For oboists, endurance is a huge problem. We can play an endlessly long phrase, because of the way the instrument is constructed, but we can really only do that a few times in a row before our embouchure starts to get fatigued. We develop a buildup of air that feels exhausting to hold onto, and the thought of sustaining that kind of energy over an entire page of music, much less a 45 minute recital program, is intimidating.
There’s almost always a lesson, a week or two before a jury or a recital, where my student comes in and says, “I just can’t DO this! I can play every detail in my music, but I can’t put the whole thing together! My mouth comes right off the oboe when I try – I’m going to fall apart in front of the audience, and it’s going to be terrible!”
Look, I’m putting this on my students now – but there’s a moment a week or so before MY performances that feels exactly the same! I have not outgrown this moment of panic.
And at that point we start looking for micro rests. Sometimes in the music you are allowed to take your face off the instrument for a few bars or between movements – those are just regular rests, obviously. But sometimes you can take your foot off the gas for a moment – instead of having to really PUSH and actively sustain the sound, and energize it out forward, you can coast a little bit. Maybe there’s still sound going on, but for a second it’s allowed to be easy. It’s the end of a phrase, or a little punctuation within your phrase. It’s a comma, or a period, but not the end of a chapter, or even the end of a paragraph. It’s just the end of a sentence, but it’s a little MOMENT in which you are not pushing forward as hard.
As soon as we bring our attention to these little spots – I can find five in a line, if I need to – we reframe them as places of rest. Even though you’re technically still playing, it feels much easier. You can bounce from micro rest to micro rest, just looking ahead as you go. “OK. I have to surge through this next bit, but I can see three measures from now a place where I can ease up. Where it doesn’t have to be quite so hard, quite so energetic. Where I can give myself just a split second of grace.” This is a LIFESAVER. Suddenly, in little surges, you can go, and go, and go.
There’s a parallel here. It’s really hard to work from home, school from home, and live at home all day long. The days feel eternal, the work you need to do feels overwhelming. What if you acknowledged the need for micro rests, and took them as often as necessary throughout the day? You can get frustrated and angry and bad at working if you keep pounding away at the same task, but what if you stood up and stretched for five minutes? What if you took the dog down the block and back, right in the middle of the day? What if you sat back in your chair and took a few deep breaths, and asked yourself, “What would make this feel better right now? A cup of coffee? A nap? A different task that uses my energy in a slightly different way?”
Taking a full day off can be hard for a BUSY person, for a DRIVEN person, for an entrepreneur or a musician. Taking weeklong vacations is essential, but you can only have so many of those, right? But anyone can take a minute, as needed, over and over again during the day. This is not a substitute for REAL rest, let me be clear. PLEASE still take days off, and vacations away from home when it is safe!
Micro rests can keep the days feeling fun, joyful, and sustainable. Learn from the oboists!