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A Successful Accent?

Remember how Yamaha made me better?  Here's another awesome example of the same phenomenon.

I have a very young student who has been struggling to get her oboe playing off the ground.  She's hampered by the dreadful instrument rented to her by the local music store. 

The "oboe" she has does not sound good, which is not too unreasonable as few fifth grade oboists sound good on anything.  Regrettably, it also does not work.  If I adjust it carefully myself, turning all of the little screws (which are loose and wobbly in their holes anyway) to their most perfect positions, and then put a good reed on and CRANK my fingers down really hard, I can make that thing play almost all of the notes it should.  When she does it, the oboe basically thumbs its nose at her and refuses. 

As a result, the feedback loop she needs is totally severed.  When she looks at her music, and translates the dot she sees into an F, say, and remembers the fingering, and then tries to produce the sound, it doesn't come.  So she works harder and harder to make it speak, and even if it eventually does she has totally lost her train of thought.  There's no way for her to get through even the most familiar piece of Christmas music without getting stuck and frustrated.  We've been working together for a few months and have made very little progress.  I try to keep it fun, and to take the focus off the page and invent fun games and exercises to increase her fluency, and we have a good time in lessons, but she comes in the following weeks back to square one.  She can't reproduce the success at home, and is consequently having a hard time.

Fortunately, her mother is also a music teacher and understands these issues.  They are actively seeking a new instrument.  It's a bit delicate, of course, because oboes are expensive.  You don't want to spend a fortune until you know she's committed to the instrument, but she can't make any progress or have any fun until she has a horn that works.  But she says she wants to, so last week they brought a couple of new instruments in to try.

These oboes were Accents - if you've never heard of that brand be glad.  They are comfortably in the realm of what a parent of a not-really-motivated child is willing to afford, and they have an impressive amount of keywork so they look like a really good deal.  But I dread seeing 14-year-olds come in with these.  They have such dreadful bores that everything is out of tune all the time, and the attractive shiny keys are not well made and frequently bend and shift and go out of adjustment so that notes won't work.  I played them, cringed, and advised against purchasing one.  She would have outgrown it almost immediately.

But here's what happened.  We played the whole lesson on the Accent, and she practiced with it at home for the trial week until her mom had to return it.  This oboe was not a good instrument, but compared to her Signet rental it was amazing, in that it worked.  When she fingered an F she got one, and she could play the low notes, and the high ones, and the sharps and flats too.  And as a result she could play recognizable tunes, and suddenly it got fun, so she practiced. 

When she came in for her next lesson, on her old oboe, she was a rock star.  She had the confidence of someone who could play Pat-a-Pan, and play it well.  She could play We Three Kings.  She could play Silent Night. I even convinced her to sight-read, a little.  In so many ways she was a different player than before, even on the rickety old oboe that barely functioned.  She was the boss of it. She could overlook the notes that didn't come, and most of them actually did.  She knew she was doing it right because the Accent had taught her how to tell.

We've started looking into some used Foxes and Yamahas, and the  family probably will buy a nice intermediate instrument soon, but meanwhile the loan of an oboe that worked made it possible for her to play, and learn, and get confident, and grow.  This is the happiest experience I've ever had with an Accent oboe!


  1. Hi Jennet,
    I enjoyed both your performances at the DeBartolo. I confess a distinct preference for Ecstacy, not only for its originality but your unrivaled virtuosity.
    Congratulations on your work with the student.( I can’t resist the old saying “it’s a poor musician who blames his instrument”, but don’t tell your student.) I didn’t know that there were so many problems with the oboe. Studied the violin yeeeeeears ago).
    I am glad you get so much pleasure from teaching. I remember a phrase from Plato’s Phaedo. When Socrates was asked what he thought was the most virtuous life and the most just he replied: “ Music make, and work”

  2. Thank you, Dimkord - for coming to my performances AND for telling me about it! I love to hear what works and what doesn't - and I'm delighted that Extase got across. Obviously it was a challenging work to play, and I was concerned that its particular kind of beauty might not communicate well on a first hearing. Glad to hear your response.

    And of course blaming the instrument is a childish trick - but we can forgive a nine-year-old, I think, and we're not talking about a working oboe with a wobbly G, but a lousy lousy instrument that barely produces sound. I'm willing to cut some slack there...


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