Saturday, September 25, 2010

Out of Africa, Into the Orchestra

This week marked our first week working for the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa and needless to say, there is much to get adjusted to as neither of us have ever been to the African continent before. Like so many musicians, we decided to look a little further for opportunities and felt like we beat the odds finding employment together in the same organization. I took this photo during our four-day trek across the country from Los Angeles to Chicago in our moving truck, our guinea pig Webster sitting between us the whole ride. 

Life as an active free-lance oboist and self-employed chamber musician was a constant balancing act between striving for artistic merit and basic survival. While many of my former school friends and teachers might be surprised to find me in a full-time orchestra, it was the unique chance to perform with a quality ensemble and pursue other artistic interests like new music, chamber music and of course, the Loboe Project, that attracted me to the position. Tomorrow marks our first full week in South Africa and the completion of three concerts. 

I was initially struck by certain similarities that a full-time orchestra in Africa has in common with the free-lancer life-style.  In Los Angeles, a good week for an oboist might consist of some sort of church gig, teaching and various kinds of regional orchestra concerts. Playing everything from Pop and Jewish music concerts to Mexican Christian CD releases and independent film scores in LA gives a musician consistent practice in being able to sight-read just about anything and quickly perform the concert/recording session. The first concert this week was called an "Indian Experience", reflecting the interests of the largest population of Indians outside of India here in Durban. The experience reminded me so much of a concert that could be done in Los Angeles and oddly enough, resulted in a very familiar feeling for me. The following night was a traditional symphony orchestra concert and this weekend there will be an all baroque-music concert. 

While studying in school, many musicians dedicate their time and energy to the orchestral literature.  This is obviously an essential act for those seeking an orchestra career, however; musicians should take the opportunity to play music of different genres very seriously, as the ability to master music in any style is in fact a critical skill set. Whether in school of not, I highly encourage oboists to expose themselves to as many genres as possible.  While not all music that a free-lancer encounters warrants extensive preparation, showing an understanding of the style certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.  Times being as they are, we need to make the best of these Pops concerts!

I was also quite delighted to find a practical use for the Loboe during my first week. In an overture by Handel, the oboe part doubles the violin and behold! A low "A" that does not need to be left out! Though I do not know it for an absolute fact, I was informed that there are about fifteen professional oboists in all of South Africa and thus I am fairly certain that the Loboe will not find any siblings here...for now! 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Double Reed Soul - How Well Do You Really Know Your Instrument?

The relationship between musicians and their instruments is like the business-person with their laptop or the Tween with their iPhone. These tools can literally craft our very identity. So why is it that for so many students and pros alike, making regular adjustments and upkeep to our instruments proves so difficult and easy to avoid? I wish that I could say that every time I sit down to play I obediently check to make sure everything feels correct; I usually only stop if something is drastically out of the ordinary and that's after I try to blame the reed before resorting to the screw-driver. While in college, the difference in time spent learning about reed-making to learning about oboe repair is, shall we say, vast. It is such a crucial part of the professional musician's life, yet repair shops are usually overbooked. Cracks and pad replacements are one thing, but I am willing to bet that repair people see many more cases of basic upkeep neglect.

This all begs the question;
you know oboe but do you really know your instrument?

This thought was running through my mind a few days ago as I made my final trip to the incredible RDG Woodwinds store in Los Angeles. I have been terribly fortunate to have always lived in cities close to an oboe repair shop and Friday's trip was an attempt to cram in as much maintenance knowledge in two hours as possible. The reason for all of this is that I recently won the principal oboe position with the Kwazulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa and my husband will be running the orchestra's New Music Initiative starting on September 20th. Needless to say, the idea of what my reeds will do and how my oboe will react to the change in climate have dominated most of my thoughts. The safety net is gone in terms of immediate repair solutions, and I find myself questioning how much I really know about the intricacies of the Loboe and how important this information is proving. Not only is there a good chance that this will be the only low-A oboe in possibly all of Africa, but the odds of any repair person having common knowledge of Loree oboes is probably small. While I have completely devoted myself to learning all of the basic tendencies of this instrument, I still am a bit nervous about my abilities to make both the regular and unexpected repairs/adjustments that go along with any woodwind.

I will be making a long road-trip from Los Angeles to Chicago before flying to South Africa on the 17th where the Loboe will be my one allowed carry-on.  Traveling on the road across the country has been a platform for countless writers to "discover" themselves and the country; I'll settle for some meaningful realizations about how to tune that high C#!

There is much excitement in the idea of performing low-A works in such a new location and I will do whatever it takes to feel as comfortable making daily adjustments instead of just "working around them" as I have done at times... Perhaps this new commitment to learning about the repair world of oboes will result in a deeper understanding of the instrument and I will truly know the oboe.