I talk so blithely about how the oboe is not your friend. How it is a different instrument every day. How complicated and annoying those tiny reeds are. In our quintet concerts this week I commiserated openly with the high school oboists in the audience, and told whole classes of kids that REEDS are the hardest thing about the oboe.
Which is not untrue, but I can say it so easily, and write about it so preachily, because most of the time I privately believe that I am past it. I make so many reeds that SOMETHING will almost always work, and I have the skills and savvy to cover for most deficiencies and the showmanship to perform through reed inadequacies. At this point in my career, it’s pretty easy to be “good enough” in any given performance, and I’m always striving for the more elusive “great” or “awesome”.
It’s been a long time since I had to fight my way note by note through a concert, hyperaware of every register shift and articulation, just struggling to keep producing sound on the thing. It seems that every reed I’ve made in the past couple of weeks chose tonight to go COMPLETELY CRAZY, or maybe that the oboe has a latent crack somewhere, or perhaps that one of my non-standard adjustment screws has gone berserk.
Whatever it was, I spent the evening playing defense, just trying not to embarrass myself audibly. I changed reeds a few times during the concert, ran all of my adjustments beforehand and at the intermission, and even scraped the heart of one reed onstage between pieces. Nothing was vibrating, nothing was ringing, nothing was any fun about the event.
After driving home through a blizzard and paying out the babysitter after midnight, I won’t be tackling this problem tonight – tomorrow morning before the dress rehearsal of our SBSO pops concert should give me plenty of time and I have dozens of reeds in progress and an alternate oboe. Something will work. But it’s humbling every now and then to realize just how much of my perceived value to the world hangs on a hunk of African Blackwood and two tiny pieces of damp bamboo.
I love the oboe, I love my job, I love my life. And frankly I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much if it were always easy. But this one was rough.