Monday, May 31, 2010

Care and Feeding of a New Oboe

As you know from my last post, I recently bought a new oboe from Carlos Coelho Woodwinds.  (Sorry, this is a bit of a commercial for him.  I think he's just great!)  I bought my English horn from him about 5 years ago and have been very happy.

Along with my new oboe, came a goody bag.  (Love the goody bag!)  In it was a screw driver, cork grease, an instrument stand, 2 Loree stickers, and a silver polishing cloth.  There was also a beautiful purple, silk swab.  It seems like such a shame that it's only going to be used for a spit rag! 

Each new oboe from Carlos also comes with a 2-year warranty for cracks.  This is great because if an oboe is going to crack, it'll do it in the first year or so.  If it makes it past 2 years,  you're usually home free!  Oboes are notorious for cracking.  I think this is because of the really small diameter of the bore in the top joint.  The air pressure is too great and, along with the sound waves vibrating through the wood, it's just too much for the instrument to take.

In order to prevent cracking, it is very important to break in a new oboe properly.  Here are the instructions from the Loree factory.

How to Break in Your New Instrument (from Loree factory):
  • In the beginning, play the instrument for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time.  Swab it, return it to its case, and keep the lid closed.  A few hours later or the next day, you may repeat this procedure.  each week, you may add 5 or 10 minutes playing time.  After about 3 months, you should be able to play it as you wish.
  •  On chilly days (or in a cold room) always warm the instrument before playing it.  This may be done by holding it against your body for a few minutes, or cradling at least the top joint in you hands.  If the oboe was left in an unheated area on a cold day, you must not play it until it has had a chance to warm gradually.  (I can vouch for this.  The one time my old oboe cracked, it was in a freezing cold practice room.)
  • During the break in period, we recommend you to oil regularly the bore of you new instrument (about one a week).  Be sure first, that the bore is well dried and cleared of moisture.  Then, put some drops of "F. Loree" natural bore oil, preferably on a feather, and apply a light coat of oil gently inside the instrument.  After a few months, you can progressively reduce to oil your instrument.  (Note:  There are oboists who are dead-set against oiling the bore.  My opinion is that you should oil it in the beginning to keep moisture from getting into the wood.  Once broken in, I personally don't keep oiling it.)
 Additionally, Carlos has his own set of instructions for breaking in a new oboe.  Here's what he says:

Suggestions for Breaking in and Care (from Carlos):
  • Warm up instrument to body temperature.
  • NEVER warm up the instrument by blowing hot air into the bore.
  • **Start by playing low notes only.
  • SWAB!!!  We recommend a silk swab.  Try swabbing from the top joint to the bell.  It will prevent to pull back all the water through the top joint and your swab will never get stuck!  Swab constantly, especially if the weather is dry.
  • Start by playing only 10-15 minutes at a time a couple of times a day during the first week.  Increase playing time 5 to 10 minutes a week.
  • Clean and oil the mechanism about every 8 weeks.  Try to keep the wood clean.
  • We do recommend oiling the bore.  It may be necessary ti oil the bore on specific occasions.  Let's talk first!
  • Keep swabbing........swabbing.....!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My New Baby

So it's not a child from India yet (sorry to disappoint), but it's an oboe from France.  Yes, I unexpectedly bought a new oboe last week!  It was time for a new one since I had had my old oboe for 12 years now and, as all good oboists know, they blow out in about 10-15 years.  The sound (of my old instrument) was starting to spread and the pitch was less reliable than before. 

How does one accidentally buy a new oboe?  Go to an oboe party, of course!  (Like a tupperware party, but with oboes.)  A colleague of mine had 8 Loree oboes shipped from Carlos Coelho Woodwinds to his house.  Several local oboists came and tried them out.  Some brought their old instruments to sell.  Anyway, one of the AK models stood out to me.  I went back and forth between the AKs and the Royales before eventually deciding on this particular AK model.  I know, most oboists prefer the Royales because of their BIG sound and sturdy feel, but I decided not to get one.  Here's why...... 

Why I chose the AK over the Royale:
  • When I play with an orchestra, I usually play second oboe so I shouldn't out-boom the principle oboist.  Also, when I play first oboe or solo gigs, it's usually in chamber groups, opera, or church solos which require a sweet sound.  A big, boomy sound is not really what I need.
  • I felt that the Royales kind of boxed me in.  I like the flexibility of the AKs and I like that it allows me to bend the pitch easily if I want to.
  • My old oboe is an AK and I have loved it for 12 years!  
  • The sound of this one was similar to my old one, but better!  (Darker, and more focused)
  • The low notes played like warm butter.
  • I feel more comfortable on the AK and it shows in my playing.
  • The Royales cost $1000 more.  I had to ask myself, "Does this really sound $1000 better than the AK?"  My honest answer was no.
If money was no object, I would've bought one of each.  But---until I win the lottery, the AK is my instrument.

I kept my old oboe.  It makes me feel safe to have a spare.  If I have to send one off to be repaired I can still play on the other one.  Also, if I have an outdoor gig or something I can play the old oboe with no worries!

BTW - I'm a Loree girl.  I've played other oboes but I really prefer the sound of the Lorees.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Copland's 3 Planes of Listening

This week I am doing listening exercises with my students and I came across something I think is worth sharing.  The American composer Aaron Copland wrote a book in 1957 entitled, "What to Listen for in Music".  In this book, he describes what he calls the "Three Planes of Listening".  While there is no new information here, I have found it useful because it's so clear.  It helps my students focus and really hear more deeply than before.

The Three Planes of Listening:
1.  The Sensual Plane - It's not what it sounds like.  The sensual plane is the level where you're aware of the music, but you don't listen enough to really make a judgement about it.  It can even be background music.  When you notice instrumentation or the quality of the sound, that's the sensual plane.  Most people never listen to music outside of this plane.

2.  The Expressive Plane - In the expressive plane, you notice how the music makes you feel.  For example, you might notice that a minor key may make you feel down and a major key might make you feel up.  Also, fast music might make you feel nervous.  In this plane, you can visualize what the music might represent.  (Like a storm or a beautiful sunny day.)  Sometimes, I have my students draw or paint a visual representation of a piece of music that I play for them.  I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I was helping them to hear music in the expressive plane.

3.  The Sheerly Musical Plane - This is the plane at which most musicians, conductors, critics, music teachers, and judges listen to music.  In the purely musical plane, you can separate the music into elements such as tempo, pitch, dynamics, key signature, time signature, form, chord analysis, etc.  It contains all the jargon as well.

It helps me to be aware of these 3 planes.  When I listen to a student play, I usually am listening on the Sheerly Musical Plane while most parents listen on the Sensual Plane.  This explains some of the discrepancies in judgement that sometimes occur.  Also, sometimes it's helpful for me to just sit back and listen on the sensual plane just for the enjoyment of it. 

Next time you listen to any kind of music, try listening on the three levels and see if it changes the experience for you.  I'd love to hear what you think.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sometimes, you can go back. (Temporarily)

This past weekend was really cool for me because I got to hang out with some old college buddies of mine.  You know the saying, "you can never go back"?  Well, sometimes you can!  Several people came in from all over to attend a special alumni weekend at my university.  It really was just like old times.  Hanging out with the same people in the same places made the time just melt away.  Now, I'm back in the real world and am wondering if I dreamt it all.

This got me wondering:  Why do we like to have reunions so much?  I mean, we all have current friends we hang out with, right?  ...and one would presume that we've developed past our old colleagues and have become different people than we were then.  Those old people won't know the "new" us.  Why have college and/or high school reunions?  I have to say, I also recently hung out with some old high school buddies too and had a fabulous time.  Why is it so fun?

I think it's because when we see these people, we feel grounded.  We met them at a time when we were still developing and were dreaming of what we would become in the future.  The possibilities were endless.  As we age, our possibilities seem to shrink and reality sets in.  Seeing your school colleagues makes you feel like you have possibility in your life again.

It's also fun to see what people you knew way back when are doing now.  When I find out how successful some of my colleagues are, it makes me feel like that too is possible for me.  Minds open, possibilities present themselves, new thoughts form.  
Plus, I adored those people back then and I adore them now and it was just plain FUN to see them again!  :-)