Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oboe For Everyone---Connecting Students with Oboe Specialist Teachers for In Person or Online Lessons

Oboists,  let's make our world a little better (and smaller) starting today.


"But history will judge you, and as the years pass, you will ultimately judge yourself, in the extent to which you have used your gifts and talents to lighten and enrich the lives of your fellow men. In your hands lies the future of your world and the fulfillment of the best qualities of your own spirit"

-Robert F. Kennedy (speech at Berkeley, 1966)

Service to our communities and the world can come in so many beautiful forms.  Over the years I have volunteered at the local homeless shelter, given as generously to the food banks as my professor salary allows, support environmental causes, etc, etc.  These are things that most people in my community have the skill set to do as time and generosity allows. But when I considered how I might use my specialized skill set (including a doctorate in oboe performance and pedagogy and 12 years teaching at the college level) to serve others in the world, my brain started spinning with this question:

What if EVERY OBOIST who wanted to take oboe lessons with an oboe specialist had the opportunity to do so,  regardless of location in the world or ability to pay ?

I often take on students for reduced rates to serve my community. It's a small action on my part but I believe it is really important to the students and families I can serve. Currently this blog reaches readers from over 60 different countries, many of whom do not have access to oboe lessons in their communities. But proximity to a teacher is no longer an issue with the use of free online video communication tools such as Skype ,  ooVoo , or Google Chat  for online lessons.

So my question to you is this:

Would you like to take oboe lessons but either don't know how to find a teacher or can't afford the usual lesson fees?  Or can you think of someone who might be able to benefit from this service? Or maybe you'd like a lesson or two to work with a topic I've written about? 

If so,  I am here to help.  I have a amazing network of teachers willing to provide lessons to you on a "pay as you are able scale."  For instance, my usual rate is $30 per 30 minute lesson, but please know that I am willing to teach you at a price that accommodates your budget, including free lessons if there is demonstrated need.  If you sign up at the site, I can find a teacher for you (either near where you live or online) who can best match your needs.  For those are able to pay a full rate for lessons, I ask that you please do so--this will provide the resources to support teaching those who cannot.

contact me at: 
 for more information

This brings me to the second question:

Can I facilitate a network of oboe teachers, reed makers,  repair specialists, etc. who might be interested in sharing their specialized skill set to those with limited financial resources?

Oboe teachers--would you be willing to take on a student either in person or online for a reduced rate in order to serve your community and profession? If so, I'd love to meet you!

contact me at or for more information

College oboe majors--would you like to gain experience teaching beginning players? Fantastic!  Let's connect:

contact me at or for more information

Reedmakers--can I use your name/contact information to give to oboists looking for reeds? Or a link to your website? What are your rates? Would be be willing to occasionally produce reeds for a reduced rate for those who cannot afford your full price reeds? Let's begin a conversation:

contact me at or for more information

To current oboe instructors:

First and foremost,  please know I have no intention of taking students away from their current teachers by undercutting the price of lessons. Many musicians make their living by the amazing work they do as lesson teachers, and in no way do I want to steal students away from their teachers.  It is my desire to provide the opportunity for lessons to those who, because of financial resources or current location, are unable to do so.  For those interested in lessons who are able to pay a fair rate for lessons, I ask that you please do so. It is my hope that this network will assist in pairing qualified teachers with students either in their communities or online.  

Let's do all that we can to connect with others to share our love of music and our oboe skills. And please forward this post to anyone else you think might be interested. Who's game?

"How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment; we can start now, start slowly changing the world!"    --Anne Frank (diary entry, 1944)

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hear Kathy Greenbank perform Marcello this Thurs and Fri!


The musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra are performing a concert tonight and tomorrow
(January 24th and 25th), performing Italian Baroque concertos.  One of the soloists is the extraordinary oboist Kathryn Greenbank, who will be performing the Marcello Oboe Concerto.  If you're in the region,  I highly recommend attending!  See you there on Fri?

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

Click here for more information

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Breathing..the nuts and bolts. With cool pictures.

It's comforting to know that at the unconscious level,  we're all expert breathers. Or,  at least we're good enough breathers because...we're alive. In most circumstances, our bodies complete our breathing cycles with an involuntary respiratory system initiated in the brain stem, so we're usually not even aware of what we're doing.  This is pretty cool stuff!

However,  to play the oboe (and any other wind instrument or to speak, swim, etc), we must use conscious control of our breathing. The air is the mechanism for our sound,  so we must discipline our bodies to breathe at specific intervals to play phrases and to initiate proper air support to create our desired sounds. The anatomical parts engaged in consciously controlled breathing include the lungs, intercostal muscles,  and muscles of the abdominal wall, and the diaphragm is engaged but involuntarily controlled.

Let's take a field trip trip to your body to figure out where all of these parts are and learn what they do, to see how we might improve with this knowledge. First,  your lungs. Find your collar bone and put one hand on it,  then put your other hand on the bottom of your rib cage. The top of your lungs extend to the top of your collar bone and when you breath in,  your lungs expand all the way to the bottom of your rib cage. The ribs essentially function as a protective "armor" for the lungs and heart, some of our most important organs.

Take a few deep breaths and notice how your rib cage expands and contracts as you breathe in and out. The ribs expand and contract thanks to our intercostal muscles, which run between the ribs. Now put your hand on the rib cage in the back and breathe deeply. Does your back expand as you breathe in? It should. If it doesn't you may be "holding" or unnecessarily tensing your back muscles.  This would be an example of TOO MUCH tension that you can learn to release.  Think of your body as being round, like an apple, instead of two dimensional with a "front" and "back." As you breathe in and out,  your entire ribcage should expand and contract your entire chest area.
Graphic of the intercostal muscles thanks to Gray's Anatomy and Wikipedia

By now  you've likely noticed that as you breathe in and out deeply, your rib cage expands and your abdomen also expands or enlarges. The skeletal muscle called the diaphragm, which is attached to the bottom of your ribcage,  pushes your abdominal organs downward as you breathe in to make way for the lung expansion. Note that our diaphragm is an involuntary muscle--you can't consciously move it; it expands or contracts as a result of the actions of the intercostal or abdominal wall muscles that expand and contract as you breathe.  (One of only times the diaphragm works on its own is when you hiccup,  which is a spasm of the diaphragm muscle.) As you breathe in, your lungs fill with air as the abdominal wall expands and the diaphragm contracts and moves the abdominal organs down into your abdomen. Over time I've heard so many well-intentioned music teachers say, "when you breathe in, breathe into your belly."  But they couldn't be further from the truth!!! Let me repeat: as you breathe in, your lungs fill with air as the abdominal wall expands and the diaphragm contracts and pushes the abdominal organs down into your abdomen to make room for the lung expansion. Anyone who says that you should breath into your "belly" is misinformed. Air can't go there...and if it does,  you have a serious medical problem!
Here's a really cool graphic, thanks to Wikipedia. This shows the lungs (in pink) and the diaphragm muscle (in green) that pushes abdominal organs down as the lungs expand and contract.

Graphic of the abdomen  (again, thanks to Wikipedia)

Here's a side view of the abdominal wall. When we breath deeply,  this area extends outward to make way for the organs that have been displaced by lung expansion. The lower muscles in the abdominal wall also play a key role in air support.


Now that you know what happens when we breathe,  let's explore the idea of air support. Take a big breath and blow it out quickly,  like you have lots of birthday candles to blow out. The act of consciously forcing your air out engages your abdominal wall to push air out of your lungs. Allow your throat to always remain unconstricted throughout this action.  Now extend your arm out and imagine you are holding a lit candle (or,  actually find and light a candle for the exercise if you wish). Try to blow air to the "candle" for 10 full seconds, but only enough to bend the flame--but not blow it out. To do this, you still need abdominal air support, and also more "focused" air,  likely from a smaller mouth opening and consistent abdominal support. Again, bring awareness to your throat and make sure that it is not constricted.  For a test of what NOT to do,  tighten your throat and try the same exercise. Not a good feeling, right? Realize that air support comes only from the lower portions of the abdominal wall. If you try to engage the muscles closest your ribcage (the top of your beautiful "six-pack" abs), it will also tighten the throat, as if you are coughing. This feeling of throat tightness should always be avoided.  Think of your lungs and wind pipe being an open column for your air, using the lower abdominal muscles to support the air moving out of your lungs.

Another exercise: Find a balloon.  Take in a quick, big breath and blow up the balloon.  Keep the muscles around the cheeks and lips firm, like when you play the oboe, so no "puffy" cheeks.  As you blow up the balloon,  place a hand on your lower abdominal wall to feel the muscles engaging. Now pick up your oboe and play some long tones with the same abdominal muscles engaged.  Is your sound bigger than usual?  If so, keep some balloons near your practice space and blow them up as a daily warm up to feel the correct muscle engagement for good air support.

It seems that 99.9% of my students consistently do not blow enough air through their instruments.  That .1% sound MARVELOUS though!  Using MORE AIR  through their instrument often fixes pitch and response issues and allows the player to utilize a wider dynamic range with more ease.
If I had a dollar for every time that I asked a student to play a phrase again, but with 10X (or 100X or 1000X!) more air and was amazed at the improved results,  I'd be rich!

 Notice that I mentioned blowing air through the instrument, not just at the reed. Take in a fair amount of air with an unconstricted inhalation, then put a lot of air through the instrument using consistent lower abdominal wall support. Support the sound all the way to the end of the bell.  Some teachers describe this is using "fast" air or "spinning" the air through the reed/instrument. In each case, there should be a lot of well-supported air volume that is moving through the instrument. I encourage you to go back to the Pavarotti Sing Along post to practice using a lot of air support and air volume. Then play some of the songs on the oboe. This is a simple concept, but takes a lot a awareness on the part of the oboist to develop better air support and use more air volume over time. 

Ok,  we've covered a lot so I'll let you work with these ideas before I continue in the next post.

In the meantime,  I wish you unconstricted, deep breathing coupled with great air support and air volume in your playing. Breathe easy, my friends!

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

Monday, January 14, 2013

What Marcel Tabuteau and 4-year-olds can teach us about the oboe

Last week I began a volunteer stint with our local cross country (nordic) ski organization.  Even though I'm relatively new to skiing,  there was a huge need for teachers to the 140 or so eager young skiers who signed up for lessons. And, due to my great sabbatical this year I have more flexibility with my time and thought it'd be a great way to serve my community and combine my love of skiing and teaching.

So in my volunteer role,  I'm an assistant skiing teacher.

To a class of 30 or more beginners....

All 4-year-olds.

Seems like the perfect job for a childless oboist/college professor, right? I amusingly decided that it would be just like teaching beginning reed-making to college students.  Ha!

The first class was an organizational nightmare of a smallish space crammed with 140 kids, their parents, registration sheets, determining age groups and ability levels for the kids, name tags, skis, boots, ski poles, gloves, missing gloves, etc, etc, etc. One of the first things I did as a "teacher" was to assist one little girl who needed a name tag.  Her father was in charge of (and swamped at) the registration table and she otherwise needed an adult to help her find what she needed. In the midst of all of the confusion we managed to find a name tag (let's call her "K") and then headed out to be with the other beginning skiers. On our short ski over to the rest of the class members, K cheerfully declared,

  "I might fall.  But that's OK,  because I know how to get UP!"

Her comment portended that I was about to learn something important from this experience. It also cemented my belief that in every teaching situation I always learn more from my students than what they likely gain from me.

Our 90-minute class began in rapidly-diminishing daylight and balmy 20 F (-7 C) conditions.  Our great lead teacher enthusiastically took the budding skiers through warm-ups, drills, etc.  In my role as "assistant"  teacher,  I mimicked the lead teacher's movements and tried my best to keep the students attentive, moving (to stay warm) and away from eating snow. Then, as darkness fell we learned to FALL down. The students were already quite practiced in this endeavor! But more importantly,  we learned how to GET BACK UP. There were NO tears, NO frustration, just  determination. Of course,  there was some distracted now eating too...

As we headed back to the warming hut/ ski chalet,  I was the "leader" of the ski train,  the engine who would lead this squiggly line of young skiers back to their parents.  I looked back and watched as most of the kids glided on their skis for a few steps,  then inevitably fell. But as soon as they were down,  they immediately GOT BACK UP and took a few more ski glides before the next fall and rise that would continue their learning endeavor.  The cute little skiers on the trail reminded of a hot pan with popcorn cooking. At unexpected moments, you'd see the sudden POP of a skier going down and bouncing up JUST as quickly.

In my next oboe practice session,  the ski experience was still swimming (skiing?) in my head. It reminded me a of story about Marcel Tabuteau, my oboe "grandfather"  who was the inimitable former oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and teacher who is credited with creating the US-American school of oboe playing. According to my fuzzy recollection of the story, he was having a conversation with a student who was having difficulty learning a new concept or was having a low moment in their playing. Tabuteau says (in his wondrously thick French accent): my, friend,  the difference between you and me is that when things get difficult,   I know how to pull myself up faster.

That story has always stuck with me,  because it reminds us that falling or failing is a natural part of learning.  Frustration and despair doesn't have to be a part of the equation if we don't let it. More important than the fall is the drive to GET BACK UP. The faster we get back up, the sooner we may fall again,  but the sooner we can get to that warming hut!

 We WILL fall,  but know how to GET BACK UP.  Thanks, little "K."

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A music video to share from Copenhagen

I heard this today and thought I'd share.  It's the Royal Danish Orchestra's oboe section performing the Beethoven.

Expressive playing, fantastic blending and pitch. Lovely playing, all!

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Swimming With Sharks..AIR Assignment #2

Steve "interviewing" a curious young sea lion pup

My husband is an amazing videographer. The bulk of his work is for an eco-expedition small ship (40-100 passenger ship) cruise company that travels to unique locations around the globe from the Arctic to Antarctic and everywhere in-between. He chronicles the wildlife and the adventures of the travelers (hiking, snorkeling, kayaking) and produces a video ready for passengers to take home at the end of the trip. The guests always think he has the best job in the world.  Except for playing oboe,  I mostly concur!

I had the special opportunity to travel with my husband while he was on assignment for 2 weeks in the Galapagos Islands at the beginning of December.  The Galapagos Islands are a remote and special place in the world, just off the coast of mainland Ecuador. 97% of the area is designated as Galapagos National Park and the land/water are strictly regulated and protected.  Sea lions, marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, sea turtles, magnificent and great frigate birds, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, several species of intrepid and gregarious mockingbirds, the ubiquitous yellow warbler, and of course the blue and red footed boobies abound on the enchanted volcanic islands and in the surrounding waters.The animals living in the islands have mostly never been in contact with humans over the course of their species development and consequently have no fear of humans.  One must be careful to literally not step on sleeping sea lions, nesting boobies or sun bathing iguanas, because they aren't going to run away. They are used to being watched with binoculars and camera lenses, but have no experience of the horrors of being seen through a rifle sight.

 One of the many highlights of the trip was the opportunity to go snorkeling nearly every day. The waters were cool (70F or 21 C) and the sea was full of schools of brightly colored schools of fish.  I had never snorkeled before,  but am a comfortable swimmer and found the whole experience to be absolutely incredible.  Swimming through schools of thousands of fish, watching rays, sea turtles, penguins a mere foot in front of me, the twisting and turning play with young sea lions seemed like we were dancing a pas de deux together. It was all fantastic.

And we also snorkeled with sharks.  Black tipped and white tipped reef sharks and large hammerhead sharks. It was at this point that I had to throw out my memories of the movie Jaws and realize that the sharks were not likely to bite. I had to remember to not panic,  and gain control of my breath (which had become shallow and rapid due to those terrifying Jaws movie memories). Once I gained control of my breath, everything became magical again.  With steady breathing and a calm mind,  it occurred to me that I wanted to actually look a shark in the eye,  not just watch them from above.  So with an unconstricted throat, I took in lots of air quickly then submerged to explore the ocean depths and look for more sharks.  Turns out the shark was slightly curious, but mostly scared of me! (An important lesson learned.) After swimming underwater for as long as I could (think long oboe phrases here), I blew out the water from the snorkel,  took in several large breaths of air, then again gained control of my breath. It turned out that breathing evenly, with an unconstricted throat, was the key to a great  snorkeling experience

Instead of this:

And, not surprisingly,  this snorkeling experience got me thinking about the oboe. (I wisely left my oboe at home during the trip, but thought about it often!) In particular,  the best breathing for snorkeling is similar to our work as oboists:

 Breath evenly, expanding your abdominal wall and back, with an unconstricted jaw and throat. Do not panic,  gain control of your breath. Put aside self-created fears (or memories of the movie Jaws! :) and repeat the mantra:  Do not panic, gain control of your breath, and breath evenly, expanding your abdominal wall and back while maintaining an unconstricted throat.

Of course, a snorkel isn't needed to practice oboe breathing.  However,  a "Breath Builder isometric exerciser" is an inexpensive and useful tool to develop well-supported and unconstricted breathing.  I purchased my Breath Builder  from Hickey's Music ,  a great music store to know about, but they can also be purchased at many online sites as well. The Breath Builder consists of a plastic tube with a ping pong ball inside. You can attach tubing of various resistances to the tube to practice inhaling and exhaling.  The challenge is to keep the ball at the top of the tube and a good amount of air volume and support is needed to do this. All of this should be completed with an unconstricted throat, and a LOT of air. I find this is a great breathing "warm up" exercise while my reeds are soaking. Or,  if I'm having trouble with a long phrase,  I step away from the oboe and breathe through the Breath Builder a few times. I'm always amazed at how much better the phrase is when I pick up the oboe again.

Breath Builder isometric exerciser

Breathing isn't something you should bring awareness to ONLY when you play the oboe.  Think about how you breath during quiet times,  standing in line at the grocery, or when engaging in active endeavors such as walking, running or ...snorkeling. Notice how much air you intake, and if you are allowing your abdominal wall and back to expand with an unconstricted throat. This awareness of breathing habits will help you consciously use good air use when playing the oboe.

In the next few posts I'll be writing more about air use and the oboe,  our anatomy, and even tying in the previous AIR assignment #1 "sing along" post into all of this.  So,  for now,  breathe deeply with an unconstricted throat--both with and without the oboe.

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

There is no such thing as a flattering close-up snorkel photo :)

Interested in Studying Oboe at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire?

Are you considering studying oboe in college?

There are still a few audition dates left for anyone interested in studying music at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire beginning Fall 2013:

Thursday, January 17th, 2013
Saturday, February 9th, 2013
Saturday, March 9th, 2013

For more information,  click on the link below:

 UWEC Audition Application

 As a faculty member at UWEC, I'd like to tell you a little more about our program. While I am interested in the possibility of having you join the UWEC Oboe Studio next fall, my primary goal is to help you find the right school for YOU.

The University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire is an internationally recognized university of about 11,000 students overall and the music program is the largest is the state, with 375 undergraduates. We do not have a graduate program,  and there are a wealth of performance opportunities for all oboe majors including orchestra, two bands,  and numerous chamber music ensembles. We have a select group of 9 oboe students at UWEC and while the studio is large,  it is a very supportive group of fun, talented, and creative people! In addition to weekly lessons,  there are also a weekly studio class and reed making class for all oboe majors. Because I am a full-time faculty member,  I am always here to answer questions and help with last-minute reed and instrument fixes as needed. We also have a reed room where oboists/bassoonists can make reeds (and they seem to enjoy hanging out there too!). The reed room was outfitted with over $10,000 of reed making equipment several years ago,  so students have access to a number of shaper tips, a gouging machine, etc, etc for reed making.  We also regularly bring in guest artists for masterclasses and arrange trips to the Twin Cities for concert experiences as opportunities arise. In addition, I encourage students to take opportunities to study abroad and explore the world during their time in college. Recent students have studied abroad in Sweden, Austria, Italy, and Scotland.

Several years ago a former UWEC graduate donated 3 Loree oboes to the studio. This allows students in need of purchasing a new oboe to have a professional model oboe to play while they save up money. Or, if your own oboe is in the shop for repairs,  there's an instrument to use in the meantime. We also have several English horns available for student use as well.

Recent success stories of current oboe students include 3 students collaborating with me on an article that was published this fall in the International Double Reed Society Journal, and the 2 wind players who won last year's UWEC Orchestra Concerto Competition performances were both oboists (performing the Mozart and Strauss Oboe Concertos, respectively).  A student was just selected to participate in the Walt Disney internship program in Orlando, FL. UWEC oboe graduates are successful performers and teachers throughout the region and internationally in China and Hong Kong. Some have also gone on to graduate studies in both performance and education. My students work hard,  but they achieve great goals and enjoy the process along the way. 

I maintain a very active performance schedule both on an off campus to promote oboe playing and to demonstrate what I teach.  I perform solo recitals each year on campus, present performances on campus with the UWEC Faculty Wind Quintet, perform in the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra, the Chippewa Valley Symphony,  and perform as a member of the Virtualosity Duo. I continue to perform on the national and international level to build recognition of the program at UWEC and to foster relationships with musicians and audiences around the globe. I'm also currently developing an oboe method for beginning oboists and have a great interest in oboe pedagogy (the study of teaching the oboe). If you are interested, you can find sound excerpts of my playing can be found at (scroll to the bottom of the page to find the sound links). 

The music education program at UWEC is an absolute standout in the state and Midwest region. Our graduates are HIGHLY sought after and our placement rate for recent graduates is still close to 100% (even in this tough economy). A large percentage of music majors at UWEC are seeking music education degrees and our department highly values the special needs of education majors and seeks to foster an inclusive yet challenging environment. Our graduates also hold prominent positions in the WMEA (Wisconsin Music Education Association) and are outstanding leaders in the field. 

If you are considering UWEC,  I highly encourage you to contact me and visit campus during the week when classes are in session.  You could observe a music theory class, sit in with one of the bands or orchestra and have a lesson with me to get a feel for what the department is like.  Or,  if travel is prohibitive,  contact me for a Skype meeting/lesson. Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can assist you with your college decisions. I look forward to hearing from you!

Warmest regards,

Dr. Christa Garvey