Saturday, July 30

Telemann, Sonata in A minor

The whole world by now should know the tragic shooting and bombing in Oslo, Norway. I remember the shooting at École Polytechnique de Montréal (I had started the Conservatoire), I remember the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech.: as terrifying as these were, as much as they stirred society and destroyed our sense of safety in this world, the recent shooting in Oslo was far worse.

This is not expected anywhere in the developed world, but when it hits a country that won “top country” to live in for nearly 10 years (taking over from Canada which held it for nearly 8 years), there is just no describing how that shakes our perception of the world.

There is very little that can be said about such wasteful horror. For sure, the perpetrators’ goals will backfire as the world, and Norwegians in particular, deplore their actions.

Anniversary Recording

Here it is, that “baroque sonata” I mentioned in the past few posts. It took longer than expected because, well, I am an hobbyist! Apart from lacking endurance, work and projects for my wife and I have been more involving than usual, so there was just no way to record more than one movement a day. And, naturally, when one day’s recordings are not satisfactory, an extra day is required! And the last couple of weeks, very hot and very humid (calculated “feels like” of 117° Farenheit or 47° Celcius) means that my best reeds were not as stable as they were 2 months ago… (see previous post)

All this means I wanted to delay the recording again, especially since I have a 3-day weekend to make reeds (and clean-out the garage!), but new reeds are never good for performance anyway and I have a few things to celebrate:

  1. IMG_0117_smwell over 11 thousand visits since the blog began last Christmas!
  2. a little over 1 year since my oboe was revoiced,
  3. a little over 1 year since my oboistic revival began: more seriously practicing an average of 30-45 minutes a day.
  4. the 3rd birthday of our first house-dog Popcorn!

So I decided to go ahead. The final recording is probably the best representation of my current abilities after one year of revival. I ended up using the “gold reed” from this previous post.

… a difficult joy!

Telemann, Sonata A-, 1st mvt.
In a previous post and other places, I said that the music of Telemann and Haendel is just as difficult to play as it is beautiful. In the case of Haendel, there is something in the ease of the melodic patterns that just requires every ounce of musical understanding and artistic soul the performer is capable of conjuring.

In the case of Telemann, there is just no end to the possibilities in the music! I’ve been practicing (anew) Telemann’s sonata for oboe in A minor for 2 or 3 months now, and seriously, every time I sit down to one of the movements, I discover something else; either a better way to phrase a lick, or simply a different and equally beautiful way to perform it.

Telemann, Sonata A-, 2nd mvt.
Choosing one style and staying with it becomes difficult - besides, I’m lacking the finger and sound control for some of the styles I would have wanted: they sounded “grotesque” in the literal sense… perhaps these styles require period instruments or maybe I need to experiment with microphone positioning more!


Recording & Production:

I did not make a video this time because I wanted to try out a new microphone layout in the dining room for a better sound quality.

Telemann, Sonata A-, 3rd mvt.
It would have been too much hassle to set-up my computer with the web-cam on the main floor near the entrance to capture the video. I think the sound impression of a recital hall is much better, but there is still much to discuss and experiment.

Also, I had mentioned that with the Free Recording software Audacity, all kinds of effects can be done in conjunction with multi-track recording.

In this case, I used it to tweak the piano accompaniment obtained from Music Minus One (MMO): I changed the piano track and then recorded my performance on another track while listening to the modified piano part.
Telemann, Sonata A-, 4th mvt.

I hope to discuss some reflections on the recording next week. For now, some remarks about each movement:

  1. In a couple of places, you might hear a “hhussshhh”: that’s the background noise from the piano part getting much louder. The piano player gave a very academic and simplistic performance, one that matches what can be expected of most 1st year university oboe students. In some places, there was a soft p “echo” where I preferred to emphasise the repeat. So I made that piano segment louder… unfortunately, that included the “white noise” from the MMO recording!
  2. I sped-up the piano part because I just felt it was not lively enough. Listen closely and you will find a few blips, but generally the technique is not so bad. My arms still tenses up when playing as a result of doing too much at the gym too fast. Furthermore, on these recording days, I neglected stretching and such: the resulting strain shows in the technique and the sound control.
  3. If you think the piano sounds Honky-Tonk, that is because I slowed it down. The accompaniment was too fast for the atmosphere I wanted to portray. The pitfall to this: a kind of inner-echo is produced, making it sound like an old silent-movie piano.
  4. Starting to play before the recorded piano (even with 4 metronome taps) makes it really hard to play in time with the piano! Predicting when the piano will start playing took a lot of practice, especially at the grand pause before the re-exposition!

At the beginning of movements 2 and 4, it almost sounds like I am playing two oboes at the same time. I have absolutely no explanation for this. It can’t even be explained by copy-pasting things in Audacity: to do so would either have no effect (same track pasted twice) or sound really bad (different tracks overlapping). I can only guess that I had turned my body relatively to the walls in such a way that the echo would be picked-up by the microphone pointing away from me. I will discuss this in the next posting.

Wednesday, July 20

IMS Update and Performance Endurance

A little note on recent observations because people have been coming to this blog have been Googling “IMS” and such.

Practice Endurance vs. Performance

I’m at the point now, where I can practice (alone) for about 2 hour “straight”. Seeing as I’m just about ready to record a short 4-movement baroque sonata, I figured I should be able to play all movements from beginning to end. Uuuuhhhh, no! No such luck. I can do the 2nd movement, though loosing the musical character, and my face just blows out half way through the 3rd.

More endurance is definitely required for a performance than practice, when we stop and retake and rest in between. I suppose, then, that Cooper Wright’s advice was well given (see comment from here). Also, I’ve noticed that:

  1. when the mouth gets tired, the shoulders and hands tense up;
  2. when the arms gets tired, the face tenses up.

I don’t know if this is just me (because of fibromyalgia) or if it’s a general rule for everyone, but I think young musicians should pay attention to this.

IMS treatment, one month later

I am now seeing my physiotherapist every month instead of every 2 weeks. The last few times (still bi-weekly) the needles did not hurt anymore, hardly felt any twinges at all. But this time, the reaction was similar to approximately the 6th treatments… that is, not too much pain, but still a lot of reaction (sweats, soreness, fatigue). My physiotherapist was pleased to explain that it wasn’t because of more time between treatments, but because I had begun swimming and training: I am challenging my body and it is reacting to it. This is good because pushing the limits and treating the symptoms will help improve.

She did emphasize that blips between the notes when playing is bad news: it means I am not taking enough care of nerve mobility. My nerves are still constricted, so I need to do her exercises more. The exercises I presented in a previous post  are far, far, far too advanced for me. She said, if I can comfortably do those, I don’t need physio anymore! Winking smile However, the roller foam exercises for myofascial release are excellent and important. Now, I do those with a rolling pin where the huge roller can’t easily reach, and I have noticed more relaxation and control of the pedals when driving!

She fully agreed with the trainer at my gym that I should not work on building the body quite yet, rather, I should stretch muscle groups that are almost always problematic in people who sit at a computer (or reed making table). Once I have gained enough flexibility in the legs and nerve mobility in the arms, then my body will be able to build muscle mass without risking anything.

Sunday, July 17

Knife Sharpening, part 2 – Affûtage, 2e partie.

Physical Update
My shoulder, elbow and wrist are doing much better than last week: the flossing and reduction in speed of activity definitely helped. But I want to give one more week before recording the sonata…. IT’S HARRY POTTER’S LAST MOVIE THIS WEEKEND!
I still think the 1st was the best!
État physique en bref.
Mon épaule, coude et poignet vont beaucoup mieux: les exercises physiothérapeutiques et la réduction d’activité ont définitivement aidé. Mais je veux donner une autre semaine avant d’enregistrer la sonate…. C’EST LE DERNIER DE HARRY POTTER CETTE FIN-DE-SEMAINE!
Je pense toujours que le 1er était le meilleur!
The secret to good reeds:
It has become a common saying that: “The 2 secrets for good reeds are: 1. sharp knives, 2. sharp knives.” …. well, I would like to amend that to 4 secrets of good reed-making: 1. good cane, 2. sharp knives, 3. good cane, 4. sharp knives!
MANY oboists have witnessed that you can do almost anything to a good piece of cane and it will play well, no matter how badly you handle it (and there’s nothing to be done with a bad piece of cane). However, the devastation caused by an improperly sharpened knife is undeniable and once you’ve used a well sharpened knife, nothing else will do.
Le secret des bonnes anches:
C’est devenu monnaie courante de dire que le secrèt des bonnes anches est d’abord un couteau bien coupant et ensuite un couteau bien coupant! Je voudrais bien modifier en disant: 1. bon roseau, 2. bon tranchant, 3. bon roseau, 4. bon tranchant!

BEAUCOUP de hautboïstes attesteront qu’on peut faire presque n’importe-quoi avec un bon roseau et il jouera bien (à l’inverse, rien à faire avec un mauvais roseau). Par contre, le dommage causé par un couteau mal affilé est indéniable et lorsqu’on en a utilisé un bien affûté, rien d’autre ne fera l’affaire.
Click on the YouTube icon for full-sized video. Cliquez sur l’icône YouTube pour le vidéo à pleine-grandeur.
Bevelling a blade.
Sharpening a hollow-bevel knife.
Re-edge and fine-honing.
Get my free book here. Trouvez mon livret gratis ici.
The secret to sharp knives:
expensive stones!

Last time I only introduced stones and some knife designs, so here are the real demonstrations of sharpening. This technique is simple, basic, but used almost universally to achieve excellent results.  Depending on how badly the edge got rounded, it’s just a matter of progressing from a coarser stone to a finer one.
High quality (usually expensive) stones are a must. You get these stones from specialized woodworker shops, not your local hardware store. Cheap imitations just don’t do it and whatever miracle gizmo that comes out on the market has yet to prove reliability.
Le secret des bons couteaux:
les pierres dispendieuses!

La dernière fois, j’ai fait l’introduction des concepts de couteaux, alors voici les vraies démonstrations. La technique est simple, mais utilisée presqu’universellement pou obtenir les meilleurs résultats. Selon le degré de rondeur du bord coupant, il ne s’agit que de passer d’une pièrre plus rude à une pierre de plus en plus douce. 
Les pierres de haute haute qualité (habituellement dispendieuses) sont absolument nécessaires. Vous les trouverez dans les magasins spécialisés dans l’ébénisterie, pas votre caincaillerie du coin. Les imitations peuchères ne font simplement rien de bon et les bidules miracles qui arrivent sur le marché ont encore à prouver leur valeur.

Wednesday, July 13

Anniversary Recording + Knife Sharpening part 1

Last weekend marked 2 major milestones:
  1. Ten thousand visits to my blog:  really surprised and happy (71 countries)! Party smileThumbs up
  2. One year since I got my Lorée back from revoicing work at Teitelbaum Doublereed: and it still plays like a dream compared to before!
La fin-de-semaine dernière à marqué 2 étapes majeures:
  1. Dix mille visites à mon blogue:
    vraiment surpris (
    71 pays)! Party smileThumbs up
  2. Un an depuis le retour de mon Lorée de sa mise-à-niveau chez Teitelbaum Doublereed: et il demeure une merveille à comparer à avant son départ!
I was planning to celebrate by recording a full baroque sonata, but last week’s post explained that starting the gym and pool have backlashed with some disappointing results on the oboe. 2 weeks ago, there were no blips between the notes at all, now there are many. 2 weeks ago, I had more evenness and fluidity in technical passage than I ever had in my life, but beginning to work the muscles seems to have constricted my nerves and tensed my muscles and that fluidity is gone. Je comptais célébrer en enregistrant une sonate baroque complète, mais l’article de la semaine dernière a expliqué que débuter des activités au gymnase et piscine on entammé des résultats fâcheux. Il y a 2 semaines, belle fluidité technique sans entre-notes, maintenant, bien le contraire. L’écoulement des notes était sûrement meilleur que jamais auparavant, mais le travail physique semble avoir pincé des nergs et tendu des muscles de sorte à briser cette fluidité.
Actually, that sad story was last weekend, when I would have recorded the sonata. Since the weekend, I have been working with the roller foam, stretching machine and nerve flossing as per my physiotherapist, and things are looking much better, despite strain around the wrists and elbows. In fact, I am close to someone who has had severe arthritis in the spine and neck for many years. A few years ago, it was actually debilitating, but she undertook a lot of swimming and baths in salt water and has since recovered remarkably. In my case, I have to care for my nerve mobility before I can work out the arms, but her story echoes others I have encountered and so I am very encouraged. À vrai dire, cette histoire triste était la fin-de-semaine passée, quand j’aurais voulu enregistrer cette sonate. Depuis ce temps, je me suis entraîné avec un rouleau à masser, des machines à étirements et les exercices de ma physiothérapeute. Résultat, je me sens déjà mieux, malgré des serrements aux coudes et poignets.
Je suis proche de quelqu’un qui souffre d’arthrite sévère au dos et au cou. Il y a quelques annés c’en était débilettant, mais elle a entrepris la natation et les bains dans l’eau salée pour témoigner d’une récupération admirable. Dans mon cas, le problème est neuropathique, mais son histoire et celle d’autres reste encourageant.

Basic Knife Sharpening

Affûtage de base des couteaux

With any luck, next week I should be well enough to record the sonata to the best of my current abilities. In the mean time, I still read comments, questions and frustration over sharpening knives, so I thought it would be a good idea to present a few things.

Important: I use techniques for testing sharpness that can cause serious injury if done improperly. Do not do them without expert supervision! I accepts no responsibility of any kind for any incident resulting from misusing the information in the videos here included.

Avec un peu de chance, la semaine prochaine ira assez bien pour enregistrer cette sonate au meilleur de mes habiletés actuelles. Entretemps, je lis assez de commentaires, questions et frustrations au sujet de l’affûtage des couteaux que j’ai cru bon de faire quelques démonstrations.

Important: j’utilise des techniques pour vérifier la lame qui peuvent causer des blessures sérieuse si mal employées. Je n’admet aucune responsabilité d’aucune sorte en cas d’incident qui résulte de l’utilisation de l’information dans les vidéos ci-dessous.

These techniques are basic and you would be well advised to read more advanced references. Still, these are essentially all I do (progressing from coarser stone to smoother stone) to get my best results.

Ces techniques ne sont que la base et vous seriez bien avisés de lire d’avantage à ce sujet. Toujours est-il que c’est avec ces techniques (passant à des pierres toujours plus douces) que j’obtiens mes meilleurs résultats.
It turns out, even the basic considerations produced lots of videos, so I will only give half of them this time and the other time in another post. For a “crash-course” You can start with video [1], but the whole series should prove worth the time. Même si uniquement la base, les démonstrations ont fini par être assez nombreuses pour devoir les partager etnre deux articles. Pour un cours-éclair, passez au vidéo [1], mais la série entière devraît en valoir la peine.
Click the YouTube icon to see full size. Cliquez sur l’icône YouTube pour voir à pleine taille.

[0] Safety Concerns – Mise en Garde
[1] WRONG way explained.
[2] Intro. stones – pierres.
[3] Intro. knife design.
[4] Other stone, soft metal blade.

Wednesday, July 6

Physical update – exercise: a double-edged dagger

Last week my wife and I took an enrolment in a local gym+pool. An orientation session was a real revelation, but the results have not all been positive. In fact, evenness of note flow while playing is not as easy, my neck nerve is pulling again and I’ve started feeling that scratch around my wrist and back-of-hand again…. not good!

I had asked my physiotherapist if I was ready to start going to the pool and she said it was fine, but gave many restrictions on what I could do: essentially, no straining of the arms …. how do you move in the pool without using arm strength? I started with back crawl (that was too much) and then just walking while using the arms to move away the water…. still too much. And also, using the hot-tub seems to have worsened the neck-strains that cause headaches. I’ve been getting headaches much more frequently, not so painful, just so annoying normal daily activities are difficult.

On the positive side, the trainer explained why I have a “dip” in my lower back which bulges my belly and also what is increasing constriction on the sciatic nerves, which results in weak legs and sciatica. Essentially, having spent too many years doing mostly computer work and math sitting at a desk really wrecked it for me. Good news, this gym has special machines that increase the effectiveness of key stretching movements that would not work half as well at home, on the couch.

Work the nerves, not just the muscles!
The physiotherapist had given me really simple exercises to do from the very beginning. I had also been neglecting these from the very beginning, mostly because they appear so simple and it’s hard to immediately see the benefits. Here is a video that explains the process, what I had to do was only one: lye on my back with arms out to the side and raise/lower them – that’s all!

Now, with the resumption of pain and blips when playing, I think I better understand why she gave me these exercises.

On another positive note, I had been wanting to ask for (and need to pay for) IMS in the legs as well as in the arms because I had been complaining for over 20 years of weak, sore legs, despite my proficiency on a bicycle and alpine skiing.

Luckily, the gym trainer gave me other exercises that just might work better: IMS is for neuropathic problems, my legs might be simply muscular concerns. He showed my how to use foam rollers to essentially roll-out knots in my muscles like a rolling-pin on a pie-crust…… it HUUUURRRRRTS!!! just as bad as IMS! But apparently the pain stops as the muscles get better. Strangely, when my wife does the exercise, she feels no pain at all while I literally sob from it! But the strain in my calves is likely reducing the depth of my sleep, so fixing that is really important.

So, for the next week, I’ll pay more attention to what the physiotherapist said, do her exercises and concentrate on my legs at the gym. Hopefully, musical fluidity will return quickly.

Friday, July 1

Big Reed, Big Sound – À la taille de l’anche, l’ampleur du son!

Happy Canada Day! – Bonne Fête du Canada!

The real O Canada pour vrai!
We miss you Roger tu nous manque!
Those of us who are old enough to remember Roger Doucet and Hockey Night in Canada can never like any other version of the national anthem more. This is it! Ceux d’entre nous qui sommes assez vieux pour se souvenir de Roger Doucet à la Soirée du Hockey ne pourrons jamais aimer une autre version de l’hymne nationale!

Reed/Recording Surprize!

I think I discovered the secret to Albrecht Mayer’s amazingly big and playful sound…. HIS REEDS! Of course, the instrument does play a huge role, but here is why I think his reeds might have even more to do with it.

Surprise sur prise avec les anches!

Je crois avoir découvert le secret de la sonorité merveilleusement ample et joviale d’Albrecht Mayer… SES ANCHES! Bien sûr, l’instrument y joue un énorme rôle, mais voici pourquoi je pense que les anches y sont pour encore plus.
I was actually preparing some quick web-cam demonstrations of knife sharpening (fixing up the videos is longer than I expected), when I came upon this reed experiment completely by surprise. I took out a big reed that I decided to shorten a bit because I really hated the sound that came out of it: super-buzz! I couldn’t figure out why it was so buzzy even after backing-up the heart and chopping the tip 1.5 mm (resulting in a thicker tip). Surprize: when recording it, the playback was nowhere near as buzzy as what I heard when playing – even when placing the microphone in the worst possible position (in front and under the bell). The only thing I didn’t try was to reproduce the setup for my 1st recording in the dining-room. J’étais en train de préparer des petits vidéos avec ma web-cam sur l’affûtage des couteaux (les préparer prend plus de temps que je ne l’aurais cru), quand je suis tombé sur une expérience avec cette anche qui m’a carrément bouleversée. J’ai décidé de raccourcir cette anche parce que sa sonorité ultra nasillarde me rendait fou! Même reculer le coeur et enlever 1.5 mm (ce qui donne un bout plus épais) n’a pas aidé. Surprise: en enregistrant, l’écoute n’approchait nullement le buzz que j’entend en jouant; même en plaçant le micro à la pire des positions, devant et sous le pavillon. Seule position qui reste: dans la salle à dîner comme pour le 1er enregistrement.

Buuuzzzzzzz: what I hear
Mic in normal “best” position.
Really good crow.

Another thing, as I played more on it, the sound in the recording would get even better. It still sounds buzzy to my ears, though deeper and darker, but still buzzy. The crow is just plain fantastic! Almost perfect stability, I don’t need to use any compensatory fingerings at all on my Lorée. Une autre chose, plus je la joue, plus le son s’adoucit. Ça reste nasillard, mais plus rond et riche. Quand je fait crier l’anche, elle paraît simplement formidable! Stabilité presque parfaite, je n’ai besoin d’aucun doigté de compensation du tout sur mon Lorée.
The video on the left has the microphone in the worst place to show what I hear from the reed. The middle one has the microphone in the normal “best” place (on the table beside the instrument) and the one on the right is just a long crow. La vidéo de gauche met le micro au pire endroit pour montrer ce que j’entend de l’anche. Celle du milieu met le micro à la meilleure place (sur la table à côté de l’instrument) ce qui donne normalement le son le plus fiable. La vidéo de droite montre comment l’anche crie.

Projection Test

One thing noticed by some participants at the IDRS 2011 convention was that what the oboist hears locally can be radically different from “50 feet away” (at the back of the concert hall). I have no way to test this in my row-house. Maybe if I put the recording device in my front entrance and play in the basement TV room (very open stair case and dining area all the way). Such an experiment might yield interesting results…

Vérifier la projection sonore.

Une chose notée par quelques participants à la convention de l’IDRS 2011 est que ce que le hautboïste entend sur place peut être fort différent de ce que l’on entend “à 20m” (en arrière de la salle). Je ne sais pas comment vérifier cela dans ma maison-rangée. Peut-être si je mets l’enregistreuse à l’entrée et que je joue dans la salle de télé. au sous-sol (aire ouverte tout le long). Une telle expérience devrait se montrer révélatrice…