Wednesday, October 19, 2011


First-time adventures in writing my own cadenzas.

I've decided I'm going to add tag-lines at the beginning of these posts, in case that seemed weird.  You know, so when I post the link on facebook, the first sentence that shows up under the title isn't about blueberry muffins or something....

So tonight, I finished writing out very nice-looking copies of the first drafts of my first attempts at cadenzas for the Mozart concerto, movements 1 and 2.  (I'll write one for 3 in the next few days.)  It was actually a lot of fun!  I definitely kept in the spirit of the game that I wrote about last entry.  At the beginning, I went to Blair in order to finish these cadenzas, work on reeds, and maybe practice a little.  Old mindset would have been worrying about reeds while working on the cadenzas and mangling reeds while frustrated I didn't have enough time to practice today.  New mindset said I have to write these cadenzas at some point, and if it takes a little longer tonight and I don't get to the oboe, that's OK.  Originally I was going to do them over fall break because I "wanted to have a lot of time" to do it, but I've come to realize that isn't the best mentality, and I can do just as good of a job in the middle of a school week as during a four day break.  I have to manage time according to quality of product, not quantity.

Well, about the cadenzas!  I got the part about deconstructing the themes into motives and piecing them together in interesting ways.  And I had a lot of fun snaking around different key areas.  The most difficult part for me was writing a "virtuosic" part - basically, interestingly noodley sequences.  Noodle, noodle.  I asked Professor Ploger about it, and today in Musicianship, we talked a little about sequences. She gave us a Bach Fugue (WTC Eb Major) to analyze and basically suggested that we will learn how to write best from studying fugues and written cadenzas and playing around with it ourselves.  So, I actually did give myself the time to just play around with chords and discover things for myself (learning-oriented) instead of allotting time to write the cadenza (product-oriented).  This afternoon, before embarking on my cadenza expedition, I analyzed the fugue in great detail - blue for statements of the subject, yellow for countersubject, and then identified how the motivic fragments played themselves out in the episodes (with more colors!  Green, orange, purple, grey!).  I also did a general harmonic analysis and a very specific one when it came to the sequences.  I learned SO much from doing that!  The noodley parts in my Mozart cadenzas are very Bach Eb Major Fugue inspired...

The other major difficulty I had was writing the cadenza for the second movement.  I found it to be a lot more challenging that for the first movement, primarily because the technique I used to modulate in the first cadenza is inextricably embedded in the melody of the second movement.  That doesn't seem to be too clear, I might just end up babbling nonsensically about this...but for example...I want to take the descending motive "la sol fa mi re do#"....well, what exactly do I change?  The melody already did a rather suave move from fa major to re harmonic minor.  So I ended up with a lot more embellishment, jumping octaves, and less harmonic adventure, but I'm still pleased at how it turned out.  The sequence is kinda nifty that I used because I actually come back to sol harmonic minor in a different way than I left it...

So, they aren't masterpieces, of course, but I am so proud that my first attempts turned out so nicely!  Can't wait to write the third movement's.  I know they'll be good, because I'm looking forward to some ingenious feedback from Professor Ploger and Professor Hauser.  Maybe I will show them to Dr. Rose as well...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Excerpt Hat and Other Magic Tricks

I have devised a fun, new element to add to my daily practice. I wrote down all of the excerpts I'm working on/want to keep fresh on little slips of paper. I didn't count, but looking back I'd estimate around 25. Well, my original idea was to put them in a hat, but I didn't have a proper hat in the reed room (even though there is actually a box of hats in there, but no suitable hats for pulling rabbits out of). Instead, I folded the slips of paper and put them in one of the wine glasses from that time we played the Schwantner in orchestra. Uh, the piece involved the oboists playing pitched wine glasses, you know, filling them with a certain amount of water and then gliding a finger around the rim to make squealy ringy noises.

Okay, back to the magic excerpt hat. Er, wine glass. Magic Excerpt Wine Glass. The plan is that every time I sit down to a new practice session to pick a slip of paper, solfege the excerpt first, then give myself one chance to play it really well. And then move on. If I'm unhappy, I can practice it later of course, but part of the exercise is to really ask myself to play it well straight away, not allowing myself to practice hard bits first or play with a metronome first. Allllsooo, if anyone walks into the reed room or knocks on the door, I will ask them to pick an excerpt from the Magic Excerpt Wine Glass and then perform it for him or her.

You know what that means. If you're a Blair student, you should knock on the door if you're passing by and ask me for an excerpt!!! It'll only take 3 minutes or less, and if you have to run, you don't have to stay and listen! I may put a sign on the door inviting passersby in...

So another big thing I've been thinking about - particularly with all the exercises we do in musicianship, but also really with everything I enjoy doing - reading, practicing, etcetera - what it was/would have been like to do those things as a child. I dwell on this mostly because of how frustrating many of the exercises in musicianship are. It's already frustrating when I have a hard time getting the hang of something, but it is aggravated by my knowledge that if I were 3 or 5 or 6 and doing the same thing, it would be no effort at all to become fluent in the same concepts on the same level. I don't remember anything ever being difficult for me as a little kid. I either chose to learn something or I chose not to. For the longest time, I thought learning how tell time was really dumb and useless, and so refused to learn how. Same for learning how to read music...clearly got over that at some point.

Funny how one of those things that I refused to learn, I think, is standing way in the way of getting back to the me who refused to learn it: time. Wanting to get back to a mode of learning that is nothing but sheer fun, I have been asking myself what the differences are between how I approach things now and how I approached things then. Maybe these differences seem obvious to you, dear readers, but addressing it has really illuminated much in my own mind.

Childhood learning is pure play. It's characterized by a complete absorption in the moment and the task at hand with full value placed solely on doing for the sake of what is being done, as opposed to for the sake of achieving a long term goal or satisfying a requirement. There is no sense of (here are some extreme examples) "if I can't play this excerpt perfectly, I'll never get a job" or "it's so embarrassing that I've been in music school for four years and can't read this rhythm correctly the first time" or "i've got to read this book by tomorrow for philosophy class, i need to know the terms right now, i'll think about them later" or "i don't have time to practice (spends half hour of practicing thinking about the looming philosophy paper)."

Basically, in all the memories I have of myself learning as a child, I had no inner talking. No self-conscious criticism. The learning is done purely for the self, not for a teacher, a grade, acceptance into a conservatory, or to get a job. I'm not saying we are always thinking this way or only thinking this way. Actually, I'm not saying anything about "we" at all. Just talking from my own experience. I certainly do things I love for myself, but they are always colored by the ten million other things I am conscious of having to get done or the reasons why I have to be doing this specific thing now and what I'm doing it for. Even sometimes when I read for fun it seems that I'm doing it more because of the idea that I like reading more than I am actually enjoying the reading at hand in the moment.

As a child, I played, and accidentally learned while doing so. I remember reading, making a big chart of the multiplication tables and finding patterns, playing drawing games with my mom, writing stories, all without any regard for it "being good for me" or "making me smarter" or "making my future better." When I learned to read, it was practically an accident. Zero awareness of needing to learn how to read in order to be accepted as intelligent in the culture I was born in, or needing to learn how to read so that some day I could get into college. It was just something fun that I was doing. And with that kind of approach, I learned to read, which is now, I feel it is safe to say, my strongest skill out of every learned skill I have.

I don't know exactly how to communicate what I'm trying to say. I don't mean for it to seem like I'm always doing tasks as a mercenary for something or someone else. But in comparison to what it was like to be a child, I am. I feel like most people probably do in some capacity.

So my new goal is to approach everything as a child. To think of it as play. Ideally, before I start something is the only time when I will be planning ahead, thinking how much time I am allowing myself to play at whatever it is I'm doing (rhythm exercises, Bach, oboe, reeds, whatever). But after that, total engagement with the task at hand. No worries if I spend the entire half hour on one exercise or one excerpt. If I'm having fun...I don't care. Because if I'm having fun, the learning will be quality. Because I have sufficient wisdom to practice effectively. It's the times when I don't want to be in the practice room that I waste time notching up the metronome and practicing scales mindlessly. If I'm having fun, it takes a quarter of the time to get my scales fast and clean like I want them. I know this from experience. I'll have gotten WAY more out of having fun playing one excerpt for a half hour than from unhappily and trudgingly spending three hours running through the hour and a half of solo rep I'm working on.

So the basic train of thought is as follows: I have fun when I'm practicing effectively. So if I think about practicing (and everything else!) as all fun and games, I'll learn more effectively from my practicing. I don't mean that one necessarily follows the other. Effectiveness and fun are co-constitutive aspects of genuine adult learning.

Okay, I'm babbling on and on and on and NOBODY is reading anymore, I'm sure. Except my parents probably. Hi mom. Anyway, none of this probably made any sense, and I'm sure I left out some key explanations or points, but writing it has certainly helped me understand what I've been thinking about recently. Aaaaand I had fun writing this entry, so THERE. I win.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


"But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation's relating itself to itself in the relation; the self in not the relation but is the relation's relating itself to itself."

-Kierkegaard (via Anti-Climacus), The Sickness Unto Death (1849)

"...we have exhibited as a phenomenon an authentic potentiality-for-Being-a-whole which belongs to Dasein. With this phenomenon we have reached a way of Being of Dasein in which it brings itself to itself and face to face with itself...(In inauthenticity, Dasein) fails to see itself in relation to the kind of Being of that entity which is itself."

-Heidegger, Being and Time (1927)

Thought this was really cool.

Solfège des Solfèges, Miracle of Miracles

Well, just had a fight with a blueberry bagel and lost. But I'm eating it anyway.

Annnyway. I've been in a surprisingly good mood today, considering I have NO good reeds and just got back from a two hour dress rehearsal. May have had something to do with the epic progress Caroline and I made musically today!

We rehearsed Baroque stuff together right after my studio class (Caroline plays violin; we're doing Baroque chamber music together and we're the only two students in the Musicianship 7 class). Sitting next to each other without harpsichord, all of the sudden we could actually play in tune! It was miraculous. Something to do with finally having a decent reed, something to do with us having time to practice this week and feeling like we actually had time to prepare, something to do with sitting next to each other so we could actually hear each other and adjust. In Baroque music, I feel like once one thing falls into place, everything else comes and starts to settle along with it. So we made great progress on style as well, feeling larger beats and understanding the rhetoric more and more.

Then, after a luxurious dinner at Quiznos, we sightsang for about 15 minutes from the third book. SO many grace notes and silly little trills. It was so much fun to be extra dramatic about them.

Our chamber coaching went really well, and I wasn't frustrated the entire time and cringing at my intonation through it, which usually happens. Towards the end, I was getting sharp, but my lips were practically falling off, soooo...I forgive myself.

Afterwards, Caroline and I dedicated a solid, very productive chunk of time to rhythm. We're working on ridiculous subdivisions of the beat - 64ths and stuff (you know, hemidemisemiquavers and such things hehehehehe). But we were really getting the tough exercises that have different rhythms tapped and vocalized. And then we did some Bach, naming chords and inversions as Caroline read through, and then singing through again on scale degrees in the soprano. It's so much fun to work on this stuff with another person, especially when she's as nerdy about it as I am. Legitimately fun. I mean, I say it's fun anyway, but I mean fun like crossword puzzles or reading a novel fun. Practicing music exercises with other people is actually board games or charades fun. Okay, I'm babbling now.

I'm glad I could focus on the positive in this post and not just complain about my reeds the entire time.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fall Break

Okaaaay. Grad school applications are stressing me out a little, so I've given up for now and am updating the blog to de-stress. I guess what is stressful about them is mostly that there are SO many little details and separate documents to fill in, upload, etcetera, and I'll spend a long time on it, and then look back and see I accomplished hardly anything. Just navigating the websites simultaneously is hard enough, and I keep double checking and cross checking the requirements out of paranoia. And trying to figure out a strategy for requesting audition dates is a nightmare. And I don't even know if my list is finalized yet. But the progress I made in the last hour has been good - I ordered transcripts sent to 3 schools and one to myself because UT requires it be scanned and uploaded as a pdf. What a pain. Why can't I just send you my transcript like every other school? Argh. And I have my rep list solid (as in the list of things I will be playing for the auditions). And I have 2 possible audition schedules that will allow me to get in all the auditions and not miss time from the London exchange program.

But enough about that. I'll feel better about myself if I reflect on what I've accomplished this fall break so far. I'll bold the bits that make me feel that I've been super productive. I've put in 3 hours documenting and spreadsheeting for the China tour. Went to the symphony Thursday night. Acquired 9 books for Ploger (4 from music library, 4 from annex, 1
from biomed) and printed an electronically delivered article. Met with Dr. Rose. Went hiking with Shelby in Percy Warner Park. Practiced some visualization and score reading for musicianship. Made a few reeds (none of them looking too promising however...) and practiced a bit. Reground three of my knives (they only needed an eensy bit of regrinding, so it didn't take very long), and they are sooooooo sharp now!!! Wrote a lot of emails have to do with China and other business, stupid little emails grrr. Booked my flights for my trip to Michigan for a lesson/tour in late November and for Thanksgiving. Made a pitcher of iced tea. Watched Jane Eyre with Valerie and Shelby. Cleaned my room. More impressively, cleaned the reed room. I CLEANED THE REED ROOM. I should post pictures later. Did my reading for Phenomenology. Picked up dresses my mom sent me (same dress, two sizes to try) from the post office, tried them on, and sent back the the one that was too big.

So I've done a little bit of work on a lot of things. I guess that does make me feel better, to see that I am balancing out all this work in a healthy manner.

I'm uploading some photos of yesterday's hike. Computer is slow. Also why did I take five million photos of the deers?

Also, on Friday, I had a really fantastic lesson with Professor Dikeman, the new flute professor. Did I mention that I had a lesson earlier with Professor Jackson, the new clarinet instructor, as well? I don't remember. But both lessons were such great experiences. I'm trying to
play for as many great musicians as I can in preparation for my grad school auditions. Ok, I feel like this post is dragging on. I'm rambling, but at least after I post this, I can cross off "update blog" off my to-do list!

Here are some more pics from hiking:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Old and New Music

Oboe highlight of the day: playing through the first movement of Mozart with accompanist in performance class. For the first time in a year, I felt like there were some good things going on, and I could admit to myself that I've made progress since I started it. For those that don't know, the Mozart oboe concerto is THE oboe concerto. It's on every orchestra audition, festival audition, grad school audition, and anything else EVER. And the expectations for it are astronomically high. So anyway, there are still lots of little bits to fix, like getting the trills into place and much more polishing, but generally, it's there more than it was. Must write cadenzas over fall break! Excited for that.

Warming up. I've been slipping lately. Must get back on that horse.

Oh, so of course as soon as I updated my blog the other day, I remembered about a thousand other things I am doing this semester that I forgot to mention. I'll talk about the most important one now - new music stuff. Most upcoming event is Trey's senior composition recital. I'm playing Mar de Lurin, a piece for oboe and guitar based on some really fantastic paintings. Professor McGuire is performing with me. We've already rehearsed quite a bit, since I used it as my audition piece for Peter, a violinist with the Royal Academy of Music in London, for the London Exchange Program in the spring. Anyway, it is a VERY beautiful piece, and y'all should come hear me and Prof McG premiere it October 23rd, 8pm!

Dr. Rose recently finished a solo unaccompanied work for oboe as well. Roger is premiering it soon - I can't wait to hear him play it! Dr. Rose gave me a copy of the score and I have been working on it as well. I hope to work on it and play it in the will probably be part of the London exchange program business.

I'm also considering putting on an Oboe Music by Blair Composers programme in the spring. Okay, so I need a catchier title. But I would love to perform works I've already put together as well as commission some new ones. Can I do this with grad school auditions and a recital? We shall see. But I am taking only 12 hours for REAL next semester. Or so I say now...I tried so hard this semester to cut back, I really did. I can stop any time I want to, I swear...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Catching Up

So it's been two months, I've been quite delinquent, I think it's time to bring the blog back. Life has always seemed much less hectic when I've kept a journal or blog of sorts. It's a good thing to reflect on the day's activities and thoughts. The Pythagoreans lived under a strict discipline that incorporated review and reflection; upon waking, the Pythagorean would review the events of the previous day and plan for the day ahead before taking a meditative solitary morning walk.

Back at Vanderbilt and quite in the thick of things. Tonight I performed a Partita by Hertel on Baroque oboe with Professor Smith on his harpsichord recital, quite the honor. I played on modern oboe with organ at his church a few weeks back as well.

I'll bring the blog up to speed with a quick summary of my projects for this semester and prospects for the next.

I'm the orchestra manager for the Vanderbilt Orchestra China tour this December. We'll be gone from about December 20-January 3 or so. I have to deal with the visa applications, vaccination paperwork, bus scheduling, etcetera etcetera. This Wednesday I made a list of everyone's full legal name and passport number. 95 people, 9 digits for each passport number.
That's 855 digits that had to be perfect. Not a low-stress job, and with the harpsichord concert today, it's been a rather rough week.

Also, I'm helping Professor Ploger with her research. Right now I am compiling an extensive survey of the literature that has been written on musical intervals, from 500 B.C. to the present. For each article, I am also either copy/pasting the abstract or writing a brief summary. So far the document is a hefty double spaced 80 pages, and I have miles to go. But I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel - now when I look through the bibliographies at the ends of the articles, they're mostly articles I already have with only one or two new possibilities to look into.

I've decided to do a thesis next semester, so I'm talking with Dr. Rose (who will be my adviser) this semester and doing some preliminary research. The thesis will be in the spirit of my independent study last year, pulling together trends in philosophy, visual art, literature, and poetry with musical modernism. Still need to pick a central piece to focus on...

Oboe lessons as usual, musicianship as usual, performance class as usual, recital attendance as usual, orchestra as usual, Alexander technique as usual, reed class as usual...

Chamber music, but not as usual - Baroque chamber music! Caroline (violin) and I are working in a trio with Lillian, a staff accompanist. It's been a lot of fun, but I've been so frustrated with reeds (fixed now, thanks to the pressure of the CSmith recital and Prof Hauser's help) and finding the time to practice Baroque oboe. It's a bear switching back and forth, but I need to face that a little more boldly.

I'm in conducting class as well this semester. I feel silly.

And lastly but not leastly, my philosophy class is Phenomenology. We're reading Heidegger's Being and Time and Levinas' Existence and Existents. I absolutely love it, have been doing extra work by accident (of course), and the professor is SO cool. She's brilliant and lets me write papers connecting Heidegger's thought to music instead of just summarizing/explaining his concepts, which is the weekly assignment. I've only done one paper so far along those lines, relating H's concepts of Understanding, Interpretation, and Meaning to music performance, but
I'm looking forward to a 5-7 page paper every two weeks doing this sort of thing. It's fun!

And the Morgan is fabulous with Valerie and Shelby of course. Shelby and I came out victorious in a bidding war on ebay today for an antique toaster. Bear and 'Pard (aka Cleanser aka Sluggo) doing well, as you can see in the photo.

Now that we're up to speed, I'll start posting more interesting things!