a stranger in a strange land

This morning’s Oregon Symphony rehearsal was my first in about five months. It was great to be back. Lots of nice greetings from my friends and colleagues are always appreciated! I didn’t miss my commute, however. Strange traffic problems that were compounded by various city construction projects that are being shoe-horned in due to our unseasonably dry weather we’re having.

The day began with me getting up at 6:30 so I would have time to do my prescribed stretches and get my scales in before I left the house. There is a decided lack of practice rooms at our hall, and they’re largely filled by all of the young hotshots of the orchestra by the time I get there, so if I’m going to do any quality work before a rehearsal, it has to happen early at home.

We have a guest this week – German conductor Clemens Schuldt, who is just fine, but I’m sitting last chair which means that looking up to see what’s going on is going to happen a lot more than when I’m sitting on the front stand. So there was a bit of an adjustment period as I figured out what the conductor’s various gesticulations actually meant, and also as I adapted to only being able to hear myself and the bass section for most of the rehearsal. I just play the first two pieces on the program, so I was able to leave after the first half of rehearsal ended, which left me with time to get errands done on the way home. By the way, I’m sitting in the back to avoid disrupting the section’s seating – if I were up on the first stand, someone would have to move up to take my seat – so in the back I am. I took this opportunity – being in the back with no one to share the stand with – to use my iPad for the rehearsal. It worked very well, and I like that there are easy ways to erase and put in new markings quickly. Will this be the future for symphony orchestras? It is already virtually di rigueur for young string quartets to play off tablets, so I can see a time in the not-so-distant future where orchestras might start to do the same.

It was interesting feeling what it was like in the orchestra after such a long absence. For one thing, even in an undemanding piece, playing in the orchestra requires such focus that it placed more physical stress on me than I was anticipating. Not too much, but enough to know that coming back for parts of concerts was the right approach. It would be easy to flame out by trying to start too fast. We’ll see how the week goes – I’m looking forward to it!

I’m back! (sort of)

Yesterday was the first day I got back on the bike (off of the indoor trainer), and it was a glorious day! This is looking west from the Springwater Corridor along the Willamette River.

If all goes as planned, this is my final weekend of convalescence. I’m up to 90 minutes of playing a day now, and well on my way to more than that. My progress over the past week, especially, has verged on the exponential, which is heartening!

Next week, I’ll be playing the first half of the Classical 4 program, which will mean for me that I play two pieces by Lili Boulanger. The Mendelssohn First Piano Concerto (with the fabulous Stephen Hough) is reduced down to six players, and since I’ll be sitting DFL for this concert (orch-dork speak for “Dead F-ing Last”), I’m done for the night. It will be an easy way to come back to work, evaluate the stress level on my body, and then see how I will structure the rest of my return to full-time status.

The next ‘big’ program is Classical 5, which mostly consists of the massive Symphony No. 6 by Gustav Mahler. I’ll need to be careful approaching that week, and be realistic about my energy reserves and the amount of stress I can put on my recovering shoulder muscles. The orchestra is being great about allowing me to come back on my own terms, and would rather I come back slowly than try to come back too fast and miss much more time – which is my sentiment exactly.

It has been such a strange journey these past few months. Normally I get to the end of the summer break and am raring to go into the new season. In this case, I lost nearly three months, and my need for structured time has become only more acute. To say that I’m beyond ready (mentally) to come back is the understatement of the year!

Needless to say, I’ll blog my experience of coming back to work, and hopefully it might help those who suffer similar experiences to have something to compare their experiences to.

mahler symphony, or a C major scale?

My practice materials lately.

Yesterday marked the first day that I was able to play anything on my viola for a period of time measurable in minutes rather than seconds. It was both a relief and a stark reminder of how far I have to go. There will be questions of how my instrument is set up to deal with, both in terms of the chin rest and the shoulder pad. I may have to go higher with the chin rest, and lower with the shoulder pad, to relieve pressure on the clavicle, but I may adjust – the left clavicle is a bit higher than it used to be, and that will take some adjusting to. Overall, it is good progress, which I will be steadily building on. I remarked to my wife after I was done that it felt like playing an entire Mahler symphony, not a simple three-octave scale! I am truly missing being at work with all of my colleagues, and also want to get out on my bike again before the weather really turns to the rainy season. These are two powerful motivators, as is my diminishing sick leave balance!