Thursday, August 30, 2012

Getting Back into Shape

One of the questions I ask in my interviews is: "Does your job outside of music take you away from the instrument for long periods of time, and if so, what do you do to get back into shape?"  

Today, by reader request, I will address my own personal experience with this as I prepare for the new concert season after a summer off.

I often say, "My job at Curtis is as '9-5' as it gets in the arts." There are no true 9-5 jobs in the arts, but being a grantwriter, mine is pretty close. I still have to go to some Curtis events on nights and weekends, and sometimes there is a perfect storm of deadlines where five major proposals will be due in the same week and we have to work late. But otherwise, my job is straightforward and we plan pretty far in advance; sometimes we are writing proposals a year or more before the actual project.

So working at Curtis doesn't take me away from the oboe, per se, because I have plenty of time on nights and weekends to practice. However, personally, I find it challenging to practice when I'm not preparing for a specific job. So, I tend to take breaks in between. My freelance schedule is very unpredictable, so there might be very busy times when I'm working for several weeks nonstop in a row. After a long stretch of concerts and rehearsals and working at Curtis, I almost always take a break.

When it's time to get back to the oboe, I always start with the Sellner Etudes. These have some variety of articulation, work through progressively more challenging key signatures, and aren't boring but aren't so difficult that you'll get discouraged. They are also very pleasant and have nice musical line. Then I usually work through the Barret melodies and articulation studies. Then if I'm feeling very brave I'll do long tones or attempt Martin Schuring's warm-up. I also play the Telemann Fantasies, especially the slow movements or playing the faster movements at a slow tempo. 

I will often slur a lot to really concentrate on the air flow and play mostly straight tone to ensure that I'm not masking lack of tone with vibrato. Once the air is working properly, the vibrato happens naturally as a result of the air pressure. I increase the amount of time practicing a bit each day and practice in front of the mirror to monitor both posture and embouchure.

My teacher Scott Bell told me that if you're going to take time off from the oboe, you should make sure you have a few finished reeds to come back to. That way you aren't trying to make reeds with a weak embouchure or trying to get back into shape on reeds that aren't working.

No matter what, the first concert back always seems a little rough. Your face is going to hurt a little bit and it will take some time to get used to playing in a group again. But I look at time off as a good thing: a fresh start and a good way to prevent burnout. As long as you can do what you need to do at the job, that's what really matters. Your schedule will be busy again soon, so enjoy the time off when you can.

Good luck to everyone starting school and concerts again soon. My first job of the season is Cantata 149 with the Bethlehem Bach Choir and I am really looking forward to it!


  1. Great post and great Blog, Amy! I'll definitely be sharing with my friends/followers!

    1. Hi Dan! You are my first commenter! Thanks so much for reading and sharing.