Big Belly Clarinet Playing! Weekly Inspiration from Jenny
I’ve started shying away from my introductions to blog posts here on the 5HE Blog. I’ve learned that a lot of times, it’s best to just let the words of the post author speak, but every once in a while, I still feel the pull to add a little bit to the beginning. I’m not writing an intro to this post because I have doubt in the power of Jenny’s words. In fact, the opposite is true: I think this is one of the best WIBP we’ve had so far. It definitely opened my eyes and gave me some inspiration to keep going through changes in life! All I can say before I hand this over to Jenny is that I’m looking forward to seeing her play all the way up through month 9! Congratulations, Jenny! Keep on playing!
This being my second pregnancy, I’m starting to notice a trend. Every single time I perform, there are always a few people in the audience that want to know how it’s possible to maintain the high level of breath support necessary to play the clarinet while pregnant. There are even some people that express concern that the baby is being deprived of oxygen (my mother included).
Well, folks I am here to tell you that there are many challenges to being pregnant. The potential for decreased air support is just one of them. Gail Williams, internationally recognized horn player has this to say to people who ask what it’s like to be a pregnant horn player in a major orchestra: “My answer is that you don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m so huge, I can’t breathe anymore,’ because over the nine months, it happens so gradually. You just have to accommodate.”
My approach to the whole breathing thing is the same as my approach the many other challenges that come with being pregnant. I anticipate the issue and respond before the symptoms of the problem hinder my potential. I always travel with snacks because I can assume that if I’m going to be away from my refrigerator for more than 2 hours, I will become dangerously hungry. I started having lower back and hip pain a couple of weeks ago, I am now doing exercises to strengthen my core, seeing a chiropractor once to twice a week and bringing a cushion to sit on everywhere I go. I feel much better. I am aware that this growing fetus could potentially threaten my ability to play phrases as beautifully and as long as I want. Well, regular long tone practice has become a number one priority in my practice and the metronome will get slower and slower over the next few months. At this point, if anyone out there has suggestions for how I can make it through the night without having to get up to use the tinkletorium, bring it on!
My teacher at Northwestern, Russ Dagon (former principal clarinetist of the Milwaukee Symphony), used to make me put my hand on his belly regularly in lessons to demonstrate really solid engagement of the diaphragm while playing clarinet. Russ Dagon is a big man and from my petite perspective, feeling the power of his belly was totally awe-inspiring. The first time I did it, I was also completely horrified. I felt like my hand was going to get sucked into this vortex of wind power. As my belly gets bigger and bigger, I visualize my capacity for air from my core growing and growing to Dagon proportions.
There are certainly no guarantees as to where this pregnancy will take my clarinet playing from here until August, but one thing is for sure. This baby is going to be on stage performing a lot of great music alongside some fantastic musicians over the next five months. My hope it that it goes something like my pregnancy with Charlie. I performed my last note as a pregnant woman and 7.5 hours later, my water broke.