Saturday, November 19

Reed Life Cycle (part 1) : long-term cycle

O.K. a little over a month of intense computer work is now over!
Back to the oboe, if fatigue and a sore back doesn’t get in the way!

The bad season for reeds and reed making is coming quickly, so I have to try to finish as many reeds as I can as soon as possible before weather just confuses the difference between good and mediocre reeds.

It’s a reed’s life…

goldReed_smallI’ve “irked” more than one professional and/or amateur oboist by saying that making oboe reeds is easy! I stand firm on that, but I must explain that a lot of the complaints I read are mostly due to misunderstanding how reeds behave over time. Reeds have 2 definite life-cycles and you can’t expect them to behave “perfectly” when they are not in the performance phase! The short-term cycle describes with the reed’s behaviour during one day and the long-term cycle describes it’s entire lifetime from first scrape to final rest. The short-term cycle MIGHT be more apparent in Euro (short) scrape reeds because the windows in American scrape theoretically eliminate the reed’s springy bounce-back. But the long-term applies to all scraping styles.

In my student days, I had a reputation of being able to scrape a blank in 15 minutes and be able to play a good performance on it. Nonetheless, the best reeds take weeks to scrape (having been tied months before). In a nutshell, my best results commonly follow this pattern:

  • On the first scraping, the reed should play all the notes relatively easily, nothing more. Trying to improve the sound or responsiveness at this point can very well ruin the reed.
  • A few days later, the reed will open much more to the point where it is almost unusable. At this point,
    • first: close the reed with proper soaking and squeezing;
    • second: the reed can be softened over a few days for sound quality and responsiveness (remove more bark in the back and/or reduce the tip, sides and heart), but not too much as this can make the reed very unstable.
    • Note 1: squeezing the reed is more important than scraping for a few days. Playing the reed a little bit each day helps determine how much can be scraped.
    • Note 2: at this point, the reed can tune the oboe very flat. I don’t fix that yet because I have found that the reed will naturally rise in pitch within a week.
  • Less than one week after the first scraping, the cane’s character should begin to show itself. The difference between concert grade, practice grade, strength builder or just plain no good!
  • About a week after first scraping, I will sometimes make dramatic changes to the reed: change the back, back-up the heart, chop the tip by as much as 2.5mm – sometimes, no change at all. The dramatic changes often take reeds I thought were awful and turn them into concert-grade reeds. Sometimes, even small adjustments take near-concert grade reeds and ruin them irreparably!
  • More than one week after the first scraping (a week and a half or 2 weeks), the reed will be at its best. This is where the final touch scraping can be done. A reed that needs scraping or any adjustment after 2 weeks (in MY experience – other people will have different opinions) usually means it is just no good.
  • The reed is actually best for performance after about one month after the first scrape. Reeds should be used at least every 2-3 days for 15 minutes to an hour to keep them ”alive”.

This kind of use typically keeps my reeds in concert grade for another couple of months…. but then again, I don’t play anywhere nearly as much as students or professionals!

I know the reed is at the end of its life when it becomes “too” easy to play, the sound brightens and becomes buzzy: dynamics will become more difficult, the pitch will rise (or drop) and articulation will become sluggish. No scraping will help anymore. Sometimes, cleaning with hydrogen peroxide and pipe-cleaners will extend the life for a few days to a week, but it is not a full restoration.

Saturday, November 12

Nov. 11: Remembrance Day in many countries.

Remembering the Gifts of our Fallen Comrades :
hope from the horrors of war.

(Pointing up Each picture can be clicked for really good information.)

Because of increasing scandals and doubts concerning why countries go to war, we are tempted to hate everything to do with the military. It is true that it is always the innocent that pay for the greed of the powerful guilty. Any decent historian will admit that the people and soldiers in the armies of "the bad guys" were also misled and abused by a handful of truly evil people.

Nonetheless, what Julius Ceasar said "If you want peace, prepare for war" (Si vis pacem, para bellum) remains true and many of the freedoms and comforts we take for granted today, especially in Europe, can be traced to the horrors of many wars. I fully respect and admire Ghandi for saying that winning these can happen without war - admitting that there would be terrible suffering both ways - but how can we know what could have been? The only thing we can know is what we have today, and how far too many soldiers died (or worse) in order to secure it.

Three things should be clearly understood about the Canadian Military:

  1. Canada invented Peacekeeing and the UN Peacekeeping ForcePointing up.
    (We were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for it! Pointing up)
  2. ALL Canadian soldiers are volunteers: we have no compulsory service, no required registration.
  3. By tradition and history: 
    1. we never initiate combat, 
    2. we keep away from hostilities as much as we can, 
    3. when we do engage in hostile operations, the first and last motive is to ensure peace and safety for the local people: NOT victory for any one country.
Yes, we have our share of war crimes (Pointing upsee here), but our military reflects our first and most important value: all people should be helpful and friendly good neighbours. I believe this is because of our winters: if you slip and fall on the ice, I don't care if you are white, black, Chinese, Indian with a feather in your hair or a dot on your forehead; I don't care if you're a man or a woman, Catholic or Jewish or Sikh or any variety of Islam; or even if you speak English, French, Suomi, Italian, Afrikaans, Urdu or Farsi: I will help you up because tomorrow I might need your help, should my plumbing freeze and break! We are implicitly multicultural and we manage to make it work reasonably well: and you will see all these people in our regiments wearing our uniforms together.

RobinCapBadges_numberedCroppedThis picture shows all the regimental insignia I wore as part of my duties. I must confess that I was a reserves bandsman: in other words, I was a part-time soldier (weekend-warrior) and my trade was to perform music, sitting down on a stage or marching in the streets in all safety. However, I did real military training including Combat Leadership alongside people who did serve in combat roles, who did have bullets buzzing by their ears, grenades thrown at them and mortar fired at their vehicles. I can tell you that I have never met kinder or more generous souls than I did in these people; I did serve with people who were wounded in combat situations.

I also served as instructor on military training and I think I should tell this story. This was years ago and I forgot his name, but we had one recruit who was absolutely terrible on the parade square, he could not stand straight or keep still and was confused doing drill. However, when we went to do field training in the woods, he was the most quiet, sneaky and skilled soldier any of the instructors had ever seen! We asked him why and he told us his story:

He was an immigrant to Canada (granted full citizenship), having been a child-soldier in Libya! He said he thought the Canadian military was wonderful because we teach our soldiers to work together as a team and help each other: in Libya, his training had consisted of being given a rifle, sent to combat and he would get his Private's stripe if he survived!  He saw his village get destroyed by guerrillas and I don't remember how he got out, but as a result, his greatest wish when immigrating was to join the Canadian Forces!
Stories like that, and people I know who actually lived in Tehran when Iraq bombed Iran for 10 years (well known and openly documented fact) show quite clearly that we, in Canada, the U.S.A. and much of Europe have no clue at all what are the horrors war: I pray we never find out - I pray we never cause anyone to feel like war is the only recourse left!