Monday, April 07, 2008

Back in the hot seat...and tuning gripe

This past Friday I had two shocks to the system. The first was my first solo performance since well before Harry was born...actually, I think it was my first solo performance since my last DMA recital in May 2005. Yikes! I played at a retirement village in Des Moines. Once a year, the Fortnightly Musical Club puts on a recital here, and the residents love it. It was a full house! I was a little surprised to realize how nervous I was! I really had nothing to lose. I think it was because it was my first performance for the club, and therefore my first chance at a first impression. :) I played Telemann's Fantasy No. 8 in E minor--my favourite of the 12. I'd run it through for Dave that morning, and the third movement (which always seemed out of place to me) didn't go so well. It's not even very difficult. So I decided to leave it out if I felt at all nervous during my performance. No movements were listed in the program, and as nobody else spoke about their piece, I stayed silent too. (Although I was ready with a brief Telemann lesson.) The second movement ended well, and I thought, "end on a high, Jill!" and so I bowed. I have no regrets. Harry was, of course, the star of the show. You can read about that on Team Camwell. Cutest outfit ever.

On Friday night, I played principal with a local (well two hours away) college orchestra. Two works for choir and orchestra. The performance was on Saturday night. The second oboist was excellent--also a ringer. The bassoons were hired (one of them is a colleague of mine in the symphony), but the rest of the winds were pretty horrible. I've debated whether I should say anything negative about this group and performance, but I've reasoned that since I'm not naming names, I won't be hurting anyone...right? Anyway, playing principal was a bit of a shock to my system. Haven't done that since my doctorate. The reeds I was playing on were both made by someone else (two different people). Friday night, one new one (from you-know-who-you-are) was great. I'd also played on it on Friday afternoon. Actually, it was better for a solo performance. The second oboist was a bit too loud, but it could have been that I was just way too soft for a principal seat. The reed I chose was just not projecting enough. The second reed (made by someone who just sent me a reed to try them out) projected better, but I didn't like its tone as much and I needed to soak it for several minutes in order for it to sound "not buzzy". Who has time for that? Unfortunately, reed A did not work on Saturday! I don't know if I'd just played it too much on Friday, but it was completely stiff. It actually felt like I was blowing into a pencil. I don't know how a reed could change so much in one day. So I played reed B for the concert. It was in tune and projected pretty well. Of course, it doesn't matter how well in tune you play if everyone around you (minus oboe 2 and bassoons!) is completely out. The most annoying thing about this gig? How many freaking tuning notes I had to give. I thought it was just the rehearsal. 3 A's for the brass (until the concert master was satisfied), 3 for the woodwinds, 2 for low strings, 2 for high strings. And the concert? No better! People! This does not cut it in the real world!! You are responsible for playing in tune, and the concert A given by the oboist should serve as a brief check only.

How to tune to the oboist (VERY basic!):

1) Listen. Do not jump on the note as soon as it is entoned. A fine oboist will be in tune immediately, but sometimes it takes a second (and that should really be all) for the pitch to settle.
1A) Don't wait too long!!! There's nothing more annoying than having to play the A for 10 seconds before anyone even plays. I will stop playing if it takes more than 5 seconds for people to come in. Count out 5 seconds. That's a long time!
2) Let the principals of your section take the lead. For example, if it's the woodwinds' turn to tune, the oboe plays, joined by the principal flute, clarinet and bassoon. The core group of winds listen to each other, and the section players listen to the principals. Mind you, this should happen quickly. All it takes is a second or two before you should come in with your A.
3) Tune quietly and with no or minimal vibrato. Playing too loudly may cause others to hear your A (in tune or not) as the correct pitch.
3A) For other oboists: Tune quietly!! Yours is not the pitch we want the orchestra to grab onto. It's just rude if you sit there blasting your A.
4) You may (and should?) briefly check perfect intervals around the A, but again, quietly and BRIEFLY!
5) Once you have heard your pitch and compared it to the A, make any necessary adjustments, play again quickly and softly, and then stop! If you are in tune, there is no reason for you to continue sounding your note.
6) Check yourself outside of rehearsal. Be in tune. Do not rely on the oboist's A to be entoned forever. Again, this tuning should serve as a check only, especially in concerts. If you are playing on new reeds, strings or new instrument, spend some time getting to know their tendencies outside of rehearsal.

I feel silly for even posting this. It seems so elementary. Believe it or not, some people just don't know!


Jill Cathey said...

Argh! This is TOTALLY my worst pet peeve - I HATE the endless tuning syndrome! But your scenario is worse than any I've had. 10 As?! Only thing I would add to the "list" (which is great, I should post it at orchestra!) is When you have tuned, do not continue to warm up. You do not need to play the Weber clarinet concerto just to see if all the notes work, at least not during the tuning! Sadly, people don't seem to realize the service begins when the concertmaster stands up.

Good call on the Telemann, why make trouble? I'm sure you sounded great! Harry is so sweet.

Mary K Swaffield said...

Having just played a concert this past weekend, I had tuning etiquette on my mind as well. Beyond the winds tuning at ff, with beautiful big vibrato (argh)... I couldn't get over the fact that several of the winds would tune their A (endlessly) when it was their turn... and then tune their A (endlessly once more) again when the note for the brass section was played. Seriously people, if you can't "check" your tuning in a few seconds, then you need to go home and do some work with your tuner!

I was annoyed! I love your tuning rules! I was seriously considering writing a brief note to the ensemble after the concert reminding everyone about tuning etiquette. I'm sure that would have made me mucho popular LOL!

If it isn't fixed next season, I'm going to have to speak up!