Well, that was what it was… and some thoughts for 2011

So looking back over my blog posts, this is what happened in 2010:

  • January – first hot cross buns sighted Jan 4.  (We’ll see if they beat this, but I *did* see the first Easter Eggs in Coles today, New Years Eve. WTF?!)
  • February – phone line in street FINALLY replaced  – had been chewed by ants!  It took ages for us to get the phone line speed issues resolved -we ended up having to get a new modem.
  • March – Official diagnosis of Bipolar disorder.
  • April – anxiety and panic attacks.  Rexy bird makes it out of the nest.
  • May – battled anxiety.  Had tonsillectomy and got my deviated septum fixed (septoplasty). The sewage pipes in the back yard got clogged with tree roots and had to be cleared at great expense.
  • June – went to Art Gallery in Brissy.
  • July, August – still cold, didn’t do much.
  • September: Joined Toowoomba Concert Band; Mum and Dad visited from Adelaide.
  • October: Got the oboe! And my flute went wonky.  Bugger!
  • November: Didn’t do much because my hands flared up. (Still trying to deal with this.  Grrr.)
  • December: made cake, ate too much.  Squeakle bird makes it out of the nest.

It was a tough year in a lot of ways.  On the other hand, I had managed to get out to Social Cre8te at the local scrapbooking shop fairly regularly; and until the small joint arthritis problem returned I was really enjoying Concert Band.  Both things I would like to keep up in 2011.  (I can’t hold either the flute or the oboe at the moment  – frustrating! )

It’s been the wettest year in Toowoomba for 14 years, apparently (1100.4 mm of rain, with with 338.6 of that in December alone.)

Mr Beloved and I have both put on weight this year – something which we’re working on fixing.

I read. A lot.  138 books, according to what I added to my Shelfari.com page.  But we only bought (I think) 5 books all year – 3 of them in the last week!  If you’re curious, they were:

  • Nigella’s new cookbook, Kitchen (I know, I’m such a weakling, after ranting about her I still bought the book!  And I stupidly ordered without checking and ended up up with the US version, not the UK one – so I had to find out how much a stick of butter is  – 115 g.  Now I know!)
  • Carla Sonheim’s book Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists – lots of fun coming up with that one.
  • Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America & The World – this was recommended on some blog or other, and Mr Beloved really enjoyed it – so much so that we decided to buy our own copy.
  • Oboe Art and Method by Martin Schuring.  Because I can’t afford lessons for the oboe, I’m teaching myself – at least, that’s the idea.  Also, Learn As You Play Oboe by Peter Wastall. (which seems to be out of print, or at least tricky to find. Hmm.)

I spent way too much time online!  I think I might have to institute a regular computer free day each week.  Mr Beloved spent lots of time online too, but he’s been doing much more worthwhile stuff on a project he’s particularly interested in.

So – no big New Year’s Resolutions here, because we all know what happens to THOSE, right?  My aims for the year are to get a bit healthier, do more art journalling, and take the dog for more walks.  That sounds more achievable, yes?

Oh – and overall in 2010, my memory got worse.  I’m still hoping the increased dose of thyroid replacement drug will help, but otherwise – sheesh!

Happy New Year to all.

Fandom! (Oboe related)

So, I’ve been AGONISING over The Oboe for so long that is just about has to have capital letters every time I mention it, right?  Well, yesterday after another frustrating practice attempt I decided to check out some YouTube vids, just to see what was out there.

Turns out that there are some weird videos – but there are also some INCREDIBLY HELPFUL ones, such as those posted by YouTube user “klbtree” – who is actually Karen Birch Blundell, a professional oboist and someone who is very generous with her time and expertise.  She’s also just started a blog about her life in New York – ballet!  (*Swoon*!)  Concerts! (*even more swoon*!) Visiting the Alice in Wonderland statues in Central Park! (*I faint away in sheer wonder and envy*).

ANYWAY, she was very kind about my comments and wrote to see she’s coming down under in January and will even be in Brisbane – I had such a fangirl moment I had to go make a cup of tea before I could even SPEAK!

(I hope all this doesn’t sound too cyber-stalky – oh dear! )

So – more practice for me, and possibly the chance (if she’s doing any performances, which I hope she is!) to hear REAL LIVE OBOE for the first time since… well since I was a student in high school, when my flute teacher’s husband (a distinguished teacher and oboe player) performed in concerts at the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, as it was way back then.


In a related note: I think beginner oboe possibly sounds worse than beginner violin. Truly.  I sound like I’m strangling a tubercular duck.  It’s not pretty!

I was nervous…

… in fact, I was nervous all day.  Or, let’s wind the clock back a little – I’ve been worried since I (well, Mum and Dad, thank you!) bought THE OBOE that perhaps I’d bought a dud instrument, that perhaps my desire to play oboe was a manic fantasy, that I’d altogether made a wrong turning and should have spent the money getting my (old, somewhat neglected, but very good quality) flute overhauled instead.

BUT this afternoon we made the drive out to one of the little villages nearby (now really a bedroom suburb of Toowoomba) for my first oboe lesson.  The teacher was lovely  – kind and gentle and most of all, very helpful – and I now think I can at least go on with some confidence.  I can’t afford regular lessons – and really, most of what I need to learn will take a great deal of work on my own.  I’ve been reading music almost as long as I’ve been reading words, after all; and although I’m out of practice, I can hear when a note is out of tune.  (This is really important with oboe, since so much of the intonation comes from the reed and embouchure.)

My printer is out of ink, so I couldn’t print out a map, and neither Mr Beloved nor I had been out of town in that direction before.  And when I get anxious, I don’t remember things well – and of course the phone book doesn’t have maps out that far. (Note to self – maybe some local maps would be a good idea, hmmm!). So I was busy winding myself into a ball of knots, worried that we’d missed the turn off (we did) or be late (we weren’t.)  I eventually remembered that the teacher lived on a street that turned off another street and we found the right place (confirmed by parent waiting outside in car, and sounds of 1st Grade AMEB Piano pieces being attempted inside).

The teacher said that my oboe “sang out well” – phew! I haven’t bought a rotten instrument, I’d been so worried that since it wasn’t a famous brand that I’d wasted my money.  Nope – it’s fine, and certainly should get me through at least the three years of the warranty.  It’s made from “Greenline” material (which means it’s plastic – well, in the bigger brands “greenline” means a mix of ebony powder and carbon fibre – so, plastic, but GOOD plastic! – so it won’t crack like the more expensive wooden instruments, although arguably they sound better) and seems to be reasonably sturdy.

(pardon the lens flare here – I will take a better photo outside in daylight on the weekend.  And not on my office chair, which you can see the cat covets – she jumps onto it the second I leave and SHEDS FUR!)

If you’re not an oboe player (and you’d tell me if you were, wouldn’t you, just so I had ONE oboe friend in the world?) the large white round thingummy in the middle of the case is a container of cork grease, and not some strange part of the instrument.  Just so you know.

If by some miraculous chance you are an oboist, you can see that this is a French keyed (“conservatoire”, they call it) instrument, rather than the English/thumbplate beastie.  I wasn’t sure which I was getting for my money – I’m glad I got this type.  I’m reliably informed that the French style oboes have a more mellow tone.

Reeds though – oh, the ongoing drama that is oboe reeds!  I currently have ONE reed that I can actually make a sound with – the others are too hard for me just yet.  But the thing is, every maker has different qualities to their reeds, so I need to try some other brands.  I bought two “Medium Soft” reeds from a very well respected maker, and they worked for the teacher, so I know it’s my inexperience and not the reeds at fault.   But you can’t try reeds before you buy (cos – other people’s spit! Eww!) so it really is trial and error at $25-$60(!!) a pop.  And they don’t last – with the best care in the world, they just wear out, or split, or otherwise give up the ghost.  I can see I’m not going to be buying ANY new magazines from now on – it’s second hand bookshop mags for me, the discretionary money (HA! what little of it there is) is now all REED MONEY.

I also had to shell out for cleaning pull-throughs  – but with care, those should last.  You need two different ones, because the top piece of the oboe is really quite teeny inside, and the bottom sections are MUCH bigger.  Not like flute!

By now you’re probably shaking your head and saying “Caity, are you MAD?  Why oboe, when it’s so demanding?” (Ummm, yeah, I AM mad, I have the piece of paper to prove it, but that’s not the point here.) Well, I like a challenge.  I think learning something difficult keeps you fresh.  (This does not apply to Sudoku, which I will NEVER understand.  Music – yes, maths – no!) And yes, oboes are perhaps the most difficult woodwind to play.  But they sound FABULOUS!  It’s such a different timbre to flute.

And – there’s no one else playing oboe in concert band.  I’m LOVING concert band  – making music with other people is such a joy (although completely exhausting  – being with people wears me out very quickly) but there are already a lot of flutes there.  So when I am actually good enough on oboe not to distress other members of the band, I’ll be providing a small measure of balance to the woodwind section.

My chiropractor also approves of the change  – oboe requires a very different posture to flute – straight out in front at a 45 degree angle, rather than off to the right.  Less twisting on the upper spine (and before any flautists out there – are you out there? – correct me, think back to when you played in a concert band with more flutes than any other instrument, and tell me if you didn’t sometimes end up using less than perfect posture just so you could all cram in.)

I don’t regret spending the money on the oboe.  It was incredibly generous of Mum and Dad and I know I’m really lucky to be able to learn a new instrument.

And now it’s waaaaaaaay past my bedtime – good night!

Down the Hill and up again

The Story Bridge, Brisbane, 15 September 2010.

So yesterday Mr Beloved and I ventured Down The Range to the big smoke – Brisbane.   The aim: visiting Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore, a bra and swimwear shop in Fortitude Valley.  (I could not buy a sports bra in my size ANYWHERE in Toowoomba, and believe me, we tried!  None of the EIGHT stores we visited had anything above a size 18.)

Anyway, the service at Big Girls was exceptional.  Start with a Husband Parking Area with comfortable lounges, free tea and coffee, and motoring magazines at the front of the shop.  The bra fitter (there must be a better word for that!)  was kind and professional, and I ended up with 4 well fitted bras.  Only one of those is a sports bra, but I’ll be mail ordering/online ordering another now I know which size to get.  The Elomi brand turned out to fit me perfectly, so 3 of the 4 I bought were from them. And meantime I’ll be exercising in some of the non-sport bras, because even though they don’t have the special wicking fabric, they FIT, so I can wear them and not worry about looking and feeling ridiculous.  Well, not in the boobs department, anyway.

Even turns out that I do in fact need a size 18 across the back – but I need a much bigger cup size than the Toowoomba stores are willing to stock.  This just reinforces my belief that there are a whole lot of women out there wearing the wrong size bra!

That took a lot less time than we had budgeted, so we decided to have a quick look at the music stores in the vicinity.  We popped in to the Orchestral store, to ask about the price of bassoons.

YIKES!  Turns out that even student quality bassoons are waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of my league.  They start at around 5 – THOUSAND, that is!  Since it’s been well over twenty years since I’ve even blown a squark on a double reed, that’s a huge investment in something I’m not even sure I could play.  NOT THAT WE HAVE THE MONEY, you understand, it was just playing with the idea.  To buy the reeds for bassoons, you’re looking at a starting point of around $35 each.

Hmm, what about an oboe, then? I’ve always quite liked oboe, too.  $25 per reed to start on a medium soft one – and about $800 for a student quality, composite (not wood) instrument.  Closer to doable but still out of reach…

Guess I’ll just have to stick with boring old flute then.  $800 would just about buy an overhaul of my flute… Maybe I’ll switch to TUBA, then, how’s that for a bolt out of the blue?  I love tubas!

ANYWAY, we then moved on to the portion of the day which was more about Mr Beloved: a meetup over lunch with some online (and becoming In Real Life) friends from the Atheist group.  This turned out to be at a pub local to one of the members and a jolly good time was had by all 5 of us.  I even had a coupla beers, not something I get to do terribly often (since we don’t tend to go out, and we don’t have the budget or inclination to buy alcohol for home) which meant that I fell asleep as Mr Beloved drove us back up the hill.

Today was a wipeout – I was exhausted sore and achey all over, but I know to expect that after a Brissy trip. Tomorrow is resistance training at the gym (yay!) and then housework.  The house will NOT be as clean as I would have liked for my parent’s visit, but I just have to accept that I can’t do EVERYTHING.  (This is something I struggle with, STILL, after all these years of CFS/Fibromyalgia and mental illness…)

Again, not much…

I haven’t art journalled in over a week.  (I know this because my bags are still packed from Social Cre8te on Thurs 26th – I didn’t get there this week due to migraine.)  I completely forgot about Fathers Day, d’oh! and so will make cards this weekend.  Mr Beloved says he has everything he needs, that all he would really like as a special treat are some steamed dim sims. (Chinese dumplings).

(this is a bad angle for Mr Beloved, but a typical couch- time pose with Miss Connie J. Woodle – note the special toy- poodle -sized tennis balls!)

Spring has suddenly arrived – the weather has changed from heater-on-and-the-big-doona-plus-at least-one -other-quilt to FAN on and  one blanket and quilt!  I have no clothes that fit. Arrgh!

My parents will be here to visit in SIXTEEN days!I’m going to try and clean one room each day so they don’t think we live they way we really do… It’s mainly the kitchen that embarrasses me, but I’m not sure I’ll be up to scrubbing the walls and cabinets.  It’s been a bad pain week, and I don’t want the fibro to flare up again.  Stupid fibromyalgia.

I managed to get to the gym only to find that the trainer had double booked (grrr…) and when we re-scheduled I had a migraine and couldn’t go.  I’ll keep going in the next week and just doing the few exercises she’s set me (mostly cardio) and HOPEFULLY get a session with her next Friday.  I need to get back into resistance training on the pin weight machines, because I know that’s when the weight (and the inches) start to come off.

I’m going back to Concert Band on Monday night, because I HAD THE BEST TIME!  There were TEN flutes present, which is not surprising – remember what I said about flutes being a dime a dozen?  – but some of them were kids who only came for the open rehearsal.  (The band is primarily for adults, with high school kids admitted if they show they have the right attitude.)  My playing was okay – seriously sharp on some of the higher notes, mostly because my flute needs that overhaul (pads that don’t seal properly cause all sorts of problems) but I can work around that (there are tricks like turning the flute and so on to modify pitch just enough to pass.)  The open rehearsal was short, only an hour, so I think we only ran through 5 0r 6 pieces, but I had SO MUCH FUN!  Got the notes under my fingers for the most part (with the exception of some very fast parts in the “Carmina Burana” arrangement) and was also able to read “above and below the notes” as the conductor put it – that is, all the other info  – if you’re already a muso, you know what I mean; if not, it’s the accents and loudness and speed markings that appear on the printed sheet, and also watching the conductor.

I’m actually feeling like sewing some fabric.  Wow.  First time in about 2 years!  Of course, this could change by the time I get the sewing room cleared out enough to actually do it, and when I have to actually take measurements before I cut anything out, but still… even just a wrap skirt would be SOMETHING.

But now I have to think of what to cook for dinner…

I was a flutist…

… that is, I used to play flute.

(I would have been 20 or maybe 21  in this picture, I think.  Yikes, that’s over 20 years ago!! So young! So THIN!!)

From the age of 4 when I first started piano lessons, my parents spent thousands of dollars on piano lessons,  flute lessons, musicianship classes,  sheet music, exam fees, music camps, and so on.  They drove me to theory lessons and concert band, and rehearsals for local theatre shows.   They sat patiently through hours of other people’s kids playing so they could hear me play.  (Thanks, Mum and Dad!) My brother and sister spent holidays in places they didn’t want to, just so I could go to music camp.  My Dad put up with me taking over his flute and eventually getting better flutes than he had.  The whole family (and neighbours!) heard me practicing the same scales and pieces over and over and over  ’til it must have nearly sent them mad.

I really, REALLY enjoyed playing flute.  And I was pretty good at it.  I thought it was going to be my world.  I loved playing in the  orchestra for the local Gilbert and Sullivan productions.  I loved playing and marching on Anzac Day with the concert band.  There wasn’t a day that I didn’t have a flute in my hands.

[clicky for biggy]

(This was from a Gilbert and Sullivan tribute show called “Savoy Story”, in Wagga Wagga in 1984.We were being very serious on purpose, it was meant to be a Victorian style portrait.  Craig Hill is now a star musician – well he was back then, too  – guesting with the Australian Chamber Orchestra; Stuart Beed is teaching somewhere I think;  Jeff Willey (not pictured here) is still teaching at the NSW Conservatorium High School, I think.  I didn’t know the other two very well, I think they were fellow members of Riverina Concert Band, though.)

Eventually, I developed over-use injuries, (and thought other things were more important) and I gave up my dream of being a professional musician.  I probably wouldn’t have made it anyway – flutists are a dime a dozen, and while I was good, I probably wasn’t exceptional.  I remember one of my friends from Border Music Camp who started as a flute player but came back the next year playing double bass – yes, more of a pain to cart around, but so much rarer and therefore easier to get into orchestras! (Andrea Green, I wonder where you are these days?)

The last time I seriously played was around 1990, when I played in a local concert band and also took part in the local eisteddfod.

After that, circumstances in my life were not conducive to playing.  I was in my early 20’s and very unstable in my relationships and where I lived.  Then I was sick, and in a relationship where I was actively discouraged from being creative.

So, for various reasons,  I didn’t play for around 20 years.  An odd moment here or there I would unpack the flute and play a few scales, a couple of tunes – and then pack it away again.

But in the last few weeks I’ve been attempting to play again.  My sight reading is still pretty good – it should be, after all the thousands of hours I’ve spent reading music.  I can get most of the notes “under my fingers” – that is, I can remember, without thinking about it, how to get the right combination of keys to make the note I want (mostly!) and I can play most of them without making horrible sounds.  What I’m lacking is speed and more importantly, lung capacity and breath control. And intonation – part of the problem there is that my flute needs an overhaul (ageing components, especially the fragile pads which create a seal to make the notes, are a real issue that I will have to work around); the other part of intonation is getting used to hearing the sounds the flute makes again. Re-training my brain to keep a note in tune.

I have no desire to get back into formal learning of music.  I just want to play for enjoyment.  Hopefully, play with others in a concert band again.  And  – wish me luck  – I’m going to an open rehearsal on Monday night to do that. I am sooooooooo looking forward to it!!

I watched the opera “Carmen” on tv yesterday afternoon –  (the  2003, Zefirelli directed version from the Arena Verona) and remembered studying and learning the “orchestral excerpts” required for my 8th Grade AMEB exams… I forget how much I enjoy music until something like this reminds me.  (The Habanera – “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” – has been a favourite ever since I saw an orange singing it on Sesame Street.  Really. )

It feels good to reclaim “Flutist” as part of who I am.  (And while some people may claim “Flautist” is correct, I go by what my great hero, James Galway, said: “I am a flute player not a flautist. I don’t have a flaut and I’ve never flauted.”)