I have a new motto this year, which I use for myself and my students alike.
Bring the Oboe Along With You.
Musically, I’m a phraser. I’m an ideas girl. I love to make a plan and GO for it, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. I obsess about momentum and flow, both for myself and my students. And traditionally, I have prized the big phrasing ideas and the thrill of the chase over the actual execution.
Let’s be clear – I’m pretty good. But I have permitted mistakes to go by unchallenged, as long as I was proud of the work I was doing. Careless or lazy errors I could beat myself up for, but as long as my head was in the game and my intentions were good I didn’t mind when notes didn’t quite speak on time or the low register was a little messy or a slur didn’t go.
And then I heard this quote, on some podcast I was listening to. I can’t even remember now where it came from – Stephen Covey, originally, if the internet is to be believed. And it struck me HARD. Of course I notice mistakes other people make! Of course I am aware of people’s errors in execution, and OF COURSE I judge them, a little. Of course I do.
In my head, as I played, it was always Oops! Well, that’s live music. At least it was exciting. Oops! Well, that’s why they say the oboe is hard. Good thing I’m making great music! Oops! Well, darn – I could play that at home!
What I say now, preemptively, is How am I going to bring the oboe along with me on that next phrase? What do I need to do to make sure that I sound like an oboist that can play?
My new higher expectations are helping my students, too. I used to say constantly in my teaching, Yes! Yes! I heard that, I love it! You’ll just need to clean it up a little and it will be all there!
What I say now, though, is Yes! Yes! I heard that! Now play it again and make sure you bring the oboe along with you.
It works for me and for them, and for everything, and I love it. It simply means, Make sure that your execution keeps up with your intentions.
And it’s made all the difference in the world for all of us.
The way I think about my work goes in cycles. Sometimes I’m obsessed with sound. Sometimes I’m obsessed with WHETHER sound is important or not. Sometimes I’m thinking about vibrato, and its place in every note of every phrase, sometimes I’m working on projection so I sound huge, and sometimes I’m working on amazing pianissimo playing so I can disappear. Sometimes I’m thinking about attacks, and sometimes about releases. It’s hard to work on every skill all the time as I perform something different every week.
But what I’m realizing is that I have already worked on all of these skills! I KNOW how to make the oboe work, in almost every circumstance! This is just a mindset shift, to a place where my first priority is to sound competent all the time. Where my minimum standard is to not miss anything that a layman would notice.
And my big discovery has been that it doesn’t take away from ANYTHING else. It doesn’t make my phrasing less exciting. It doesn’t mean that my attacks are less superb or my pianissimo less delicate. It just means that I’m keeping an overarching awareness on execution all the time, and making adjustments as the moment requires – but all of the nuances and details are still there, and they often come out even better than they otherwise would have.
This is probably something that everyone else in the business has already discovered. But for me, at this point in my career, it’s thrilling to have a new idea to work with, one that is measurably helping my playing. I am very intentionally engaging all of my skills, in every outing, and feeling fantastic about it.
Bring the Oboe Along With You.