Or: How to Spend an Entire Day Working and Still Have Piles of Work to Do at Midnight
Or: An Exercise in Failure
[I give credit for the inspiration for this tangent to Andres Cuervo '17 on the Oberlin blogs.]
I’m really not authorized to speak on the subject of free time. Really. For example, today: Thursdays are normally pretty manageable, with two hours of class in the morning (theory and music history) and chamber rehearsal in the afternoon from 2:40 to 4:30, assuming I’m in all of the pieces, which I so far have never been. Then, somehow, all of a sudden it’s 9 PM and I haven’t touched the homework due tomorrow and I didn’t get a chance to practice as much as I’d like to, and the only way I survived was by the fact that I barely went two hours without a cup of coffee all day. (That last part I can probably blame on the fact that I relied on a triple Americano at around 8 PM to keep myself energized enough to get two hours of practice in, which turned me into somewhat of an insomniac, which in turn exhausted me today and I resorted again to coffee. Welcome to life in a conservatory, I guess.)
Admittedly I didn’t just waste my time: after the morning classes I studied for a bit, then practiced for two hours (I think – I forgot to look at my starting time again), followed by an hour and a half of orchestra rehearsal, a half hour to catch my breath before a lesson with guest professor Dan Stolper, then theoretically an hour that felt a lot shorter before studio class, which ended about an hour ago at which point I decided laundry was a higher priority than homework – which it was.
All in all, I don’t know if my brain is actually connected to the rest of my body right now. There’s probably a good chance I’ll read this tomorrow and think to myself, Why did I write that?
One of my teachers in high school (private teacher, not a public school teacher) commented to me during a particularly busy part of the performance season that she expected after graduating from music school that she wouldn’t have so much going on at once – and now realizes just how wrong she was. Actually, she said she works more now than she did then – something I don’t even want to think about. At any given time, I have about a million and a half things that need doing, and only 24 hours a day to do it, with time cut out for eating, class, and sleep. (Practicing has long since become a priority over actual homework.) As an example, here’s all the things I need to be practicing on a daily (or as close to daily as possible) basis:
- Scales and long tones! Usually I manage to fit these in when I practice in the mornings, or I incorporate them into the warmup before each practice session.
- Orchestra parts: right now, I’m second on Dvorak cello concerto and on Tombeau de Couperin. Both of these, if I may say so, are absurd and require enough practice that if I could only have to prepare these I’d probably have a good solid three or more hours of practice a day. That’s also not to mention that each of these demands reeds made for them specifically: Dvorak needs flexibility and Tombeau is English horn (and extraordinarily high second oboe), and Tombeau also means I need to practice switching back and forth between instruments. All in all, I have more than enough to work on with just these.
But that’s not all!
- Placement audition materials: Mozart Oboe Concerto exposition (about two pages, but at least it’s something we’re all familiar with, even if we’re never satisfied) and excerpts from Beethoven Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) (eight in all), Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”) (another two which have been the bane of my existence since I was probably a freshman in high school), and Strauss Salome, Dance of the Seven Veils (two excerpts that aren’t really oboe ‘excerpts’ per se, which means probably most of us are learning from scratch). Being an oboist, I can say I’ve spent at least a solid hour straight on just the first measure of the Mozart concerto, which isn’t typical for these excerpts but gives you an idea of how time consuming they can be.
- For a freshman woodwind seminar, I need to prepare one of the Schumann* Romances, which I honestly love but literally forgot about until just now while composing this list.
- And last but not least, etudes for my lessons – about three each week, in the original key and transposed up or down a half step.
And being an oboist and all, there’s always reedmaking.
So, for those of you still in high school and thinking about the fact that you might want to practice more but don’t really have enough to work on so you’re not doing just scales and the like all the time: just wait.
It gets crazy.
That’s not to say I don’t love it – the massive mound of papers in my locker in the conservatory, most of which I need to be working on, just makes me excited about what I’m doing. Heck, I’m even (in a way) liking making reeds – probably because they’re becoming more and more successful as time goes on. After you get past the hump of why-am-I-here-I-need-to-transfer-this-is-too-hard-I’m-no-good, you can really start to enjoy it: and that’s when you really know you’re in the right place.
*I originally said the Romances were by Strauss, instead of Schumann. Get your sleep, guys, so you don’t make a fool of yourself on the internet.