Favorite blog posts, May 2013

Here are some high-quality woodwind-related blog posts from May, in no particular order.

Enjoy! If you have some favorites that I missed, please share them in the comments section below.

Fifth anniversary

I always think that the worst blog posts are the ones where people blog about their blogs. So brace yourself. Sorry. I try not to indulge in this kind of thing too often.

Anyway, today is the fifth anniversary of my first, rather inauspicious blog post. (You might notice that I do have posts dated older than that; those are older writings, many from college courses, that I retroactively turned into blog posts.) Five years isn’t that long by most measures, but it seems that, in the sea of abandoned blogs out there, five years and still active isn’t something to take for granted.

I was working on a graduate degree in multiple woodwinds performance at the time this blog was born, and had read and reread everything I could find online about woodwind doubling, plus as many print sources as I could get my hands on. I will admit that the conceit did cross my mind that one day my website might be a primary web destination for woodwind doublers, and I flatter myself that that is now the case. Woodwind doublers form a fairly small club, but still the growth has been gratifying:

Five years of site traffic
Five years of site traffic

What excites me even more than the traffic is the engagement. I’ve been pleased and flattered to hear from many, many of you—everyone from young, aspiring doublers to old friends to colleagues in academia to musicians who are some of my real heroes. Thanks for your emails, blog comments, content contributionsdonations, and other shows of support.

A few other things I’m really proud of: Continue reading “Fifth anniversary”

Individuality, conformity, and music students

I found myself relating to Jennet Ingle’s recent blog post about an independently-thinking oboe student and the subjective qualities of tone. I related both to the student and to the teacher.

… I had to lecture a student on Sound a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable it made me.  It is truly such a personal thing.  I felt like I was criticizing his smell, or his personality – it was that delicate for me.

I don’t actually think I am leading him wrong in insisting that he sound more “American” to fit in at his Midwestern college – but I hated telling him so.   I would love for him to use his own unique voice and have it be accepted for what it is.  But instead I have to encourage him to get more generic, and to sound more like everyone else.  This rubs me wrong, philosophically.

I have been in the position as a student of trying to do something that I think is a personal artistic expression, and being told that I need to toe the line. I have also been in the position as a teacher of watching a student pursue an individual course that conflicts with what I am trying to teach.

Should music students (or students in any kind of artistic field, for that matter) be expected to conform, or allowed to explore freely? By letting a student do his or her “thing,” am I incubating innovative, boundary-smashing Art? Or am I failing a student by not grooming them in the established tradition? Continue reading “Individuality, conformity, and music students”

Fingering Diagram Builder, version 0.5

I am pleased to announce the release of the Fingering Diagram Builder, version 0.5. The updates are mostly tech-nerdy stuff and won’t affect how you use it. Read on to find out what’s new, or just check it out yourself.

It has been a bit over a year since the last “major” release, which I hope didn’t led anyone to believe that the project was abandoned. I still have every intention of continuing to update and improve it, and your suggestions and bug reports (also donations) are always welcomed.

Here’s what’s new: Continue reading “Fingering Diagram Builder, version 0.5”

Review: Oboe Reed Maker PRO iPhone app

I saw a post a couple of months ago by Patty Mitchell (reigning champion of online oboe journalism) about the iPhone app Oboe Reed Maker PRO, and decided to bite the bullet, part with the $1.99, and take it for a spin. Here is my review. As is my custom lately, I have tried to keep the review balanced and accurate by involving the maker of the product. In this case that is Christopher Gaudi of the San Francisco Symphony and OboeClass.com.

(Note that this is a review of version 1.0 of the app, so if you’re reading this after my publication date, then the app may have changed by now. I’ll update this post if I use any future versions that have changes worth mentioning; you’re also welcome to add your own updates in the comments.)

In the world of iPhone apps, I’ve grown accustomed to getting a lot of good stuff for free, and hesitate even to buy a 99-cent app unless I’m sure it’s going to be great. For $1.99, it had better be outstanding! However, in the past I’ve paid the better part of $100 for individual books on reed making, so, realistically, $1.99 isn’t much if you’re looking for a few tidbits of information. And that’s what this app offers. If you’re interested in this thing, think of it as a very cheap book (a pamphlet, really), rather than an expensive app. Here is the main screen, as shown in the iTunes store:


If you’re reading this on my website you’ll see a border that I have added to the image, which reveals some white space at the bottom (the border might not show up in RSS feeds, etc.). Note that this space, in the actual app, contains an advertisement (at the moment, a 1-800 number for a criminal defense attorney). In my opinion, including ads is bad form for a paid application. There are additional monetization efforts built into the app. The “Oboe Gear” button leads to affiliate links to Amazon products, which are providing someone, presumably Mr. Gaudi, with additional income. The “More” button provides income-generating affiliate links to additional paid apps, some ostensibly music-related, some not. Mr. Gaudi responds:

I can understand the criticism of the ads in a paid app though I hope you can understand the need to monetize it. The app wasn’t created for free. There was a considerable cost to produce it and there are costs to revise and update it over time. I hope you can appreciate the need for monetary compensation for those who create a product for sale. My time and knowledge is worth something, just as my private students pay for weekly lessons as do countless other oboe students across the country pay for private lessons.

This is a fair response, I think, if the user knows they are paying for a product that will include advertisements; I was unaware of the ads before my purchase but you can consider yourself now warned. For every other app on my phone, paid versions are reliably ad-free. In my opinion, it would make more sense in the current app marketplace to raise the price on the app itself, if necessary, and scrap the ads, or maybe keep at least some of the ads/monetization and give the app away for free.

The actual useful content of the app is accessed with the green “Reed Maker” and “Reed Doctor” buttons. The “Reed Maker” button leads to a summary of the reed scraping process, starting with a reed blank (tying is not addressed). The summary is ten pages, most with one or two sentences of text, and each showing the same image of a reed with different areas highlighted. Knife technique is not addressed, just which areas to scrape in which order. There are some interesting bits of information here, but be forewarned that this app does not attempt to teach the full process of reedmaking. (It doesn’t specifically claim to, but you don’t know what ground the instruction covers until you buy.) Mr. Gaudi points out: Continue reading “Review: Oboe Reed Maker PRO iPhone app”

The magical properties of air

Often, when I discuss with my students issues in their playing technique, I follow up by asking them, “How can you solve this problem?” They learn quickly that “breath support” (or a rough synonym like “more air”) is generally a safe answer.

And with good reason. Breath support is absolutely key to tone production—it is crucial to reliable response, consistent tone quality, and stable intonation. If I can get a student to improve their breath support, I can generally count on each of those things improving immediately and noticeably.

But I think there are other things that are improved, perhaps indirectly, with air:

  • Finger and tongue movement. I am lumping these together because I have a theory that air helps them in the same couple of ways. The first is that focusing on breathing—a movement so natural that we literally do it for our whole lives and barely think about it—diverts attention away from the finger and tongue movements that woodwind players get so stressed and tense about. This lets the autopilot (or Gallwey’s “Self 2”) take over and execute in a relaxed, natural way. The second way air helps here is that good breath support requires good breathing, and good breathing gets more oxygen to the finger and tongue muscles.
  • Expression. Expressive playing often involves things like dynamic contrasts, vibrato, and nuances of tone color (to name only a few). Each of those things functions better when well-supported: dynamic range expands, and vibrato is smoother and more controlled (again a result of better-oxygenated muscles?). Tone color, I think, actually gets less flexible, in the sense that it becomes more consistent note-to-note despite quirks of the instrument; this means that tone color changes may be applied in a more deliberate way.
  • Confidence and relaxation. Deep breaths are a common and effective insecticide for pre-recital butterflies. The breathing should remain centered and Zen even after the music starts.
Pictured: air. Photo, Matt Peoples
Pictured: air. Photo, Matt Peoples