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Archive for May, 2008

In the sixth grade, my English class did a survey of many different poetic forms.
Also in sixth grade, I started playing bassoon.

So if you find really awful poetry amusing, then you, my esteemed reader, are in for a treat.

The Story of ‘Oon
I know a bassoon named ‘Oon
Who sometimes sounds just like a loon.
Her mistress tries to play her right,
But she just runs away in fright!

Ode of My Bassoon
On that first day
She opened the case
Her eyes reflected
Off of my
Mirroring keys
I wanted to use her lungs
And sing with her
She picked me up
Put me together
I was a babe in her hands
She put on a reed
And blew
Right then
I knew we were
A match made in heaven
She’s not perfect
Doesn’t practice sometimes
Yells at me
In frustration
Plays notes that sound horrid
Threatens to hit people with me
Me
Her extra hand
I must admit
I am not perfect
Either
I am plastic
Very heavy
Overweight
I sometimes hurt her hands
Or dizzy her
Her friend
Can play odd notes
On me
Annoying me
Or making me laugh
A laugh that sounds
A squawk
And then
Sometimes
She picks me up
And we sing
Together
And I never want to let go of her

Sorry about the lame — and the fact that the second poem is sort of secretly dirty (I had no idea, in the sixth grade!) — and I hope you enjoy? Just a little bit?

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This summer I’m giving a recital — in the spirit of “what happens to a girl when she goes off to music school for a year?” — and of course I’m already working on my program, but I am also keeping my eye out for the perfect recital dress.
Yeah, it’s a little girly, but a good outfit does wonders for your playing. And since I love dresses, the perfect recital dress is quite a nice thing to have. (Not as nice as a good reed, but sometimes you can’t control that, so… perfect dress?)

There are a few things I ask myself when I’m scouting for this dress.
1) Can I breathe comfortably and deeply in it?
2) Can I sit down and play in it without embarrassing myself/making the audience feel super awkward?
3) Can I take a bow in it?
4) Is it generally comfortable?
5) Is it dressy/casual enough for my recital?
6) Do I feel amazing when I wear it?

Some of these questions — like the one about taking a bow — can be worked around. (I’ve learned how to do a kind of “nod bow” when I’ve picked a dress that does not meet this requirement, for instance.) Also, you have control over things like level of formality, so long as you let the other people in the recital know. And of course a little self confidence is going to go a long way in making you feel amazing in the dress of your choice. πŸ™‚

Here are a few suggestions:

a sassy recital dress
Maybe it’s the fact that they call it the Maestro Dress, but I think this dress is adorable! The higher waist allows you to breathe from the diaphragm, and the higher neckline allows you to bow with gusto. It might be a little short if you want to sit down, but it would be so cute with tights or leggings.

recital dress option 2
I actually own this dress (I love ModCloth, in case you can’t tell), and this dress is so comfy! The waist is both elasticized and a tie, so breathing is no problem. It does need leggings or tights, though, and it’s not super-formal, but would be perfect for a day recital. I highly recommend it!

recital dress option 3
I know this is short, too, but I’m in summer mode! And of course you can wear tights or leggings — or stand up to play. (This is especially true if you don’t play bassoon.) It’s so cute and summery, and a little bit dressier than the previous dresses.

recital dress option 4
Target dresses can be suspect when it comes to quality, and I’ve never seen this dress in person, but it is long and pretty and looks comfy. And it’s only $22! I own a sundress from Target that is too casual for a recital, but it’s one of my favorite dresses. If this dress is anything like it, then it’d be a pleasure to wear even after you play your last note.

recital dress option 5
A confession: This is the dress I want to wear at my recital! It’s just so adorable and sassy and it looks so comfy. We’ll see if it happens, but if anyone uses it at a recital (or anywhere else, really), be sure to let me know. πŸ™‚

recital dress option 6
This dress is a more glamorous, “dressed up” option — it was originally a prom dress! But it is on sale now (like pretty much every other prom dress), so if you love the fact that is is beautiful, high-waisted (for ease of breathing), more or less demure, and super classy, you should definitely go for it.

I hope that, the next time you give a recital, you get to wear the perfect dress!
Here’s hoping I find one of my own. πŸ™‚

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I was reading this article on the New York Times’ website, about the attempted revival of the music of Franz Schmidt. It seems like an uphill battle, and possibly for good reason:

It doesn’t help your legacy as a composer to give the Nazi salute in 1938 at the premiere of your greatest work. Nor is it good for your cause to tell a young Herbert von Karajan that he has no future in conducting. So it may not be a total surprise that the Austrian composer Franz Schmidt is little known to the wider world, given his difficult character and distasteful political associations.

But the article goes on to talk about Schmidt’s music and how interesting and really good it is and how perhaps the reason that his music has gone more or less unheard since his death is perhaps mainly because no conductor championed his work, like Bernstein did for Mahler. (It also points out that von Karajan maybe could’ve done it, but Schmidt had called him a failure.)

So I’m wondering about separating the artist from his work. On the one hand, it’s kind of like just desserts — like when the arrogant jerk you met at college auditions doesn’t get in anywhere. But on the other hand, what if the artist himself is blocking the rest of the world from something beautiful? We should be able to look past that. After all, it’s not as though any of us is perfect.
And yet. Don’t we put something of ourselves into our own art? I’m prone to daydream, for instance, and perhaps this is why I love playing the slow, dream-like movements of concerti. There is a lot of Rachel in my playing. There is, no doubt, a lot of Franz Schmidt in Franz Schmidt’s music. But music also has the power of transcendence, I think. At my best playing, when everything comes together, I’m more than myself or the bassoon or even the notes on the page. Couldn’t Franz Schmidt have transcended his own apparently terrible personality and questionable political views in his music? Couldn’t it be more than the sum of the ego and the id, no matter how twisted they were inside his mind?
Maybe he did or maybe he didn’t. But shouldn’t we give him a chance? There’s not too much to lose, except maybe an hour of time.

Anyway, I’m going to give him a chance and take a listen.

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jobless in chicago

I’m not going to brag, but I have always been one of those people who is ideal for a summer job. I’m pretty friendly, outgoing; I maintained a high GPA in high school and for some strange reason I’m good at job interviews. My first job was at a coffee shop when I was sixteen — and coffee shop jobs are some of the hardest jobs to get, since everyone wants them.

So this summer, upon returning home from Eastman, I decided that I would go and look for a job. My first choice was working as a barista at Starbucks, since I love coffee shops and already know more or less how to make all of the drinks. The nearby Starbucks was hiring, so I stopped by and requested an application, which was smilingly handed to me. With care and precision, I filled out the application. It was a pretty solid application, too: I called coffee “not just a beverage, but a social experience” and even complimented Starbucks on their choice in background music.
Imagine my frustration when, just minutes after handing my application in, the manager comes out and tells me that, while I seem charming, they do not want to hire someone who will leave for another state within three months.

Cue a lot of annoyance and some angry music. (Well, Ben Folds and Gustav Mahler. I’m not really an angry music kind of person.)

My parents were hopeful, though! A few days ago my dad noticed that the nearby Super!Target was hiring, and my mom called and asked if “her daughter, who’s in town for the summer from college” could get a job. And the lady at Super!Target said yes.

So today my sister and I both went and applied.
My sister, who will be a senior in high school next year, was promptly interviewed and offered a job. A lady came out and told me that Super!Target was not interested in seasonal workers, had me sign about five forms, and said my sister should be done interviewing in forty minutes or so.
Now, my sister is charming and extremely intelligent and hard-working, but she is also two years younger than me and has never had a job.

This is frustrating to me for a few reasons. One, obviously, is that I am more or less an employable person who cannot find employment because of being in college. This seems silly, seeing as my school (which is not in this way unique) is an expensive place to attend, and even if I was only earning spending money, I think that it would be more needed by a college student than a high school student. Also, if you think about it, although fast turnover means more training — though Target training takes a day, if what they told my sister is correct — it allows more people to have jobs and, you know, stimulate the economy. Don’t people keep saying the economy needs stimulation? And about how teens have increasing buying power? How about actually stimulating the buying power of college students? Or allowing us to actually own some textbooks or buy cane?

Luckily, my parents felt sorry for me and are employing me themselves. For the next few months, I will be cooking dinners, doing laundry, buying groceries, cleaning bathrooms, and vacuuming for minimum wage.
They get some more free time, I get a job: it’s a win-win situation.

Take that, Starbucks and Super!Target.
And employ some of my fellow college students, for a change.

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At least in my experience, Gustav Mahler is the indie composer of the classical music world. Beloved of college students in music schools across the country, thousands cherish this long-ignored genius.

Of course, being me, I was scared away by the massive symphonies and the fact that I kept confusing Mahler and Wagner. And symphonies of Valkyeries are definitely not an appealing thought when you’re trying to break into the already rather snobby world of classical music.
I even missed the Philharmonia’s performance of Mahler 1 this fall — admittedly, I had conflicting plans — and tried to pretend I knew what everyone was talking about when they went on and on about how the standing horns were amazing and our grad student bassoonist had done really well in that one solo.

But over spring break, tired of feigning ignorance, I decided to take the plunge and listen to some Mahler. My first stop was the local library, where I managed to check out every symphony (except, for some strange reason, his eighth), and then, while making some reeds, copied these recordings to my computer. Alas, I only managed to listen to the first symphony before I went back to school and mostly ignored this project.

Still. Mahler 1 is more or less amazing and surprisingly (and brilliantly) hilarious. Right from the first measure, it wasn’t what I expected at all. This wasn’t the pompous, overbearing music I had expected from the composer I kept confusing with Wagner! This was fresh, exciting, fun music. It had epic moments, true, but these were natural, not contrived, and stood out like mountain peaks amidst the landscape of the music. (Shut up, Mahler makes me wax rhapsodic.)

So when I came home for summer break, I was sitting around and trying to figure out what to listen to from my iTunes library. Somehow I scrolled past Mahler 1 again. It was a little like seeing your best friend from elementary school. You can’t not stop by and say hello. Of course I had to listen!
And it was like magic. Classical music has a knack for expressing those things words can’t even begin to handle, and there are some pieces that do it best. Some composers who just had a knack for music that seems beyond human limitation. This, my friends, is Gustav Mahler in a sentence.

The next day, biking to a nearby bookstore, I listened to Mahler 1 while biking there and Mahler 2 while biking back. I think Mahler 2 is a little more epic than its predecessor, which was fitting for the slightly greater strain of the ride.
At home, I listened to it again.

Last night, I stayed up late to listen to Mahler 4, which now (of course!) has replaced its predecessors as my favorite Mahler Symphony. The sleigh bells at the beginning! The adorable use of a lyrical oboe with bassoon accompaniment! The mastery of the small chamber groups of a symphony orchestra, the use of the entire orchestra!
It’s brilliant — but I don’t expect Mahler 4 to long remain my favorite symphony.

After all, I’m listening to Mahler 5 while I write this.

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Later today I have an audition for the Wheaton Municipal Band, an audition which is almost entirely composed of sight-reading, except for a short prepared excerpt.
The bassoon excerpt, incidentally is a Handel Allegro in C minor, probably arranged from something for cello, which is full of sequences and scalar lines like any good Baroque solo work. Needless to say I’ve enjoyed preparing it — I’m a sucker for Baroque-style technical passages.

But back to sight-reading.

According to Mr. Hunt (my primary source on the Wider Musical World), an audition like this one, so primarily focused on pure-sight reading, is extremely rare. At most orchestral auditions, you get a list in advance of a number of excerpts and pieces to have prepared, and you dutifully prepare and perfect them. The surprise comes when they tell you what to play for the first round of auditions, but even so you’re going to know it at least a little bit.
This audition is fun, exciting, and completely terrifying in that, except for that lovely little prepared piece, I have never seen the music before. I’ll get a little while (about a minute per piece, maximum) to look it over, and then give it my best shot. If it’s good enough, I’ll get a position.

Perhaps the very best thing about this audition is that I can’t prepare for it. This is nice, since I’m working on a LOT of music right now, but also kind of frustrating. What if it’s just hard music for me to sight-read? But at the same time, sight-reading shows a musician at his or her foundations: what are you good at? Do you have a beautiful tone, even when you miss a note? Do you have terrific natural technique? Can you actually read tenor clef? (By the way, look forward to a post soon about the merits of tenor clef. It’s going to be exciting!) Are you the kind of person who rarely misses an expressive marking, or an accidental?
Sight-reading is also really fantastic as a practicing technique, because it tells you the first things you need to work on. Maybe the runs in the piece are easy, but intonation is going to be a butt. And so on and so forth.

But as it so happens, much as I value sight-reading, I am pretty terrible at it. I’m not sure why. A friend of mine suggested that good sight-readers tend to be people who are good at math. I’m actually pretty good at math (that is to say, I took BC Calc as a junior and got a 5 on the AP test?), but I am not a good sight-reader. This may partially be due to fear, because I get scared that people will judged me based on a missed note or botched run or the way that one of the Ds on my bassoon is really flat unless I make sure to really support it.
So I guess this is my time to learn confidence?

We’ll see how it goes.
And, while I’m doing this audition, what do you think about sight-reading? And why? I’m curious — and it’ll distract me from my own inevitable failures at the exercise. πŸ™‚

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So after a semester of crazy times (including the most bizarrely difficult math class, my first jury ever, and lots of reeds, quintet rehearsals, and learning of music), I am back home and am going to update this sucker again. I’m planning on continuing these updates into the school year, this time… because honestly, this blog is fun and hopefully a good resource for you?

With that in mind, I’m asking you, the readers of my humble blog, what would you like to see here this summer? Music school tips, album reviews, entertaining bassoon stories? Reed-making strategies?

I’ll be back tomorrow with something, but in the meantime, let me know what you’d like to read more about! I’m all ears. Or eyes. You get the picture?

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