Saturday, May 26, 2007


It took me a while to get started today, but that's so GOOD. Most mornings are a rush to get somewhere, do something, move the day along. Today I let myself lie awake in my cabin until I FELT awake. That took an hour and a half. Now it's just past 9 and there's sunlight shining through my bedside window. It's a beautiful, sunny day. The mountainside is lush and green and the lake is a gorgeous, summery blue.

I practiced late last night and finally felt for the first time: I'm improving! Slowly, but it's there. (I sound like Amahl describing the Star of Bethlehem - "Well, maybe only this long, but it's there.") I got through a C and D scale. Playing through all of O Come O Come Emmanuel, with the tempo up a notch, I thought (also for the first time) that it was really beginning to sound like it was coming from an oboe. I even tried to be expressive and lyrical, though that's kind of hard when one has NO control over dynamics yet. My embouchure is still unreliable and there are still a lot of awkward finger adjustments, false starts, and occasional squawks, but this is progress.

Maybe I'll be a bad oboist forever (I hope not), but I'm trying to derive hope from the fact that I have SOME native musicality. My dance teachers always noticed good music instincts, and in college a composer friend of mine noticed I had a good ear when he changed something in one of his compositions and I asked him, "Hey, did you change this middle voice from what it was last year? The harmony's a little different..." I'm starting to notice pitch more now. Even before starting the oboe I had noticed that when we use one of the appliances up here it makes a little singing sound that's a descending minor 6th. A couple of days ago I noticed the phone at one of the O.R. desks rings in A. I'm turning into a music geek.

It might be a little early to want to develop a repertoire, but I confess I've started fantasizing about one. Of course I had to start with Christmas carols - and I thought it was a particularly good omen that when I visited Spectrum Music they had three boxes of Christmas carol scores just outside the door, labeled "free." They even had a couple of less common ones that I had wished I could get a copy of - like "Wassail, Wassail." The trouble with wishing for a repertoire when I can't even play all the scales yet is that I am more familiar with advanced oboe music than beginner. So for now, with absolutely no idea if any of it is realistic, I've made a three-part wish list:

Within the first two years:
-medley of Christmas carols
-some songs from Church
-adagio from the Grand Pas Hongrois in Glazunov's Raymonda & other ballet parts

More intermediate:
-Gabriel's Oboe, of course
-intermezzo from Bizet's Carmen (better on flute, as intended, but oh well)
-flower duet from Lakmé
-Saint-Saens' Romance in F for horn & piano, Op. 36

Pie-in-the-sky for that miraculous day I can say I'm more advanced:
-selections from Amahl and the Night Visitors
-Ralph Vaughan William's Concerto for Oboe & Strings, 1st movement
-Saint-Saens' Sonata for Oboe & Piano
-2nd movement from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez
-stuff from Jarré's Jesus of Nazareth score

Notably absent is the duck part from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. I think I have a mental block over Peter & the Wolf. I like Prokofiev. I think his score for Romeo and Juliet is a work of genius. I love the main P&theW theme. I even danced the part of the bird in a ballet production of it during a workshop in the seaside town of Montrose, Scotland - a favorite memory of my increasingly remote youth. But there's something about P&theW that bothers me. The grandfather part is a little scary, especially since I had a tall, scary great-grandfather who used to house-sit for us. I don't think I ever heard him speak a word. And the wolf part is terrifying. I remember one of my bedtime fears was that an enormous, dark brown, bipedal wolf with a long snout and red eyes was going to walk out of my parents' dressing area and kidnap me. And maybe that's the block: the duck gets eaten, after a terrible, hopeless chase. I couldn't stomach it, so to speak. Somehow I couldn't suspend disbelief as a child and I knew that all the wolf's gastric juices were going to digest the duck before Peter & the hunters could rescue her. Maybe I was put off because I had a pet duck named Gigi. Maybe the whole chase and eating scene put a subconscious wariness in my mind: the vulnerable little oboe gets swallowed whole by the rest of the wind section (well, actually just the French horns, but still!). I don't know, maybe the story just traumatized me, and maybe I don't like the overt reminder that oboes can sound like honking fowl (yeah, thanks, Prokofiev, & Ravel - though Ma Mere L'Oye is lovely). Still, P&theW is one of those things "you gotta love," especially with Sir Alec Guinness narrating.


What a gorgeous sunset tonight. Beyond the green woods, the lake was silver-blue at dusk, and above it, the White Mountains were purplish blue with a swathe of pink behind their peaks. My daughter wanted to take a picture, but there wasn't enough light. Without sophisticated camera equipment, the best way to preserve the scene would have been to paint it. It's nice that sometimes older, simpler techniques serve us better.

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