Friday, August 03, 2007


I've become a firm believer in Woodwind Methods--taught well. I've been to too many middle and high schools where the students have no clue how to hold the instrument, and specifically how to make an embouchure, properly. Wrong fingerings are ignored (hello, E-flat on forked F!!...maybe maybe maybe on one of those terrible instruments with no F resonance keys...but the better solution is just not to have that instrument in the vicinity of someone trying to become an oboist), and there are little things any band teacher can do as quick fixes for their students. I was excited to be asked to present a lecture at the Iowa Bandmasters Association's conference last May, and I had a "sold-out" crowd and some excellent responses. I'm still getting requests for my hand-outs. I'm not saying this to pat myself on the back...I just think every band director should know these things. And it starts with paying attention in Woodwind Methods in college!!

There are a couple problems with Woodwind Methods though. 1) Sometimes they don't have a person who plays/teaches the specific instrument teach the actual classes for that instrument. (Like a band director who is just going out of the method book for the, why show up for the class at all? Just read your own book.) 2) Some colleges don't have time to allocate enough classes per instrument. I've taught Methods at three different colleges now, twice as a teaching assistant/GTF, and once as an adjunct/guest lecturer (I don't know if I can call myself "adjunct" if I haven't been hired as one...I do spend a lot of time teaching at this school though!). The University of Oregon probably had the best set-up for the class. They divided 10 weeks into bassoon and oboe, and there were enough instruments for everybody to have one. I believe their fee for the course covered the instrument rental. It didn't cover reeds, so I made reeds for the class (back in the day when I had TIME to make reeds for someone other than myself) or had them buy them (I taught this course three times at UO, and I didn't ALWAYS have the time...). Ten classes per instrument still isn't enough to learn an instrument properly, but you can at least expect them to absorb enough knowledge to be able to spot problems with students playing, etc.

Most recent college: All of the woodwinds in the same course over one semester, with 5 classes per instrument. This I still could handle. It's tight, and there's less time for them to play and really understand concepts like half-holing, breathing, embouchure...but I could still make that work. They just needed a lot of practice time between classes. Do you think the students want to dedicate themselves to oboe practice for 2.5 weeks solid? In my experience, no. Now add this: not enough instruments for the entire class. 11 students, 6 oboes. They worked out a locker sign-out system for between-class practicing, but during class, they had to share (still with their own reeds.) Of course, I periodically checked the locker, and I had made the sign-out sheet, and one person per class signed an oboe out to practice. One. That brings me to problem #3 with Methods in general:

3) Many students don't take it seriously enough. I was witness first-hand to this at my lecture and while going out to schools to give clinics. Many band directors have said, "if only I had paid attention during Oboe Methods." I like to repeat that story at the beginning of teaching any Methods course...if it sinks in with at least a couple of students, that's better than none. Being an "adjunct"/"guest", I can't require the students to take notes...I'd love to make an assignment to have them create their own woodwind binder that they can use as their own resource when they go out into the teaching world. Again, you can't really do that when there are so few classes, as hands-on time is so crucial. I'd rather they play and finger (air-finger with no oboe?) as much as possible in class, and take notes later. I also have them observe each other and correct things as though they were the teacher. That seems to be the most effective thing to do with so few classes. I can't expect them to walk out of there playing their own improvised cadenza to the Mozart Oboe Concerto.

This last college class, I even had one student not show up to ANY of the oboe classes. And it wasn't because they were out of town, sick or had personal issues going on. They forgot. Or slept through the class time. That student is no longer at this school. (I never even heard from the kid, and come to think of it, they still have my reed!! I want that tube back!)

Next Methods course: 19 students, 5 oboes. The instrumental program at this school is small but growing, and they haven't quite managed to accomodate the growth. At least the band director has decided to split the students into two groups--he'll teach clarinet while I teach oboe for 5 classes, then they'll switch. That will still leave one instrument where they'll have to have all 19 students in the same class. It should have been capped at 10. I hope they have enough instruments (I think they only have 3 bassoons at the school, so hopefully that will be split too). I'm glad that I found Cooper for reeds though! He seems very reliable, consistent with his reed-making, and fast! It's a problem when you order reeds from someone (say 5 or 6 reeds) for a class (with a firm timeline!), several weeks or months in advance, they say 1 or 2 weeks at the latest, and then they don't deliver. I at least gave Cooper a heads-up in July for a September class...probably still not enough time for some reed-makers (definitely not enough time for me!). Even with his move back to Eugene from KOREA, I'm confident in his abilities (no pressure, Cooper). He's FAST, too! Very important when setting up a reed business. I'm sure he'll thrive.

In the meantime, I'll have to think about how to organize this class to be the most efficient and worthwhile for the students. Darnit, I wish I could require practicing between classes. The grading for this class isn't even up to me. Oh well. We'll just deal with what we have! Go with the flow, right?


C.J. said...

Hey thanks for the sales pitch! i got another order for reeds, so I'm now officially 35 reeds behind schedule! Shouldn't be too big a deal. I plan on making your reeds after the move.

Meanwhile, just asking your advice, how many reeds do you suggest I prep for students when I teach UO oboe tech class? How big are those classes? I'm dreading hearing 30 beginner oboists playing "Hot cross buns" simultaneously!

Jillian said...

There were usually about 8-10 in a class.

Btw, I'm still waiting to hear back for the go-ahead with the E.H. reeds for that student. I'll let you know.