The BIG Double Reed Day 2014: Notes from the Workshops

The BIG Double Reed Day takes place every year in mid-November at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and, as part of the day’s schedule, adult players are invited to participate in workshops. These workshops used to be called masterclasses, but everyone found that term a bit frightening, so ‘workshops’ it is. However, the idea is the same: you go along armed with a piece you have prepared, you play it in front of the group, and then a professional player gives you hints and tips on how to improve your performance and everyone else takes notes. This post, then, is essentially my notes written up. The result is rather bitty, but it does include some useful tips.

Albinoni Oboe Concerto in D minor, 1st movement

  • This movement should be pacey, so be careful not to take it too slowly.
  • Keep the dotted rhythm tight: it mustn’t be tripletty.
  • Pay careful attention to the step dynamics and work it up little by little.

Mozart Oboe Concerto, 2nd movement

  • The articulation must be accurate. Don’t use any hard tonguing – everything should be ‘dah’, not ‘tah’ or ‘kah’.

Krommer Concerto in F 

There are two of these, apparently, but the one in question here is the one with the Rondo 6/8 section.

  • It’s an operatic kind of movement, and when you get to bar 31, imagine that a different character has walked onto the set. This will help you establish a change of tone in your playing.

Bozza Fantaisie Pastorale

Now, this is my latest project. During the workshop, a young woman gave an absolutely stunning performance of this most fantastic piece and I was left writhing with envy. The music can be downloaded here and you can watch a fabulous YouTube performance here:

What strikes me in particular about this YouTube performance is that the oboist gives himself plenty of time to breathe when he needs to – there’s nothing hurried or panicky about the breaths he takes. This brings me to one of the most useful tips I picked up in this year’s workshops:

The manner in which you finish the phrase before you take your breath can determine how long you can take.

In other words, if you’ve gobbled the end of a phrase then you have committed yourself to moving on quickly, whereas if you’ve allowed a phrase to develop and fade as it should, then you’ve probably bought yourself a bit of time for a good out-in breath, rather than a snatched just-topping-up sort of breath.

Okay, so other useful tips picked up during this session were as follows. I’ve written them out in a list now, rather than attaching them to certain pieces because they are standalone points and it makes more sense to do it this way…

Mark up the piano part as well as your own with the places where you need to breathe so that your pianist is aware and can make a little space for you.

Move the oboe up, then down and bounce up to bring other players in. You can practise doing this while playing scales. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is enormously helpful to those with whom you are playing if you can give a clear indication of when you are going to start.

Add the third finger of the right hand when playing G#/Ab to improve the sound. This doesn’t work particularly well on my oboe, but it does make a significant difference on some other models.

The first breath is always important. Try to breathe rhythmically and in preparation for the entry.

Try the following exercise to remind yourself of where pitching should come from: play a note and lower the jaw as much as possible while keeping the pitch of the note stable. Do this until air actually comes out through your mouth, so that you have to work harder and harder to prevent the pitch from dropping.

Playing rhythmically is playing as late as you can, but still playing in time. If you think about this, it makes sense!

Think about how to make sense of the music without vibrato. There’s another whole post about vibrato here.

And that’s it for this year, but I should mention that the professional players who gave this good advice so freely were Rebecca Wood and Daniel Bates. Many grateful thanks to both!

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