I'm playing a short piece with J next week, and I want it to go as well as possible. So I took a lesson with Matt, to see if he could provide useful advice. I was pretty nervous, because, he hasn't really heard me play before, not much, and not close up, and I care what he thinks. After I'd put the horn together and he'd left me alone to warm up, I played it through, and was happy that I'd managed to get through it without falling apart. Actually, I felt it was pretty much perfect, so I was happy, but then wasn't certain what we were going to spend the time on. Matt said something nice, then started work on my reed.
The reed: I played on G7, which is my best one at the moment. Lots of comments. Wires: rather than essentially glue down the wires with nail polish, he suggested just continuing to tighten wires as the cane shrinks. Wires 1 and 2 could still be a bit loose, and tighten up when the cane gets soaked. Profile: he noticed a slight step change in the profile just back of the tip. I'm not sure if that's a consequence of not working in when shaving the tip, or even left behind from the profiler. He took his knife to the heart, just a few scrapes. Even just that change made a positive improvement. Next, general strength. I'd complained about tiring. Also a thin tenor register means too strong, and I'd noticed thinness (ie less resonance) for eg tenor D in the Louchez recordings. And the whole thing was thick for his taste. He took it down uniformly across the reed, edge to edge, shoulder to tip. We tested by playing C-D-E-F with no lip on the reed, only air support, listening for dropping pitch. The E a little unstable, so he took a sliver off the tip to address this and also repair my skewed tip chopping. Somewhere along the way he took a bit out of one corner to improve symmetry. With that, it was a little easier to support the pitch in the tenor, improved, but not dramatically different in character from how I'd left it. Except for surface texture: it feels much rougher, I think his knife is sharper, and cuts thicker shavings.
Next, he had me play it again, stopping frequently. Lots of stuff. All picky stuff, but the notes are easy, and well, I'd hit them even the first time through. And there was tons of things to fix. Long notes - need to grow. Quarter notes before a breath - have to taper a bit, end the note, before the breath. Repeated quarters - have to grow, esp the low ones, should be accented, kind of like the thuds of a pop tune bassline. The phrases don't really stop, but I was tending to back off on the long notes. Matt wasn't accepting that. He also pointed out a lot of features of the line: notes that have to get emphasized because they break a pattern and need to stand out, parts where two lines happen simultaneously and need to be differentiated, fixed up a few articulations and dynamic locations ("you should ask the composer what he meant here"). Pitch wasn't too bad, he asked for attention only to a high C, where I tended to be sharp, trying to get it to speak, and once a B2, which has always been a flat note for me. We added a few breath marks, some crescendos.
The big thing was just sitting next to and playing with a pro. Really quickly I was hearing his demonstrations and copying the intensity. I was surprised how loud he plays, I sure felt like he was much louder than me, but maybe it's just where I'm sitting, and being behind vs next to the horn. The whole thing makes me think about the usefulness of lessons, though. I went away thinking that it was more useful than I'd expected. Doesn't mean that I want to be back every week, but worth thinking about my "I can do it all by myself" attitude.