Keeping Busy

I wound up some reed blanks this morning, even though I didn’t really need them. I just sent out a large shipment and I have over a week until my next big one and enough reeds-in-progress to cover my current orders. Monday is more or less a lost day for me, as I have a sixty-minute commute and eleven students, and I only had an hour for myself at home before I left. I should probably have used the time for a slow, serious warmup and paid some attention to the excerpts I’m preparing for my audition a week away. But I chose to use 30 minutes of my precious alone time to work needlessly ahead and have blanks in my case that I could turn into reeds. And here is why.

I enjoy teaching. Not all of my students are reedmakers, but those that are will occasionally need a lesson solely devoted to this difficult craft. And there’s only so long I can stand to sit idle while a student is painstakingly scratching away at the surface of a reed that is still miles from being playable. Yes, I talk to them and correct their hand position and knife technique, but ultimately they just have to scrape until they fulfill the task of creating the specific section of the reed they are working on. And because they don’t make dozens of reeds every week, the skill is fairly unfamiliar, and it takes them a while. Understandably.

But meanwhile I am going crazy. Teaching the oboe is very engaging for me – I am paying attention to the playing and the instrument and the music and the concerns of the student – but watching someone slowly work through a piece of cane that I could have been playing the Brahms Violin Concerto on 10 minutes ago is pretty agonizing.

I’m not proud that sitting still for half an hour without working feels so awful for me. I should be able to get into a zen place and just enjoy the camaraderie of the reed desk without my hands being employed, but I struggle. I never feel like there is enough time in my day, so letting it go by uselessly is almost painful.

So I make my own. I demonstrate first, and I make sure that I have a few reeds ready at the stage the student is working on, so I can present examples as soon as I am asked. Then while the work is going on in the chair next to me I power through 5 or 6 and scrape them until they crow and stash them back in my case. On a few occasions I have been caught out teaching a reed lesson without busywork of my own to do. I practically chew my own arm off.

In fact, today no one was too concerned with reeds, so my eight pretty red blanks are still in my case waiting for my afternoon session tomorrow. And although I squandered a little practice time, at least I know that I came prepared. I was ready for action.

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