Making Changes

This afternoon I will be driving out to the College of DuPage to record my Lofstrom Concertino. This terrific piece was commissioned for me back in 2006 by Kirk Muspratt and the New Philharmonic, and I premiered it with them and with the Northwest Indiana Symphony in 2007. Although I’ve had a few performances of it with piano since then, it’s been mostly on the shelf, until a month or so ago I was informed that the composer, Doug Lofstrom, wanted to record it for release. HOW EXCITING!

So I’ve been working to get the piece back under my fingers, which is fine, and I’ve been working on changing my reeds, which is making me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

At the beginning of summer, I was focusing on articulation. I’d pretty much solved the double tongue techniques I was worried about, but wanted a more secure way to approach entrances, especially low ones.

I spent the early part of summer experimenting to release the notes inside my mouth instead of forcing them out forwards. In the process, my reeds became much more responsive, which was a change I welcomed. I’ve made the “rooftop” – the inverted V at the top of the heart – increasingly shallow, in order to make the articulation completely reliable. And I like the way that feels, BUT although I can play these reeds down to pitch, it always feels like I’m reaching down to get there. In other words, I can’t blow up to the pitch with security, but rather have to keep everything gentle and mouth it down. This is not the way I prefer to play.

To correct this, I’m trying very intentionally now to raise the height and the steepness of the rooftop. From a ranch style dwelling to a Tudor one, and from a two-story house to a three. The reeds sound more covered and full, and in the most successful cases I almost have to work to get above 440. In the process, however, I am losing aspects of the articulation I’ve worked so hard on. The pitch stability is there, but I have to shove to get the notes to start and I’ve lost some of the clarity and brilliance of the sound.

These are tiny differences – a millimeter or less – in my scrape, but what a huge difference they make!

Because I make so many reeds for my business and myself, I work fast. To make a change like this I have to sloowww down and think, think, think. Otherwise, before I know it I’m trying a finished reed on the oboe, and it’s exactly the same as every other reed I’ve made. If I want to experiment I have to make a plan and then mindfully execute it, which takes a long time.

And summer is just the time to do it – but TODAY I need to not be a work in progress, but a prepared, professional soloist. I’ll check the reeds in my case, choose the best compromise between pitch and articulation, put my performing hat back on, and GO.

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