Skip to main content

Preparing Your Reed Case

I had a huge performance this past weekend - the Rouse Oboe Concerto on my orchestra's final Masterworks concert.  We all know that reeds can be unpredictable and that the need to actually craft a crucial piece of your instrument can be a huge stressor, so my goal was to take that piece of the worry off the table as much as possible.

How do you make sure you have the best reed possible on the big day? 

I've seen students and colleagues treat this problem in three main ways: saving, obsessing, and collecting.

Some people discover a good reed, and immediately tuck it into the "special" reed case, the one that doesn't come out to every gig, and just wait for the "special" time to use it.  They'll play their daily gigs and practice on "normal" reeds, withholding the "special" one for the big concert.

Some people begin weeks in advance, trying extra hard with every single reed that they make.  A basically good reed is not good enough, and they wreck potential reeds left and right trying to perfect their technique to make something that vibrates exactly right, articulates cleanly, stabilizes itself at precisely 440 - and until they find it they can't be dragged away from the reed desk.  They'll go to bed disappointed every night because the perfect reed has still eluded them.

I will admit that I see problems with both of these techniques.  Reeds change over time, and they change from venue to venue, and the weather can change in ways that are outside your control.  The reed you "saved" in mid-March might be unplayable by your concert in early April, and you've wasted weeks when you could have been happily playing on a good reed and continuing to work on more of them.  And life is too short to huddle over a reed desk feeling frantic when you could be actually practicing your repertoire, or working on your breath support by exercising outside in the fresh air, or learning more about life and music by living and listening.

Me, I'm a collector.  I started three weeks ago to consciously add reeds to my case.  I focus on quantity, on the presumption that quality will take care of itself.  It's also the case that in my life I can't count on knowing what reed I need from one gig to the next, since every venue is different, and I knew I wouldn't be in the Morris Performing Arts Center until a few days before my performance, which is too late to reliably make from scratch the exact reed I knew I would want.

Since I'm such a high volume reed-maker, that conscious ramp-up of production specifically meant that in each batch of reeds I wound, I put two instead of one on the premium cork tubes that I use for myself.  I'm not averse to using a reed built on synthetic cork, and I'll proudly play on anything that is up to the task - but I know from experience that my own best reeds usually emerge on a Pisoni tube, so that's what I pushed.

Someone who makes one reed a day might double it, to two.  Someone who orders three per month might make it five for the two months before their event.  The point is to have many choices and to have time to break everything in so you know what you have.

As I finished each large batch, I consciously chose more reeds for myself than I normally would have, and practiced on them in rotation. In normal times, I add maybe two new reeds each week to my case (retiring older ones as I go) - but for the past few weeks I pulled a new one each day and practiced on it and finished it to my liking.  I was also conscious of keeping older reeds which still had life, though I am always unabashed about removing and breaking off reeds which have functional problems or which don't make me happy for whatever reason.

Some days, the new reed didn't work out, and some of the nearly-finished ones got sold out from under me, but when I began this final busy week (eleven rehearsals and performances, including four full run-throughs of the concerto, three meetings, eight students, regular reed shipments), I arrived at the first rehearsal with 22 good reeds in my case.  Some were older, most were newish, and I had had satisfactory practice sessions on every one.

It turned out that in the hall, in front of the orchestra, I needed bigger, beefier reeds than I would have expected, and I was happy that I had a wide selection to choose from.  It also turned out that I wanted the softer, older reeds desperately, for the other works on the concert and for the quintet services in the daytimes - and I had what I needed. On the whole I would say that I was perfectly happy with my reed options for the week.

On the whole I would say that I was perfectly happy with my reed options for the week.

That's such an unusual sentence for an oboist that I had to repeat it. Three weeks of active collecting brought me to a place of security, and this is a technique I recommend for any major oboe event.


Comments

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 …