Reed Drift

This topic comes out of a conversation we’ve been having in Reed Club lately.

Last week was my THIRD orchestra concert since the South Bend Symphony started back up post-pandemic, and over the course of 13 months playing only at home, my reeds have DRIFTED. Can you relate?

It is normal for your embouchure, your air, and your reeds to evolve together. A harder reed needs more air support, a wilder one needs more embouchure control, and no one reed style is perfect for everyone, or for every situation.

This is why we love the oboe! There are so many possibilities – no one but a double reed player can completely remake their instrument every day to accommodate different environmental, artistic, and tonal needs. We can adjust to have more projection, more delicacy, more nuance, more resonance, more focus – and we can do that in our bodies like all the other wind players but can also optimize our equipment for it. It’s really magical.

But with this godlike power comes responsibility, right? We actually have to make those reeds every day, and overcome the imperfections of each organic piece of cane and give it what it wants so it will give us what we want.

And the problem is that I forgot what I wanted. I’ve been playing alone in my house, and over Zoom, and I’m in pretty good shape, but having to disappear under a flute line or enter perfectly softly or sustain forte for the entire conclusion of a Beethoven symphony (except for that ONE line of pp solo he always throws us on the last page) is a very specific skill set, different from playing solo rep in which I’m solely in charge of the dynamic range and tone color – and my reeds had not been optimized for it.

So. I got through the first concert on adrenaline, and the second concert on OLD reeds. I brought new ones to the third concert and struggled, but adjusted them and broke them in – and by the end of the week I sort of felt like I understood reeds again.

As a professional reedmaker, I strive for consistency, but of course I make reeds that feel like I want them to feel. Reeds I like. And my needs over lockdown drifted, so my reeds did too. People have been telling me that my reeds are too hard, and I believed them, but I didn’t FEEL it. Until now.

I’m resetting. I’m demanding more from the reeds I make and finish. As I finish them now, I try to play actual music, not just noodle – so I can be sure that the resistance on them makes sense for real world situations. It may still be the case that my reeds are too hard for some people – but it’s not going to be because I’m not paying attention to a gradual drift!

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