Thursday, February 16

Hautbois, cure-Miracle-cure Oboe

Blogger statistics has been showing people coming to this blog were looking for:

  • information on reed making, especially gouging machines
  • information on exercises to help sound and endurance
  • recording and music technology
  • pain conditions and treatment.

The topic I like to discuss the least is my own pain condition. After all, my oboe revival is the best medicine for me and the more I am musically active, the better I feel! Besides, over the past year and some, I have observed real improvement in many respects. So I don't want to present a sad story when the real story is encouraging!

But for the sake of all musicians, especially those of you who are on the verge of beginning a professional career, it is important that you understand them, because you are at high risk of living them yourselves. In my student days, I got tendonitis: it was one factor in my decision to quit music. But now I know that there were preventable reasons for my own problems, and others might benefit from this hindsight.

Les statistiques de Blogger montre que les visiteurs arrivent souvent suite à une recherche d'information concernant:

  • la fabrication des anches, surtout les machines à gouger
  • les exercices d'embouchure
  • l'enregistrement et et la technologie musicale
  • les conditions de douleur et leur traitement.

Ce que j'aime le moins discuter est ma collection de douleurs. Après-tout, ma renaissance hautboïstique est mon meilleur médicament et le plus je suis actif en musique, le mieux je me sens! De toute façon, depuis un an et quelque, j'aperçois une amélioration dans bien des sens. Je ne veux donc pas présenter une histoire triste: la vérité est encourageante!

Mais pour le bien des musiciens, surtout ceux d'entre vous qui entamez (ou presque) votre carrière professionnelle, il est important que vous compreniez que vous êtes à risque élevé de développer vous-même ces maux. Dans mes jours d'étudiant, j'ai eu la tendinite: ce fut un facteur décisif pour quitter la musique. Mais maintenant je sais qu'il y avait des causes sous-jacentes qui auraient pu éviter, et le monde peut bien bénéficier de mon expérience.

alljoints         physiotherapy_vancouver_silhouette          foamRollerButtocks

List of Complaints and Treatments

Liste de conditions et traitements

As I'm writing this, I realize there's enough material for a chronicle blog. Let's then just start with two lists: what's giving me trouble and what I can do about it. I'll give details about them in future posts.
    1.    FCFS : fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
    2.    DDD : disc degeneration disease
        (it's not a disease, it's a natural part of aging)
    3.    MF : myofasciitis and muscular shrinkage

DDD is a natural part of aging. Everyone who approaches the age of 40 likely has it, some more than others. The ugly thing is that not everyone suffers pain as a result and the degree of damage does not predict the degree of pain: in other words, some people can have bad cases and never suffer, some people can have moderate cases and have a hard time walking. Medical literature is at a loss to explain why.

Il m'est devenu évident qu'il y a assez de matière ici pour remplir une chronique. Commençons donc avec deux simples listes: ce qui me fait souffrir et ce que je peux en faire. Élaborations à venir dans les prochaines entrées.
    1.    SFFC : syndrome de fibromyalgie et de fatigue chronique
    2.    DD : dégénération des disques
        (fonction naturelle de l'âge)
    3.    MF : myofasciite et rétrécissement musculaire

Tout le monde qui approche l'âge de 40 aura sûrement une mesure de DD, certaines personnes plus que d'autres. L'énigme est que le degré de dégénération n'indique aucunement le degré de douleur. La science médicale ne sait expliquer, mais un cas moyen peut débiliter tandis qu'une personne atteinte d'un cas avancé peut ne jamais le savoir.

In Terms of Treatment

En termes de traitement


    1.    medication (pain relievers, neuro-inhibitors)
    2.    physiotherapy and other physical therapies
        => in particular IMS: intra-muscular stimulation
    3.    athletic activity and physical fitness
    4.    rest, relaxation and stress-relieving practices
    5.    very careful attention to diet and allergic factors

So far, the only real benefits have been from IMS, physical fitness and, very importantly, being as active a musician as I can be. In my case, IMS has not relieved fibromyalgia, but it has eliminated considerable pains in the arms and recurring headaches that were interfering with both my musical activity and my engineering career. IMS has allowed me to begin physical fitness, which is the best tool against fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue I have found yet.

   1.    médicaments (anti-inflammatoires, neuro-inhibiteur)
    2.    physiothérapie et autres thérapies physiques
        => en particulier la SIM
    3.    activité athlétique et maintien de la forme
    4.    repos, relaxation et réduction du stress
    5.    attention soignée la diète et aux facteurs allergènes
Jusqu'à maintenant, les seuls vrais résultats positifs viennent de la SIM, travailler la forme physique et, très important, rester aussi actif musicalement que possible. Dans mon cas, la SIM n'a pas réduit la fibromyalgie comme telle, mais elle a éliminé des douleurs considérables dans les bras et réduit le nombre de maux de tête cycliques qui ennuyaient sérieusement ladite activité musicale ainsi que ma profession d'ingénieur. La SIM m'a permis de recommencer à travailler la forme physique, ce qui s'est montré le meilleur outil contre la fibromyalgie et la fatigue chronique jusqu'à maintenant.


IMS is a patented Canadian form of treatment (Pointing up) that, because it really works, earned Dr. Gunn the 2 highest honours a Canadian citizen can possibly get. I is NOT an electric current to stimulate muscle activity. It is a stimulation of the body's own healing and growth mechanisms by scratching offending parts of the muscle with medical-acupuncture needles. It must be recommended by specially trained and certified professionals (doctors or physiotherapists).


La SIM est un traitement Canadien breveté (Pointing up) qui, parce qu'il fonctionne pour vrai, a mérité au Dr. Gunn les 2 honneurs les plus élevés dont un citoyen Canadien peut être décoré. Ce n'est PAS un courant électrique pour stimuler l'activité du muscle. C'est une stimulation des processus naturels de guérison et de croissance du corps utilisant des aiguilles de type acuponcture-médical. Ça doit être recommandé par un spécialiste certifiés (médecin ou physiothérapeute).

Wednesday, February 8

Adult Masterclass : Rebirth of the Phoenix!

Blogger statistics show that people have been searching for information about IMS and various pain-related questions. I’ll give an update on my progress next time and touch on why I think some people might consider the treatments don’t work, when in fact they do, to the extent they were intended to.

1942_GhostFrankenstein_img6Frankenstein’s demise foretells a new birth!

Early last year, I wrote a blog post (Frankenstein's First Steps) with a title that essentially forecasted my whole oboe year. I hope this post will do the same.

I started this blog roughly 8 months after beginning to practice the oboe with some regularity, having left it nearly untouched for 10 years … well doing an average of 30 minutes a month… The blog was to motivate me to practice more seriously and to track my physical hurdles. Other people had similar stories to tell and sharing them on other venues had proven really comforting and encouraging, so I thought this blog might prove interesting.

tumblr_ltro19D96K1qbbjxvo1_500During the 10 years of near abstinence, every time I picked-up the oboe produced mixed feelings:

  1. sheer joy and a feeling of breathing fresh air after having held my breath underwater (swimming in the heavy burden of math and software assignments)
  2. horrifying frustration at sounding as bad as a beginner, made much worse at remembering the recitals and concerts I did, including such difficult repertoire as Symphonie Fantastique and Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune.

By the time I started the blog, I thought my playing was decent for an amateur, but recordings left me feeling really embarrassed, again mostly for the memory of how I used to play. Now, a few weeks ago (a touch over a year into my blog or a year and a half into my oboe re-birth), I participated in a master class for adult amateurs and played the 1st movement of the Saint-Saëns sonata… and I did so believing I could pull it off without insulting music.
…This alone means I made some very decent improvement.

Adult Master Class – Lesson of the Phoenix!

250px-Phoenix-FabelwesenHuge credit is due to the organizers of the Ottawa Oboe Extravaganza. They had the incredible foresight and showed real community stewardship by inviting adult amateurs to play on stage to receive the tutelage of an excellent oboist, Susan Morris of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy. This activity really makes people feel like they belong to the musical world and it shows just how far one can get if we follow our dreams wholeheartedly.

It was only a week before the event I realized I could play in the master class. I was in the process of recording the last of 3 duets for 2 oboes by Nino Rota. So I only had time to practice excerpts from Petrushka, and only a little bit. On the night before the masterclass, I had to wait at the university for hours, so I found a spot to practice and a gut feeling told me to do something else: the Saint-Saëns would be a much better show off of my improvement in articulations and dynamics. I didn’t have the parts, but I had played it so much in the past that practicing from memory was not a problem.

masterClassContrary to Expectations

The masterclass started and adult amateurs ranging from the very beginner to the much more experienced than myself went on stage. About 30 minutes before my turn, a cold draft ignited muscle spasms in my neck and fibro-fog set in: I was mortified to go on stage. I went anyway because I had made such a fuss with Chip to go… it would be really bad to back down. Chip had participants explain our musical stories and the fibro-fog created such confusion I could hardly speak with any coherence at all.

So I started playing the 1st movement of the Saint-Saëns sonata. I would have expected notes to cack, articulations to fail, dynamics to freeze and so on… the usual! But instead, I was surprized that my slurring felt very smooth, my pp and ff dynamics seemed very distinct and solid and both the articulation and release of notes were in full control. Actually, even most of the rhythm and character was quite solid. What went berzerk was that nerves seemed to make me loose my embouchure, bite like a shark and therefore sound like tin can! … and naturally the fortissimo triplet arpeggios slipped and fell like Sandy Hill covered with freezing rain! (Ottawa winter applied to playing the oboe…)

This anxiety was very strange, because I never used to be nervous in concert…. at least, not enough to fear playing on stage. Exams and rehearsals used to mortify me, really intimidated about playing with my peers and betters. But public performance bliss usually trumped all anxiety.

Harry-Potter-And-The-Order-Of-The-Phoenix_novelMy next steps as a musician…

Here is where the Phoenix comes in. The legend says that, at the end of its life, the Phoenix bursts into flames and is reborn of its own ashes. Well, if I did crash-and-burn at that masterclass, I hope is was a fire ignited by my year of blogging (practicing and recording) and that it ended the dark silent now past. I hope it means that now I can be reborn of those ashes and perhaps begin a new musical life with possibilities that I am as yet too inexperienced to imagine.

I must imagine that my next steps, as a musician, would be to overcome the anxiety I felt at the masterclass and regain my former performance bliss. I suppose, then, that I need to meet people and find the proper ensemble in a setting suited to my profession as a software engineer.

If the Almighty wishes it, then it will be and the Phoneix will fly in a beautiful blaze, its tears with the power to heal and wings capable of carrying even my dreams into reality.

Saturday, February 4

Strasser Oboe and the Ottawa Oboe Event

I wanted to write a few words about my own experience at the master class for adults of the University of Ottawa Oboe event, but I really want to mention the following first.

University of Ottawa Oboe Event

Two weeks ago took place a small, but memorable happening: the “University of Ottawa Oboe Event”. This is the continuation of an annual event, previously known as the “Ottawa Oboe Extravaganza” and has traditionally been organized by Angela Casagrande and Gary Armstrong Woodwinds with the important help of either the University of Ottawa or le Conservatoire du Québec à Gatineau. This year, and I gather for the past few years, Chip Hamann has shown increasing involvement and this year, along with Gary, was able to secure the sponsorship of the University and Lorée oboes.

In terms of community stewardship, this event is top notch! Community in terms of assembling academic and professional circles from the National Capital Region (Ottawa and Gatineau) and also “ordinary everyday” citizens as both patrons and participants!

I met Angela a few years ago when she agreed to serve as “guinea pig” for a musical software project I had put together with my fellow engineering students. I must shamefully confess that I only recently met Chip (having been absent from any live concert for many years) thanks to common acquaintances.

chipHamannApart from her professional concert activities (including Musica Nova Ottawa) Angela is a teacher of oboe, sought after by students of all ages. She possesses a knack to help older people overcome the difficulties of the instrument and she has a reputation for adaptability with younger students.

Among many other musical activities, Charles “Chip” Hamann is principle oboe of the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO), professor of oboe at University of Ottawa. Being used to exaggerated marketing fluff, I took Chip’s NACO and University biographies with a grain of salt… but after this weekend and some e-mail correspondence, his dedication to music, people and the community have struck me as sincere and tireless! During the weekend, a connection between Chip and amateur participants was apparent.

Gary Armstrong, like myself, is a veteran oboist from le Conservatoire de Montréal. He has been operating a very successful business of sales and repairs of woodwind instruments for a good number of years now (he has a solid reputation for the difficult adjustment of the oboe). It was truly refreshing to converse with someone who knew the same professionals I did and could relate to the same stories! His collection of new and used oboes is unique for Eastern Canada, a real treasure: well worth making a trip to Toronto to try them! He changed a tennon cork and adjusted a few screws on my oboe: it played much better than before – on par with the work done by Laubin’s finisher!

This year, just because of scheduling constraints, the participation was not very big. But this actually helped create a very intimate and tightly-knit community event. Nonetheless, I highly recommend any and every oboe player of any calibre or activity to attend, at least as a spectator, and better yet as participants. A very open and enjoyable happening!

My Pick: Used Strasser Oboe

Christophe Patrix plays Bozza on a Strasser.

Two postings ago, I compared the oboes I tried at Gary Armstrong’s exhibit and I gave details mostly about the Lorées. The Lorée Royal and the Howarth XL are truly remarkable instruments. BUT, the single instrument that impressed me the most was the used Strasser (semi-pro line of Marigaux). The one I tried was old with really loose keywork: it had been marvellously re-padded and adjusted by Gary Armstrong such that the looseness had no impact at all on its response and technical fluidity.

I tried trick fingerings, bad embouchure and pulling out the reed half-way, the instrument always sounded really well! Choosing a Royal or XL would be a matter of taste, because the Strasser sounded easily a match! The entire range (up to altissimo A – two octaves above the staff) were very easy and fluid and blowing it was just comfortable, always a sensation of freedom with perfect stability. Responsiveness of articulation and dynamic range were just as good as the new Lorées and Howarths.

The video included is played on a current Strasser oboe: judge the sound for yourself! I still want to compare with the world’s most exclusive instruments, but so far I am really impressed with Marigaux!

Marigaux explained to me that Strasser is made by the same people and manufactured on the same principles as their actual Marigaux. The reason Strasser is a semi-pro is mostly due to missing keywork and some industrial secrets! Their current Strasser does have less hardware, but the one I tried (don’t know the age) only lacked the 3rd octave, mechanisms around the bell, perhaps the banana key, but not much else.