Thursday, February 2, 2017


I walk out into the silky smoothness of the night air after heroic rain storms have washed clean some of the toxins of years of draught. I am coming from an oboe lesson with a student. I will try to teach him the difference between playing chamber music and orchestral music as played by the musicians of our era. When he plays in orchestras, he will project his sound at all times if I am successful in conveying the idea, and if he receives it. When he plays in chamber groups, his sound will flow like water. His fingers will move like a rippling brook dancing to the melodies of of the music in all venues. His ear will seek out the nuances of the harmony and his body will adjust the pitch accordingly.

Projection is an exercise in selective hearing. The oboe reed vibrates inside the player’s head, so the instrument creates the false impression of sounding loud to the player when in fact it’s not loud at all. So I tell the students, do not listen to the sound in your head. It is not the way you sound to the audience. The way you actually sound is only what is conveyed by the room. If you succeed in making the room vibrate, and the walls themselves dance to your sound, then the sound that comes back to you is what you actually sound like.

We start into the great oboe solo in the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto, trying to make the walls themselves vibrate to the melody, seeking points of climax, seeking the high point of each phrase and the backing off in preparation for the next phrase, looking for the phrases we will connect, and the ones that will stand on their own with a slight pause before the next phrase begins.

We give ourselves over to the work. Time disappears. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Auntie Gravity

Now for the few of you that might actually be paying attention to this drivel:

Anti-gravity has always fascinated me. I have featured symbols of it in a few of my art works. I have recurrent dreams about floating down hallways without putting a single foot down to support me or to propel me in the direction I wish to go. Sometimes I am in upright standing position while floating. Other times I am sitting as if at the wheel of a car that is not there.

One never puts wire on an oboe reed to compress it, unless of course, you're me, which you're not because I'm me. (all this is debatable from a physics or a metaphysical perspective). I put the wire on the reeds to compress them to a point where I can just play the oboe the way I want to, and my poor mouth doesn't have to do the compression work, which, of course, is like floating down a hallway the way I want to go without using legs and feet for support.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Teaching Notes

 Serious musicians are vulnerable people. Trying to express the inner and outer world in sound is a spiritual pursuit. Some musicians tap deeply into their emotions while performing. The result is music that is very moving both for the performer and for the audience, and this effect outlasts the performance. The memory of music can continue to elicit strong emotions, and in this way enrich the lives of both performers and their audiences. For some, the music and the associated feelings play over and over again in the inner ear, and some particular music becomes the theme of life events.   

Vulnerability can make music students reticent about exposing the desire that drives them into this art. It can also make them self protective about the process of improvement and feel badly about where they are in the process of making music. I believe it is important to cherish such people and to make them feel comfortable so that they can express their gifts, and so that the world can receive their gift. As an instructor, I try to make it very clear that I am not there to embarrass students, or to find fault with their personalities or their learning processes. I also have no pre-conceived notions about what they should or should not already be able to do well “by now”. Instead, I make it clear that I am on their side and I that I genuinely want them to succeed.

 In the process, students sometimes express hidden beliefs, but only if they trust me as an ally. I asked one student, “What happens if you make mistakes?” The answer was very honest, “Then you are a failure”.  The statement is judgement on the individual who makes mistakes, and, of course it is self judgement as well. Who doesn’t make mistakes? But, the statement goes on, that person is a “failure”. 

If I genuinely believed this myself I would have given up music long ago. I was a poor sight reader, very slow to take in information from the grid of ink dots and lines that is written music. I was miserable at playing scales. But I didn’t stop, and I was able to achieve quite a lot by engaging in the process of constant learning and self-reflection about my own learning processes, as well as tons of patience, which, of course, would sometimes explode in anger, frustration, cursing, crying, and other demonstrations. But that is all part of putting desire together with patience with the self.

Since I am very aware of my own slow processes, I endeavor to convince my students that they too are involved in musical learning processes.  Every processes is multi-dimensional. Each process includes takes that are not perfect, or mis-takes. That is how we find out what needs technical attention. The ideas, expressions, and associated emotions in music need to be communicated both to ones self and to the listeners if the music is to succeed, so we need to get the technical aspects out of the way of the music.

The technical processes of playing music, in my case a wind instrument, include hand positions, mouth positions, tongue patterns, breathing places, phrasing, the understanding of music theory, interpretation of rhythms, ear training, eye patterns for reading the musical grids, listening to other players while playing oneself, sound projection, dynamics, and much more. All these skills are required, and all this evolving understanding needs a big supportive space to unfold. 

Progress is beyond dualistic concepts of failure and success, but concepts of failure and the spirit-crushing feelings associated with it can keep understanding from unfolding, or delay it by a lot even if somehow the desire is left intact.

Not everyone is gifted with the same set of musical skills. Some are gifted at reading musical grids. Some are gifted at musical phrasing. Some understand theory and harmony superbly well. Some are gifted at composition. Others are gifted at improvisation. Some have a superb ear for intonation. Some are gifted with great technique. Some are gifted only with an intense desire to express, and none of the rest. There is room for all of these musicians and more.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


At one of my baroque trio rehearsals, my colleagues’s husband remarked that even with all our years of practice, the two of us still could not play together. Very funny, since the music we play is contrapuntal. The themes are all stated as a round, so we rarely if ever play the themes together.

A great skill for any musician is to be able to keep the rhythm and line of his or her own part no matter what the other musicians are doing. This is true come hell or high water, since conductors also make mistakes. The conductor might be in the wrong place in the music or distracted by some anomalous event at the concert, like an audience member coming in late and disturbing everyone. The conductor may be in the middle of a personal crisis. In any case, you may find yourself blamed for their mistake or someone else’s mistake unless you can keep to your part no matter what, be flexible, and move to a new place in the music if you have to. If you can do all this,  you can sometimes prevent what is known in concert lingo as a “Train Wreck”, where the music comes grinding to a halt because no one knows where they are in the music. If not, then, as stated in the classic movie, “The Russians are Coming”, “World War Three is starting, and everyone is blaming you!

My training at the art of being able to keep my own line and rhythm no matter what came early. After all, my family was the only Jewish family in an all Irish Catholic neighborhood. Isn’t this counterpoint in itself? 

We were living behind and above a grocery store on a corner in Southwest Philadelphia, connected to everyone else in the neighborhood not only by our family business, but also by the fact that all the houses on both blocks were row houses with a common connecting wall between each house. My brother and I attended the local elementary school where I played E flat alto saxophone in the band. This was my first foray into the entertainment industry that was later to include car sales, a stock brokerage license, and computer network sales.

The only possible place for me to practice in the household was in the kitchen behind the grocery store. I dutifully practiced there every day. My practice sessions were invariably accompanied by loud banging noises with no particular rhythm. The noise was present at all my practice sessions, and somehow I chose to ignore it completely. Can I explain my attitude in this? Nope!

Our immediate next door neighbors were an elderly couple, the Zimpsons ( I was 9 years old with a different viewpoint on “elderly couple” than I have now). Mrs Zimpson seemed frail and very quiet. From my 9 year old perspective, she was always reading her Bible, whether she was indoors or out, moving her lips while reading the passages. Her husband, Mr Zimpson, was more outgoing, always dressed in pants and a sleeveless underwear top. He expressed anger and frustration every time I saw him, not at me, but at something or someone. 

When Mrs. Zimpson died, she was carried out with her Bible. I was outside the house to witness her exit, and it was a remarkable event for a small boy who lived next door. I wasn’t there when Mr Zimpson was carried out about a year later. But I was in front of their house when a policeman came out. He saw me standing there, and he took the time to tell me what was so strange to him about their house. He said that one of the walls was completely covered with nails. Then it dawned on me. While I was practicing the saxophone, Zimpson was driving endless nails into the wall connecting our two houses!

To this day I am grateful to Mr. Zimpson for training me in the art of keeping to my own part in the face of an angry and determined distraction that has no real sense of rhythm.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Get A Job?

It is a modern metaphysical principle that things hoped and prayed for may show up in ways that are quite unexpected and even unrecognizable. Little did I know that this might apply to experiences with a personal digital assistant. I believed that  events stemming from interactions with a PDA were outside the realm of metaphysics and Biblical legend as well, but it turned out otherwise.

It was a rainy day in 2034 when I had myself uploaded into an iBody. I decided to do this because the competencies I was used to in the flesh and blood body, or as we now say, the “brick and mortar body,” were just about used up. I anticipated the “jump” to the iBody as a blessed event, a rebirth. I went to sleep in the Med Center, my mind peacefully prepared for the event.

Compared with the brick and mortar body, the new set of competencies I experienced with the iBody were wonderful. I regained suppleness, sex drive, quick thinking and memory, energy and staying power, and a life free of the aches and pains of an aging brick and mortar body. This was everything I'd hoped for. 

But then, a series of events occurred that have sorely tested my metaphysical perspective, events so life changing that even Steve Jobs himself could not have foreseen them. Indeed, the outcomes were so startling they would test the patience of a Job.

It all began at a glorious Christmas Party where my closest and wealthiest friends celebrated each other with very extravagant gifts. All the gifts were given with along with a gift contract, and that contract contained a single and very important operative clause. It stated that any gift could easily be exchanged at any time for anything at all. This was totally amazing! To test it out and have some fun with it at the same time, I instructed my PDA to evoke the operative clause and get me a gift exchange.

You see, I am a patient person.  I do not complain about my new format. It is rather attractive, and it was obviously achieved with tremendous skill. My sex change operation was completely successful. It is only that I had not even conceived the idea that I wanted a sex change operation. I must have mispronounced  the word  “operative” or the words “gift exchange”.  Maybe I said them unclearly. I’m even willing to consider my-sub conscious motives for the change and of course I take responsibility for what has occurred. After all, it's my life, right?

My attempts to contact my doctors are frustrating, since they’ve all been uploaded into iBodies recently, and medical communications are a bit scrambled until the next upgrade of the medical PDA system.

 I am, however, enjoying my new residence in Syracuse, Italy. I was moved here from Syracuse, New York by my personal digital assistant during recovery from surgery when I was “sent home.” I must say the legalities were all handled splendidly. No complaints there, and my iCar ride to the airport was smooth and soothing. I didn’t even wake up! The challenge to learn a new language and customs is probably something I needed anyway to sharpen my mental skills and to help me to think outside the box. You see, there is a silver lining here.

I admit it. I did mention that I am unhappy with living in an apartment complex, and that I prefer a single residence.  The doctor I am now married to is wonderful. She is a resident at a local hospital. She is very nice and appreciative of the companionship. I don’t complain that the companion she originally requested was a dog. I am flattered that I might have been chosen for the possibility I could demonstrate unconditional love the way a dog does.

I can report that the identity problems I have been experiencing are gradually subsiding because of the new identity suppression drugs. The life coach acting classes provided by my PDA are teaching me that all identities and roles we assume in life are really just like actors performing on a stage anyway. You see, I am becoming so wise! The PDA has been upgraded, and the latest version has agreed to attend therapy sessions with me to work on my forgiveness issues. I am becoming a better person.

Monday, May 18, 2015

An Oboist's Guide to Plumbing

An Oboist's Guide to Plumbing, Or
How many "Jeezis Christs" does it take to install a kitchen faucet?

My Aunt Esther always said that my Uncle Lou taught her parakeet to swear. "Every time he left my place", she said, "My parakeet would say, "Jeezis Christ, Jeezis Christ, Jeezis Christ".

Uncle Lou was forever chomping on an unlit cigar. It's constant presence increased the effectiveness of his swearing, since communications are markedly enhanced by the combination of both auditory and visual signals. I must report that Aunt Esther's parakeet never did master the art of keeping an unlit cigar in its mouth, and I don't smoke, but I have formed the habit of swearing just like my Uncle Lou when I find myself in frustrating physical situations. You can just imagine how this might apply to plumbing.

I was recently struck by the comment of my old friend and accomplished pianist, Mark Osten, when he posted an update about his own plumbing adventures on Facebook. Mark said that his accomplishment in the field of do it yourself plumbing was, for him, the equivalent of the moon shot. 

"Roger that, Mark. This is Houston. Congratulations on your EMA".  (Extra Musical Activity)

For my own plumbing adventure, "Houston" was the local hardware store in our small town.  I dutifully showed them the situation in pictures on a smart phone and received hearty congratulations all around. It seems that many of their customers attempt to describe plumbing situations by using the limited tools of the English language accompanied by hand gestures. 

After a short discussion, one of my two hardware advisors addressed the other one as Horatio. I immediately picked up on this and thought it was a reference to Shakespeare. "Oh", I said, "That's Hamlet.  Hamlet's a tragedy."

"All plumbing is tragedy", the man said. I just had no idea plumbing attracted such wisdom.

When I got back to the realities on the ground, I discovered that the hot and cold water shut off valves also needed replacing. Alas, poor Yorick, the tragedy had begun. Horatio supplied the parts and the installation advice, and I resumed my unlikely position under the sink in a dreadfully small and awkward space designed specifically for mice who don't turn large and long handled wrenches, and they don't got a need  for no stinkin' torque.

Three spills, two trips to the hardware store, and one wife injured from taking a fall later, I am on the verge of completing my own do it yourself plumbing job. Tell me, Is this not tragedy?

In the course of the Job ( Biblical reference here to accompany the Shakespeare), I discovered  that many of the cleverly manufactured parts I was installing were also the sons of female dogs. I could have used one of my Uncle Lou's cigars to enhance the effect of my language, but, alas, I don't smoke.

Hey, Mark, how's that moon shot going for you?

Friday, January 9, 2015

*The Oboe Reed Index (OBOIX)

Oboe Reed Graveyard I
Oboe Reed Graveyard II

Oboe reeds are the very life blood of an oboe player’s career. A processed piece of oboe cane is a potential oboe reed unless, of course, any number of things go wrong in cane processing, shaping, tying, scraping and finishing.  

When I was a boy, a processed piece of oboe cane, ready to be tied onto the tube or “staple” that fits into the oboe itself,  cost ten cents. The tube cost twenty five cents. Now the same piece of cane costs $2.50 to $3.50 each and the tubes run from $2.50 to six or seven dollars. I am sure you can appreciate the lost opportunity in oboe reed futures from these numbers. Obviously, you should have bought in to this years ago. Let’s take this subject to its logical next step.

 The following scene might be played out on the Jim Kramer stock market show, featuring a call in from caller, “Dave”, on the subject of oboe reed futures. Let’s listen in:

DAVE: Boohah, Jim!

JIM: Boohah, Dave!

DAVE: What do you think of this Oboe Reed Index (OBOIX), Jim?

JIM: (Slamming his fist on the Bell Button) (LOUD ringing!) RAGING BULL appears on the screen, snorting, and emitting BULLISH NOISES)

I like it, Dave! This market is undervalued. It’s jet-fueled by demand that’s on fire and constantly frustrated. The suppliers can sell all they can get, even when the quality slides.

In this market, supply just can’t keep up with demand, and the demand is locked in.  Where else you gonna go to get this stuff? I’ve seen oboe players and oboe students on street corners and in parking lots slipping each other supplies and finished reeds in brown paper bags. These consumers are desperate!

And the beauty part is that if the reeds are any good, they’re already dying, and the players are wondering where their next good reed is going to come from. You can see the pressures on the supply side. 

DAVE:  What do you make of the China deal, Jim?

JIM:    The Chinese see the oboe cane market as a take-over candidate. This market was left to the French, and the cane fields of Southern France, but not anymore. The Chinese are going for “Amber Waves of Cane”, Dave.

DAVE:  Boohah, Jim!

JIM:  Boohah, Dave!

*Historical price increases and profits are no guarantee of future returns. As with all investments, do your own research and due diligence before investing in the Oboe Reed Index (OBOIX)