Thursday, July 16, 2015

My Creative Life: Music

I've been wanting to share a little bit about my life as an artist because right now I'm working on something that is so important to me that it's making me very introspective. I wasn't always an artist though. I didn't draw a lot as a child. I wanted to be a writer and I did write stories and poems as well as reading constantly. And in 5th grade I started playing oboe and became focused on music.

Usually in bios I mention that I was a musician because it explains why I didn't go to art school. But I gloss over that part of my life because it's not relevant. Does anyone ever live a life that is linear with only one purpose and no side trips, though? NO! If it seems that way when reading your favorite person's bio, you can certainly imagine that they left out quite a few side trips that contributed to their life view, but weren't really relevant to the bigger picture.

I want to explain something I discovered because there is an off chance that it could help someone else. But also because the way I handled this one challenge was not so great. Hopefully I've learned over the years and am facing my current challenge as an artist better that I did as a young oboist. I'll talk more about that in my next post.

The oboe when played well has the most gorgeous and haunting sound. It's a tough instrument to learn though, especially because you also have to learn to make your own reeds. Here is a YouTube video of Eugene Izotov giving pointers about and then playing a beautiful solo from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scherezade if you'd like to hear what the oboe sounds like.

I graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Oboe performance from the University of North Texas. The photo above is from my senior year. Our conductor was the incredible Anshel Brusilow.

After graduating, I knew I wasn't ready to be on my own without a teacher. I auditioned for a Master's program at the most prestigious school for oboists. I wasn't accepted. So I started taking lessons from the wonderful oboists in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I had challenges and setbacks, but nothing I couldn't have gotten through with time. But after college, my heart wasn't in it. That's because there was something I thought I'd never be able to do well enough to become successful. I couldn't articulate quickly enough. People tried to help and suggest alternative ways to improve but I felt like I'd hit a wall. I had so much potential in other areas, but my tongue just could't keep up with my fingers.

I'd showed my college teacher, Charles Veazey that my tongue was connected almost from the tip down to the bottom of my mouth. We vaguely thought that might be related to articulation or fast tonguing but we didn't know what to do about it. And this was so long ago that there was no internet or we probably would have done a little online research.

I wound up quitting oboe two years after college. I'd been playing regularly in an orchestra and having plenty of gigs. Things were generally good but I felt a little lost. I needed guidance and a strong teacher to help me figure out my weird problem. I probably should have applied for a Master's program at UNT and continued to study with Dr. Veazey but instead I quit.

I've been thinking about all of this a lot in the last two years since my daughter was born. She had big problems nursing which led me to reading about different things on the internet (how handy!) One issue was tongue-tie. That wasn't my daughter's problem but OMG, it was MY problem! Apparently I was a very colicky baby which is understandable because babies with tongue-ties can't suck properly. Sorry for all of the crying, Mom & Dad!

This problem has been known for an incredibly long time but around the 1950's doctors started dismissing tongue-tie as a made-up issue. It's recently becoming more widely known again. It's absurd how often science denies ancient knowledge only to find later that it has merit.

I'm sad that this minor handicap that could have been easily corrected changed the course of my life. I may have quit playing oboe for another reason along the way, but maybe I'd still be playing today. I did love playing in an orchestra. Sitting surrounded by musicians in the middle of a performance of Beethoven or Brahms or Debussy or works by any of the great composers is a transcendent experience. It's not the same as sitting in front of an orchestra as a listener. As you perform you are hyper aware of everything around you. You are nervous, you are confident, you are thinking on your toes, you are responding to so much stimuli, you are electrified! And now when I hear my favorite classical pieces I feel like crying, so mostly I don't listen.

I still have lots of musician friends from my earlier life, and if you folks or anyone else reading this encounters a young person who seems to be having this same problem, it's an easy surgical fix! Please investigate tongue-tie as a possibility.

I did discover after I quit playing oboe that I'm a very creative person. And I'm so happy to have become a visual artist! But one of my biggest hurdles as an artist is believing in myself and having confidence. I know this is partly because I walked away from my oboe career and that makes me feel like a quitter. I just didn't have the information and help that I needed at the time. Now my challenge is to learn self confidence. And I have a lot to say about that because I've been making great progress. I'll post about that and making my way as a self taught artist next time.

I only have 2 photos of myself playing and the other one is too dark to see. So even though this isn't how I usually sat or practiced, I thought I'd share this old picture. My boyfriend and I were in the middle of a fun vacation but I still needed a little time away from my vacation to be alone and play my oboe.


  1. Wow, so much to ponder: how the internet changes life for so many... the life you had as a musician.. the life I know you in as an artist and mother... Jill, you've come a long way! It's good to reflect on past hardships after a long while, I think, when you've had opportunity to grow away from that hardship. It's very much like how we have to step away from our art to look again much later for renewed objectivity - to make our work better. I hope you find your way to confidence, as you have so much talent in you admired by many of us - I feel like you are already well on your way. Thank you for sharing your story. By the way, I went to Texas Woman's University (Dallas campus) for my undergraduate degree. Small world! :)

    1. Oh wow! We are pretty close in age, aren't we? We might have been in the same neighborhood at practically the same time doing totally different things! But I'm certainly glad that I know you now. You are such a fantastic, smart, positive, accomplished and talented lady! Thank you!

  2. Wow! I've known Jill "all her life" but this is the first time hearing this story. Her comments don't do justice to her university advisor describing her as among the top 3 oboists in her age group across the country. It would be fun to hear of some of the special places she played besides "in a symphony and gigs."

  3. Your story is so moving, Jill. It sparked a great discussion I have been having with my son today. Thank you for sharing. Confidence is something I have given a lot of thought to myself recently. How one can have a lot in one area of one's life, but maybe not another, or how it can change over time, not necessarily in accordance with abilities. Thanks again, Jill - and if it helps at all (and I hope it does!) even in the short time I have been following, I have great confidence in your artistic abilities and vision! Play on!!

    1. Thank you, Julie! I'm glad you had a good talk about confidence. Because it's something I struggle with, I think talking about it helps. It always feels better to get out of your head and verbalize or write about things. It lets you move on to better thoughts and actions.
      And I really appreciate your support and your kindness!! You keep up the good work, too!

  4. Had to share this! Just found it this morning:

    1. That makes sense! Thanks for sharing it, Julie.