Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Double Reed Soul - How Well Do You Really Know Your Instrument?

The relationship between musicians and their instruments is like the business-person with their laptop or the Tween with their iPhone. These tools can literally craft our very identity. So why is it that for so many students and pros alike, making regular adjustments and upkeep to our instruments proves so difficult and easy to avoid? I wish that I could say that every time I sit down to play I obediently check to make sure everything feels correct; I usually only stop if something is drastically out of the ordinary and that's after I try to blame the reed before resorting to the screw-driver. While in college, the difference in time spent learning about reed-making to learning about oboe repair is, shall we say, vast. It is such a crucial part of the professional musician's life, yet repair shops are usually overbooked. Cracks and pad replacements are one thing, but I am willing to bet that repair people see many more cases of basic upkeep neglect.

This all begs the question;
you know oboe but do you really know your instrument?

This thought was running through my mind a few days ago as I made my final trip to the incredible RDG Woodwinds store in Los Angeles. I have been terribly fortunate to have always lived in cities close to an oboe repair shop and Friday's trip was an attempt to cram in as much maintenance knowledge in two hours as possible. The reason for all of this is that I recently won the principal oboe position with the Kwazulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa and my husband will be running the orchestra's New Music Initiative starting on September 20th. Needless to say, the idea of what my reeds will do and how my oboe will react to the change in climate have dominated most of my thoughts. The safety net is gone in terms of immediate repair solutions, and I find myself questioning how much I really know about the intricacies of the Loboe and how important this information is proving. Not only is there a good chance that this will be the only low-A oboe in possibly all of Africa, but the odds of any repair person having common knowledge of Loree oboes is probably small. While I have completely devoted myself to learning all of the basic tendencies of this instrument, I still am a bit nervous about my abilities to make both the regular and unexpected repairs/adjustments that go along with any woodwind.

I will be making a long road-trip from Los Angeles to Chicago before flying to South Africa on the 17th where the Loboe will be my one allowed carry-on.  Traveling on the road across the country has been a platform for countless writers to "discover" themselves and the country; I'll settle for some meaningful realizations about how to tune that high C#!

There is much excitement in the idea of performing low-A works in such a new location and I will do whatever it takes to feel as comfortable making daily adjustments instead of just "working around them" as I have done at times... Perhaps this new commitment to learning about the repair world of oboes will result in a deeper understanding of the instrument and I will truly know the oboe.

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