Monday, June 11, 2007


"Down the road someone is practising scales,
The notes like little fishes vanish with a wink of tails..."
from Sunday Morning by Louis MacNeice

I was astonished to read what Patty Mitchell wrote on June 7 at Oboeinsight, about how some of her colleagues don't require their students to practice scales because they don't believe scales are important. Perhaps I haven't earned the privilege of having an opinion about this, but surprise surprise, I do have one, just as I have one about times tables (they should be committed to memory at an early age), diagramming sentences (all school kids should participate in the exercise, lest a working knowledge of English grammar, seemingly a low priority in this country, be thrust into further decline), and learning poetry by heart (go ahead, call me old fashioned).

If I've learned anything from both dance and medicine, it's that expertise which requires physical activity also requires rigorous training. Repetitive physical acts in such endeavors are neither useless nor unimportant; they are, in fact, essential, both for the muscular strength and dexterity they develop and for the discipline they instill.

Two weeks ago I couldn't get past the first measure of Gabriel's Oboe by Ennio Morricone. Yesterday morning, facing a glorious day outside my bedroom window, I surprised myself by playing through eight measures -not well, of course, but considering I couldn't even try it not too long ago, I was glad just to be playing through the notes! I have no doubt that practicing scales - again, not necessarily well, but with good intentions, at least - has made a difference and added those seven new measures. I'm going to have to start working on F minor. I tried to figure out the adagio portion of the Grand Pas Hongrois in Raymonda, and those four flats aren't exactly second nature...yet.

But boy, I have no endurance. I have no wind control, no stamina in my hand muscles; my embouchure poops out after twenty minutes; I am an oboe wimp. And a "grace note" queen. Not a great combination! :)


Got called to the ICU today to manage yet another God-help-me type of intubation. The procedure went fine, and when one of the family practice docs started asking me about my approach, I found myself thinking back to residency, when we residents had achieved enough seniority to get sent to places like the ICU and the E.R. by ourselves, carrying a supply bag on our shoulders, all eyes watching as we attempted to do what others had already tried to do but were unable to. I thought back to my recent call to the E.R. at one of our smaller hospitals, a community hospital in the middle of a bunch of dairy farms, where after the E.R. physicians, I was the only other person around for miles who was qualified to even attempt intubating someone. All I can say is, thank goodness for those residency runs, which gave me chance to develop an approach. Thank goodness for scales.


Lee said...

I think even expertise which doesn't require physical activity requires rigorous training - think of maths or learning Latin or playing chess. Perhaps at some level there's a form of physical (neurological?) activity in all endeavours.

T. said...

Great point, Lee - and yes, from what I've learned through studying medicine, everything has a neurobiological imprint; ALL experience - physical, emotional, intellectual - is considered learning, which writes itself into the very architecture and chemical makeup of the brain. Pretty cool stuff!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Scales, harmony.. a scaffold on which one walks and builds music..

Elaine Fine said...

I have been neglecting my scales, t. Thanks for reminding me how important they are.