Winter Reeds

It’s nearly winter!  Oboists in northern climates are quaking in their boots right about now. 

This is an ugly time of year for reeds.  The little boogers are extremely sensitive to changes in the weather, as you might expect.  You know about the wooden doors in your house which swell in the summer and shrink in the winter, and our tiny pieces of cane react the same way.  Only the reeds are calibrated and hand-scraped to 100ths of millimeters, and a micron of additional thickness in the wrong place can destroy the response or intonation or tone quality.  I am accustomed to the usual daily shifts – the oboe feels different every time I pick it up, and it’s a challenge I am happy to rise to.  It is normal for me to use my knife even on a finished reed, and tweak it for the day and the venue. The two big seasonal changes, however, are harder to deal with.

I don’t know why it’s now, instead of three weeks ago or next month – the weather doesn’t seem to have changed that drastically in the last few days – but I know that suddenly nothing in my case works.  I have old reeds in there from June and July which felt like they had maybe one service left in them, but also reeds from last week, and the reed I played the Chen on, and the backups for that, and reeds that I’ve played successful second oboe and first oboe on – and suddenly they all stink.  The sound is thin and sharp, and they don’t seem to vibrate with any depth, and no matter how much I scrape they don’t get better.  Just worse.

So I’m looking at turning over all of the reeds in my case, and it’s not yet totally obvious how I’m going to do that.  Though I’ve been doing this for many years, I never do seem to remember  exactly what I need to alter to accommodate the change of season.  Wider shape, I seem to recall, and longer tip, maybe?  I mainly just try to react to the cane and feel what it wants, but to do so I do have to break some summer reed habits.  My blanks are probably tied on too long, and when I start scraping I may be too aggressive in the cut-in, or too long in the lay.

By next week – by Friday, I hope – I’ll have a collection of playable reeds, and this awkward time will just be a distant memory.  Sometime next April I’ll be struggling to work out how to make reeds just like the ones sitting in my case right now, and grumbling about it, no doubt.

I love the oboe.

3 thoughts on “Winter Reeds”

  1. I feel SOOOOOO relieved when a professional mentions weather and climate in relation to the (mis)behaviour of reeds: it reassures me that it's not just my imagination!I'm running out of spring/summer reeds and I promised a few people a reeds swap… so I have to say good-bye to my favourite and make some new ones! Oh well, I have a bunch of blanks and it seems like Jan-March are the worst months.Best of luck!

  2. Yes – I really do try to be unfussy and just play them as they come out of the case, but when I pull four, five, six reeds in a row and they ALL stink I know it's THAT time of year again…

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