Monday, February 23, 2009

This Story May Explain Why...

...oboists get a reputation for being a tad bit neurotic. My desire to make it through The Marriage of Figaro only physically fatigued, but mentally unscathed...totally shot to hell the past few days. I do not wish to come off as a whiner, but I was prepared for this opera through and through. I knew my music inside and out, and I had crafted several very nice, reliable reeds to boot. Everything was going pretty well, even though I had a mountain of projects in progress and I fell a bit ill mid-week. All was manageable. Then the weekend came.

I think it all began to deteriorate at Friday night dress rehearsal. A kiln with a profuse gas leak caused the entire cast and orchestra to be evacuated from the arts building mid-rehearsal. Being the type of people we are, those of us in the pit orchestra quickly packed up our instruments and headed out into the 14 degree weather. We were outside for only 20 minutes or so before being allowed back in. I was a wee bit concerned, although not too concerned, since I have a well insulated case and outer case for my oboe. And, it was only 20 minutes, right?

As the rest of the rehearsal progressed, I felt that my intonation was a bit off from its usual tendencies. I thought to myself, the reeds did not like the quick shock of cold...they will be fine. So I thought, until I opened my reed case the following morning to teach my Saturday lessons. Gasp! The six nice, playable reeds I had were either cracked or the blades had pulled apart from each other. Four were not salvageable, as they were cracked. The other two I was able to coax into working...somewhat. I had three other reeds in my case that were fine, but they were old practice reeds. Totally unsuitable for performing in public, nonetheless a three hour long public performance.

I have never been in such a dire reed situation before. I usually have a handful of good practice reeds, several solid performing reeds, and a couple of reeds in progress. With the mountain of projects due last week, I did not have any reeds in progress. After the Saturday dress rehearsal concluded I hunkered down to work on new reeds. Nothing. Four hours later I had produced nothing. Every reed I made had horribly unbalanced intonation. I was on the verge of tears. It was time to walk a way. Embarrassed and full of shame, I called my oboe professor for help. Can I buy a pair of reeds? I have not bought reeds in eight years.
This is how my brain felt Saturday night... a splatter of frustration and anxiety.
Have I totally lost it?

However, my professor did not sell me finished reeds. Instead, she graciously and wisely provided me with a pair of initially scraped reeds, and assured me that I had not lost my ability to make a good reed. She reminded me that I have been making reliable reeds for years, and that everyone falls prey to a bad reed patch from time to time. Also, making reeds under pressure while frustrated usually results in poor quality work. Sigh....I know.

It is Sunday morning, and the opening show starts in a few hours. I am playing on my brand new, very cautiously prepared reeds and the intonation is horrendous. The C was flat, the B was uber sharp, the Bb was slightly less sharp, and the A was so flat it was half way to Ab. Seriously! I could not bring myself to tinker with my reeds any more. I decided I would have to compensate with my embouchure. Needless to say, my lips and jaw were very tired at the end of the performance. However, with all drama and nonsense aside, the opening matinee went very well.

It is now Monday morning. I am in my weekly oboe lesson, and I am recalling the horrors of yesterday to my professor. She hands me her oboe with one of my reeds, and I began to play. It is beautiful....AND IN TUNE! The problem is my oboe...

The excursion into the cold did my poor oboe in. The best news: my oboe is not cracked, which was the first thought that surfaced in my mind as I played on my professor's horn. After a thorough search, the possibility of a crack was ruled out. However, I can not get a proper seal on my upper joint. Multiple pads are unseated, which means most of my keys are leaking. This accounts for the lousy intonation and response I have been struggling with for the past 3 days. Good grief!

Early this afternoon I took my oboe into the repair shop to visit Fred, an incredible Milwaukee area instrumental repairman who is particularly talented at servicing double reeds. Chances are I will not have my instrument back for the Tuesday performance, but I do have a very nice Fox plastic resin oboe as a back up.

The lesson learned: Be more thourough with my diagnostics. It is not always the reed...or me.

Merry Writings!


  1. Thats good to hear that it is just the pads that needed to be fixed. And it is also good that you have Phil to back you up.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. "It is not always the reed... or me." That my friend, can be applied to so many situations. I am very glad you figured it out. I was getting anxious for your sake :)

  4. I am so glad it wasn't a crack. That would be so very sad! If it had been a crack it would have had to been a contagious disease passed down from Tyler and your basses to your oboe.

  5. So many sick instruments!
    I hope this week is a smoother ride for you, dearest. Alex and I both really enjoyed the performance on Sunday--we thought it was just grand. :)

    Much Love!~*

  6. My goodness, I don't know anything about these things, but I can imagine how frustrating this whole ordeal was for you. I'm glad the source of the problem was found, and that it turned out not to be a queestion of your reed-fashioning skills. Too bad your oboe had to suffer at all. Your perserverance and resiliance are admirable! I would have been having a nervous breakdown in a similar situation.

    Good to hear that you're feeling better. Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog! Seems like I've fallen hopelessly behind on visiting my blog friends. Hopefully I'll catch up at some point in the not too distant future.