I just came across a video on YouTube from a 1997 broadcast where a few oboists were interviewed and talked about the oboe and their experiences with the instruments. The title of the video–“Why would anybody want to play the oboe?”–is quite appropriate, especially when it concerns reedmaking. Here is the video:
I always remember when I chose the oboe as my instrument. Or maybe the oboe chose me through its piercing, enchanting, and melodious call. I was about 13 years old and living in Brazil. At that time, I had been playing the recorder for several years, and was quite proficient at it, but there was an expectation that we moved to a “real” instrument after the initiation in music through the recorder.
I knew I was not going to stop my music playing there, so I was thinking and plotting about my new instrument. I thought about the violin, and even had one, but that idea never flew. I thought about other instruments. At the time, I was playing in a youth orchestra and had the chance to try the instruments that my friends played. I tried the flute, trumpet, and cello, among others. I had already tried the piano and the classical guitar. For some reason, they didn’t feel right for me.
One evening, however, my dad took me to a concert by the city’s symphony orchestra so that I could listen to the instruments and have a better idea of which one to choose. I had gone to concerts before, and I knew the instruments, but that evening was magic: it was the time I was going to pick my path. Little did I know that that particular choice would lead me to a long and wonderful but challenging journey.
I listened to the whole concert very attentively, with my eyes shining at every solo of every instrument, even if the solo was two-notes long. For some reason, there was this buzz through my body and a smile on my face every time that the oboe was played. Its sound crossed through the orchestra and was delivered to my ears as a gift of the gods. I knew it; I just knew it. Like a cobra, I was enchanted by this mysterious and involving sound. I had to have more of it; I wanted to make it sing too.
As I watched the orchestra, I found the oboe so small and fragile compared to the other instruments around it. How could it be so small and so powerful? Even the orchestra’s concertmaster had to ask the oboist’s advice about how the orchestra should tune that evening; how was the most appropriate A for that event. Without any special effects or rituals, the oboist just played. It was just one note, and that was all that was needed. One single A from the oboe, and the parts started to connect: woodwinds, brass, strings, percussion. The group suddenly became a giant, a gentle but strong giant.
I knew it; I just knew it… After the concert, my dad took me backstage. He knew some of the musicians; he had played in that orchestra before. I remember that there were many people coming and going, and it was confusing. Finally, my dad introduced me to the first oboist of the orchestra. He was already leaving the theater, so it was a brief conversation, but it was enough. He invited me to go to his house on a calmer day to talk more about the oboe. I did. It was the first time I had that magic instrument in my hands. It seemed simple from the distance at the auditorium, but all those keys, the small reed, all of the tools… It was like a different reality. He showed me where the fingers went on the keys. He let me blow a reed, which is almost a surreal experience on the first time. That was my first lesson. He would then become my first oboe teacher. As coincidences go, at that time, he was selling an oboe that came to his hands. It was a Chinese oboe. He recommended it as a first instrument. It was definitely not a great instrument, although it was for me. I still have it after about 25 years. It no longer plays, but brings me wonderful memories of my first steps in this enchanted and tortuous path that is playing the oboe.
So, why would anybody want to play the oboe? I can’t speak for others, but I… I knew it; I just knew it…