The South Bend Symphony has a concert this weekend! It’s just an outdoor concert, free in the park, like so many other park concerts we’ve done, but because it is so late in the summer and my colleges are starting back up, it feels like the beginning of the orchestra season. And I am so eager for that season to begin!
Now, ready is something else. I’ve been practicing all summer, so it’s not as though I’m returning from a layoff, but there’s a big difference between practicing and sitting in the orchestra. The reeds are different. The things I need to do are different. Here in my studio I want to be perfect. I make my reeds for sound – oboe sound. I practice concertos and etudes and excerpts. But when I actually sit down in the group and launch into the Champagne Polka or Blue Tango or the Polevetsian Dances I need a reed that sounds like an orchestra. I have to be able to blend with the flute or the horns or the strings, and change on a dime. I have to enter very softly. I have to adjust my pitch as it relates harmonically to the chords around me. I have to play pages and pages of music without stopping. In other words, I need a lot more flexibility to sit in the orchestra than to play at home.
Every year this comes up, and every year these first few services back are a harsh wake-up call. I scrape my beautiful oboe-y sounding reeds back into submission, and hope that the work I’ve put in over the summer hasn’t all been in vain, and get back to the business of making music with other people, which after all is the point.
I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, though, to spend a month away from my large ensembles. It never takes me long to feel my way back in (it’s more or less like riding a bike, but with harder reeds) but in the meantime, without the weekly requirements of new repertoire and different colleagues and quirky halls I can focus on my main product: myself and my musicianship.
This weekend is going to hurt a little – lots of heavy playing, the afore-mentioned jarring adjustment, AND oboe outside, which is never that great. But with any luck the beginning of the season – I mean the season proper, in another week or so – will see me comfortable in my orchestral skin again, relaxed from my long oasis, and a better, stronger player from the work I’ve been putting in.