Oboe and English horn
I believe the learning environment is best navigated with effective, charismatic, and timely communication in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust that might ultimately leads to growth and flourishing. The nature of the teacher-student relationship therefore is critical to success. Integrity and honesty must take a central role, and by this, I mean that as the teacher I must practice what I preach, and the student must be honest in assessing their own discipline and commitment.
Growth best occurs in a positive environment: edification over disparagement, empowerment over restriction, curiosity over indifference, hard work over laziness, praise over insults, confidence over fear, constructive feedback over destructive criticism. But above all, honesty must inhabit the studio. Honesty within a positive context dispels many barriers to growth: wishful thinking, inattentive listening, prideful denial, crushing defeatism, and paralyzing excuse-making.
As a teacher, I strive to model success both in music and in life. This means I try to inspire with an integrity of artistry and also with wise choices, ever seeking to draw the same from my students. Good teachers know when to push and when to relent, when to speak and when to listen, when to challenge and when to accept and move on. In many ways, we are musical parents—setting boundaries, addressing shortfalls, giving guidance, parting wisdom, instilling discipline, and encouraging growth. But perhaps even more importantly, we seek with unquenchable resolve to transform our students into
thriving, thinking, feeling, mature musicians capable of standing on their own. In reaching toward that ideal I’ve come to understand that oftentimes one well-timed question is far better than a book full of answers, that mistakes and defeats (especially my own) are opportunities in disguise, and that every player has a uniquely beautiful voice and point of view that is worthy of full expression, unhindered by the technical and expressive challenges of their chosen instrument. And in that regard, I’ve come to see myself as a liberator of potential, equipping my charges with a sophisticated pallet of skills and tools that might give an unfettered realization of their inner will to express and to share.
The most compelling music making comes from the heart, which is a striking example of a sum being greater than its parts. By that I mean that skills and abilities should not be ends in themselves. Rather, they should be the means to honest self-expression of the sort that ultimately makes the world a better place.
Originality, creativity, and imagination are all key components in making music, and should be structurally involved in every musician’s pursuits, even from the very beginning of their studies. I feel strongly that the oboe should mimic the nuanced, expressive capabilities of the human voice. Listening therefore is of primary importance—to the great artists for inspiration, to colleagues for ensemble and context, and to oneself to inform growth and progress. Confident, thoughtful, intuitive, goal-oriented playing that achieves affective musical motion through a broad pallet of air speeds, colors, articulations, intensities, and dynamics is a worthy vision for every student. Good musical intuition is informed by careful study, perceptive listening, and purposeful reflection.
The technique of playing should be centered around and result in a way of production that achieves ease, fluidity, and fluency in support of musical expression. This means that finger movement should be economical, articulation should be ringing and ongoing, embouchure should be flexible and supportive, and response should be assured, easy, and of a character suitable to the music. The oboe should have a beautifully round sound with core, depth, range, ring, and color. The vibrato should be well integrated into the tone, deepening the sound with varied intensity as the music demands. To achieve this, the setup must somehow allow the mouth to be open and the jaws apart. Support, air focus, and deep breathing are critical to ease of playing and a beautiful tone. The reed must do its part. Namely, it must be up enough in pitch and gathered enough in tone to allow a deep voicing without being flat. Control over the extreme registers of the instruments should sound as easy and nuanced as everything else. Maintaining a daily warmup routine that promotes growth in these ways is crucial to unhindered musical expression.
Reed Making Philosophy
Reed making, in so much as it is possible, should be a scientific process that produces the consistency necessary for confident control and musical expression. In other words, the process must have objectively measurable tests, specifications, and tolerances. There is no reason that reed making need be a mysteriously unpredictable source of anxiety and frustration. Reeds should be stable in pitch and tonal core, while allowing for great flexibility of expression, color, dynamic range, and articulation. They should not fatigue the embouchure or the air support musculature. Reeds are not a one-size-fits-all sort of affair—they must suit the specific player, instrument, music, and acoustic. It is vital that students become predictably adept at making reeds so that dread, stress, and worry over having good reeds for performance and practice does not become a life-ruining prospect. All of that said however, students need to be flexible enough in production so that the inevitable less-than-perfect reed can be convincingly accommodated.