Friday, March 6, 2009

Back Pressure: Important or not?

I've seen musicians perform with broken and sprained limbs, severe cuts, stomach viruses, colds and a plethora of other injuries and maladies which might put other people out of commission. We hide injuries from professors, family and even collegueges to prevent ourselves from being taken out of the event.  I am no different.

What will absolutely prevent me from performing?  Not breathing.  If you can't breath, you can't play any instrument.  The oboe requires not just 'normal air' but also immense amounts of back pressure.  I've played with stuffy head colds, and thankingfully only passed out once.  Once was all it took to teach me how hard and far I could push myself when I'm sick.  The pain caused by the building back pressure when you've got a cold is unlike any migraine or headache I've ever experienced.

So you can understand why I was estactic when my end of January cold seemed to have no effect on my back pressure.  There was no pain, no fluid in the lungs, no reason for me to postpone my recital.  Sure, playing made me a little more tired than usual but nothing I couldn't handle.  Green lights all the way.

The first hint of trouble came the week before my recital in rehearsals, but nothing bad enough to postpone my recital.  It was not until the night of my recital, when the trouble hit full force.  In the first solo piece, the Dittersdorf oboe concerto, I began experiencing a strange phenomenon.  I've found no other way to describe this, so feel free to laugh and offer suggestions.  I still had air in my lungs to play and my lips were still covering the reed properly.  Yet there was air escaping through my sinuses and out my nose, preventing any semblance of back pressure.  No back pressure, no sound.  Well, that's not really correct.  There was a sound.  Ever laugh through your nose, like a snorting type of laugh?  That was the sound, except I had no control over it.  I tried dropping my air support to lower the pressure on my sinuses.  That helped, but only to a point.  Not to mention dropping air support is never a good idea.  I had nothing left, but to keep going.  

I did.  I couldn't just quit at that point, so I pulled out my inner performer and kept my head high.  Due to an amazing accompanist, I was able the stretch different phrases to keep things as musical as possible.  I made the decision to do the best I could with what I had.

I'm not sure what I could have done to prevent, or even predict, this problem.  It is not one that I've experienced before or even heard others talk about encountering.  Hopefully it will not be something I will have to deal with again, although I know it will be one of those things that would make me seriously consider postponing a recital.


Lucas said...

I have this problem frequently after playing for long periods of time. It is due to increased pressure on the muscle that closes the entrance from your throat to your nose, much like when you play for long amounts of time time, your orbicularis oris muscle (your chops) tends to start going limp and unable to close over the reed no matter how hard you try. Since you had a cold the muscles holding the passage from your throat to your nose closed were probably weakened in the fight against the virus and thus you had some trouble keeping air in. Hope I was a help


Kate said...

That was a big help, Lucas.
I never thought of it like that, but it sounds exactly right. I had no control over the muscles to keep that passage closed.

Fred said...

Well, this is very interesting. I did a Google seach for "OBOE SNORTING SINUS" and here I am. I have just started to play the Oboe. I mean one lesson. And I am getting a bit concerned. I have had multiple surgical procedures to cure "Sleep Apnea". Lots of sinus work, turbines, septum, etc. AND.. I have had my Uvula removed, AND my Palette "Shortened". My doctor told me that the only side effect of this last procedure that he heard of was a hunter who was bending down to drink water from a stream and water started coming out of his nose. Now, I knew this was not a problem I would ever have, but, I did not know I would become passionate about learning to play the Oboe. As soon as I start playing a "b" ( 3rd line on staff ) I start "snorting" and my sinuses go nuts. I can play a little Trumpet, no problem there, I just don't have a "lip" developed to play very high, and I can play recorder without any problem. I even tried a little Eb Clarinet the other night, and I just "Squeaked" away, I created some very ugly sounds, but, no "Snorting" along. I guess if I could learn to Snort in harmony it could at least be amusing. I am going to keep trying but if this does end up being a physical problem then I may try to build one of those "Single reed mouthpiece to Oboe staple" adapters that they used to make.

Bummed out Fred

Sorry if this posts multiple times I am just setting up my account.

Heth does NOT equal Heath said...

Kate...I'll have you know that since I've been sick these past few weeks I've had this snorting thing happen to me 3 times!! I had never even heard it until your recital, and now I'm doing it. ahhhh!! my only hope is that it doesn't happen in an ensemble rehearsal...haha Rudge wouldn't know what to do!

Donna Bogan said...

Kate, I'm playing with increasing problems from C. O. P. D. and asthma. Meds help, but the truth is, if I were playing any other instrument, I would have already had to quit. Glad to read your blog!

KimberlySue said...

You should definitely pick up Captive Queen! I learned so much about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but it was fictional as well, so it made for a good story!
I haven't read much on Robin of Locksley, but I know Eleanor was not in support of her son John, so it would make sense that she sided with Robin.

maryssa said...

I experienced something similar to this a couple days ago. I had a small cold-nothing I couldn't deal with- the week of my All-state auditions, but the headaches didn't really ever come along so I thought it was fine. The day of the audition, I get up about 7 hours before it and practice. I get through one scale and BAM: major major back pressure headache. It kept on during my entire practice, but still I was hoping I would be ok at the audition. I get there and I'm in the audition room...I start my first piece-it was ok. But then I begin on the second and BAM: it happens again, only this time I'm. In the middle of the piece my vision goes black and I'm beginning to tip out of the chair. I relied on memory to finish the exercise, but needless to say, the rest of the audition was a continuos strain. I love the oboe and performing..but THAT really sucks.

Jusgt thought I would share my little story. I totally know what you mean!

Matt said...

I was googling 'oboe headaches' trying to figure out a solution or helpmate for a student... I am a trumpet player and after long rehearsals where I completely 'chop out' the back pressure starts to release through my sinuses ("snorting") and can no longer produce a sound. I realize that the trumpet does not require as much back pressure as oboe, but it was interesting to hear about this phenomenon happening to someone other than myself!