Saturday, April 30

Oboe Reed Shaping and Fibro-Fog

Soleil Lovely day today: sunny and warm day
=> so staying in the comfortable cool shade of the TV room! Rire

Ugly stuff first,

The past 2 months were generally rough, but this week was especially harsh on the fatigue aspect. Most (not all) sufferers of fibromyalgia also get chronic fatigue syndrome.... again named that way because the medical field can find no explanation for it: nothing physically wrong! In other words, for no reason at all, we are always tired, not sleepy, but tired as if we had been chopping firewood all day.

Fibro-fog is when just being awake is like moving through a thick fog of confusion and physical resistance. Remember the Claritin commercial of a person taking out the garbage in a deep-sea diving suit? That explains it perfectly! The simplest tasks like getting milk for the coffee becomes confusing: exhausting to open the fridge door, and then not knowing what to do next! This is very different from dementia, Alzheimer's or senility because it is completely related to the physical aspect: as soon as the muscular crisis is abated, full mental faculties return; plus we are aware and feel ridiculous about the issue. But it’s not as easy as taking pain medication to restore mental faculties, the body has ways of insisting on giving us a hard time.

Occupation Hap-Hazard

Luckily, for my employment, some activities become so mechanistic and automatic that they can be done correctly with only some slowing down of the process. Even mentally complex tasks like debugging a program can be done. But if you ask me to get up and get printed pages across the floor, I will likely get lost on the way!

So I hesitate to embark in musical performance with an ensemble: I cannot predict when this will happen. There are also evenings when I get home and even watching TV becomes exhausting. I can really thank God for my truly wonderful wife who copes with full understanding: she just plays along with it, not making any big deal - which helps me accept it quite a lot! There are forums for fibromyalgia sufferers, but the number of hours in a week is limited and I get MUCH more benefit from participating in the BBoard and the Facebook group "Oboists in the World". Feeling like a musician again is powerfully uplifting!

_MG_0680Now the good stuff.

In terms of the sound quality and performance factors like stability, the shape and the binding are everything! The scraping has only one purpose: to let the cane do what it wants to do naturally – vibrate in response to the blowing. I find the choice of shaper and its combination with the staple size have even more effect than cane diameter, gouge thickness and any specific measurement around scraping. Please note that my wife put many more excellent images of shapers and more on her Flickr site.

Which shaper to choose is really an individual preference because it is a matter of responding to body parameters like teeth structure, characteristics of the lips, how the air pressure is channelled from the lungs to the mouth and very importantly, their interplay with the brand of oboe and even the individual instrument. This is why advanced oboists spend considerable money on shaper tips and to find the perfect staple.

There is really no right or wrong in choosing shapers, it’s all about what works for you: start with what your teacher recommends, then experiment and decide for yourself. For my part, and Europeans I know (French and German) who have tried the same, Kunibert Michel shapers (Germany) on Chiarugi staples (Italy) are a winning combination, vastly superior to all others. Comparisons will be left for another time.

_MG_1078 _MG_1080 _MG_0645

Finally, there are different types of shapers, which mean different ways to use them. The most common are interchangeable shaper tips that fit on a reusable handle: these require you to fold the cane over the tip. There are also “straight” shapers in which you insert non-folded cane: by completely covering the cane, there is no chance of nicking it or messing the shape. Finally, there is a new (expensive) machine that works on the principle of the straight shaper and is designed to roll-out hundreds of pieces of cane in very little time.

straightShaperSymmDespite the attractive idea of simplicity and safety with straight shapers, there is good reason why the fold-over interchangeable tips remain most popular: folding the can flattens it near the fold which resembles the real silhouette of the final reed whereas the straight kinds leave the cane curved; which means the reed will be much wider than the shaper leads to believe. The difficulty with manufacturing straight shapers (almost nil with fold-over tips) is that the important symmetry is from end-to-end: this ensures that when the cane is folded exactly the same curves meet, which is necessary for proper sealing and support for vibration.

With a little care, the fold-over tips will always yield excellent results, the only important consideration is a sharp cutting tool with no nicks in the blade: the tip really wrecks a blade! Many oboists use disposable razor blades, I use a retractable blade knife and break off pieces after every cane shaped.

_MG_0722 _MG_0710 _MG_0711

With shaper tips, there are again 2 types, and this makes really no difference at all in the quality of the final shaped cane: it’s just that they are used slightly differently. New-school shapers (have been around for generations!) have “ears” that introduce the blade to the sides of the cane. They leave “ears” on the cane that are easily removed after the cane is tied on the staple. Old-school shapers have no such ears and the shaped cane (ready for binding) is fully shaped. With ears, the cane must be sized to fit before closing the handle-clamps whereas no ears allows free positioning of the cane. In both cases, its just a matter of getting used to the moves.

These videos (made from still images) show how I cut the cane after folding to fit the ears. I cut the cane to ensure the thick center (dark line in the middle) remains centered. The last video shows a typical technique: the shaping is done with the knife perpendicular to the shaper, but to ensure a “clean cut” a few extra strokes are made with a slight (very) angle: this makes a smooth side of the cane.

With heads that have no ears, I just center the line on the shaper itself. The two handles I use illustrate another consideration: the handle clamps. The shorter clamps are mounted on a tightening screw which makes it easy to reposition the cane; however, dents are left on it. With the German type handle, the clamps cover the entire cane are secured with a ring. This allows exactly enough pressure to secure the cane without denting it; I also like to use the ring as a leverage thumb-rest to more easily control the knife. With ears on the shaper tip, many people rest the ears on a table for better stability.


Shaping is really not complicated, but the choice makes a HUGE difference. The choice of handle and tip description is entirely a matter of personal preference.

Friday, April 22

Engineering and Artistic Integrity

Whether you are Christian or Jewish or Zoroastrian

or Hindu or Muslim or Shinto or Neo-Pagan or what:

Arc-en-cielRire HAPPY EASTER! C'est la fêteCoeur rouge

For just this weekend, let’s all never mind the specific differences and look at the common grounds:

For Jews, the Passover is a celebration of the liberation from murderous bondage, liberated by God’s intervention through His Prophet Moses. For Christians, Easter is about the triumph of humanity’s bond with God through the Redeemer over the evil that seeks to enslave and destroy us (recall that it is not all Jews that condemned Christ, but the political coup of the Sanhedrin of that time and a band of revolutionary bandits). Muslims also proclaim that Jesus died on the Cross and that he resurrected and ascended into Heaven – Jesus never once spoke against the Jewish faith (which was His) and never allowed any one social group to disdain any other. Paganism celebrates Eostre as the revival of life after the dead seasons. Sheez, even hard-core atheists celebrate the return of comfortable weather… in the northern hemisphere anyway… those of the southern can still use another reason to have a party!

In my engineer’s point of view, do you see a pattern emerging here?
Triumph of Freedom over oppression; Life over death;
Happiness over depression; Truth over lies; Love over hate.

So I beseech everyone to be happy, celebrate Easter together and enjoy the weekend!

Integrity: true strength is in the soul

I firmly believe that bullying is proof positive of weakness, stealing is proof of inability and lying is proof of desperation. Any idiot can insult or hurt someone. It takes much more power to earn trust and keep friendship. Striking fear invites retribution while fostering love invites cooperation. The person who steals proves that s/he is incapable of obtaining through her/his own merit. The person who shows contentment is victorious over peer-pressure and thus rises above the crowds; people who patiently make their way and build a different livelihood and surroundings show their ability to navigate the currents of society and contribute rather than siphon. Those who help others show a self-evident strength where pirates and mockers only show themselves as parasites. People with positive attitudes find solutions or at least inspire others to do so; those who complain their problems are someone else’s fault and rely on condemning others only bring more hostility onto themselves.

As a graduate student in Computer Engineering, I did a lot of Teaching Assistance (average 115% work load). I was amazed at how students cheated because, when I was in their shoes, my thought was always: “At the exam, there will be only me… in the real world, I will have to do the job… so I’d better do the work and develop the skills now”. In fact, I did have the opportunity to submit a senior classmate’s assignments: he gave me all his solutions from the year before knowing that I would only use them to learn or as a last result. In fact, I sometimes handed-in very flawed work instead of copying, because I preferred an honourable failure: how else could I learn and improve? Obviously, not everyone agrees.

How can you cheat in music?

My background is music performance. On stage, there is no cheating: it’s me, my instrument and the audience. There’s no way to use someone else’s performance and pass it as my own in an audition…. I can’t get someone else to audition in my place: they want the job too! If I put some great soloist’s recording on this blog, passing it off as mine… well, someone will hear me eventually and blow my cover: I will be left to face my deceptions alone, impressing only the weak and idle.

Showing my playing faults now will highlight my evolution, my improvement over the months and years will demonstrate the strength of my commitment, the worth of my efforts. If I do not improve, if I make a fool of myself over and over again, then it will be done with honour and prove my confidence in letting people know the truth rather than giving an impression that will just come crashing down on me should ever I wish to meet someone in person. Rather than closing doors by presenting a false image of my performance, I prefer to open doors to people of all levels and of all descriptions. Even if I never improve, or get worse, my enjoyment of the process should inspire other hobbyists and beginners and might impress upon professionals to remember the passion that lead to their “daily grind” as performers!

My best and most sincere wishes of
true strength and honest power to you all!

Friday, April 15

Engineering Oboe Players

Well over 5000 visits, now, from 58 countries! StarPouce levé 

I wish I had something to present in order to toot my own horn, but these past few weeks have been rather busy and I've only begun to practice again last Saturday. 3 weeks absence is rooouuugh on the endurance!

Here are a few pictures of how I practice at lunch time in the truck. Last summer, before buying our vehicle, I did the same thing in a Nissan Versa: so it's not the size, but how you use it!

So instead of showing off something of my own, I'd like to pay a little tribute to you, my readers. That is, I don't know what characterizes my readership (you), but the blog is geared towards:

  1. Oboe players (other instruments too, why not?)
  2. who are probably doing something else in life and/or still in school
  3. who must overcome hurdles to enjoy the wonderful thing which is practicing the oboe!

There are many oboists in situations like mine. Some play much more actively, some play even less than me. Some have no real trouble in life, some have much worse physical impediments than mine. Mostly, everyone contributes to society through their "day jobs" in a way that is made richer for being oboists. On the good ol' BBoard, I was surprised to see a good number of engineers and other non-musical professionals posting with lots of oboistic expertise. Some of their stories are on the BBoard. Some actually gained their engineering penchant by attacking oboe mechanical problems and improving reed making equipment.

... another odd thing is that it seems a whole lot of us are composers too! Yes, I compose, or used to: but that something for another time. For the purposes of this post, it seems that there is something inherently creative about the engineering personality which expresses itself as composition, when we don our composer's hat.

Which difficulty do you choose?

Whether you become an engineer or a nurse or or a teacher of English Literature or a financial consultant and so on, you have to devote years of harsh university training and certification. If you become an auto mechanic or a home contractor/renovator or a photographer, there is still training and certification involved (often ongoing) and to a great extent the safety of your clientele, their reputation and their comfort rests in your hands. Even garbage collectors and park cleaners have a huge impact on everyone’s enjoyment of life every day. To me, people who take their profession to heart are worthy people indeed.

Professional musicians must also devote years of their life training. The training is an enjoyable journey (I should hope so) but then they face an uphill battle for their livelihood: I know, I started up the path and quit! Although engineering was very hard for me because I didn’t have the talent for math and that kind of mental processes, finding a job was much easier once I got my degrees – so essentially, I traded one difficulty for another, but with an easier payoff in the end. What is really striking are the stories of people who have continued to play all through their alternate careers (e.g. engineering, nursing, government) and have been able, this way, to become as active as some professionals in their pre/retirement days. Many were fully trained at university (or equivalent) and almost none seem to regret the path they took.

Examples of how ordinary people use all the creative resources at their disposal to do some really amazing musical things. I can also mention a Registered Nurse who also suffers chronic pain and is, nonetheless, actually returning to music as means to earn her living. Same thing for a former government employee (now music teacher) who used to be sent to many countries in sometimes hostile situations as part of the job. I don't know if the oboe contributes or benefits from it, but these people (maybe you, now or later) are actually providing benefit to the world around whether they realize it or not. Hey, maybe there's hope for me yet!

In the meantime, thank you: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Guam, Hong-Kong, Hungary, Italy, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela

Sunday, April 10

Blow that tooth hole!

O.K., three weeks have past after the extraction of my wisdom tooth. So here I go trying to play again. There is still a huge hole in my gums where my tooth used to be, but the dentist, a registered nurse and two very experienced oboists have reassured me that all should be fine. (One of these oboists had his jaw-bone cut for the extraction and still played after 2 weeks!) So get back on that oboe! Besides, the weather is getting good which means I need to start my lunch-break-in-truck rehearsing again.

FINALLY, recorded my real sound!

“Maybe” by Thom Pace.

One contributor on the BBoard requested sound clips of the other contributors so we could get an idea of the panorama of sounds that we have. I don’t really like my other You-Tube recordings because of recording issues I explained in previous posts. Also, someone reminded me of this lovely tune and I thought it would be a good comeback. This is a You-Tube of the original for the movie and TV series Grizzly Adams.

I finally recorded what I consider to be the same sound I hear when I play…. that is, if you’re listening on speakers with the same specifications as those that come with a Dell Dimension 9150 computer! It also sounds fine on my home theatre system, but if I listen to it through my lap-top: not the same…. through my Sony EX35-LP ear phones: not even remotely the same… and so on and so forth!

First play after 3 weeks post tooth extraction.

The layout was to sit at my computer desk with the Zoom H4n on the desk, pointing straight at me but me playing to the side (towards the door open to the hallway and stairwell). The microphone sensitivity was at 15%.

This is not what I consider my best sound, but it’s close to it. The dark warm tone is 80% of the way to my favourite but the dynamic range and stability are a little bit under. That’s O.K. I’d better get my gums used to the pressure slowly with easy reeds. This reed was shaped with a Kunibert Michel 7.25 shaper and the cane was gouged with my own gouger using my latest blade profile.

Oboe results with hole in mouth:

There’s only a little discomfort with my gums not fully closed yet. I feel a pulling sensation in the hole, that comes from the pressure of my cheeks holding back the air pressure. For that purpose, I’ll do only a few minutes at a time with more breaks.

As for the oboe sound…. this has little if anything to do with my tooth extraction, but I really need to work my breathing more. The sound is pretty good, but I can tell the fullness is not what I’m capable of getting. I can kind of hear that my thorax is not expanding very much, especially in notes of the 1st and 2nd octave keys. I cannot blame it on the tooth pulling because my thorax feels the same as always, I guess I’m just paying more attention to it now that I’m consciously observing the feelings in my gums.

En français, s’il-vous-plaît! – Affûtage des outils.

Croyez-le ou non, je suis canadien-français!

Normalement, je voudrais bien tenir mon blogue en français, mais soyons honnêtes, la très grande majorité des visiteurs sont anglophones; d’autant plus que tous les outils de réseautage social Internet que je connais sont américains.

Toujours est-il que la grande majorité de mon lectorat est surtout anglais, je me dois de continuer ainsi…. à moins qu’une vague de commentaires francophones n’arrive!

Mais étant donné que j’ai écrit mon livre sur l’affûtage des outils dans les deux langues, le voici en français aussi.
There should be no need to apologize, I am French-Canadian after all and the Facebook group “Oboists in the world” shows that this magnificent instrument is loved by not only English speakers, but every language from every part of the world. In fact, on that group, there must be 5 to 10 times more postings in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese combined than English from the U.S.A., Canada, U.K. and Australia combined.

Seeing as the readership readership of THIS blog is greatly English speaking, I‘ll continue in the same…. unless demand for French comes in…. and I suppose I could work on my German…. especially since I want to visit Gebrüder-Mönning…

Be that as it may, and seeing as I had originally written my book on knife sharpening in both languages, here it is in French.

Ce livre était d’abord écrit dans le context des Scouts et Guides du Canada. Il traite donc de bien d’autre chose que l’affûtage des couteaux à anches, reste que la théorie et l’application est ce qui me permet de prendre presque n’importe-quel morceau de métal et en faire un rasoir…. les couteaux à anches ne sont donc rien de spécial par comparaison.

Je le donne gratuitement parce que:

  1. Il est rendu vieux et mon expérience a crû depuis le temps (p.e.: je ne suis toujours pas jardinier, mais j’ai assez creusé de trous de pôteaux de clôture pour apprécier une pelle bien affûtée!)
  2. Il est fait sur un très vieux logiciel avec des graphismes de qualité moins que professionelle: d’ailleurs j’ai numérisé le papier plutôt que de chercher le fichier original parmi des tas de disquettes que les ordinateurs d’aujourd’hui ne lisent même plus.
  3. Quelques-uns des tours sont maintenant des outils commercialisés.
  4. Les étudiants de hautbois ont déjà assez de dépenses à faire. S’ils veulent acheter un livre, ils méritent un plus à jour.

Mais son contenu reste toujours valide et la comparaison avec d’autres outils domestiques peut aider à comprendre les concepts de base.

C’est toujours plus facile de faires des anches avec des couteaux très coupants. Vous pouvez acheter un couteaux à bon marché mais devoir l’affiler à toutes les 5 minutes (ça prend environ 10 secondes) ou bien acheter un couteau très dispendieux qui n’a besoin d’affilage qu’une fois par semaine (ça prend 10 minutes). J’utilise le Graf pliant depuis près de 20 ans et j’arrive encore à l’affiler suffisamment pour me raser les avant bras.


Sunday, April 3

Wisdom of teeth and Knife Sharpening

What a week that was on the good ol’ BBoard! I’m always amazed at how much ado is raised on the subject of gouging cane and gouging machines. The discussion threads are really long, but really worth reading, if you’re considering gouging your own cane.

  1. Gouger Thread
  2. Single/Double Radius

For tooth (sooth?), my oboe!

The extraction and healing process went well, but the stitches that closed my gums dissolved a week to soon! It’s a bit scary to feel the threads on my tongue and then look in the mirror to see the white of my actual jaw bone! But not to worry, an emergency call to my dental surgeon put me at ease: the critical part is the first 3 days (well passed) while the blood vessels close and the hole in the jaw clots. After that, the gums can take up to 6 weeks to fully close.

But the dentist had said 2 weeks to start playing the oboe again… I suppose giving it a 3rd week would be prudent, so I’ll start again next week…. and eating real food too! Stir-fry is good, but eventually gets boring?

Lesson to all students of wind instruments:

  1. if you’re around 18 years of age, consider getting your wisdom teeth extracted while the roots are not yet settled and while your career will not topple for a month and some of absence!
  2. My procedure went very easily because the roots were not overly curved and they were nowhere near the nerve (THANK GOD!). With many adults, this is not the case: a fair number of people need to have their jaw-bone cut (not me – again THANK GOD) in order to extract the tooth safely.

How to sharpen knives and a whole lot more.

There have been comments from time to time about how people sharpen knives. People are buying books on the subject…. and still getting it wrong! In the mid 1990’s, I was a Scout Leader and I had been asked to give workshops on how to sharpen camping knives and so on. As a result, I put this book together. I’m giving this for free for many reasons:

  1. The wording betrays my younger years and lesser experience.
    (e.g. I still don’t have a green thumb, but I have dug enough fence posts by now to say that sharpening shovels is VERY productive!)
  2. The age shows: some of the tricks described are now commercialized gadgets.
  3. I think oboe students have enough to buy, I hope this will help out.
  4. The Oboe BBoard has contributors that can give much better tricks!

But its contents are still fully valid. It uses an approach of theory-to-practice and by explaining other commonplace tools, the principles of what helps or messes-up a reed knife should be easier to grasp.

At any rate, it’s always easiest to make reeds with ultra sharp knives. You can either buy a cheap knife and sharpen it every 2 minutes (takes 15 seconds), or buy an expensive knives that you sharpen once a week (takes 10 minutes). I have been using the same Graf folding for nearly 20 years and I can still get it to shave the hairs off my fore-arms. This, I must admit is a little too sharp: it tends to dig-snag the cane, especially when working the tip. But burrs… NO… never good!

Sharpening Tools -