When I see a slur that isn’t an easy one on the oboe, I’m apt to cheat. In my practice room I work hard on slurs like that, but in the moment, when people can hear me, I might add a little tongue to ease the transition, or add a few fingers to make the arrival safer. The re-articulated result may not be exactly what the composer intended, and the fake fingering might not sound precisely like the other one would have, but it’s close enough to fool an audience and it keeps me safe.
At the end of a phrase, to avoid the embarrassment of hanging over after other people have cut off, I might taper my note off just a little early. I might play the final note very very softly to make sure it doesn’t stick out. I might use a muted fingering for the same reason. These are orchestra tricks – they keep me safe, but they won’t sound good when I’m playing by myself, and they’re not good musical choices, and they don’t feel honest.
This summer I’m learning my way around my new oboe and working very intentionally on INTEGRITY, and I’m trying to disavow these tricks. When I played a few weeks ago with the great Judy Kulb, I listened admiringly as she played every phrase all the way to the end. She always plays the last note as beautifully as the middle ones, even when the line is not exposed or not important. And everyone around her meets her there, because her phrase is just that compelling. I want that.
I cultivate an air of casual ease, and in the spirit of that casualness I do not fear mistakes – but the mistakes I make on the oboe are mistakes, not inability. The things that I actually think I might not be able to do, though, I work around, and cheat to avoid. It’s scary to sincerely try to do things that are difficult.
The word INTEGRITY is written above my music on my stand. It’s written in my practice journal. I’m using my warm up time to be sincere and intentional about the most basic notes, intervals, and sequences.
But I noticed Saturday night in our outdoor concert that despite my best intentions I sometimes still cheat. My habits are so ingrained that I still find myself lengthening fingerings for safety, and pulling my punches at the ends of lines.
This is not aligned with the best possible version of me. I can do better.
Similarly, I cultivate an air of openness in this blog, in my life – I talk about lots of things – and I’m not afraid to talk about politics but apparently I am terrified to talk about inequality and privilege. It’s scary to say things that are true – that are that deeply true – and it’s scary to open myself up to possibly saying things that are wrong, or inappropriate. I’m nearly two weeks late talking about the events at Charlottesville – I’ve deleted every draft I’ve written – because somehow I am so uncomfortable just saying the things I feel. And I have the privilege as a white person in a creative field to pretend that this filth doesn’t affect me. It’s a blog about the oboe and I don’t have to stand up and say that Black Lives Matter. I’ve been hiding. I’ve been to some marches and some protests, but I’m not showing up the way I should. And I’m still uncomfortable. I don’t want to say it wrong. I don’t want to make a mistake in something this important.
But let’s just be clear. Black Lives Matter. People of color are also people, who do not but should have the same opportunities and freedoms and protections as everyone else. Trans people are people. Queer people are people. Women are people. Jews are people. People are people and I love people and I deplore hatred, violence, and bigotry. It shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently it does. I am an ally to those who are under attack and I will not JUST keep quiet and write about the oboe.
I will, of course, keep writing about the oboe.
But to keep quiet about the terrible forces arising in this country is not aligned with the best possible version of me. I can do better.
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