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I'm an Enabler

I think I'm enabling my students. I make most of their reeds. It's easy enough for me to do, and I earn a little extra income, too. Because of my reed business, I make them all the time, and I pretty much always have 10 or 20 with me to sell if anyone is in trouble. Although I officially require three days notice for new reeds, I am a softy and will cave for anyone who asks nicely.

However, that means that many of them decline to learn the skill for themselves. After all, they are probably not going to grow up to be professional musicians, and reedmaking is a difficult, time-consuming skill that is basically untransferable. The tools are expensive, too, and that's often a big sticking point for parents. Many of my off-site students take half-hour lessons, which is not nearly enough time to work on reeds-in-progress and also learn music. As it is, if their reeds need adjusting the lesson can be half gone before we play a full scale, much less get anything real done. Even in the 45-minute and hour lessons I teach at home, reed issues unavoidably take time away from playing and learning, and so I do not push it unless a student is very interested.

But I am beginning to regret the way we've just slid into this pattern. Students who can't make their own reeds can't adjust their own reeds either. And when every hall presents a different challenge acoustically and environmentally, and when the weather changes dramatically from day to day in this stupid climate, and when every little thing that happens in the world seems to affect the reeds, that's a huge handicap.

A couple of years ago I flew to an audition and my luggage got lost on the way. In addition to the minor inconveniences of having no clean clothes or underwear (or fresh books or the power cord to my computer or ANYTHING), I didn't have my reed tools. When I travel as an oboist I always need to check a bag so that I don't carry my knives on board and accidentally hijack the plane.

So I was stuck for the weekend with just the reeds in my case. Fortunately I had 20 or so, and I figured that something would work out, and it did. But every one that I tried would have been better if I could have just scraped a little off the tip, or out of the windows, or clipped. I had never really registered how much I rely on the last-minute tweak to make a reed sing in a given space. And it made me realize how desperate my students must feel when they have a concert a few days after their lessons and their reeds have changed and they have NO IDEA how to fix them.

I'm enabling this lack of self-sufficiency. It's easier for me, and for them in the short term, but even if their finished reeds are not good enough to play their concert on, they should have the skills to work on them.

I'd be interested to know how other teachers deal with this aspect of the game. My few students who are self-sufficient make me see how good life could be if more of them were, but I dread the long learning curve.


  1. I found your post very interesting. I started playing oboe 7 years ago at the age of 40 and would love to find somebody to teach me to make reeds. I have all the tools and a few instruction books, but without a teacher I've had very little success.

    For that matter, I would love to find a teacher for oboe lessons, but there is nobody in my small town. I'm sure I have picked up all sorts of bad habits that I don't know about. I have no aspirations to be a great oboist, but I enjoy playing with my children in a homeschool band and until recently, in church. Sure wish I had a teacher, though. :)

    I enjoy your blog.

  2. Yes, I think there is no substitute for a good teacher, especially for reed making and especially for oboe playing! :-)

    I have heard of people giving internet lessons via Skype - that might be something to look into if you could find someone clever enough to arrange such a thing...

    Thank you for your comment, and your compliment!


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