Saturday, November 12, 2011


My dream life is full of concerts, recitals, concerti, masterclasses, teaching, recording, traveling.
My real life has all of these things in various quatities.
Yet I am always busy because there is always something that can be done to support this vision.  And by doing 
One of the best features of my life is daily contact with students who trust me enough to ask questions that I cannot answer yet I continue to try.  And I am so comforted by their questions because I recognize their searching and doubts.  And I feel paradoxically motivated to keep trying when it sometimes seems possible that all of my ambitions might not be fulfilled.
Today began with struggling to upload the videos from my iPhone that I took on Wednesday night of Bianca’s dress rehearsal of the Mozart Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra conducted by Alain Trudel.  She has written her own cadenzas and is improvising little ausgangs... really a joy to hear.  I promised to get the videos to her so she could listen before the concert on Sunday and it taking me forever to figure out, but I am slowly getting it done.
Then on the top floor of the Conservatory to start another day of teaching.  I have one student who is keenly interested in new music, is also shaking his head at how hard it is to practise and still stay on top of all the course work, wondering how it will all help him be a better performer and musician.  I say that I don’t know except that the questions will trigger an artistic response at some point.  And I said that scale work can be done in brief spots of time and that challenging patterns will, over time, weave an understanding of tone and distances, how it all adds up more effectively than if we wait until there is a clear block of time.  He also told me that he is recording the sounds on the subway everyday during his 14’ ride to school with the idea of creating a piece eventually... he said that the alarming realization struck him recently that the subway cars are oddly bereft of human conversation... hundreds of people sitting in close proximity, whisked to and from work/school/etc and never speaking.  Neil said that the sound of two teenaged girls talking broke the silence one day.
The hour was up, and in trooped five Conservatory bassoonists for our first Orchestral Lit class (I have just taken over the class from Michael Sweeney).  My ideas include having each student lead the class, presenting two standard excerpts and speaking in depth about his process for understanding and practising the elements, followed by a rendition of each excerpt.  I am asking each student to mark his (they are all men) presentation.   We are in the process creating a ‘chart of virtues’ (see previous post) which will define our goals and ambitions for these excerpts.  Adam Romey gave an animated account of his process and research for Tchaik IV and Marriage of Figaro.  Then I spoke about my point of view of each excerpt, then each player presented a version, then the two hours were gone!
I sat with the students while I ate lunch then I walked over to one of the satellite buildings for the University of Toronto.  I bumped into my next student on the way and we talked non stop about how to keep working in the face of doubt and dismay over one’s own performance.  Again, I had few answers but felt such a wave of recognition and comfort, as if this expression of doubt on the part of my student were an absolutely necessary initiation into the world of classical music.  We continued the discussion as
we worked on the top floor of the old, reclaimed residence that is being used for practise and teaching rooms now that the student body is outgrowing the Edward Johnson Building.
Then we walked back to the Conservatory, got a key, and went into the depths of the basement where the Reed Room is, next to the offices of the janitorial staff.  We crammed into the little room, full of bassoons and bassoonists, to clip the tip of Jeff’s reed and talk a bit about the nature of very wide reeds (another discussion!).  Then another Neil came for a reed lesson and I showed him refinements in my hand profiling methods.  Reed making ideally requires a constant mentor, yet I trust always that moments of insight combined with the searching nature of each player will lead to a complete skill over time.  It is a quiet skill too, involving so much looking and crafting before there is any hope of a sound!  The quiet, still room with no windows almost put me to sleep, but Neil kept asking questions and revived me!
Then I drove to pick up my son from choir practise, gathering groceries and talking at length with my student Adam, who had recently come to many insights about trust, including the profound one that  the performer must trust himself before the leap can be made to new knowledge or collaboration.
What we do every day matters.  We can trust that we will succeed if we apply that trust to our own ambitions and efforts.  And the trust of my students is one of the unbelievably valuable gifts of my existence.

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