Sunday, January 29

5-minute reed : experiment successful !

expReed30pct_flippedI was going to write about the master class for adults at the University of Ottawa Oboe Event, but then I made this experimental reed that deserves blogging! Actually, at the end of the master class, prof. Hamann (Chip), mentioned group lessons where everyone is expected to make a good reed in 15 minutes, so it still fits the bill. My account of the master class next time.

Experimenting with shapes and lengths

Following my blog and/or the BBoard, people know I like to experiment with shapes and stuff in the hopes of making an easier reed that sounds more “baroque-esque”. Well try this one on for size. But 1st, repeat: this is an experimental reed, so yes there are flaws with it, but there are also some really cool things about it.

Bad stuff, good stuff

The picture above shows (and the video below sounds) the reed and another blank just like it. Because this is an experimental reed, I’m not worried about these 3 flaws:

  1. it plays really flat (about 30 cents flat, so I guess A=435?)
  2. it is unstable in the usual 1st octave-key notes
  3. there is some buzz remaining in the sound

The buzz can be explained by the fact I spent only 5 minutes scraping it… more like 3, actually. The flatness and the instability can be explained by the measurements: it is 73.5mm in total length on a 45mm staple. This means it is very long cane compared to the norm, so stability might be better ensured with thicker cane than what I used (the usual 0.60mm). The shaper is also actually for oboe d’amore (Kunibert Michel 750), so really wide tip and really big belly. Finally, it is tied on Chiarugi #7 (really big … those of you who use Lorée staples would freak!).

Reed test–5 minute scrape.
But for the good part, if I can get the buzz out, this is starting to sound like my ideal. I’m curious to try this reed in a Marigaux: many people have stated that pretty much any reed will play with great stability. The dynamic range is great, it was really easy to scrape and the response is also great (with a rather thick tip). I’ll need to confirm if it still plays this well tomorrow, but here is what it sounds like: 3 minutes of scraping a freshly chopped blank!

Monday, January 23

Comparing many oboes!

University of Ottawa Oboe Event

0121121017-02People don’t usually think of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) as a hub of oboe activity (compared to Toronto, Montréal or New-York!), but U.of O. professor and principle oboe at the National Arts Centre Orchestra Charles “Chip” Hamann organized a really fantastic event. With the additional sponsorship of Lorée and Gary Armstrong Woodwinds and the presence of very noteworthy guest professionals, this turned out to be quite a memorable weekend.

This is intended as an annual event, it took place last year and before, and will hopefully take place again next year: I really recommend people to attend! There were 3 principle focus points: U.of O. students, local amateurs and fostering a spirit of “oboe community”. Normally, these events focus almost exclusively on the first point, and it’s a real credit to Chip and co-organizer Angela Casagrande for having the broad vision to incorporate the rest.

Many oboes to try!

0121121016-02There is SO MUCH that can be said about the event – especially a striking concert by all professionals who participated – that it would be too easy to ramble on for hours. For this post, I’ll limit myself to a precious opportunity afforded by the event: trying and comparing over a dozen oboes! Gary Armstrong Woodwinds of Toronto came over to offer repair services and exhibit some of their stock for sale. These consisted of mostly Lorée (used and new – including 1 Royal), a good number of Howarths (new – including 1 XL), a used Strasser, a used Buffet Green Line, a used Covey and 2 new English Horns, a Fox and a Lorée and even 2 oboes for youngsters!

Reeds, weather and Climate Control

I had purposely brought some good and mediocre reeds because I wanted to see how these instruments handle the varying quality. On the 1st day, that went fine and I made some observations that I wanted to confirm on the 2nd day…… problem, on the 2nd day all reeds had 2 phases:

  1. In the morning, they were all rock hard, didn’t crow, didn’t wheeze, just hard!
  2. After some warming up, they seemed to behave reasonably the same: near concert grade! This made it difficult to really make a clear difference between one oboe and another.

Furthermore, the hall where the exhibition took place seemed to play a huge role in how these instruments were behaving: on the 1st day, I had tried and was really impressed by the tuning of almost all instruments…. then I tried mine as a standard…. mine was playing much more in tune and with better character than usual! So here’s a case where a favourable hall for performance makes it difficult to find the faults in the instruments!

Observations: Lorée afresh and other wonders

newOboes_cutThe following are my own opinions, highly coloured by my lack of experience and lost mastery of the instrument. Other people can have very different opinions which are fully valid. I’ll limit my observations to the positive attributes, because I don’t think I had enough time with the instruments to really qualify any flaws. The new instruments (Lorée and Howarth) were all easy to play in the altissimo register). None of them left me with any “super sensational” feeling making me want to rush out and change my instrument.

  1. Lorée:
    1. All Lorées on exhibit seemed to … this is not a flaw at all … “frame” the sound. It is favourable to a consistent tone quality among different players. But it also makes me wonder why people feel they have more “freestyle expression” with it.
    2. There was an A-series and a C series: their legendary reputation is well deserved! Light weight yet full body sound. Not the most beautiful thing to see, but who cares! Really easy to play. Absolutely worth the trouble to rejuvenate the mechanics, these instruments deserve to be heard in public!
    3. The standard bore oboes were new or younger than the year 2000. Their tuning and stability were far improved compared to mine (1985).
    4. There were used and new AK bores: these exhibit much less restraint on blowing while maintaining the Lorée character.
    5. Royal: heavy, but that’s OK because it really “sits” its sound solidly. Extremely free blowing but dependable tuning throughout. It is superior to the standard models, but if money is an issue, the AK is really nice.
  2. Howarth:
    1. All of them were very free blowing: no feeling of congestion anywhere or at any time.
    2. The little finger keys are especially comfortably positioned: I did not realize this had such an impact. You must try and compare to fully grasp the implications.
    3. The XL has all the good qualities of the Lorée Royal – choosing a favourite between the two is not easy at all.
  3. Covey:
    1. A pleasant enigma. The repair work was fine for reselling, so everything played well, but more work on rejuvenating it would prevent misconceptions.
    2. At first, I did not like a sense of resistance from it. But the more I played, the more that sense gave way to a kind of restful feeling.
    3. It has a beautiful quality I don’t know how to explain: it very gracefully transitions between notes with more fluidity than any other instrument I have tried to this day.
    4. Very light, yet fine sound and comfortable to play.
  4. Strasser:
    1. This was a very pleasant surprise. I was expecting a flawed “junior” model, but I really have no criticisms against it whatsoever…. and I tried many tricks to make it sound bad: it never did.
    2. The one word that characterises it is “comfort”. Comfortable to blow, comfortable to hold, comfortable mechanisms.
    3. My hands are big, this instrument might be designed for smaller hands. Nonetheless, I think I could play it very happily.
    4. I think it is the ideal model for both beginner and serious students because you can sound fully professional with it.
  5. Buffet Crampon Green Line:
    1. I fully understand why people like this instrument.
    2. I remember, on the 1st day, remarking that this instrument is very forgiving on reeds: my mediocre reeds played very easily and in tune.
    3. Lorée players might not like it: difficult to explain, the 2 instruments “blow differently” – switching (alternating) between the 2 is not an easy task.
    4. This one is the very definition of “free blowing”.
    5. The tuning is fully dependable and it can sound almost any way you want.
  6. Children’s oboes
    1. There was a Cabard “petites mains” and a Howarth Junior oboe.
    2. Both had exquisite sound and flawless tuning.
    3. These are proof positive that oboes are NOT impossible instruments!!!

Surprize: instability on different notes!

Those of us who became solid players around the 1980’s and 1990’s were accustomed to special fingerings on most brands of oboe for the F# and G (sometimes the E-natural) with the 1st octave key. Some notes with the 2nd octave key might be flat or sharp or even unpredictable, but they would not “wobble” in the middle of a crescendo.

Strangely, some of the instruments I tried, I was very surprized that this “wobble” happened on either the 2nd octave key A or the “normal” F with the 1st octave key. Because my reeds all played more consistently on the 2nd day, I was not able to reproduce it, and I forgot which instruments. I just remember it was not the Strasser, the Royal or the XL.

Saturday, January 14

Nino Rota Duet for 2 oboes (2/3) … but 3rd recorded

3rd duet for 2 oboes by Nino Rota

Here it is, the triptych is now complete!

This one is called “il Mulino”: the mill (wind-mill, grain-mill, saw-mill, river-mill) and it is easy to imagine the squeaky machinery rolling and turning! The cool thing about this one is the 1st oboe part being mostly in the altissimo register, usually between:

oboe1registerI have found that practicing this high actually improved my sound in the middle and lower registers.


Thank you Michele Mancaniello for re-introducing me to this fantastic composer and also for providing me with this very special music. The 3 duets were very enjoyable to play, funny to listen to but also really difficult to record the 2 parts together.

Reeds and Recording:

One thing I learned this year is that the entire process of recording influences the sound as much as (or more than) the reed! I’ll do a blog post about that and my thoughts on this recording next week.

What is “Allegro”?

This is a 12/8 movement marked allegro. The metronomes often indicate Allegro = [120, 160], but what is to be used as the beat? I think it’s important to put things in context, these words do not always denote speed (tempo) but often character:

  • Moderato : moderate speed
  • Allegro : happy
  • Vivace : lively
  • Presto : swift

… of course, these words can be interpreted differently, but in comparison to each other, this makes sense.

I played the 3rd duet at dotQuart88, but I don’t think anyone would say it’s too slow for an Allegro. It could be considered too fast, but slower just didn’t seem right… it was also much more difficult to play the rhythm and togetherness cleanly at slower speeds…. apparently, Franz Liszt once said he didn’t know his own etudes well enough to play them slowly!!!!

Physical Update: ouch

Just before the holidays, my physiotherapist scolded me for not doing my nerve flossing exercises. I told her it was because I never feel anything when I do them……. uuuhhhhh, now I feel a lot (ouch) when I do them!

The point of those exercises is to ensure mobility of the nerves to prevent irritation. Well, a few months of too much social networking (internet stuff) in front of the TV in the morning and evening has left its mark. Especially after having shovelled the snow last night, my shoulders are now rather bothersome, feeling as if I have strings inside my arms, neck and back that pull whenever I move.

…… ah well, back on the floor to do those simple exercises!!!!!!!

Also, if you do muscle strengthening exercises, the trainer I often see at my gym explained that the really easy exercises given by physiotherapists strengthen a set of small muscles. If you do the same exercises with heavier weights or stronger rubber bands, the bigger muscles will take over and the whole point of the workout is lost.