Sunday, August 21

Reed Season! – New Repertoire.

Physical update first:

Because my physiotherapist is on vacation, I’m actually skipping a month of treatments. Increased activity at the gym is a mixed blessing: I do feel generally more awake, but I do get extra sore the morning after. Every fitness and therapy person I speak to agree that it’s a matter of doing too much too fast. Right now, I can’t do much in the pool and too much time in the hot tub appears to seize my neck muscles resulting in passing headaches and pinched nerves.

Oboe-wise: my fingers are feeling great! I don’t get the fatigue and the soreness in the fingers themselves anymore (“Mashala”, as they say: “God made it so!”). These past few days, however, I’ve been getting those twinges in the forearm and shoulder that remind me of tendonitis. They are not tendonitis, I’m sure, but either a pinched nerve in the neck or a few tight muscles. I know this for sure because my fingers are playing just as smoothly as they have in these past few months, which is more than ever in my best days.

Reed Season:

I’m starting to think that there is something special about the end-of-summer / beginning-of-autumn season for reeds. In the past couple of weeks, my reeds have been much easier to make than usual and showing clearly if they are good or bad; that is, a bad reed shows it has no hope so I can break it without regret and the good ones clearly show what they need to become their best. My reeds have also been sounding generally better than usual…. that is, they can sound bright or dark, but there is no doubt as to their character.

I have recently made excellent reeds on rainy days, so the notion of sunny days are necessary to making good reeds is now demolished. However, this is pretty much the opposite season to February, which typically gives the worst sounding and behaving reeds. So I think the notion of seasons and climate is well evidenced.

New Repertoire: copy-cat or comparison?

I received a shipment of Music Minus One (MMO) material last week. I got some really good baroque repertoire for oboe, recorder and flute (fluteAltissimothat will all be played on the oboe) and discovered a baroque composer I did not know before: Veracini. I also got some straight-forward jazz and Brazilian repertoire for flute. These will be interesting because they really use the high register of the flute. I will need to practice note in the following range:

Telemann, Son. G-Dur mvt.1
Included in that shipment is a collection of Telemann duets for flute with no continuo. The MMO CD has a flutist playing flute 2, but the sheet music has both parts. I thought it might be nice to record some of these with the flute on CD and with myself playing both parts. By Murphy’s law, someone had done this and posted it on the BBoard! That someone is Craig Matovich, whom I respect quite a lot as an oboist and as a person: we disagree on some aspects of reed making and tooling, play very differently, but we share many ideals including:
  1. Telemann, Son. G-Dur mvt.2
    Pursuing oboe performance for the sheer joy of it to spite any difficulties.
  2. Using technology as an ensemble when we can’t get people to play with.
  3. Sharing our experience in the hopes it benefits and/or encourages others.
  4. Exploring classical, world-folk, jazzy and fusion of musical styles.
  5. Telemann, Son. G-Dur mvt.3
    The love of music and life overall and hope for peace, understanding and caring in the world.

I had intended to work on another sonata, but Craig agreed that it might be interesting to compare the same work with our different sounds and styles. I personally think he did a remarkable set of recordings. So while I prepare for mine, here they are his. His knowledge, experience and tooling (hardware and software) are far superior to mine, but still accessible to the amateur home-producer.

Mental obstacles to technique

Reading through these have been very enlightening in terms of how my body reacts to technical passages. I know from my old repertoire that my technical abilities are decent… for example, I have shown in a previous post that I can paly Telemann sonatas well enough. But when I read a new Telemann piece that is of equal technical skill, I fail miserably. I observed that my mistakes mostly come from 2 mental processes:

  1. Expecting notes and rhythms that are not actually what is written.
  2. Not knowing what to expect and therefore fumbling at every note grouping.

So, improving technique for me, at least in baroque repertoire, is essentially training the mind more than the fingers. I have to see if the same is true with Saint-Saëns, Poulenc and others.

Saturday, August 6

Reflections on Telemann – Home Acoustics

A week has passed now since I posted my recording of Telemann’s Sonata in A minor for oboe and I have received kind compliments, thank you so much!

After listening to it over and over again, there are a few remarks that should be made:

  1. Obviously, I still need more stability, especially on that 1st octave-key E-natural. My dynamics are inhibiting the tuning, but they are supposed to help each other out. I hope that a few more months of practice will take care of that. Although the hot humid weather did affect my reed, I cannot blame it nor my Lorée as both were definitely good enough for the task.
  2. There are some very strange sound effects happening – on my word, I did not tweak the oboe part with software! – and a little acoustic analysis might help explain them.
  3. As for stability of rhythm… yep, needs work… let’s just not talk about it!

Interpretation style:

The original Ensemble Arion.
Over 15 years ago, I had the immense privilege of being taught by 2½ members (the 3rd was a coach at a master-class) of the Ensemble Arion: one of Canada’s most pioneering ensembles that really ushered-in baroque performance practice on replicas of period instruments. These remarkable musicians, extraordinary teachers passionate about their work and simply really fine people flourished into what is now the Arion Baroque Orchestra.

The Ensemble Arion practiced one type of baroque interpretation they retrieved from their research-teachers in Europe during the 1970-80’s (I think it was this time). They emphasise the discordant notes and the rhythms in motion rather than the destination/resolution notes. They once said in a master-class that Baroque music savours the musical journey whereas Romantic music must emphasise the ends of phrases because they’re glad it’s over! Winking smile Yes, they got huge laughter and applause! Thumbs up  This is how I approached the first and last movements in the sonata. The two middle movements sort of told me how they wanted to be played.

Home Acoustics: be careful!

In the few weeks preceding this recording, I had found that playing in the dining area gave a more living sound than cooped-up in my dry muffled studio. In my first few recordings, where I placed the microphones adds buzz and makes the sound ridiculously bright. But I found that as long as I keep it beside me, one microphone pointing at me, the other one backwards, then the recorded sound is truthful. However, the dining area (open to the kitchen, the entrance, the living room and even to the floors above and below) has its own quirks.

  1. In the 2nd movement (especially), there are really parts that sound like 2 oboes are playing in unison.
  2. There are places I moved my body closer to and farther away from the microphone in order to emphasise crescendi and diminuendi…. this backfired making the fortes sound muffled and the dolces sound harsh.

For the double-sound, I really think it has to do with the echo and the double-microphone (stereo) used by my recording device. Possibly (but I’m not certain), when compressing the stereo oboe track into a mono track to have the piano sound more to the left and the oboe sound more to the right, the software I used might have accentuated that echo that I did not hear when plugging my head-set into the recording device directly.

townHouseRecSetup townHouseEcho_1 townHouseEcho_2

The first image shows where I chose to set-up my recording device. It is to the side of the oboe with one microphone pointing backwards because experimentation showed that this prevents buzz and gets the most realistic sound from my instrument. The two other images show potential sources of echo where the 2 microphones might have actually bee recording different sources.

The issue of the dynamics is much easier to explain: the microphones were lying flat on a table and I was standing very close to that table:tableAcoustics

  1. We naturally want to move closer to the microphone to make fortes stronger and move away to soften dolces. But the top image shows that in my setup, the exact opposite happened: turning towards meant the table blocked a lot of the sound and turning away meant the entire room bounces even more sound to the microphone.
  2. When breathing-in, fully using the diaphragm and abdomen makes my back bellows which naturally curves me downwards. So the most powerful fortes puts my bell below the table… crescendo broken!

There are other issues: the microphone too far adds buzz to the sound, but too close gives a stuffy sound with all the key-clicks and other sounds the audience should not hear. So more experimentation with home acoustics is definitely required!