Monday, March 26

Sitting Career Death! – Assoyez la fin de votre carrière!


Blogger statistics is showing my previous post on pains caused by posture at the computer desk seems very popular. And I had promised more information on what I have learned on what can ruin your ability to play any instrument… but also how to recover from these pains.

Les statistiques Blogger montrent un intérêt accru sur mon article concernant les maux causés par la posture assise à l’ordinateur. J’ai aussi promis de traiter ce qui finir votre pouvoir de jouer d’un instrument… mais aussi comment revenir de ces maux.

I am not a health-care professional. Do not use the information in this or any other of my posts without consulting a professional in the medical field.

Je ne suis pas un professionnel des soins de santé. Veuillez consulter un professionnel du domaine médical avant d’utiliser l’information contenu dans mes articles.

In a previous article, I showed how posture at the computer desk can cause the body serious harm. This post will examine more closely how sitting down most of the day can wreck your musical career….. but also how simple care can prevent this from ever happening.

The following is an over-simplification to help understand how changes in posture due to life in the computer age can really harm the body. The damage can go unnoticed for years but it accumulates. A good physiotherapist can see it and show how to fix the trouble.

Dans un article précédent, j’ai montré comment la posture assise à l’ordinateur peut sérieusement nuire au corps. La présente examinera comment rester assis, pour la grande partie du jour, peut ruiner votre carrière musicale… mais aussi combien de simples précautions peuvent les prévenir.

Ce qui suit est une sur-simplification pour aider à comprendre comment fonctionne le corps et comment des modifications de la posture résultants de l’âge informatique peuvent vraiment endommager le corps. Le dommage peut rester innaperçu mais s’accumule. Un bon physiothérapeute peut voir les signes coureurs et vous montrer comment réparer les problêmes.

Emmanuel Pahud is probably the most prolific flute soloist since Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galloway. He plays in the Berlin Philharmonic with Hansjörg Schellenberger, principal oboist and also internationally acclaimed soloist.
Air is everything to woodwinds–posture is everything to air!

Emmanuel Pahud, sûrement le plus illustre flutiste depuis Jean-Pierre Rampal et James Galloway, joue dans la Philharmonie de Berlin avec Hansjörg Schellenberger, hautbois principal et soliste international.

In this video, they discuss together sound production and the importance of posture on the airstream. “Everything that involves [body] tension gets in the way of the air stream” – Pahud.

Dans cette vidéo, ils discutent la production sonore et l’importance de la posture sur le vent. “Tout ce qui apporte la tension [du corps] entrave le souffle” – Pahud (trad. libre)

When standing normally, the spine has a natural curve, but the overall effect is to keep the back straight. Many leg muscles have an effect on these. Muscles that lift the knees and pull back for walking are connected to the hips and spine. We are built to stand and walk, and so our muscles have a natural length. standingNormal

Debout normalement, la colonne a une courbe naturelle, l’effet final étant un dos droit. Plusieurs muscles dans les jambes contribuent à cela.  Des muscles qui lèvent les genoux et tirent derrière pour marcher sont connectés aux haches et à la colonne. Nous sommes construits pour nous tenir debout et marcher, donnant ainsi aux muscles une longueur naturelle.

When we sit down, some muscles that normally pull when standing are now stretched and loose their pulling strength. Others are relaxed and literally shrink over time. sittingEffects

En nous assoyant, quelques muscles qui tirent lorsque debout sont étirés et perdent leur force. D’autres se détendent et rétrécissent avec le temsp.

As a result of this stretching and shrinkage, when we stand up again, the spine is not supported correctly and the pelvis is pulled forward by muscles now shortened. The opposite muscles are too relaxed to compensate which means the belly is rounded forward. Nerves exit the spine in the back, so the extra roundness causes compression on nerves.
Over time, this irritates the nerves and can cause sever pain (e.g. sciatica) and loss of strength and muscular coordination. In fact, I started this investigation when I started loosing speed on the bicycle and tripping and falling when running to catch the bus… I was only 32 years old!

Par conséquent, lorsque nous nous redressons debout, la colonne n’est pas correctement soutenue et les hanches sont tirées vers l’avant par les muscles rétrécis.  Les muscles opposés, trop rallongés, font que le bedon courbe d’avantage. Des nerfs qui sortent de la colonne dans le bas du dos s’en voient comprimés.
Avec le temps, les nerfs en sont irrités causant des douleurs intenses (p.ex. le sciatique) ainsi que de la perte de force et de coordination musculaire. En effet, j’ai commencé cette recherche après une perte de vitesse à vélo et m’enfargeant lorsque je courait pour ratrapper l’autobus… je n’avais que 32 ans!

The only way to repair this, the only thing to do is stretch the shortened muscles (some of them are in the back and behind the legs) and  strengthen the loosened muscles. My physiotherapist told me it would take (in my own personal case) 3-4 months of stretching exercises for the muscles to become capable of stretching!

Otherwise, the only way to keep the back straight is to lean forward or walk with knees very bent (to angle the hips correctly). Of course, both are very tiring and can cause many other pains!


La seule façon de réparer est d’étirer les muscles rétrécis (quelques-uns sont dans le dos et en arrière des jambes) et renforcer les muscles détendus. Ma physiothérapeute m’a dit que ça prendrait (dans mon cas précis) de 3 à 4 mois d’étirement avant même que les muscles ne soient capables de s’étirer!

Autrement, garder le dos droit veut dire soit me pencher vers l’avant ou me plier les genoux (pour angler le bassin correctement). Bien sûr, les deux options sont épuisants et causent d’autres douleurs!

Correct posture has an enormous impact on our musical breathing. There is a natural position for the arms with the shoulders resting backwards and downwards. This will cause the neck to be straight, the eyes high and the head high. standingShouldersGood

Une bonne posture a un impact majeur sur la respiration musicale. Les bras ont une position naturelle avec les épaules basses et vers l’arrière. Ceci favorise un cou droit avec les yeux et la tête haute.

Spending too much time with arms in front of the body (see here) can cause the back muscles to lengthen and the chest muscles to shrink. The head begins to look downward and this causes the back neck muscles to strain (ending in headaches!).

Visibly, this constricts proper breathing and can lead to pain in the shoulders and neck.

Passer trop de temps avec les bras devant le corps (à lire) peut causer les muscles du dos à rallonger et ceux de la poitrine à rétrécir. La tête commence à baisser vers l’avant, causant ainsi une tension dans les msucles du cou (et des maux de tête!).

Visiblement, ceci entrave la bonne respiration et fini en douleur dans les épaules et dans le cou.

Finally, shoulders are connected to the neck. The shoulders therefore have a big impact on tension headaches because neck muscles can cause compression on many nerves. playingShouldersRelaxed

Enfin, les épaules sont reliées au cou. Par conséquent, les épaules jouent un rôle majeur dans les maux de tête puisque les muscles tirent sur le cou, comprimant ainsi plusieurs nerfs.

These nerves also control the arms and wrists. VERY often, pain in the wrists is actually caused by tilting the head and raising the left shoulder.

These also cause a twist in the back that causes degeneration of the vertebrae. Resulting compression on lumbar nerves causes pain and bad coordination in the legs.

I have pictures in my young 20s that essentially prophecy the headaches and arm troubles and leg pains I have today!

Les nerfs sortants du cou contrôllent aussi les bras et les mains. TRÈS souvent, la douleur ou la fatigue dans les poignets commencent par une tête inclinée et une épaule levée.

Ces dernières causent aussi une torsion dans le milieu du dos qui accélère la dégénération vertébrale. La compression sur les nerfs lombaires causent des douleurs et mal-coordination des jambes.

J’ai des photos de moi dans ma jeune 20e qui font prophécie des maux de tête et problèmes de bras et de jambes que je vis aujourd’hui!

Prevent the conditions from ever happening:

Have-fun and enjoy what your body is capable of doing: do sports! This includes dancing and hiking-camping. Athletics are not barbarous murderers of the arts!
I was very pleased that the gym at University of Ottawa attracts people both fat and fit and. People are encouraging and celebrate victories: a fat person who increases endurance by 5 minutes accomplished more than an athlete who lifts 100 pounds! Trainers are very eager to use their knowledge in human kinetics to help you become better musicians!

La Prévention vaut mieux que la guérison!
Amusez-vous dans le plaisir de ce que le corps peut faire: faites du sport! Ceci inclus la danse et le plein-air. L’athlétisme n’est pas barbare meurtrier des arts! J’ai été ravi de voir au gymnase de l’Université d’Ottawa du monde de toutes tailles: tout le monde encourage tout le monde et on prend plaisir à la réussite de ses buts: une grosse personne qui augmente de 5 minutes son endurance a mieux réussi qu’un athlète qui lève 50kilos!
Les entraîneurs sont éprouvent une grande lorsqu’ils appliquent leurs connaissances à vous aider à devenir de meilleurs musiciens!

What NOT to do:

The “Roman Chair”, military sit-ups and such strengthen and shorten the muscles that caused the problem in the first place!


À ne PAS faire:

Cet appareil et les redressements-assis de style militaire renforcent et raccourcissent les muscles qui ont causé le problème!

Tuesday, March 20

Gracias a la vida para el oboe - Obrigado música Caraíbas!

It turns out the fatigue spell mentioned in the last blog post was nothing more than the onset of a normal every day cold.... not even a bad one! I took 2 days off from work mostly so I would not give it to anyone else - also couldn't play oboe for most of the week, but no harm done!

Sizzling music for hot times!

Brazilian Oboe & Guitar!
This past weekend was the hottest March weekend in memory of everyone I know who has lived in Eastern Canada in the past 75 years. The thermometer showed 26*C and the very rapidly melting snow shot the humidity up to near 90%... very uncomfortable!

So to celebrate the quick arrival of Spring in Ottawa and to honour the very many Portuguese and Spanish friends, here is a little something from a sizzling Minus One collection! SpainPortugalMy apologies if the performance style is reflects my love for Canadian Winters: I can only hope to grow the warm heart of Spanish and Portuguese speaking people!

south_america_countries_FLAGSI'm amazed at how many Faccebook Friendship requests and Twitter Followers I have gotten from Central and South-America, Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese and Spanish cultures are different, but from my French & English-Canadian musical perspective, they both share and offer together a wonderful set of styles including Samba, Tango, Rumba, Bossa-Nova and so on. Collectively, these are usually known as "Latino" or "Caribbean" and they are a real treat to play and hear: full of the enjoyment of life. I used to play these styles a lot in the Army Bands for concerts and Mess-Dinners: they were a favourite of the audience because they are so lively and promote good feelings when dozens of military officers (of very different personalities and career objectives!) would get together for drinks, supper and presentations.

central-americaI am also very much impressed by the musical activity, amateur and professional in the Caribbean and South America. Classical culture seems to be strongly promoted in high-school and as a part of everyday life. Of course, I only see what is available through Facebook and You-Tube and I have no idea how these are funded or managed, but I have to wonder if they might be doing much better than us over here!... then again, I am very likely not aware of everything we are doing here either!


Saturday, March 10

Engineering my life out of a musical coma.

Again, I really don't like to discuss my troubles, but I hope this will be useful to someone.

In at least one previous post, I mentioned that my pains can happen to pretty much anyone and that they are mostly due to preventable causes. Here is the part that is not for everyone, for which prevention is not known, and I really don't wish it on anyone.

mythical_phoenixI was really excited to go to a concert this evening featuring a fantastic oboist. But as supper time rolled around, I was overtaken by a fatigue of the kind that makes it hard to watch TV. Compare it to drinking too much beer or wine, when you get to that point where it seems your mind is fully engaged but the body just collapses on the couch, barely able to sit up straight. (On the bright side, this fatigue has no drunken sickness or throwing up the morning after! Rolling on the floor laughing) I decided that driving 30-45 minutes to get there and then the same later at night to get back was too risky for me either falling asleep at the wheel or just doing a really bad manoeuvre.

I had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue near the age of 14 and I remember suffering from it as young as the age of 7. One classmate from college had it: he started a course of diet and physical fitness and he became a new man in a matter of weeks. For me, nothing has ever worked except that vitamins help against depression. I think this is at the root of an easily ignited anger in my 20s.  With the passing years, it is getting worse, but in a way that I don't have the strength to get angry anymore. It seems to react strongly to weather changes... this spring, the temperature has been changing by as much as 20*C in just one day... and then changing back as much the next.

Mind Over Matter – Divine Guidance

The single best treatment for me is anything that increases self-esteem and feeling victorious or meritorious in any way. Pursuing computer engineering was a double-whammy because:

  1. phoenixFromTheAshes_cropit broke through walls of despair from empty prospects after quitting music and realizing teaching was not for me
  2. the mathematical skills and systematic mind-frame were very difficult for me to adopt, but I soldiered-through and succeeded where I predictably should have failed.... you cannot imagine my pride at getting a B+ in multivariate calculus (triple integrals, MacLaurin equivalences etc.)!

There is no overestimating the sense of accomplishment at my having obtained a Master's degree in Engineering! Nonetheless, I felt like a defining part of me was in a coma; so when my wife bought me our digital piano, it felt like a full pardon given to a prisoner about to be executed - I had tears in my eyes for a week! Now, reviving the oboe life is just as important as the engineering degree. This makes my physical obstacles all the more frustrating.

This is where directing me to software engineering is Providence in action: my job is walking distance from home and I am still mentally capable of performing complex tasks... it's mostly my body that becomes listless: to say wet rag is no exaggeration. My fingers and feet tingle as if blood flow slowed in half. So sitting in an office chair, performing computer work is about the best thing I can do.

Wednesday, March 7

Reed Opening – Ouverture des anches

Happy International Women’s Day!

To celebrate, the super-spectacular photographer JiJi (my wife) is offering a very special promotion of her acclaimed work!
(Click to find out more.)

Joyeuse journée internationale de la femme!

En hommage, la photographe extra-sensationnelle JiJi (mon épouse) offre une promotion très spéciale de son oeuvre louangé!
(Cliquez pour en savoir plus.)

Work Before Play…

Software Engineers have a reputation of working long late hours. When I get home, I insist on doing 30-45 minutes of oboe, but with supper and the dogs, there’s no time left at all to do anything whatsoever…. my 8-9 hours sleep being vital to coping with fibromyalgia.
Boulot avant dodo…

Les ingénieurs logiciel ont la réputation de travailler de longues heures. Quand j’arrive à la maison, j’insiste faire mes 30-45 minutes de hautbois, mais après le souper et m’occupper des chiens, il ne reste plus aucun temps pour rien… mes 8-9 heurs de sommeil étant vitaux pour contrer la fibromyalgie.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of spending time with part of the oboe class at University of Ottawa and then chat a bit with their teacher and principal oboe of the NACO, Charles “Chip” Hamann (fantastic player!). We discussed reed construction and preferences and I was really surprized at how open-minded he is: in my own experience, I had found that oboists in Canada and USA are very rigid in their views. Chip explained to my that his teacher, the renowned Richard Killmer of the Eastman school, was very flexible on matters of reed and performance styles insisting on the important issues rather than details of personal preference…..
                     BRAVO to both of you!
En fin de semaine dernière, j’ai eu le plaisir de passer du temps avec quelques étudiants en hautbois de l’université d’Ottawa et de jaser un peu avec leur prof., Charles “Chip” Hamann, le hautbois principal de l’Orchestre du CNA (excellent interprète!). Nous avons discuté des anches, leur construction et nos préférences et j’ai été fort surpris de son ouverture d’esprit, étant habitué au dogmatisme à cet égard chez les canadiens et américains. Chip m’a expliqué que son prof., le célébré Richard Killmer de l’école de Eastman, était très flexible, se concentrant surtout sur les questions importantes en matière d’interprétation et de style….
BRAVO à vous deux!
uologochipHamannrichardKillmer_crop evolution_meliora
Chip looked at my reeds (essentially French Hybrids) and remarked they are not so different from his (fully Philadelphia). But one thing he remarked on was the opening and the separation of the blades. Well, I don’t perform in front of hundreds of people every week, so I can afford to experiment more. In fact, the opening can be misleading depending on how it is soaked, and I like it more open so it will keep it’s “bounce” when it does close after the warm-up. Chip a regardé mes anches (grosso-modo françaises hybrides) et a remarqué les ressemblances avec les siennes (pleinement américaines). Mais une chose qu’il a noté est l’ouverture et la séparation des lames. Enfin, je ne joue pas devant des centaines de personnes à toutes les semaines, alors je peux me permettre d’expérimenter. Mais l’ouverture peut donne fausse-impression selon son trempage et sans une bonne ouverture, elle peut perdre son esprit après avoir joué quelques minutes.
Opening vs. Separation vs. Sealing,
Curvature vs. Flatness

Opening means how far the blades are apart while keeping their curvature. Separation usually means the cane tube (canon) was not split to ensure flatness of the cane back. Separation does not air leaks, which are usually due to poor shaping and/or bad binding (tying). A flattened tip is when the blades loose their oval curve.

Sealing is really important as air leaks will most certainly mean bad notes in the bottom register, bad articulation and bad dynamic control. Air leaks are usually gaps between the blades closer to the thread. Gaps higher up are either separation, flawed shaping or simply poor cane.

I have a few reeds with very separated blades that play so well (after a good warm-up) that I insist on keeping them even though they look absolutely horrible.
Overture vs séparation vs. étancheté
Courbure vs. applati

L’ouverture décrit la distance entre les bouts lorsque la forme ovale est bonne. La séparation des lames veut dire que le roseau en canon n’a probablement pas été fendu de manière à assurer un dos plat. La séparation n’oblige pas les fuites d’air, qui sont souvent le résultat de taillage et/ou ligatturage inadéquat. On parle d’anche applatie quand le bout perd sa courbe. 

L’étancheité est importante parce que les fuites vont très sûrement échouer les notes dans le grave et enfreindre l’articualtion et les nuances. Les fuites sont plus souvent des trous entre les lames plus près du fil. Les fuites plus haut que la mi-anche indiquent souvent un taillage inadéquat ou simplement de mauvais roseau.

J’ai quelques anches avec des lames très séparées qui jouent pourtant très bien après quelques minutes de réchauffement (et un bon trempage). Elles sont laides comme tout, mais j’insiste de les garder.


The reed above is the experimental reed described in a previous post (Pointing up). This one is not one of the good reeds that separate, but it gives the best pictures.Winking smile(Click on a picture for a bigger size.)

Its opening looks very wide open, but if the blades did not separate, perhaps it would be just right. Because it is made with an oboe d’amore shape on a huge oboe staple, it is difficult to know if the separation is due to curvy cane or if there is a pivot causing it. At any rate, there are no leaks as the binding is just right: when I put the reed in my lips, the separation closes and the seal is excellent.
L’anche ci-dessus est l’anche expérimentale décrite dans un article passé (Pointing up). Elle ne compte pas parmi les bonnes anches qui séparent, mais elle donne les plus belles photos. Winking smile (Cliquez sur une image pour la voir en plus grand.)

L’ouverture paraît très grande, mais si les lames ne séparaient pas, elle serait peut-être juste bonne. Puisqu’elle est taillée pour hautbois d’amour et attachée sur un très gros tube pour hautbois, il devient difficile à savoir si la séparation est causée par un roseau courbé où s’il s’agit d’un pivot. Dans tous les cas, aucune fuite d’air une fois entre mes lèvres.
Storm cloud  Weather! Island with a palm tree Effects on Opening  Lightning

Hot, humid summer days tend to open reeds and exaggerate the separation, but the blades keep their nice curved aperture. This makes the crow much lower notes, but not necessarily harsher. So both tuning and stability are really compromised.

Dry cold days tend to flatten the blades’ aperture but the reed also tends to close. Apart from making the reed buzz, stability just goes crazy. The pitch can be good, but dynamics become really restricted. Oddly, it does not help close separation at all.
Storm cloud Météo! Island with a palm tree effets sur l’ouverture Lightning
Le temps chaud et humide tend à ouvrir les anches et à exagérer leur séparation, mais les lames comme telles gardent leur courbure. Leur cri donne des notes bien plus basses, mais pas nécessairement plus rauque. Par conséquent, la justesse et la stabilité en sont fort compromises.

Le temps froid et sec tend à applatir le bout des lames et fermer l’ouverture. À part rendre le son très nazillard, la stabilité part en peur. Le centre de justesse peut être bonne, mais les nuances sont grandement restreintes. Étrangement, le sec ne semble pas réduire la séparation.
Opening, Separation and Embouchure

One can imagine that separating blades and open reeds mean a firmer embouchure is required and the mouth gets tired faster. However, I have found that fatigue in the lips usually comes with reeds that don’t crow the lower tones: they don’t preserve their harshness evenly as I crescendo/diminuendo. This is usually the case with reeds that close too much in the back (or simply of poor cane).

My good reeds that open and separate (the reed pictured above might become one if I work on it) keep an evenly harsh crow. When well soaked, they will close after a few minutes warming-up and then play well for as long as I can play.
Ouverture, séparation et embouchure

On peut imaginer que la séparation des lames et les anches ouvertes exigent une embouchure plus dûre et fatigue la gueule plus vite. En fait, j’ai trouvé que la fatigue vient avec les anches qui ne crient pas les notes graves ou qui ne gardent ps leur aspect rauque avec les nuances. C’est habituellement le cas des anches trop fermées en arrière (où simplement de roseau inadéquat).

Mes bonnes anches qui séparent (l’anche ci-dessus pourrait en devenir une si je la travaille) gardent un son rauque constant en les faisant crier. Lorsque bien trempées, elles ferment après quelques minutes de réchauffement et jouent bien pour le reste de ma répétition.