to regain my former skills on the oboe, now that I am a software engineer living with chronic pain;
  2. to communicate with people of all descriptions and, hopefully, encourage others in similar situations to mine.
Interestingly, Blogger Statistics shows me that people actually get here by Google Searching topics which include:
  1. oboe reed cases (the single most popular post by far),
  2. MIDI accompaniment and sound recording techniques,
  3. general oboe playing topics,
  4. IMS and physiotherapy concerns,
  5. playing with an extracted tooth!

I wish to express my gratitude to all of you for taking the time and making the effort to visit here. I really enjoy when people leave comments or send e-mails. All contact with people from several continents and from home is a real treat and I hope the favour is returned!

2nd video:

O Souverain: oboe & MIDI orchestra

Apart from a few sagging notes, undecided phrasing here and there and a bit of hasty rhythm (all predicted in this previous post), pretty good improvement in 4 months, if I may say so myself! If this trend continues, in a year, I should be a decent player again. My apologies for the bad picture quality: I have a lot to learn about lighting… nah, I’d rather spend my time practicing oboe! On the other hand, I really should have spent more time on the MIDI accompaniment…

A cute thing about making recordings at home is that I have to contend with my dogs not understanding that silence is more important than the cat running on the other side of the street! 5294752263_83eb41f392But, how can I get angry at such a cute little thing? (Dog face Dogs are great! I truly love them! Dog face) I could have just cut-out my interjection “Popcorn Down!”, but you see my mouth moving in the video….. and because the opening recitativo is never played at the same speed, it’s really hard to use the video from one take with the sound-track of another!

One thing that really amazes me is how much the choice of speakers and/or head-phones (ear-buds) change the quality of my oboe sound. On my real sound system, it sounds like I hear it when playing, also true on my desktop computer and an old head-set that came with a waterproof Sony Walkman tape-cassette player! But the high-quality new Sony ear-buds I just got or my lap-top speakers…. much brighter and a little buzzier.

MIDI accompaniment AND multi-tracking.

This is not the first time I use MIDI as accompaniment for a recording, but I’m glad to have found a file ready-made with dynamic expression already included. I’ll add links to MIDI sources and free sheet music to my page on great places as I come across them. I did use software to add some orchestration a little bit, but thankfully, most of the work was already done for me (thank you Aria-Database!). For this recording, I had to “clean up” the MIDI file before it could play well with instrumentation other than the piano. The only dynamics are done by adding or removing instruments and there is no rubato apart from the opening recitativo. I found it curious that playing the file without rubato or dynamics at all still conveyed an inspiring quality. I guess this is the evidence of an extraordinary composition.

Music is faith… in my point of view!

Ô Souverain, sung by Ben Heppner.

I must have already mentioned that I consider music to be more than an art form, more than a mathematical equation; in fact, I consider it a full-fledged expression of the living soul. I consider music to be the closest direct language of Divinity that humans are capable of understanding. Some songs, a small handful, seem to speak to my soul very directly and stir something that I cannot describe in terms of emotion or psychology. In fact, I don’t even understand what effect they produce, only that I can’t sing them because my throat gets a lump! “Ô Souverain” is one of these.

Music, greater than song!

I believe that songs are music with a handicap; that is, because words convey a clear meaning, they severely limit the potential panorama that we can experience from a melody is restricted to the meaning of the words. Some melodies, however, seem taylor-made for the words. These songs usually loose much when they are translated. In the case of O Souverain, the link between French words and the melody is so strong that I would play it with one pattern of dynamic phrasing and articulation, but would be disappointed when playing back the recording. When putting the words back on the notes, it became clear why my phrasing was wrong.

I’m really not a fan of opera, but I have to admit, Jules Massenet wrote an powerful song as part of his opera Le Cid. It might be an overstatement, but Radio hosts have said that the Metropolitan Opera would not have been able, at the time, to perform Wagner without Ben Heppner. So it is a privilege for me to include a You-Tube of this amazing Canadian Tenor. The performance I give does not follow his style. Apart from the fact that I play the oboe in my study rather than singing at the Met, one of the the miracles of music is that it speaks differently to everyone with a Cartesian product of different messages from each performer and at each performance.

I usually consider lyrics to severely restrict the meaning of music. But some melodies seem custom tailored around words that are especially meaningful on their own right:this song is one of them. Translation is a very difficult thing because a language is much more than a vocabulary and grammar, it is a whole mind-frame  and worldview; it reflects the deepest characteristics of the culture that uses it in the unique way it uses it. So here is the original French and my best attempt to translate it.

Ah! tout est bien fini. Mon beau rêve de gloire, mes rêves de bonheur s'envolent à jamais! Tu m'as pris mon amour, tu me prends la victoire, Seigneur, je me soumets! Ah! It's all over now. My wondrous plans of glory, my beautiful dreams of happiness are all now dust in the wind! You have taken my love, You now take my victory, O Lord, I do submit.
Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père, toujours voilé, présent toujours, je t'adorais au temps prospère, et te bénis aux sombres jours. Je vais où ta loi me réclame, libre de tous regrets humains. O Sovereign, O Judge, O Father always veiled, always present, I adored you in prosperous times and bless you still in troubled days. I go where your law commands, free from all human regrets.
Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père, ta seule image est dans mon âme que je remets entre tes mains. O Sovereign, O Judge O Father, Your image alone fills my soul which I commend into your hands.
Ô firmament azur, lumière, esprits d'en haut, penchés sur moi, c'est le soldat que désespère, mais le chrétien garde sa foi. Tu peux venir, tu peux paraître, aurore du jour éternel. O Firmament, azure blue light, Spirits on High leaning over me, it is the soldier that despairs but the Christian keeps his faith. You can come, you can appear dawn of the eternal day.
Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père! Le serviteur d'un juste maître répond sans crainte à ton appel, ô souverain, ô juge, ô père! O Sovereign, O Judge, O Father! The servant of a just Master answers your call without fear. O Sovereign, O Judge, O Father!

Wednesday, June 8

IDRS 2011 and strange instruments.

This year, the convention of the International Double-Reed Society (IDRS) has generated much more discussion than last year. I did not go this year because the prospect happened much too quickly. But I’m hoping to go next year.

Attendees mentioned:

  • concerts and recitals: being able to talk with (some have even tried the reeds of) the performers
  • master classes and workshops
  • instrument museum and exhibits by almost every oboe/bassoon maker on the planet – where you can try and compare the brands
  • meeting fellow oboists from around the world and doing things together

Here are links to a discussion on the BBoard (here) and an excellent blog review (here). People who went were generally really happy about it.

258332_202955063081598_100001013189024_530146_1447247_oConclusion: I’m definitely getting membership during the year and hope to go next year. In 2012, it will be in Ohio and 2013 will be in California.

A picture that was taken there is rather curious: the Lupophone made by Guntram Wolf. The oboe, oboe d’amore and english horn are rather standard, but the barytone (bass) oboe is not. A few big-names make barytone oboe, but there is also the Heckelphone and the Lupophone which fulfil the exact same role in the orchestra, except they look completely different. I’m really happy that sound (not appearance) is deciding how the instruments are built.