Monday, December 10, 2007

Circular Breathing

From Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
1 : tediously long in speaking or writing
2 : not easily subject to loss of breath

In the current issue of Anesthesiology News, an article entitled "Blogging Anesthesiologists or Anesthesiologists Who Blog? Internet Offerings from Specialty on the Rise," by managing editor Adam Marcus, highlights Joe Stirt's blog, The Book of Joe, and mentions both The Ether Way and this blog, describing me as "an oboe-loving physician who writes rather long-winded journal entries."

I was pleased to see that the second dictionary definition is somewhat less negative than the first, especially for an oboe player. Finding convenient spots to breath has been a frequent stumbling block, especially during chamber pieces written for strings. I'm constantly running out of air - a beginner's setback, for sure.

At our last chamber rehearsal Orlando tried to explain the concept of "circular breathing" to us. It still has me intrigued. Basically it's a technique of breathing and playing at the same time - inhaling through the nose while blowing out air that has been stored in the cheeks so as to be able to keep playing the instrument. The musician inhales fully, starts playing, and stores the last volume of exhaled air in the mouth, causing the cheeks to puff out. While deflating the cheeks and letting this last packet of air out, the musician must inhale again through the nose before all the mouth air is expelled, and the process can begin again. Musicians who can do this can blow bubbles through a straw for long periods of time. Never go up against a woodwind or brass instrumentalist at a party for this kind of contest, and as Orlando warned, "Don't try this at home"- at least, not without practicing the technique first!

I lift the epiglottis up and gaze into people's windpipes every day for a living (or at least at their vocal cords- see photo of the larynx above), and I still can't wrap my mind around circular breathing. It seems to defy everything I ever learned medically about respiratory physiology. But hey, what's another challenge - maybe someday my long-windedness as an oboist will be on a par with my long-windedness as a writer! :)


Bardiac said...

I could never even get vibrato. :(

There's a difference between long-winded and detailed, fascinating writing. You're doing the latter!

T. said...

Thanks, Bardiac! I appreciate that!

(But I'll admit, when I'm doing more formal writing, I try to do that editing thing from A River Runs Through It, and try to cut to half as long, then again half as long, etc., knowing my own tendency to spew a lot!)

I can't get the hang of vibrato either. :(

And I so want to...

Elaine Fine said...

I find that there is something wonderful about playing passages on a wind instrument naturally. As your breath support and strength gets better, you will be able to play long phrases with a surplus of air! Hopefully you will never need to learn circular breathing.

As far as your blog posts go, I think that the blog writer who calls your posts long-winded is just trying to make a pun. I find your posts delightful. I imagine that s/he does as well.

rlbates said...

Nice post, T.

T. said...

Thanks, everyone!

And Elaine, I totally agree - when Orlando demonstrated on his flute what circular breathing would be like, I definitely found the natural way far more beautiful.

Rema said...

Don't worry about what he said, your posts are interesting to read. (I mean, I randomly stumbled here looking for oboe players and now I've got a live bookmark of your blog.)

T. said...

Thanks, Rema!