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In the time between my last update and now, I’ve added an English major (with a concentration in creative writing) to my bassoon performance major. I’d been thinking about it since October of my freshman year at Eastman, and kept deciding against being a dual degree student because of the increased workload. After all, when I was in high school, I had always looked forward to music school as the place where I “wouldn’t have to choose between music and everything else”.

So in case you are a reader who loves music and something else too, or if you have absolutely no idea why anybody would ever double major at music school, I figured I would explain.

I love English. I’m always reading a book, always thinking of ideas for stories. During freshman theory (when they explained things to us 500 different ways so we would for sure understand triads and cadences) I scribbled down poems in the margins of my notes. I’ve spent a probably embarrassing about of money at Better World Books, getting inexpensive used books and also saving the world one book at a time.

The thing is, as much as I love English, that is how much I love bassoon. Maybe I love bassoon a little more — it has less going for it, the awkwardness of the instrument, the joy and challenge of making reeds, the inherent difficulties of flicking. The Ravel Piano Concerto excerpt, the beginning of the Rite of Spring, the three dozen Vivaldi concerti.
When you love something like that, love everything about it, to make a decision to spend even more time away is difficult. It takes a while. It takes a terrible, awful creative writing class offered within the music school and practice breaks spent absorbed in novel after novel.

Last semester was my first semester as a dual degree student. Four times a week I boarded a bus to the main campus of the University of Rochester, usually reading a book on the trip, and was greeted by the stereotypical college campus. (Yes, there was grass! Once it was spring, that is.)
The thing that I loved was taking English classes with people who love English just as much as I do. Eastman does offer non-music classes (we have to take one a semester, or else a class at the main campus) but the other students are usually disinterested (I love them!!) and the professors constantly talk to us as though we could barely comprehend their subject. Now, my teachers challenged my thought processes, sending me back to the books, analyzing literature between the lines. Now, they had me look at each individual word of my writing, judging it, feeling it, seeing if it was perfect. Seeing if it was overused or misplaced.

This semester was hard. I took 22 credit hours. I was often really tired — although this has a lot to do with my theory and aural skills classes more than English. (You try writing 8-12 pages about scenes from Tristan und Isolde, along with leitmotive charts, form charts, roman numeral analysis, and so on!)
But no matter how busy, I loved it so much. I learned so much about bassoon and making music this semester (the subject of another post?), and I learned so much about English.

When you’re doing what you love beyond words, being pushed to the limit is all right. More than that: it’s pretty much fantastic.
So that’s why I added an English major, in case you’re curious.

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It’s been almost a year since my last post — and I’m so sorry for disappearing like that!
A lot has happened in the past year, but even more is happening this summer. I’m playing my first real gig as a professional bassoonist (in the pit at the Ohio Light Opera), getting a new bassoon (a lovely Fox 660 — in ten days!!), and rocking a new short haircut.

Clearly, lots of changes are on the horizon.
And with a summer that could have so many new discoveries and adventures — well, as many as the middle of Ohio will allow — isn’t that a summer worth blogging about?

So add the blog to your bookmarks, and look forward to new updates! I’m back. 🙂

I will be visiting my grandparents in Miami starting today until June 23. They don’t have an internet connection, so hopefully I’ll be able to update once a week… But if not, just picture me enjoying the beach and working on reeds!

Have a great summer in the meantime!

I’m playing in a reed trio at the moment, and it has been a complete blast. Picture an ensemble where all reed complaints are immediately understood, where the instruments have similar technical concerns (although I win when it comes to the question of thumb dexterity), and, perhaps most importantly, where we all have a similar reedy sense of humor.

…Okay, maybe not the last part.

But anyway, I’m playing in a reed trio with the oboist from my quintet at Eastman (he lives about half an hour away), and one of our clarinetist friends who will be a freshman at Eastman in the fall (he lives only ten minutes away!). They’re amazing musicians and are sort of turning into my brothers. Which is always a good time, if I should ever need anyone beaten up once I get back to school.
Granted, musicians are never good as hired thugs. Just thought I should put that out there!

We’re working on the Francaix Divertissement, which is adorably French and a little jazzy and effervescent and fun. It’s a perfect piece to work on in the summer, because when you play and really get into the groove it feels so effortless.
It’s also super hard and which we’ve only had for two weeks, and which we’re performing for the first time tomorrow, but I have to say that I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished in such a short span of time.

And anyway, my recital is in August, so there’s plenty of time for practice to make perfect. 🙂

Yesterday I had a lesson at Northwestern — my last lesson with Professor Kirk until next year! (He takes me on as a temporary student when the breaks for Eastman and Northwestern are different, which is always a good time. And I have a lesson with my old teacher scheduled for tomorrow. So there hasn’t been too much distress.)

Anyway, it was (as usual) fantastic. I would stop there, except that there are a few things I need to share with the wider world.

One: If you are a bassoonist with even a little desire to improve your technique, you should go out and buy Christopher Weait’s Bassoon Scales for Reading & Bassoon Intervals for Reading. You should do this now. (They sell both at Trevco!!) These books are the bassoon music equivalent of a salad from California Pizza Kitchen: fun, tasty, and so healthy you can practically feel yourself glowing. I worked out of both books for an hour today and I can feel them working already.
If for some strange reason you can only buy one of the books, definitely definitely buy Bassoon Intervals for Reading. It’s extremely bizarre — try the consecutive major second page if you don’t believe me — but amazing for technique. If you work at for a while, I’m pretty convinced you should be able to hit any interval on the first try. Maybe the second, if it’s a particularly bad down-slur. But still. Definitely invest in this book!

Two: This might be my inner indie-snob coming to light, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. I like the Weber a lot (I even made up a little romantic comedy that corresponds to the music of the first movement!), but the Mozart has never won me over. Also, I’ve never played it.
Anyway, I had to have the first two movements prepared for yesterday, and somehow I fell in love. It’s just all so comprehensive; the technique is so organic and the mood moves from light and happy to serious and gorgeous to bombastic and silly seemingly without effort. The Weber does this at its best moments, but Weber definitely took advantage of the orchestra in creating the transitions…whereas Mozart manages them within the actual bassoon part.
Of course, this makes the technique harder because it has to have that sense of flow. And so much of the technique is just a fancy way of moving around to the next gorgeous moment, so it has to be controlled enough to come into the background. On the bright side, it just goes to show Mozart’s supreme confidence in future bassoonists!

All in all, it was definitely a great lesson and I am pumped to keep working on the Mozart.
We’ll see what Mr. Hunt has to say about it in the fall when I’m gearing up for sophomore jury… 🙂

(Also, in unrelated-but-entertaining news: I cannot stop listening to The Decemberists’s “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect”. Even if all you listen to is classical music, I really think you should venture out on a limb and listen to it. The lyrics against the simplicity of the music and the texture of Colin Meloy’s voice are absolutely fantastic.
And you thought all I wrote about was bassoon!)

One thing I hate: musicians with obnoxiously low self-esteem. Well, actually I don’t mind those with low self-esteem, I mind those people who broadcast their feeling to the entire world. It’s emotionally draining — there have been people who I have to assure, practically on every encounter, that yes, they are a good musician, yes, they sound awesome, yes, they are so not terrible.

And yet I really can’t complain, because there are numerous times when I, too, have struggled with low self-esteem when it comes to playing the bassoon, and when I’ve relied far too heavily on my friends to tell me that, “Yeah, Rachel, you know how you keep saying you suck? Way to be delusional.”

So I think that low self-esteem is a problem everyone struggles with, and especially musicians. After all, we sit alone in practice rooms trying to figure out what’s bad about our playing. We go to rehearsals where conductors — or our peers — tell us that this note is out of tune, this note has too hard an attack, this phrase does not go anywhere. We ask to be chastised. We get better by noticing our flaws.

Before I go further, let me say that one should never become self-congratulatory. I tend to fall into this trap very easily. I want to be happy! So I congratulate on getting my butt to a practice room, congratulate myself on picking up the bassoon, and congratulate myself on making a reed that will play, however dubiously. These practice sessions are always short and always, if not completely ineffective, then certainly much less effective than they could be.

So back to being down on ourselves. This is not a bad thing. In the end, that out-of-tune note in the Shostakovitch 9 solo will probably keep you from winning the job of your dreams, so it is completely in one’s best interest to notice that it’s out of tune, every time.
But one also has to make sure to fix these problems, and this, I think, is where we musicians can escape the path of obnoxiously low self-esteem.

See, it’s one thing to say, “Gee, that sucks!” and then delve into what, exactly, was so sucktastic about the passage. (You can use better English than me, I am sure.) But obviously just acknowledging this gets one nowhere. You’ve got to fix it — and then, I think, you have to enjoy the feeling of fixing the problem. It’s okay to celebrate your awesomeness when you’ve nailed the Ravel Piano Concerto excerpt or when you’ve gotten your double tonguing ten clicks faster. You are fixing problems. You are indeed awesome!
After really productive practice sessions I like to treat myself. Maybe it’s concocting a super amazing dessert in the cafeteria (luckily, they ONLY thing our cafeteria does well are desserts) or taking some time before bed to read some of my favorite book or letting myself have some chill time with friends. This keeps me feeling happy about my progress without getting too cocky. The reward is in the music, and in the fact that the music allows me to create something beautiful. And when I create something beautiful, everything gets more beautiful. So why not celebrate?

Just don’t get too carried away with all the celebration. There’s always something to improve.
At least, there definitely is for me. But I’m going to fix it!

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?