Friday, April 23, 2010

So Many Fingerings, So Little Time

Rehearsals have begun in Rochester, NY for the large ensemble pieces that feature the "low A" (works by composers Paul Coleman and David Plylar).  It has been fascinating implementing this note in original works.  However, while the extra note might seem as straight-forward as pushing down a single key, there is more to the story.

Oboists and bassoonists are faced with split-second decisions every day when reading music as to which "fingering" to use for certain pitches, most notably for oboists being the use of left-hand F and left Eb keys. As with many instruments, some pitches can have multiple approaches depending on what proceeds or follows them. Not knowing ahead of time which fingering to use is a very common cause of "flubs" or mistakes when sight-reading and even performing a piece. A wrong move can result in additional notes being played as a result of fingers sliding over keys. The "low-A" fingering requires the oboist to press down the left thumb as well as their choice of the standard fingerings for "low C#", "low C", "low B" or "low Bb". All fingerings produce the same "low A" pitch. As I am rehearsing this music, I am discovering that it is essential for me to write in whichever fingering pitch that is most appropriate for the passage, as trying to "slide" over to the correct one mid-note can be very unforgiving. While I likely do not mark in as many left-handed fingerings for notes now as when I first discovered these keys, I certainly still use them as a reference in music today

Visually, seeing a "low A" in music has a different feel as an oboist. For many years now, I have only rarely seen an "A#" notated.  I would imagine for most instrumentalists that seeing a note, even as little as one half-step out of their normal range, mentally takes just a fraction longer to compute. If in that slight bit of time we also are indecisive about which fingering is correct, a "slide" is almost certain to occur. Fortunately, with the aid of some foresight and a pencil, this problem is easily remedied.

The writing for this instrument feels completely natural in the music and I am thrilled to be working with such exceptionally talented musicians.  Rochester, home of monster snow storms and a perpetually grey sky, is actually in full bloom right now and couldn't be lovelier. Things are shaping up for some great performances.

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