Friday, May 10, 2013

Living a life WITH music--a guide to listening for the aspiring oboist

Living a life WITH music--a guide to listening for the aspiring oboist

I love meeting young oboists and prospective students. I really do. Especially those who have so much enthusiasm for music and have decided it to be their life's work. It's not uncommon to hear the budding oboist say that he/she can't imagine a life without music and the oboe.  The student often goes on to tell me that music/oboe is their true "passion." I think that's just great!

During our first meeting the conversation usually leads to me curiously asking the aspiring oboist who their favorite oboe players are,  what are their favorite oboe pieces are, and their favorite recordings. It seems natural that if someone is so passionate about something and can't live without it,  that they've spent quite some time exploring it, right??  At this point the conversation has more than once turned to a grinding halt, with the student proclaiming,  "well,  I don't really listen to oboe music or classical music." I usually smile and gently tell them that this will hopefully change.

But I really want to scream: "you told me you can't LIVE without music,  BUT YOU AREN'T LIVING **WITH** IT!!!

I'm not saying that music students should only listen to "classical" or art music. But if you want to push boundaries, aspire to great playing, you really MUST know the music and classical performers who are at the top of their field pushing the boundaries and exhibiting great artistry. There is no limit to what you students will be capable of if you set your mind to something. But you can't push a boundary if you don't know what/where it is and if you aren't aware of what  the top-level performers are capable of, you're not setting the bar high enough for yourself or your future students.

In high school I remember lugging home as many records (yes, records!) from the library as the library would allow. I'd listen to the music, read the record jackets, then return them and go back for more. I quickly listened to everything with oboe in the library. It wasn't much,  so I went on to the entry-level  "greatest hits" of classical music,  which probably sounded something like this:

or this:

100 "Great" pieces from the 20th Century:

The first two years of undergrad, escpecially in the summers,  I'd go to the music listening library and JUST LISTEN to music EVERY DAY for at least an hour. I kept a listening diary with notes of the pieces/performers/interesting tidbits on the record jackets/CD liners, and my own reactions to the music. I listened to pieces that I LIKED and KNEW I LIKED,  but then pushed the envelope and listened to pieces I wasn't sure I would like,  pieces I thought I wouldn't like, and just random recordings as a surprise. I learned something from each of them and continually draw from this well of knowledge.

Now there are thousands upon thousands of great recordings available online. I can't even IMAGINE how much listening I could have explored if this was around back then--and yeah,  we still had TVs and movies and video games that are used as excuses for distractions back then too! :)

If you're really dedicated to preparing yourself to this often arduous yet deeply meaningful and important profession, know there’s more to achieving excellence in music than just practicing your art.  There’s more art music (otherwise known as “classical music,” the wonderous stuff you’re at college to immerse yourself in because you feel “passionate” about it) to learn and listen to than you could EVER experience in your entire lifetime, so are you embracing new sounds or repeatedly listening to the few works you know or have known for years? If you’re really "passionate" about this music life, dig in and dig the music. Life is short; there’s lots of music. Go get it!


Want to develop your listening skills but not sure how?  One easy (FREE) first step is to go to YouTube and search for performances by experienced oboists. Yes, try to find some of your favorite pieces, maybe something you played for a solo festival, etc. But then move on to things you've never heard before. Challenge yourself to listen to the entire piece,  especially if the music is tough for you to listen to or make sense of at first. If you like the performer,  search for more pieces they've posted on youtube or look for their CDs/ mp3s available on Amazon or iTunes. If you like the composition,  search for more pieces by the same composer--and especially listen to music written for other instruments other than oboe! 

OK,  so you still feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start?  That's understandable. If you just type in OBOE in the Youtube search, you'll find everything from little kids playing the Mozart Oboe Concerto in their kitchen (at the level of a little kid oboe player) to some of the WORLD'S BEST oboists. Some of those youngsters are really talented,  and I'm happy for then for what they've accomplished so far. There's a lot of junk to sift through, but a lot of gems too. To help you,  I've typed in the names of some really fine oboe players and found these options. They're all worth listening to as each have enjoyed a professional career as  oboists. 

This is by no means exhaustive and by not including a name/link,  it CERTAINLY doesn't mean I'm excluding them!  I just tried to find a variety of oboists in a short amount of time.  Some of them you'll like,  some you may not like.  That's OK, and just means that you're developing your ear to become a  discerning listener. 

Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida:

Now,  realize that not everything is FREE.

Take the next step: support professional music making. Go find recordings of your favorite artists and composers and BUY THEIR WORK.  You don't need to spend loads of money, especially if you don't have loads of money.  But for professional musicians to consistently produce professional quality recordings for us to enjoy,  it costs MONEY.  And for professional musicians to CONTINUE creating professional quality recordings, it takes PEOPLE to BUY their MUSIC.  It's like a restaurant: to keep your favorite restaurant afloat,  you need to occasionally eat there to show your support, enjoy the food, and keep the restaurant in business. Same goes for professional orchestras and chamber music concerts. Do your part to go hear LIVE MUSIC. Get cheap student rush tickets if they're available. Live music is so much more exciting than recordings and you'll be supporting living musicians who do this for their livelihood! If you hope to be a professional musician some day but don't support live music performances by attending them, how can you possible expect for there to be an audience for your work in the future?? 

DREAM BIG. But WORK BIG and LISTEN BIG to get to your dreams.  Then you'll REALLY be living a life WITH MUSIC.

So, my question to you: Who are your favorite musicians/oboists/composers? What are some of your favorite live concert experiences?  I'd love to have you share your experiences.

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

1 comment:

  1. Last week I went to recital by Pauline Oostenrijk, a Dutch oboist. She was astonishing. The programme was completely unfamiliar to me but she gave a spell binding performance. Her playing was so expressive - incredibly inspiring. I do try to go to any local oboe professional recitals that I know about - but this one set the bar to a new high. I also saw Francois Leleux last year, not just amazing playing but he exuded an enjoyment and love of the music that drew the audience in. These things just can't be captured on CD, it is so important to go and see great oboists perform live as well as listening to recordings. Love your blog Christa, so helpful. Keep it up!