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Sound in Motion

The summer months are a time for me to get caught up on my reading, and spend time with the new repertoire for the coming season. While I have been spending my study time with Prokofiev’s Cinderella, among other pieces, I also have enjoyed quality time with a few books I have long been anxious to read.

I was an oboist in my previous life, so David McGill’s Sound in Motion; A Performer’s Guide to Greater Musical Expression, caught my eye. The author, currently the principal bassoon in the Chicago Symphony, chronicles the teachings of legendary oboist Marcel Tabuteau. Tabuteau held the post of principal oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra for almost 40 years, while also teaching at the legendary Curtis Institute of Music. He defined the American school of oboe playing as well as a style of musical expression that musicians continue to study, refine, and emulate. My own teacher, Phil Koonce traced his lineage back to Tabuteau. In recent years, I spent some time talking oboe and music with John Mack (a Tabuteau student) during my tenure as cover conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra. Joe Robinson, formerly of the New York Philharmonic has also written extensively on Tabuteau’s teaching. So these methods have long been of interest to me.

Tabuteau was adamant about the constant forward motion in music, but rather than relying on poetic metaphors (which he felt came later in the evolution of style), he developed methods of numbering that aided the musician in defining stylistic motion in more concrete terms. His concepts in note groupings that give direction beyond the simple rhythmic patterns created by the composer, help us to avoid certain rhythmic pitfalls that lull us into predictability if not error, and therefore make our music dull. He reminded us to think of the overall direction of a passage rather than the minute details that might bog us down (yet gave us formulae for making those minute details extremely precise). Something that my oboe teacher, Phil Koonce, instilled in me was the notion that every note in a musical phrase has a different, quantifiable intensity. Phil attributed that notion to Tabuteau, and it was definitely a “déjà vu moment” to read McGill’s account of that teaching as well.

McGill does an outstanding job of organizing and defining these ideas with a myriad of musical examples. While primarily the experience of the study of woodwind techniques, these concepts are germane to any musician. I was fascinated with a section challenging the typical phrasing of Wagner’s Ride of the Walkyries, something that I have always questioned. His section on “The Larger Picture” reminds us of the importance of the key elements of phrasing that have the ultimate goal of the elimination of “sameness” in our music. Lots of valuable food for thought.

Curiously, after reading McGill’s account of Tabuteau’s teaching of long tones, where the intensity is increased and diminished while thinking of ascending and descending numbers, I took a golf lesson. The pro advised something very similar in creating and releasing torque in my golf swing!

If I can figure out the aspects of this numerology in cooking, I can truly say that “everything I needed to know about life, I learned from Marcel Tabuteau’s woodwind class!”

Thanks for stopping by and joining me on my quest of reading “Between the Lines!”