Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: Cane Preparation

I had a request for this next video topic:

Anish wrote: Hi Jennet! :) I was wondering if you could do a video sometime on your preliminary processes with cane- you seem to get a reed vibrating beautifully very quickly from the get-go and I am curious as to what you look for when selecting cane and what you gouged to etc before you even tie the reed.

Maybe I'm the wrong person to answer these questions - I am NOT fussy about cane.  I did a project a long time ago for a colleague, in which I worked through multiple pieces of cane from dozens of different batches she'd purchased long ago, trying to determine which bags of cane were worth keeping and which should be discarded.

What I learned is that EVERYTHING makes a reed. Sometimes I have to work a little harder,  if the cane is reluctant to vibrate. Sometimes the diameter doesn't suit me well, and I have to mash the opening down.  On rare occasions, it's true that the cane is too wormy or too shreddy to be scrapable - but that's a very obvious flaw, that anyone can identify, and not visible from the outside of a tube anyway.  So if I get cane that can't be scraped I throw it out, but otherwise I make a reed.

And that said, there are some factors that I keep in mind, that are important to me - and here is a video describing my early-stage processes and how I prepare my cane for shaping and winding.



These Five Minute Reedmaker lessons post once a week on Youtube.  You can subscribe to me there, or keep watching this space for updates.  Soon I'll figure out a way to mount them on my own website as well.  I’d love to hear what else I can help you with, and what my next short video should address - let me know!


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Five Minute Reedmaker: The Long Scrape

The long scrape seems like it should be a gimme.  You have to get the bark off before you can start to truly scrape the reed, and it doesn’t seem like it should matter too much HOW you do it.  But I find that a good, consistent long scrape technique can really set you up for success in the remaining construction of your reed.

The function of this initial scrape is to remove the bark from the lay of the reed, AND to start some pathways for the vibration.  Oboe reeds are made up of slopes and stops, or ramps and steps, and my preference is to have a good long slope in place foundationally, so I can start working on my reed from a place of vibration and add stops, rather than working from a stopped place and scraping forever to try to encourage vibration to start.

When I put this initial long scrape in, I have three big factors I keep in mind.

The first is that the reed has two planes on each blade.  If you think of the curvature of the cane like the arc of a circle, and picture that the face of the reed you are looking at crowns at 12:00 and ENDS at 10 and 2, you want to focus your scrape at 11 and 1, never directly down the center at 12.

The second thing to keep in mind is that although you can remove bark easily with your knife, you can never put it back. So as you make this preliminary scrape, be conservative with your work near the edges. Although you may ultimately remove the bark in the heart area, at this early stage you can certainly leave bark all the way up to the base of the tip.  It's safer that way.

And the third dimension to take into consideration is the overall slope.  Although I am not at all trying to construct the rooftop transition into the tip at this point, I do want to go ahead and get rid of as much wood as I safely can.  Why kill myself trying to scrape everything off carefully and delicately later when I can hack lots of it off sloppily right now and save the time?  So although I am a little bit careful in the heart area, I am not a bit cautious at the tip, and I want everything sloping THROUGH the reed so the vibrations can start right away.

If I do my job right, I should be able to beep the reed right away when I open it, although it will be NOWHERE NEAR A REAL REED YET.



These Five Minute Reedmaker lessons post once a week on Youtube.  You can subscribe to me there, or keep watching this space for updates.  Soon I'll figure out a way to mount them on my own website as well.  I’d love to hear what else I can help you with, and what my next short video should address - let me know!

Next week: Cane Preparation and Gouging (Thanks, Anish, for the idea!)


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Integrity

When I see a slur that isn't an easy one on the oboe, I'm apt to cheat.  In my practice room I work hard on slurs like that, but in the moment, when people can hear me, I might add a little tongue to ease the transition, or add a few fingers to make the arrival safer.  The re-articulated result may not be exactly what the composer intended, and the fake fingering might not sound precisely like the other one would have, but it's close enough to fool an audience and it keeps me safe.

At the end of a phrase, to avoid the embarrassment of hanging over after other people have cut off, I might taper my note off just a little early.  I might play the final note very very softly to make sure it doesn't stick out.  I might use a muted fingering for the same reason.  These are orchestra tricks - they keep me safe, but they won't sound good when I'm playing by myself, and they're not good musical choices, and they don't feel honest.

This summer I'm learning my way around my new oboe and working very intentionally on INTEGRITY, and I'm trying to disavow these tricks.  When I played a few weeks ago with the great Judy Kulb, I listened admiringly as she played every phrase all the way to the end.  She always plays the last note as beautifully as the middle ones, even when the line is not exposed or not important. And everyone around her meets her there, because her phrase is just that compelling.  I want that.

I cultivate an air of casual ease, and in the spirit of that casualness I do not fear mistakes - but the mistakes I make on the oboe are mistakes, not inability.  The things that I actually think I might not be able to do, though, I work around, and cheat to avoid.  It's scary to sincerely try to do things that are difficult.

The word INTEGRITY is written above my music on my stand.  It's written in my practice journal.  I'm using my warm up time to be sincere and intentional about the most basic notes, intervals, and sequences.

But I noticed Saturday night in our outdoor concert that despite my best intentions I sometimes still cheat.  My habits are so ingrained that I still find myself lengthening fingerings for safety, and pulling my punches at the ends of lines.

This is not aligned with the best possible version of me.  I can do better.


Similarly, I cultivate an air of openness in this blog, in my life - I talk about lots of things - and I'm not afraid to talk about politics but apparently I am terrified to talk about inequality and privilege.  It's scary to say things that are true - that are that deeply true - and it's scary to open myself up to possibly saying things that are wrong, or inappropriate.  I'm nearly two weeks late talking about the events at Charlottesville - I've deleted every draft I've written - because somehow I am so uncomfortable just saying the things I feel.  And I have the privilege as a white person in a creative field to pretend that this filth doesn't affect me. It's a blog about the oboe and I don't have to stand up and say that Black Lives Matter.  I've been hiding. I've been to some marches and some protests, but I'm not showing up the way I should.  And I'm still uncomfortable.  I don't want to say it wrong. I don't want to make a mistake in something this important.

But let's just be clear.  Black Lives Matter.  People of color are also people, who do not but should have the same opportunities and freedoms and protections as everyone else.  Trans people are people.  Queer people are people.  Women are people.  Jews are people.  People are people and I love people and I deplore hatred, violence, and bigotry.  It shouldn't need to be said, but apparently it does.  I am an ally to those who are under attack and I will not JUST keep quiet and write about the oboe.

I will, of course, keep writing about the oboe.

But to keep quiet about the terrible forces arising in this country is not aligned with the best possible version of me.  I can do better.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reed Repair Shop #1, and a new Five Minute Reedmaker video

Just a quick note today.  I've posted my first Reed Repair Shop video, along with my FOURTH short Five Minute Reedmaker reed lesson.  My goal is to help people who feel insecure about their reeds, people who need just a little more clarity on certain aspects of reed making, and people who ARE reed makers but have gotten themselves into a slump in some way.

Reed Repair Shop #1: Anthony's reeds are pretty good!  They work, they play in tune, and they look like reeds.  His stated concerns were tone and response, and I think I was able to offer some good suggestions.

watch Anthony's video HERE  or below.


Would you like me to look at YOUR reeds?  Check out my offering HERE.

My fourth Five Minute Reedmaker video is a walkthrough of winding - the process by which the cane is attached to the staple.



Let me know what you'd like to see me cover on a future episode!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Two New Reed Initiatives

I've been working hard on these next roll-outs.  You probably know from reading this blog that I've been running an Oboe Reed Boot Camp every summer since 2012, and that a couple of years ago I started offering Reeding Circles - social reed-making get-togethers - each month during the year.

The limitation, in both cases, is location.  There's not a huge mass of oboists where I live, and it's hard to get a large enough group together - anywhere, really - to make a traveling Boot Camp worthwhile, though I do love the concept.  (Do you have five or more interested oboists and a free weekend?  Get in touch!)

But there is a need.  People do have questions, and frustrations.  Reedmaking and teaching are things I am good at.   How, I wondered, could I help people beyond my own students and my own community?

There are two ways, I think. One is a series of video lessons on reed-making.  I'm calling it The Five Minute Reedmaker, and I'll be releasing one video each week on You Tube and at some point soon connecting those to my own website as well.  You can see the first few of them here.



You will note that they are very low-tech - but that's part of their charm, right?  You can tell I'm a real person because although my reed skills are real, my videography kind of stinks.  That said - if you can't see what I'm doing or if you have questions, let me know! I want to be helpful.  What other topics would you like to see?

The other, and the thing I am most excited about, is Reed Repair Shop.  Who among us, Oboists, has not hit a brick wall at some point in our reed making?  Who has not found themselves staring at a case full of reeds that all seem to have the same problem that nothing fixes?  Or, to flip it, has made six reeds that all look and feel DIFFERENT, and wondered what one consistent mistake has caused all of the craziness?

I've been there. Sometimes an outside eye is all you need.  Often there's one piece of advice that solves all of your problems.  Or an observation that you could not have made because you are too close to the problem, and too frustrated.  Sometimes you just need some nonjudgmental feedback from someone else.  I can be that someone.

Reed Repair Shop should be the next best thing to a one-on-one session. Send me three representative reeds that you have made and don't love.  I will look at them, give you my impressions, work to improve them, and capture this process on video for you to see.  I will send them back to you, hopefully improved, with advice to take you forward.

Why three?  I figure that any one reed can be irredeemably bad.  Bad cane, bad gouge, bad shape, a single bad mistake.  It might not be your fault at all, and my diagnosis might not solve your bigger problem. But three reeds that you've made are going to show your scraping habits, the areas you consistently mishandle, or SOMETHING consistent that we can talk about, and three reeds should be enough to draw a larger lesson from.

How does it work?  You order online, and I will send you shipping materials, postage paid.  When I receive your reeds, I'll make time within a week to diagnose them, fix what I can, and put together a video.  I'll mail the reeds back and post the video to YouTube.

My preference is to post that video publicly, so that others can learn from your session, too - but I don't need to use your real name if you don't wish.  Reeds feel so personal!  I can preserve your privacy and keep your secrets...

These new innovations are live now - Reed Repair Shop is available on my website, and my first two Five Minute Reedmaker videos are on YouTube.

Let me know what you think!