I wanted to write a few words about my own experience at the master class for adults of the University of Ottawa Oboe event, but I really want to mention the following first.
University of Ottawa Oboe Event
Two weeks ago took place a small, but memorable happening: the “University of Ottawa Oboe Event”. This is the continuation of an annual event, previously known as the “Ottawa Oboe Extravaganza” and has traditionally been organized by Angela Casagrande and Gary Armstrong Woodwinds with the important help of either the University of Ottawa or le Conservatoire du Québec à Gatineau. This year, and I gather for the past few years, Chip Hamann has shown increasing involvement and this year, along with Gary, was able to secure the sponsorship of the University and Lorée oboes.
In terms of community stewardship, this event is top notch! Community in terms of assembling academic and professional circles from the National Capital Region (Ottawa and Gatineau) and also “ordinary everyday” citizens as both patrons and participants!
I met Angela a few years ago when she agreed to serve as “guinea pig” for a musical software project I had put together with my fellow engineering students. I must shamefully confess that I only recently met Chip (having been absent from any live concert for many years) thanks to common acquaintances.
Apart from her professional concert activities (including Musica Nova Ottawa) Angela is a teacher of oboe, sought after by students of all ages. She possesses a knack to help older people overcome the difficulties of the instrument and she has a reputation for adaptability with younger students.
Among many other musical activities, Charles “Chip” Hamann is principle oboe of the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO), professor of oboe at University of Ottawa. Being used to exaggerated marketing fluff, I took Chip’s NACO and University biographies with a grain of salt… but after this weekend and some e-mail correspondence, his dedication to music, people and the community have struck me as sincere and tireless! During the weekend, a connection between Chip and amateur participants was apparent.
Gary Armstrong, like myself, is a veteran oboist from le Conservatoire de Montréal. He has been operating a very successful business of sales and repairs of woodwind instruments for a good number of years now (he has a solid reputation for the difficult adjustment of the oboe). It was truly refreshing to converse with someone who knew the same professionals I did and could relate to the same stories! His collection of new and used oboes is unique for Eastern Canada, a real treasure: well worth making a trip to Toronto to try them! He changed a tennon cork and adjusted a few screws on my oboe: it played much better than before – on par with the work done by Laubin’s finisher!
This year, just because of scheduling constraints, the participation was not very big. But this actually helped create a very intimate and tightly-knit community event. Nonetheless, I highly recommend any and every oboe player of any calibre or activity to attend, at least as a spectator, and better yet as participants. A very open and enjoyable happening!
My Pick: Used Strasser Oboe
Two postings ago, I compared the oboes I tried at Gary Armstrong’s exhibit and I gave details mostly about the Lorées. The Lorée Royal and the Howarth XL are truly remarkable instruments. BUT, the single instrument that impressed me the most was the used Strasser (semi-pro line of Marigaux). The one I tried was old with really loose keywork: it had been marvellously re-padded and adjusted by Gary Armstrong such that the looseness had no impact at all on its response and technical fluidity.
I tried trick fingerings, bad embouchure and pulling out the reed half-way, the instrument always sounded really well! Choosing a Royal or XL would be a matter of taste, because the Strasser sounded easily a match! The entire range (up to altissimo A – two octaves above the staff) were very easy and fluid and blowing it was just comfortable, always a sensation of freedom with perfect stability. Responsiveness of articulation and dynamic range were just as good as the new Lorées and Howarths.
The video included is played on a current Strasser oboe: judge the sound for yourself! I still want to compare with the world’s most exclusive instruments, but so far I am really impressed with Marigaux!
Marigaux explained to me that Strasser is made by the same people and manufactured on the same principles as their actual Marigaux. The reason Strasser is a semi-pro is mostly due to missing keywork and some industrial secrets! Their current Strasser does have less hardware, but the one I tried (don’t know the age) only lacked the 3rd octave, mechanisms around the bell, perhaps the banana key, but not much else.