Skip to main content

Winter Reeds

It's nearly winter!  Oboists in northern climates are quaking in their boots right about now. 

This is an ugly time of year for reeds.  The little boogers are extremely sensitive to changes in the weather, as you might expect.  You know about the wooden doors in your house which swell in the summer and shrink in the winter, and our tiny pieces of cane react the same way.  Only the reeds are calibrated and hand-scraped to 100ths of millimeters, and a micron of additional thickness in the wrong place can destroy the response or intonation or tone quality.  I am accustomed to the usual daily shifts - the oboe feels different every time I pick it up, and it's a challenge I am happy to rise to.  It is normal for me to use my knife even on a finished reed, and tweak it for the day and the venue. The two big seasonal changes, however, are harder to deal with.

I don't know why it's now, instead of three weeks ago or next month - the weather doesn't seem to have changed that drastically in the last few days - but I know that suddenly nothing in my case works.  I have old reeds in there from June and July which felt like they had maybe one service left in them, but also reeds from last week, and the reed I played the Chen on, and the backups for that, and reeds that I've played successful second oboe and first oboe on - and suddenly they all stink.  The sound is thin and sharp, and they don't seem to vibrate with any depth, and no matter how much I scrape they don't get better.  Just worse.

So I'm looking at turning over all of the reeds in my case, and it's not yet totally obvious how I'm going to do that.  Though I've been doing this for many years, I never do seem to remember  exactly what I need to alter to accommodate the change of season.  Wider shape, I seem to recall, and longer tip, maybe?  I mainly just try to react to the cane and feel what it wants, but to do so I do have to break some summer reed habits.  My blanks are probably tied on too long, and when I start scraping I may be too aggressive in the cut-in, or too long in the lay.

By next week - by Friday, I hope - I'll have a collection of playable reeds, and this awkward time will just be a distant memory.  Sometime next April I'll be struggling to work out how to make reeds just like the ones sitting in my case right now, and grumbling about it, no doubt.

I love the oboe.


  1. I feel SOOOOOO relieved when a professional mentions weather and climate in relation to the (mis)behaviour of reeds: it reassures me that it's not just my imagination!

    I'm running out of spring/summer reeds and I promised a few people a reeds swap... so I have to say good-bye to my favourite and make some new ones! Oh well, I have a bunch of blanks and it seems like Jan-March are the worst months.

    Best of luck!

  2. Yes - I really do try to be unfussy and just play them as they come out of the case, but when I pull four, five, six reeds in a row and they ALL stink I know it's THAT time of year again...


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.

What a LIBERATING concept!

When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.

I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …