A Narrow Escape

I almost fell into the trap last night. I almost said it. Almost confessed in public to a reed problem. I had been playing along, and things were fine, and then suddenly there was a little gunk in the reed, or a little corner tore, or something, and the oboe mumbled for a couple of beats instead of singing out proudly. And the conductor stopped and asked for more sound. And I said “Yes, absolutely, it was just a… a thing.” Stopped myself just in time.

This is the lesson that I drive home for my students constantly. It’s the lousiest thing about the oboe, and it’s the ugly truth. No one cares about the reed issues. Any problem that is audible to others is STILL YOUR FAULT.

Sure, sometimes that bratty piece of cane does change abruptly, or miss an attack, or sound a little raw. A reed is never perfect, and you should have controlled it better. If the reed just refuses to do what you want, you should have made a better reed. Not making your own reeds yet? You should be. At minimum, you should have CHOSEN a better reed from your case. Don’t have another? That’s your fault too. The details of what just happened in your mouth are of no interest to anyone but you.

It took me a long time after graduating from school to stop allowing the reed to be an excuse for MY misses. Everyone knows the oboe is hard, and that the reeds can be problematic, and people will pretend sympathy, which makes the whine all the more tempting.

Ultimately, though, either the playing is good and competent and present or it’s not, and if it’s not it should have been. Allowing myself an out just keeps me from taking care of business, and I can’t have that. I’ll struggle and gripe in the privacy of my practice room, but at the gig the Unfussy Oboist makes it work, or apologizes for her own errors.

So that little slip was a near miss. I caught it in time this time, but I will stay on my guard for future moments of weakness.

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