Thursday, May 17, 2012

i love my job

I love my job.  I am a bassoonist and I am constantly thinking of ways to bring solo repertoire to life in recitals and in concerto concerts and in recordings.
And sometimes I get to revisit my old life, from the beginning of my career, when I got to play in orchestras and immerse myself in the greater glory.
Tonight was wonderful.
I played second bassoon to Samuel Banks.  He is normally the second bassoonist of the TSO and moves up from time to time. He is the soul of calmness and has a lovely lyric tone that is true and responsive.  He cultivates a atmosphere of calm in the section which allows room to grow.  Wonderful.
The conductor was Sir Andrew Davis, who is absolutely dedicated to collegiality while demonstrating incredibly high standards of music-making.  I am a little out of touch with reading the gestures of conductors of massive orchestras, but the Toronto Symphony knows and loves him so well that they follow easily and I catch on through osmosis.
And the soloist tonight was Evgeny Kissen.  I have never heard him before (preoccupied as I am with my own concerti and reeds, don’t laugh) so this experience was a full-force, had-no-idea of the glory that awaited me.  He was onstage before the first rehearsal of the Grieg, practising full out.  Musicians mostly listened, some of us played quietly, none of it bothered him.  Both rehearsals were full performances, especially the dress rehearsal this morning when he played all the great cadenzas.  After the rehearsal, when I packed up, I went back to the stage, just to consider playing a bit more, but Evgeny was settling down to an afternoon of practising, so I bowed and left.  Tonight, the performance was as grand as the rehearsals, except that 2,000 people got to feel the electrical charge of this incredibly connected performer.  And I am pretty certain that he will be practising all day tomorrow.   
Of course his tone is great, and his phrasing is powerful, but there is also such a deep rhythmic connection.  He is powerful without banging, the phrases are both surprising and inevitable, the tender slow sections still pulsed with a rhythm that sustained life without imposing anything frenetic.  The encore (some glorious thing that I don’t know) was transporting and I thought the audience was not going to let him leave.
Yeah, he is in a league of his own but he makes me want to practise too.   

Friday, May 11, 2012


Technique is the foundation upon which we build our invisible house of music.  The decision has to be made well in advance of the reality, just like sketches and blueprints.
Do you want an ornate, antique-styled mansion, an art gallery of many floors, a cathedral, a sturdy bungalow or a one room school house?  Or are you a nomad, traveling lightly and surviving with your wits amidst the battering elements?
Whichever it is, the technique weaves the future shape of our particular dwelling.
And do we alter our methods as the building grows?  Do we make additions and adjustments, try new ideas, step back occasionally to look at the whole?  Or do we patiently, blindly build, block by block, until we have a prison or a tower? 
And do we practise only the techniques that we need, directly and squarely, or do we explore and discover that surprising combinations can happen if we pursue an idea far enough... clarity and quickness can lead to calmness and control. 
I love to perform and the path to performing is practising and making reeds, creating a technique that informs my instincts.  Sometimes I am quite worried that this lifetime is not long enough to follow the many paths that beckon

practise notes

Monday, May 7, 2012

Raed Bteewen the Lnies

So happy to get Valdy's newest album (Raed Bteewen the Lnies)... I love his open, honest, wise voice and lyrics and am so proud to hear my little bassoon sound piping in here and there amidst the phalanx of great performing friends that he recorded with last fall.  Guy sounds lovely, gliding corno weaving in and out... we're on tracks 1, 3, 5. 11 & 14, but really, it is the whole album that is true-hearted gorgeous.  I LOVE YOU VALDY!!!

And I just got an inspiring press release from the Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition... three former MQVC winners have placed in the five finalists in the prestigious Gillet-Fox Competition of the International Double Reed Society, bravo to Ingrid Hagan, Laura Miler and Amanda Swain (and of course, the other two finalists, Bogdan Dumitriu and Katarzyna Zdybel) And the MQVC competition got a direct mention in Musical America's special report ("Competitions: an in-depth look") in Edna Landau's article, "Choosing the Best Competition for You" (p. 22 & 23) 

In other news, I am grounded this week... my body said I have to stay home for a week and pull my s*** together (as it were).  So much for stomach viruses.  Will go to Berkeley to edit the Vivaldi CD at the end of June, just before our shows at the Oregon Bach Festival. Yeah.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Afternoon Poops Concert

Sometimes mortality stares one in the face.  I have been feeling a bit exhausted and attributed it to the non-stop schedule and late night drives.  But last night, spectacular intestinal troubles struck and I realized that I have either poisoned myself through my own cooking or have been attacked by a virus.  Or possibly both.  The next question was how to get through the matinee pops concert with the Toronto Symphony.  I slept as long as possible and didn't eat/drink a drop, took handfuls of activated charcoal (yes, it helps) and made it through the show.  Still tired but getting better.  You just never know what nature has in store and she doesn't seem to care about concert schedules!!  Hoping that all is calm in time for flight to San Francisco tomorrow.


After driving back to Toronto last night after the recital, I hit the hay by 2 a.m., up at 7 to get myself to the TSO rehearsal.  Edwin Outwater put the show together very efficiently, making some demands on the orchestra but not getting bogged down in overly-ambitious refinements.  The orchestra is a gleaming beast, quite beautiful in a variety of poses, and one can imagine the potential for athletic alacrity combined with the rich sounds in all the sections.

I came home and slept like a stone, getting up in time to get ready for the early evening concert... something about being part of a large group has always exhausted me.  By contrast, I always feel energized by the recitals despite the greater physical demands.  I have always said that my greatest challenge in orchestral playing lies in the fact that we are sitting for hours.

Another show tomorrow, then off to Berkeley, California to edit my Vivaldi Concerti. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pain Free

Our recital went really well tonight in Gravenhurst went really well.... we were surrounded by love and appreciation from the Muskoka Concert Association and had a great time talking to the audience members at intermission and after the show.  Now  it’s almost 2 a.m. and I need to be sitting in my second bassoon (sub) chair for the Toronto Symphony tomorrow morning.
But before I scrape of the stage makeup and pitch headfirst into bed, I have a few observations.
After years of hammering espresso, then switching to decaf, I quit coffee entirely this month.  I cannot tell you how much easier it is to play the long recital!  In fact, it no longer seems long and and I find the small resources to power through the nuanced moments towards the end.  The fine control is so much better without the background grip of caffeine that it is startling.
And after months of low-level injuries in my forearm from overtraining with weights, I began working with an amazing chiropractor/acupuncturist, and tonight was my first pain-free concert since last October!  This chiropractor was an Olympic gold medalist twice as a discus thrower... Dr Borys Chambul really understands what it means to train for high performance.   I feel like I have been given a huge gift... not only is the pain gone but I am learning more about how to access my strength.  
 Conclusions:  performing musicians are athletes... we have to take very good care of ourselves and have a support team that is on the same level in order to push to where we want to go.  It is simple yet requires research and experimentation.  And it is really worth it.

Does anyone want to hear about reeds?  That is a journey in itself but I wonder if the details are interesting to anyone but me.  Tomorrow.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Coming Back for Seconds

Today, I subbed as second bassoon in the Toronto Symphony for a program that features music by John Adams, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland and Joan Tower.  The orchestra sounds very sleek.  Edwin Outwater was conducting, replacing on short notice Joan Carniero.

I had a great time getting to know Sam Banks, the current second bassoonist who is playing principal this week... he has a most beguiling legato ability and a beautiful tone that connects so well with other instruments in the orchestra.

I had a great time seeing many old friends and noticing many changes in the personnel.  As one of my friends said, it was a time warp... so much has changed yet it feels so familiar to return to the territory that launched my career.  I spent a decade as an orchestral bassoonist, mostly playing second in the Montreal Symphony, then on to playing principal in the Canadian Opera Company for a season, then free lancing for awhile before going full out on my solo career.

I enjoyed today, but was tense going into the rehearsal.  I was up at 5:00 a.m. to make a 'second bassoon reed' and to feel prepared.  I always prefer new reeds for anything because I find the intonation and response more stable (if the reed is fully finished)... this is not always possible when time is short! And I hadn't played the rep for a long time, so I wasn't sure if I had forgotten any soft sections (soft low playing is my nemesis).  But everything went smoothly.  I came home and had a nap, oddly exhausted with relief.  I like the challenge of being a fish out of water... I think that different experiences have the potential to refine my skills if I keep rising to the difficulties.

Tonight I rehearsed with Guy for our full recital tomorrow in at the Gravenhurst Opera House in for the Muskoka Concert Association... will make another reed tomorrow morning before we load the truck with dresses, trumpets, corno da caccia, CDs and whatever else we need for the evening show.  A two hour drive from Toronto, we will have a soundcheck at the hall before the show, dinner with the hosts and drive back in the night so that I can be ready for a 10 a.m. rehearsal with the Symphony.  I really look forward to the new version of our programme... we have added an operatic aria from the Italian composer Savario Mercadante and a delicious small piece by the cornetist and French composer of American rags, Julien Porret.  We are also adding the Tansman Sonatine (replacing the Schreck) and playing other works by Corrette, Boismortier, Piazzolla, Glenn Buhr, Shostakovitch and St-Saens.  

Life is always interesting.  I am constantly trying to figure out how to grasp just enough time to fulfill my musical goals on the fly, always trying to align my preparation with the challenges that I crave.  I know that we can bank a certain number of abilities and experiences, yet the craft has to be refined at every stage... there is no coasting.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Different Hats

My life is different every day and that makes it a work of concentration to keep track of reed making and preparation for many different projects and concerts.

Tomorrow, I get to play second bassoon in the Toronto Symphony with Sam Banks playing principal... the programme is pure fun, all-American pops, which should take some of the stress off of playing second bassoon.  Really, it is the hardest thing for me, the soft, sensitive playing in the worst register of the bassoon.  I always have to remember the bigger picture and not get tied in knots, so I enjoy the challenge.
I will get up early to get my kid ready for school and make a second bassoon reed.

Today was rehearsals for my recital with Guy Few on Friday night at the Gravenhurst Opera House for the Muskoka Concert Association.  Guy and I are absolutely loving the lyrical new works that we have added to our programme (a short piece by Savario Mercadante and a lovely little work by the cornet player Julien Porret) along with the Tansman Sonatine (first time for this duo) and the Beethoven Magic Flute variations.  I will make a recital reed on Thursday afternoon for the Friday show.  We will drive to the town early, have a sound check, play the show and return home since I have a rehearsal with the TSO the next morning.

I love it when there is a lot of variety in my musical life... my favourite things are concerti and recitals, but playing with orchestras gives me a wonderful chance to reconnect with old friends and the pleasures of a big group of people making music.

Housework and bill-paying will have to be attended to at some point...

I want to be a musician when I grow up

This is a great week... I love doing different concerts in different locations and this week, I have the fun of traveling to a new venue for a recital and playing/recording with different groups right in Toronto.

On the weekend, it was the B Minor Mass on historical instruments... no matter how many times I play this piece on the baroque bassoon, it always seems too hard!  My super positive colleague, Heather Carruthers, was a joy to play with, and at every rehearsal, she would say, "Those F#'s are really good! Oh, and the low C#'s too!"  Then we would practise with a tuner.  And when I said, "Do you wanna play duets before the rehearsal?", the words were barely out of my mouth before she had the music propped up against a library shelf in the church were we were rehearsing.  It is so wonderful to play with experienced musicians who are not the least bit jaded.  Heather has the enthusiasm of a young, idealistic person yet she is one of the finest pro baroque bassoonists around and very close to my age... this is really great.  And it makes me want to try a bit harder to be a better baroque bassoonist.

Also on the weekend, rehearsals continued for the new music of David Occhipinti, another of the supremely talented Occhipinti clan.  David wrote a sixteen new works for chamber groups that included string quartet with guitar, a larger group with string quartet, bass, percussion, clarinet, bassoon and guitar (some with voice) and a trio for guitar, bass and percussion.  His music is lyric but not predictable, atmospheric but strong.  The songs are all based on James Joyce poetry and were sung by the lovely Robin Dann.  David wrote all the music, played all the solos, rehearsed and conducted discreetly and purposefully from his chair (surrounded by amps, cables, pedals, piles of music), produced the sessions (playing often with headset so he could hear the whole mix).  He had written all the grant applications to get money to do this project and spoke charmingly from the stage.  He is a virtuoso player yet able to juggle all the personalities and abilities of the chamber group... he even made sure that we had snacks at the rehearsals and to me (who has run many snackless recording sessions and projects) this was the crowning achievement.  We worked hard, and the both the concert and recording went well, and make me resolve to be a better bassoonist and to get a much better grasp of the steady, connected rock-n-roll style of the incredible improvisors in this group (Andrew Downing, Bev Johnston and David Occhipinti).  Playing with great players makes me feel my own flaws more keenly yet I always have a clearer idea of what I need to do to become a better performer.

After our final 4 hour recording session today at Glenn Gould Studio (CBC), I walked over to Roy Thomson hall to pick up my music for the next couple of weeks... I will be playing second bassoon! OMG This always takes me back to the early days of my career when I played second bassoon for a decade with the Montreal Symphony... I find it to be much more challenging than any other kind of playing, yet for that reason, it is always fun to revisit the experience once in awhile. When I stopped in the library, my friend Gary Corin was there and reminded me of the cartoon I had made for him over ten years ago... I was very pleased to revisit it!  Still makes me cackle.

Then I whipped home to meet with one of my students who is borrowing my Wolf baroque bassoon for 
the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in June... he is taking the instrument home with him to Saskatchewan to practise for the next three weeks and I needed to make sure he has reeds and a fingering chart.  Then I got an email saying that my son's return flight from Sweden was arriving early, so I shot out to the airport, then waited 2 hours with other parents-pretending-not-to-be-desperate-for-the-sight-of-their-child for him to clear customs... so happy to see him after his 10 day choir tour!  He loved Sweden and the whole experience.  Then I drove him home, then took my student to the train station with his mountains of end-of-term luggage plus two bassoons, then returned home to practise.  Guy and I have a recital this week, and to make sure that I am in good shape (stamina-wise), I have a few tests... one of my favourites is to play the complete Telemann Fantasias.  If I want to be in crazy good shape, I play them twice, but it is getting late at night so just once today!  And it is amazing to play this music again... always challenging, always enticing me back to try again...

I really really want to keep being a musician, even when I grow up!