Monday, July 1, 2013

Some thoughts from the John Mack Oboe Camp

I know, I know,  in my last post I promised that I'd send updates from the John Mack Oboe Camp (JMOC). But it turns out that the exquisitely rural Wildacres retreat in North Carolina had very little internet and no ATandT cell phone service.  In a way this was REALLY, REALLY good,  because it allowed me to fully absorb all of oboe-ness without interruptions from the outside world.  Being "unplugged" was a little hard at first,  but I got used to it as the week rolled on!
The view from Wildacres. The chairs are empty because the oboists were all practicing! :)

So by now after such a long break you're likely wondering, how was camp?  Right? Wow.  Words can hardly describe a week at the John Mack Oboe Camp.  If you're into EVERYTHING oboe,  surrounded by 70 other eager oboists to attend morning masterclasses learning Barret Articulation Studies, Melodies and Grand Studies, afternoons learning about instrument repair/adjustment, recording the oboe, and reed making, and evenings devoted to learning orchestral oboe parts and solo repertoire,  this place is for you!!! It's all-day and half the night 100% oboe,  a place where we oboists are around kindred spirits and spend our free time to talk "shop" and read chamber music and absorb even more "oboeness."

This was the first time that I attended camp since Mr. Mack passed away in 2006.  It's really incredible how the faculty have worked so hard to keep the same structure and supportive atmosphere as when Mr. Mack taught the classes. The camp was taught this year by an inspiring and dedicated group of Mack students including: Dwight Parry, Principal Oboist of the Cincinnati Symphony,  Jeannette Bittar,  Danna Sundet, professor at Kent State University, and Thom Moore, talented oboist and recording producer.

I think that every JMOC participant brings something different away from camp depending upon their background, level of playing and goals. However, there were a few REALLY BIG ideas that were repeatedly iterated throughout the week. Here are some of them,  in no particular order. I hope they make sense out of the context of my notes and the classes.

From Dwight Parry:

 Mr. Mack says you need 4 things to be a fine musician (in this order):

The purpose of a penultimate note accent is not to play the last note louder, than the previous note;  don't pound the last note,  but instead "tuck" it under.

Time is the bastion of last resort for expression; use color, vibrato, direction, intensity, and inflection instead.

The first note of a slurred passage is often played too short. Imagine a tiny tenuto on the first note.

Always vibrate through the end of last notes.

At the end of phrases,  think of how a ball rolls off a table:  it rolls OUT,  then down. With this idea then,  use your air to continue/blow through the phrase before rapidly playing a diminuendo at the very end.

For fingering the high Eb:  use the Bb key instead of the B key;  the pitch might be a little flat,  but great to push for upward slurs. (I found this to be a great suggestion!!)

There are three ways to create a staccato:
1. "Huffing" each note
2. Steady air stream and only the tongue.
3. A mix of 1 and 2.  This is usually the BEST option.

Vibrato should CONFIRM good pitch,  be formed around the center of pitch, and not be used to mask poor pitch.

Take vibrato out of the equation when practicing to hear better.

A great way to practice downward leaps (for instance from D down to G):
     1.  First play a staccato D and G
     2.  Play D,  then prepare to play the low D,  then go up to G
  This way your embouchure is properly (even overly!) prepared for the downward interval.

Low notes need more air to articulate. Really open up your embouchure and almost err on flat.

From Jeanette Bittar:
Sing through your music first;  this will give you a natural sense of line,  without unnatural swells and put life into your phrases.

Always prepare large upward intervals by energizing the first notes in the interval.

Push yourself to open your self to the music, to express the love to our audience.

Practice and "intellectualize" your music until it sounds organic for your performance.

Prepare for large intervals by filling the "space" of the interval with air.

The key to smooth legato is connecting BETWEEN the notes.

from Marcel Tabuteau:  "Be the FIRST you!" (Don't try to copy/imitate others)

On creating a beautiful sound (of which Jeannette certainly displayed at all times!): Blow WARM air through your oboe. Think BIG sound,  not LOUD. Create a big, resonant space in your mouth.

Learn to listen to yourself and to what you are really creating.

On turns (in the Barret etudes): let up on the upper notes, give more to the lower notes to give momentum to the ornament and work with gravity.

Use visualization to create what you want in your head (first). Then you will see it in your life. Believe in your vision.

If you want to change the way you feel,  change the way you think.

There's a lot more where these came from.  If you were at camp,  please contribute your favorites

Happy campers: So proud of the three  University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire oboists who participated at JMOC this year!

I hope you can take some of these ideas and incorporate them into your own playing.  I also wrote countless notes into my Barret etudes, solos, etc,  but these were some of the recurring ideas. Overall,  the teachers demonstrated and sought in the students really thoughtful, elegant playing, producing a consistently beautiful sound quality from graceful beginnings of notes, a consistent line where no notes unnaturally stuck out of the line, to tasteful ends of phrases.  These reminders have made my practicing since camp very enjoyable!

A piece of our oboe heritage: an oboe played by Marcel Tabuteau,  former oboist extraordinaire of the Philadelphia Orchestra  and instructor of the Curtis institute.  He is also my oboe "grandfather"/grandteacher.

 The only difference in camp since Mr. Mack's passing is that (in my estimation) despite REALLY, REALLY fine teaching,  a few of the students were a little too "young" to be there. These were the folks who only seemed engaged when they or their oboe "friends" were playing, and didn't understand that there was something to learn from EVERY player.  Some actually skipped class or  sat in the back and played games on their cell phones,  etc during the masterclass sessions (I can't even IMAGINE anyone being foolish enough to do that during Mr. Mack's time!!!!!).  I hope in time these young students learn that there's something to learn from every camp member,  and grow to seek out more from the camp experience.  If you're a talented high school student, but are looking for a "camp"  that give you lots of free time or structured "fun" activities beyond the oboe-intensive instruction,  JMOC might not be for you just yet.  However,  if you are student,  professional or enthusiastic amateur who wants to have contact with some of the world's finest oboists who will generously impart their knowledge to you for hours on end so that you can improve LOADS in a short time,  this camp is for you.

Gotta get back to practicing--I'm inspired and want to incorporate lots of great ideas from JMOC!

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

No comments:

Post a Comment