Memo to students
Re: Playing on your own reeds
You should be playing on the reeds that you make. Otherwise, the making of those reeds is purely an academic exercise, and a huge waste of time. There’s nothing that will improve your reed-making faster than the realization that you are about to play in public and that what you have is totally inadequate. You will sink or swim very quickly, and you will make more reeds than you would if you were just working on them idly, and you will figure out a way to diagnose the problems you are experiencing, and you will hypothesize ways to fix them, and some of those fixes will actually work and in this way you will learn to make reeds.
If you are not yet a fantastic, consistent, competent reed-maker, and you are playing on reeds that you made, I salute you. You will be a stronger, better person for facing this adversity.
But there’s a caveat. If your reed, that you labored long and hard over, still does not perform some of the basic functions of a reed – if it does not allow you to articulate a note, say, or to slur over the break, or to diminuendo, or to produce more than one dynamic – then that reed is not ready to be played in public. You still have work to do. This is the part of oboe playing that just stinks – even when you have worked and worked and worked, if the result does not sound like an oboe you must work more.
At a certain point, you need to have pride in your playing. You need to create a sound that not only starts and stops when you want it to, but also is beautiful. Perhaps it’s not easy to create that beauty – perhaps you are turning metaphorical somersaults inside your mouth trying to make it sound right and play in tune – and that’s OK, it’s part of the learning curve and when you craft your next reed you will know what to work on to make your life easier. But do not settle for something that makes you sound much worse than you are. That doesn’t allow your great qualities to come forward. That makes you sound incompetent.
I had to lecture TWO students on this concept last week, so I thought I’d put it out as a public service announcement. Even your bad reeds have to work, or they’re not reeds. And if you can’t make yourself sound like an oboist on your reeds, you’re not quite a reed-maker yet. Buy some reeds. Take a reed lesson or class. Beg your teacher for help. If you can’t PLAY, you aren’t having any fun and you aren’t doing the oboe world any favors.
Have high standards. Take pride in your own unique, individual, beautiful self, and do not accept a reed that won’t allow it through.