Saturday, December 26

Merry Christmas Carols! / Joyeux (Cantiques de) Noël!

I really wish to all amateur oboists in the world (and professionals too) that this was just as Merry a Christmas Musical Season for you as it was for me! 

Return from exile

This year really felt like a return from exile: over 16 years with essentially no live-on-stage performance and now all of what follows… starting with small roles that just grew to something any amateur can be proud of. Now, thanks to people I have met along the way (the credit really goes to them) I am actually seen by my community as a soloist!

God willing, because it really is by the Grace of Providence that any of this happened, the trend will continue and a solid professional career in computer development will support a growing musical adventure!


Je souhaite vraiment à tous les hautboïstes amateurs (professionnels aussi) du monde que cette saison musicale de Noël soit aussi joyeuse pour vous que ça l'eut été pour moi!

Retour d’exil

Cette année fut vraiment comme un retour d’exil: plus de 16 ans sans vraie parution sur scène et maintenant, tout ce qui suit… commençant avec des petits rôles qui ont pris de l’ampleur au point d’honorer n’importe-quel amateur. Maintenant, grâce aux gens que j'ai renctonrés en route (le crédit leur appartient vraiment) je suis maintenant vu dans ma communauté comme un soliste!

Si Dieu le veut, parce c'est vraiment par la grâce Providentielle que ceci soit produit, la tendance se prolongera et une solide carrière en informatique soutiendra une aventure musicale croissante!

A quick survey of the great times I had this year, musically:

  • Oboe with Bell Choir in the gorgeous piece "Spiritus" at University of Ottawa (Music and Beyond festival) and for the CFUW Scholarship Fundraiser.
  • Playing bass chimes and learning English Handbell ringing.
  • Playing solo oboe with the Trinity Hilltop Bell quartet (O Holy Night).
  • Oboe with piano: Bach, Telemann
  • Solo (unaccompanied) at a Retirement Home and at an Arts Exhibition.
  • Drafting adaptations/arrangements for oboe and various English Handbell ensembles.
  • The opportunity to review excellent reedmakers from various countries.
  • A fantastic Oboe Weekend Event at University of Ottawa with new instrument discoveries (very late blog post to come after the New-Year).
  • Developing much clearer profile for a favourite reed to make my Lorée play and sound better than it ever has before (I still prefer Marigaux, Fossati, Dupin, Rigoutat, Mönnig, Püchner, Bulgheroni, Howarth...)
  • Oboe and piano: Bach, Haendel and Christmas carols with my own ornamental variations for 2 Christmas Eve Church Services filled to capacity (over 250 people each service).
  • Mystery project I hope to expose in the New Year... if it's ready by then!
cellphone audio distortion….
Christmas music for handbells (and handchimes)
cellphone audio distortion

Un survol rapide des aventures musicales de l'année:

  • hautbois et choeur de cloches anglaises dans la pièce formidable "Spiritus" à l'Université d'Ottawa (festival Musique et autres mondes) et pour le fonds des burses d’études CFUW 
  • jouer le "carrilon manuel" (SVP, me proposer une meilleure traduction!) basse et apprendre à sonner les cloches anglaises
  • hautbois avec le Quatuor de Cloches Trinity Hilltop (Minuit, Chrétiens)
  • hautbois et piano: Bach, Télémann
  • complètement seul (sans accompagnement) à un foyer d'accueil et à un salon des arts
  • ébauche d'arrangements/adaptations pour hautbois et divers ensembles de cloches anglaises
  • l'occasion d'évaluer d'excellentes anches fabriquées dans plusieurs pays
  • un formidable festival du hautbois à l'Université d'Ottawa incluant de nouelles révélations sur l'instrument (article très tardif à venir après la nouvelle année)
  • développer un profil beaucoup plus clair pour une anche favorite qui fait jouer et sonner mon Lorée mieux qu'il ne l'a jamais fait (je préfère toujours Marigaux, Fossati, Dupin, Rigoutat, Mönnig, Püchner, Bulgheroni, Howarth...)
  • hautbois et piano: Bach, Haendel et cantiques de noel avec mes propres variations ornementées pour 2 messes de la Veille de Noël, salle comble (plus de 250 personnes chaque messe)
  • projet-mystère que j'espère exposer dans la nouvelle année... si c'est prêt, rendu là!

No Pain, No Gain

As you can see, this was a very exciting year, which might explain why I was less active in Tai-Chi (despite beginning lessons with a real advanced instructor) and therefore felt more pain and suffered more headaches than in the past few years.... the musical rebirth does make it worthwhile!

Again, all of this has been made ten times more thrilling by being able to share it with all of you, my very kind visitors, and my very encouraging friends on Facebook! So I wish all of you, in every language, in every country and in every climate and weather condition the most joyous Holiday Season!


Peines pas perdues!

Vous pouvez donc voir que cette année fut fort excitante, ce qui pourrait expliquer ma réduction d'activité en Tai-Chi (malgré le début de leçons avec un instructeur avancé) et, par conséquent, une augmentation de douleurs et de maux de tête... la renaissance musicale en vaut la peine!

Encore une fois, pouvoir partager ceci avec vous, très chers lecteurs, et l'encouragement généreux de mes très chers amis sur Facebook a rendu tout ceci est dix fois plus palpitant! Alors je vous souhaite tous, quelque-soit votre langue, votre pays ou votre zone climatique la plus joyeuse saison des fêtes!

Sunday, November 1

Avoid Pain - My Own Ergonomic Thumb Rest

Très chers lecteurs francophones:
Je suis vraiment désolé, mais je n'ai juste pas le temps de rédiger dans les deux langes cette fois-ci. Je m'efforcerai pour le prochain coup!

This blog post, and the video it presents, are the result of observations and conclusions based on my own personal experience: they only intend to pass on my opinions in the hopes that they may inspire others to seek their own solutions with the help of health-care professionals. This blog post, and the video it presents, deal with a potential solution to the issue of prohibitive pain while playing the oboe and other instruments where the underlying problem follows the same physiognomic principles: the post and video DO NOT pretend to provide authoritative medical advice and visitors are encouraged to seek certified medical advice from registered health care professionals before using the information contained; all responsibility will fall on the person who makes any relevant decisions.

Fibromyalgia Update:

20151101_122220The first few years of this blog included more focus on my conditions of chronic pain and fatigue (fibromyalgia)... later I preferred to focus on my musical progress because it is more encouraging! Just to recall, fibromyalgia is a medical condition that affects the nervous system, causing persistent pain; the cause for this is not known and the diagnosis comes when medical science has ruled-out everything it would normally identify as a cause. No viral or bacterial disease, no cancer, no MS, no genetic or nervous disorder: nothing out of the ordinary and yet I can be in debilitating pain (literally) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year - I have suffered this since the age of 32 and will likely have this for the rest of my life. In the past few years, Tai-Chi and Chi-Gong have proven very effective in fighting the condition - much more effective than medication in my case - thus making it possible for me to aim to very high goals on the oboe.

Learning to ring handbells under the excellent
tutelage of the amazing Stuart Belson
at Trinity Presbyterian Church

This year (2015) has been more difficult than the past few years, especially since the spring. I think this is due to extremes in weather patterns (very rapid changes) but also due to more involvement in musical activities, oboe and English handbells, which takes away from my time to train in Tai-Chi and Chi-Gong. Ironically, I have begun to take lessons from an advanced teacher, but the form I am learning (Old Yang Lu Chan) is very difficult and works muscles I never knew existed! So the adjustment period is long: it is less impactful now, but the first few months were gruelling.

Overall, the intensity of pain is much less than it was a few years ago; in other words, my legs, back and arms hurt less and I have become more capable of doing more strenuous work with less painful reaction afterwards. However, general muscle tension is higher all day, every day, especially in the shoulder and neck muscles. This is problematic with my computer job (too many hours seated and typing) exacerbate the inflammation in the trapezius which causes compression on cervical nerves, resulting in very painful headaches - I have not found any pills (over the counter or by prescription) that take away significant amount of pain.

Ironic pain sensitivity:

So my weekly headaches have returned. What is strange is that the actual intensity of pain is lesser (my headaches hurt less than before) but my tolerance for them has also decreased: so despite being better, it feels worse and I get more discouraged than before. I suppose this is just plain psychological exhaustion with the whole matter.

From violin technique to oboe freedom.

=> You know what? This just means I enjoy practising the oboe even more: it really means a lot to me to perform difficult music on oboe and handbells and just focus on artistic beauty for half an hour every day (more on weekends) and just forget the drudgery of "normal" life!

Presenting a potential solution for debilitating pain from performing the oboe or clarinet.

One of the reasons I stopped pursuing a career as a professional musician is that I suffered tendonitis in the thumb, elbow and shoulder. After 3 years, the condition cleared completely, but relapses continued to occur from time to time up until a few years ago. Now relapses in tendonitis from practising the oboe have stopped completely, and the reason is a very special ergonomic thumb-rest I designed. The design is the result of observing how holding the weight of the instrument impacts the natural posture of the hand and how the resulting change of configuration of the hand and fingers affects the whole arm up to the neck (inclusively). These observations reminded me of principles and exercises given to me by my violin and cello teacher when I took string techniques class at McGill University, many years ago. I put these principles into my thumb-rest design and the results speak for themselves: practising the oboe never causes pain beyond what I normally get from daily activity - tendonitis, for me, is a thing of the past.

backView[3]Address the real problems: body structure and freedom of movement

Over the years, I've seen many mechanical gadgets sold in music stores and even through medical prosthetics laboratories. What has struck me is that in almost all cases, some time after the purchase of these stands and supports, oboists and clarinettists continued to suffer prohibitive pain due to injury or irritation in the muscles and nerves. Some of these musicians eventually "returned to normal" by adopting lifestyle changes including continued therapy with the Alexander Technique, Pilates, Tai-Chi and other such "soft" approaches: these recovered musicians no longer rely on any implement at all!


topViewIt seems that many solutions lead to believe that distributing the weight higher up to bigger joints will solve the problem: the idea is to put the weight on the stronger parts of the hand. There is some merit to the idea, but if it does not prevent pinched nerves due to poor posture in the neck or strained joints in the thumb and wrist, then moving the weight simply does nothing.  Furthermore, if a stand, support or other implement requires the arm or neck or torso to remain immobile, then tension builds up in areas that affect the spine: do study how nerves come out of the spine and how essentially all strength and action eventually originates from the spine: the spine MUST remain free to move.

When the problem really is strength:

20151031_170714_LLSSome people have asked me if the Imperial oboe by Dupin or the Ludwig Frank Brilliant model might not make the instrument too heavy (because of their large bells) and thereby promote tendonitis. My answer to that is simple: if the difference in weight (compared to a regular Lorée or Marigaux or Yamaha or Howarth or Fox) is a serious problem for you, perhaps you'd better take up the recorder or the baroque oboe. However, most musicians do have one source for potential injury: a disdain for strength and fitness training... I mean, we are artists, not athletes, right? WRONG: lack of physical activity is a huge source of stiffness, pinched nerves and simply leaves your body depleted of energy and powerless to perform to the very high physical requirements of playing a musical instrument. If the following two points must be considered for proper health:

  1. mobility of the nerves and joints (wrist, neck, shoulders, spine and hips)
  2. relaxation and looseness of while playing the instrument: be sure to use the appropriate muscles, not those for lifting or pushing heavy objects

Both points imply no pressure or constriction on the body. When they are both well addressed, most people should be strong enough to play any modern oboe and even the English horn (possibly even the barytone oboe) with no straps or pegs or anything.

My favourite way to remedy that is Tai-Chi because it is gentle and artistic, it builds mental focus and concentration (very important for sight-reading) AND MOSTLY it strengthens the small stabilizer muscles that are left weak by almost all traditional sports and athletics. When these muscles are weak, bigger power muscles (those that are trained by sports) take over without ever noticing the difference: problem is, the big power muscles also cause strain on the joints and compression on the nerves! Strong stabilizer muscles leave the body loose and ready to perform music fast and with fluidity.

20151031_170718_LLSWhy no patent?

My own personal success with this Ergonomic Thumb Rest ("my gizmo", as I call it) has been so dramatic that I wanted to patent it, with the hopes of licensing its production to some company. But at IDRS 2013 in Redlands CA, two things happened (I had been hiding my gizmo, nobody saw or heard about it):

  1. I saw the thumb rests of Fossati and Püchner (although different from my gizmo) address the issue, possibly just as well.
  2. I had started talking with a professional oboist (and long-time teacher) who described to me the thumb-rests she gets her students to build for themselves and her description was nearly identical to my gizmo.

By definition of domestic and international patents, point #2 means I cannot patent my design (or only such a small part of it as to make a patent virtually useless). As of today, November 1st 2015, when I put up this blog post and video on You-Tube, my design is now disclosed to the public and no one in the world, by patent law as I understand it, is allowed to claim intellectual property - unless a patent application had already filed some time before. I am unaware of any such patent application: if I am wrong, please send me a letter of "cease and desist" with all the pertinent information and I will remove my You-Tube and this blog post.

Solution: free design!

Because I cannot patent it, I cannot manufacture these ergonomic thumb-rests in great quantity. Disclosing and giving the design freely to all allows anyone to produce it (using the same or different materials and methods) and many more musicians can benefit from it. To my limited knowledge of law (please verify with a real lawyer) full disclosure means that as of now, anyone can manufacture and distribute these.


I really hope this helps many, many more musicians enjoy pain-free and full-potential music performance, just as it has helped me maintain and raise the limits of my abilities on the oboe.

Wednesday, October 14

Thanksgiving–2015–Action de Grâces

A new hope for troubled times
Since I left my parents home to start the Conservatoire de Montréal, Thanksgiving has always been a special holiday: a chance to go home and feel normal again for one weekend!
Renouveau d'espoir par temps troublé
Depuis mon départ de chez mes parents pour mes études au Conservatoire de Montréal, la fête de l'Action de Grâces m'est chère: une fin de semaine pour rentrer à la maison et me sentir à nouveau comme un enfant!
This year is particularly special because the world seems to have really gone stir-crazy with genocide, race-based hate, scripture-quoting-counter-religious imperialism and just plain fear mongering to justify an evil that is so insidious and all-pervasive that most people think it is reason!

Thanksgiving in Canada was two days ago and in the USA it happens in November: this is good because I always like to keep the mindset of a holiday in the weeks that follow it.


Cette année est particulièrement spéciale parce que le monde entier semble être viré sur la tête avec le génocide, la haine entre les races, l’impérialisme s’appuyant faussement sur les textes sacrées et tout simplement la propagation de la peur pour justifier un diabolisme si sournois et omniprésente qu'une grande partie de la société la prend pour la raison!

La fête de l'Action de Grâces au Canada a eu lieu il y a deux jours et sera en novembre aux États-Unis. C'est bien parce que j'aime garder l'état d'esprit d'une fête quelques semaines après le fait.
The dream continues
I have been less active on my blog this year and my chronic pain condition (fibromyalgia) has been more troublesome than in past years, but I am very thankful because I have also done more music since last Christmas than I have in 15, or maybe 18 years! This includes joining a Choir of English Handbell ringers, making arrangements for Handbell ensembles (often with oboe) AND developing oboe repertoire like I would not have dared attempt a few years ago:
  • Now the gloves are off and whatever music I enjoy listening to or that I find motivating, I will start to practice whether it is written for oboe or not, "realistic" or not.
  • This December will by my 30th anniversary with my Ol' Faithful (Lorée), so I need to do something special to mark the occasion.
    Thankful to complain...
    I may complain that my salary and professional prospects are limited (in the computer field, due to my pain condition), I may complain that time is too limited to do all the oboe and musical activities I want to do and I often complain that my oboe is a brand that imposes restrictions and hurdles to my potential, but I am VERY THANKFUL to even be able to complain about it: I am thankful that my country (even though I criticize Canada for having lost it's Peacekeeper's soul) allows its people to realistically dream of such things!





En avant avec le rêve
Je suis moins actif sur mon blog cette année et ma douleur chronique (fibromyalgie) me tracasse plus que dans les années passées. Néanmoins, je rends vraiment grâce parce que depuis Noël dernier j'ai aussi fait plus de musique que dans les dernières 15 ou peut-être 18 années! Ceci inclus m'être inscrit à un chœur de sonneurs de cloches anglaises, faire des arrangements pour ensembles de cloches (souvent avec hautbois) ET développer mon répertoire pour hautbois comme je n'aurais pas osé le faire il y a quelques années:
  • Je suis déchaîné: toute musique que j'aime entendre et qui me motive à répéter, je l'entame, que ce soit pour hautbois ou non, que ce soit "réaliste" ou non.
  • Décembre marquera mon 30e anniversaire avec ma "Vieille Branche" (Lorée), alors je devrai faire de quoi de spécial pour marquer l'occasion.
    Heureux de me plaindre...
    Il peut m'arriver de me plaindre que mes possibilités d'avancement salarial et professionnel sont limités (dans mon domaine, en raison de ma douleur chronique) et je peux me plaindre que le temps me soit trop limité pour travailler le hautbois et autres activités musicales comme je le voudrais et que ma marque d'instrument impose des restrictions et des bornes à mon potentiel, mais je rends GRANDEMENT grâce du fait que je sois même capable de m'en plaindre: je rends grâce que mon pays (même si je plains la perte de l'âme de maintient de la paix que connaissait jadis le Canada) rend possible à son peuple de viser réalistement à de tels buts!
I am VERY THANKFUL to all of you who take time to visit this blog, from 95 countries in the world! ... and that's apart from remote island-provinces that could almost be counted as separate from their parent country. I am VERY THANKFUL to all my Facebook oboe friends. Some of you are professional oboists in big-name orchestras, some of you are prolific chamber-musicians, some of you are well known soloists, many of you are students of all levels, some are instrument makers/reseller/repairers, some of you are amateurs, earning a living with computers like me! ... in all cases, we communicate together like fellow travellers, treading together as equals this wonderful path of music!       blogStats Je rends GRANDEMENT grâce à vous tous qui prenez le temps de visiter mon blogue, de 95 pays ... sans même compter les îles-provinces qui pourraient être comptés comme indépendants. Je rends GRANDEMENT grâce pour tous mes amis Facebook autour du hautbois. Quelques-uns parmi vous êtes hautboïste professionnel dans un orchestre de renommée, d'autres êtes chambristes bien connus, d'autres des étudiants de tout niveau, d'autres des fabricants/vendeurs/réparateurs d'instruments et d'autres encore êtes amateurs, gagnant votre pain en informatique comme moi! ... dans tous les cas, nous communiquons ensemble comme des camarades sur le sentier formidable qu'est la musique!
Showing gratitude in action more than words!
I offered to play oboe for an "Outreach Day" that was organized by a church I go to. I was introduced to the Trinity Presbyterian Church nearby because they are the owners and organizers of the Trinity Hilltop Handbell Ringers, the ensemble I joined.

The people that go to this church and the clergy struck my wife and I as fine people who focus their faith on being friendly, helpful people, so we felt this is a good place to help us integrate our community a little bit more (artists tend to stay alone in their studios a little bit too much).


Good people doing good things.

Montrer sa gratitude par le geste plus que les paroles!
J'ai offert de jouer le hautbois pour un jour d'impact communautaire organisé par l'église que je fréquente. J'ai pris connaissance de l'église Trinity Presbyterian tout près du fait qu'elle est propriétaire du chœur de cloches anglaises à la quelle je me suis joint.

Les gens qui fréquentent cette église et son clergé ont marqué mon épouse et moi comme du bon monde dont la foi est montrée par la bonté et l'entraide communautaire, et nous trouvons que c'est un bon moyen d'intégrer la communauté un peu plus (les artistes ont tendance à rester un peu trop seuls dans leurs studios).

So I played oboe in a retirement home for the elderly and disabled residents. I was the only musician and I played 2 types of repertoire:

  1. for oboe solo (Telemann, Britten and Bach)
  2. with accompaniment (classical and Brazilian): I had recorded accompaniment MP3s on an old BlackBerry that connected to an amplifier via bluetooth.

The experience was strange: very rewarding to see the people respond with happiness in a world where they are otherwise essentially alone and waiting (for many years) to die. Discussing the music they might listen to on the radio while presenting "new music" (to them) of 100 to 400 years ago might just be enough to show that they still can live for some kind of adventure of an artistic nature rather than physical.



Alors j'ai joué le hautbois pour les résidents âgés et infirmes dans un foyer pour aînés. J'étais le seul musicien, jouant 2 types de répertoire:

  1. hautbois complètement seul (Telemann, Britten et Bach)
  2. avec accompagnement (classique et Brésilien): j'avais de l'accompagnement en MP3 sur un vieux BlackBerry connecté à un amplificateur via bluetooth.

Cette expérience était étrange: très valorisant de voir les gens répondre avec la joie dans un monde où, autrement, ils ne font guère autre chose qu'attendre (plusieurs années) leur mort. Discuter de la musique qu'ils peuvent écouter à la radio tout en présentant du "nouveau" répertoire (pour eux) qui date de 100 à 400 ans pourrait être assez pour montrer qu'ils peuvent toujours vivre pour entamer une nouvelle aventure de nature artistique, sinon pas physique.

At the same time, it was actually quite good to help me gain comfort at playing and speaking in front of people (thank you organizers of Trinity Presbyterian for animating with questions!). This makes me feel much more solid when performing solo.... and I mean really solo! dao-door En même temps, jouer et parler devant le monde (merci aux organisateurs de Trinity Presbyterian d'animer avec les questions) m'aide grandement à développer le confort à me présenter en public. Ceci me fait sentir bien plus solide en jouant solo… VRAIMENT solo!

Saturday, July 25

Why make reeds? (part 2.c) / Pourquoi faire ses anches? (#2.c)

These are my own impressions on very small sample of reeds. Evaluating a reed for any other person is a terribly delicate issue, even when people play together frequently. To evaluate reeds for people we have never even met, possibly inhabiting distant countries with vastly different climates and geographic considerations is almost ridiculous.

Any reed instrument player with any reasonable amount of experience will agree that, from any same reed producer, a dozen reeds can play very differently. I have tried only one reed from each maker, so my opinions cannot be considered representative of their work.
Je m'efforce au bilinguisme, chers lecteurs francophones, parce que vos visites me font franchement honneur! Mais cet article est assez long et la grande majorité des mes visiteurs comprennent l'anglais, pas le français – alors puisque je ne reçois aucune rémunération ni faveur quoi que ce soit pour ce blogue, je réserve le droit de préserver un peu de mon temps libre pour mes autres loisirs… Merci de votre compréhension!

Why then even write this post? Well for one, I promised Vicky I would... which is fine because I actually do like the reeds she sent. Also, it might be interesting for the reedmakers to get a distant opinion. But mostly, I hope this will encourage oboists when reeds don't always meet their needs – and possibly provide and idea of what to expect when making or buying oboe reeds as well as some insight on what mind-frame to adopt when evaluating them.

General Observations

When Vicky offered to send me reeds to try, she asked me what strength I prefer. I really had no clue, so I just answered something and she sent me one reed from each maker. This means that I could have made serious mistakes in my choices with no way of knowing!

Each reedmaker produces reeds of different strengths and styles for different levels of experience and/or physical ability. This is where experience and the ability to order different samples from the same place comes-in handy.  And no matter how careful a person may be in selecting cane, it remains the product of a living plant, not an engineered polymer! Arundo donax (a variety of grass!) is a living organism that will always behave in unexpected ways. So, having just one reed from each maker is really not a good representation of their work. Also for this reason, I prefer not to describe scraping profiles or measurements.

What is a "professional reed"?

I have very happily corresponded with a number of reed makers via the internet. Some makers consider “professional category” reeds simply to be more resistant reeds (harder, but still ready to play right out of the box) whereas other makers understand that many professional level players will want to fine-tune reeds to their own tastes. In the case of American scrape, I think the ability to adjust them is even more important, because individual styles are so much more sensitive and impactful.

All the reeds Vicky sent me are professional grade, except the Tipple which is medium-soft, designed for high-school students. The hard reeds are too much for me to play on for more than a few minutes at a time. BUT despite this, they are among the most responsive reeds I have ever played on! Strangely, it takes lots of air pressure (perhaps because of the climate/geographic change) but responsiveness is so easy it’s almost scary! I have never worked much at developing double-tonguing, but despite the hardness, these reeds help me do double-tonguing more easily and clearly than my own reeds. They also all appear to prefer an embouchure that does not change.

I got the reeds in late April, so I have been playing them once-in-awhile from early spring to mid-summer. The change in the weather has drastically changed the reeds behaviours: some have completely exchanged characteristics to the point where I have to look at the thread color and my notes to remember which is which! This supports my assumptions that:

  • The reeds are made for professionals, whose facial muscles become strong with several hours of playing every day.
  • I believe that if I went to the city where they are made, they would be much easier to play, even for me.
  • I would imagine that just ordering their softer versions of the reed would leave me fully satisfied.

    All reeds are excellently bound/tied: no sideway slipping of the blades at all – I really appreciate that! I find reeds that slip (overlap sideways) have a warmer, more velvety sound with perfect stability, but they also make me feel very choked when playing and I tend to get dizzy spells with them. However, a number of professionals from different countries told me they prefer reeds WITH a slipped overlap, so it's a matter of personal preference.
    One recommendation I would make to all reed makers using wire: don't ship them without some kind of cellophane to cover the wire! Not only does it prevent the lips and/or fingers from bleeding by accidental yank, it also keeps the wire in place. No matter how well you tie the wire, it is in the middle of a curve and will drop really easily, thus messing-up all your fine-adjustments! Back in the 1980's, "gold beater's skin" (the natural membrane used to wrap sausages) was popular and despite its delicateness, it worked rather well. Plumber's tape and food wrap can do well, but they tend to unwrap when wet or strangle the reed. My favourite modern cellophane is "Parafilm M" laboratory tape: it stretches and clings firm and resists friction as well as soaking – revolutionary, in my opinion.


    From left to right:
    Qing Lin, Kai Rapsch, Laura Arganbright, Koje, Tamo Ramirez, Tipple



    I did make recordings to compare the reeds. I have a new microphone, and when I combine it with my old one, I get a very good sound, almost true-to-life. But when I play back the recordings of the reeds, the difference in sound is so small they almost sound the same. I used 4 different head-sets and 3 different loud-speaker setups: each setup sounds different overall, but on the same setup the reeds only show minute differences in tone colour. This is unfortunate because when playing them in person, they really do sound different. I think the lessons here are:

  • Do not trust recordings to judge an instrument, a reed or a musician: it really takes excellent recording equipment AND playback equipment AND sound engineering experience to provide anything close to live performances.
  • Try many different reeds (keep them to try them again at different times of the year), try different instruments, ask the reed makers to use different producers of cane and try those.
  • Do NOT choose your reed for very small differences in tone colour – besides, I have reeds that sound fantastic at home and became buzzophones in some concert locations (vice-versa as well)! So you might as well choose reeds for how they allow you to play the most comfortably and with the most expressive articulations and dynamic range (according to your tastes and goals).
  • Different reeds will have big differences in sound in the same location. So choose your favourite sound in terms of big differences: leave the small differences to work on embouchure and breath.
  • All the above should also be true for instrument makers…. don’t bother asking a vendor to make comparative recordings of different instruments, it’s pointless! Try the instruments and go for general comfort while playing. Yes, tone colour is part of that comfort, but only if the difference is clearly evident: subtleties can be caused by so many other things.


    Observations on each maker:

    Qing Lin (China/Germany):

    a new professional, already distinguished in performance. I had the real pleasure of hearing him play one of the Lebrun concerti: the prize for winning the Gillet-Fox competition at IDRS 2013. Harder than the others and also more fluffy on articulations, these reeds provide a very beautifully haunting sound.

    One thing I always wanted to try (but never did) is something he does on all his reeds: where books say to cut the corners (making the tip narrower) he leaves the "ears" on from the shaper! Again, understanding that the change in geography and climate can exaggerate the strength of the reed, this reed testifies to his current stay in Germany with an absolutely stable reed built for solid professionals who want the plushest sound.... I have to wonder if this might be in the lineage of the legendary sound of Lothar Koch...

    Koje (Malaysia):
    Is a reedmaker from Malaysia that is starting to be well known in Facebook land. It is run by oboist Yong How Keen, important oboe teacher in Southeast Asia and innovative quality reed maker, increasingly respected at home and abroad. The few videos I can find of him playing show a really free sounding full-range of expression and articulation: I would expect his reeds to answer my tastes quite well. But the reed I got is a special production model, designed with and for the divine oboist Michaela Hrabankova. Surprise for me, and don't let her delicate charming looks fool you: this Czech girl is a powerhouse on the oboe, and needs a reed up to the challenge! His reed provides the ultimate baroque-esque sound; no exaggeration! Just looking at it, I don’t see anything out of the ordinary, but when playing it I am struck by its sound: very broad, warm, dark and resonant, like I’d expect to hear from Marcel Ponseele on his baroque oboe! Absolutely stable in pitch on the whole range of the instrument, it takes only a small increase in air power to reach its dynamic potential.
    Laura Arganbright (USA): 

    American scrape has never been in my favour, so I don’t want to risk misrepresenting her reeds.  But, I hear many, many American oboists sound very crystalline or metallic despite the reputation of that scrape: Laura’s reeds are among the warmest, darkest, silky sounding reeds I’ve played from any style at all. Her philosophy, concerning professional reeds (and I do agree with it) is that professionals will want personal fine-tuning, so she does leave room for finishing touches.

    Her scraping is clearly very well controlled, clean and I am very impressed with how perfectly the blades are aligned (two aspects not always characteristic of American Scrape). Actually, her scrape is so clearly meticulous it almost looks like a component for the Mars Rover! In line with her philosophy on pro-reeds, I think it is a fantastic starting point for any professional who wants to save time and effort and fine-tailor the reed to their own stylistic preferences: the scrape leaves room for any variant of American scrape I have ever seen.

    Cayetano “Tamo” Ramirez (Spain):

    his is probably the closest to how I make reeds. I don't mean what the scrape looks like, but rather how the reed behaves with respect to articulation and air pressure. The sound is also very warm, but more clearly defined in a reed that really does want to play along with my whims. It is also the reed that plays most easily in the altissimo range (especially above F). This is where I really believe the geographic/climate conditions are making all these reeds harder than they are really supposed to be: Ramirez reeds play so much like how I design mine, that I find it hard to believe they are truly this hard. What he told me is that, in Spain, they do like reeds a little bit harder compared to many other parts of the world, but not as hard as the Germans like them.

    Kai Rapsch (Germany):

    Despite being hard, I really like it! It will be a source of study for me. Like the Ramirez reed, it behaves the way I like reeds to behave, but with a heavier sound: possibly designed for an instrument that demands more support from the player, it also tends to play 2nd octave key notes flat (compared to the others) on my Lorée. From my experiments trying instruments, this reed would be great with a Marigaux M2 or a Mönnig 150 where I have found the 2nd octave notes sharp (according to professionals I have chatted with, sharpness/flatness seems to vary with geographic location).

    The tip is the shortest I’ve ever seen in my life! But this takes nothing at all away from its responsiveness: I can articulate notes the way I like to, period! Like my own reeds, his reeds sound very clearly defined, but unlike my reeds, there is not a hint of crystal or buzz: sheer oboe warmth.... it makes my Lorée sound like a Ludwig Frank!

    Tipple (UK):

    mission accomplished! He wants his reeds to play just fine “right out of the box”, and I concur this to be true! Perhaps Suffolk, England has similar climate to Ottawa? Whereas the reeds I have from other makers are professional grade, the one I have from Tipple is a medium-soft (high-school) reed: so I must hold back my power. The scrape is short but the cane shape is narrow (like American reeds): this helps maintain precision and quality of tone-colour for people with less air power, likely very suitable to many adult amateurs. This reed is very well designed to promote good embouchure and breathing habits in students: biting on this reed will kill the tone whereas a relaxed embouchure will allow any articulation you want. Being narrower, it would likely be a great starting point for habituates of American reeds who want to explore European scrape.


    I personally, will not start buying reeds.  I have been making them for 30 years: as a hobbyist, making reeds is part of the excitement of this oboe journey. With my engineer's attitude, even if I played saxophone I would probably make my reeds and even mouthpieces! However, this experience has been very enlightening about the possibilities for reeds and the usefulness of buying some (from time to time and from very different makers) as a source of study.

    headerBannerI think for professionals who want to save time (devote more time to practice and family in a busy performance schedule) buying reeds from Vicky (her website here) and/or other well reputed venues is an excellent idea: the professional can then spend only a few minutes fine-tuning them as needed without worry. I am very curious to try the reeds Koje plays on himself: apparently much easier to blow. For someone like myself, who likes to explore and experiment, these reeds are a fantastic source of investigation using the Ramirez and Rapsch reeds: I will be doing lots of comparisons and experiments on my own reeds.

    I think students and amateurs, who have teachers who really answer the student's goals, getting these specific reeds would be an excellent start as the teacher can fix the reeds to suit the student perfectly. Also, these reeds are excellent to show students what to aim for, and acquire the skills to fine-tune a reed that is already quite good.

    For students and amateurs who need a reed to be ready for concert right out of the box, Tipple should be quite good, and I really suspect that getting a softer Koje or Ramirez would be advisable.  Qing Lin and Kai Rapsch (also the "Michaela" by Koje) should be considered for more advanced students who want to develop specific sound qualities.

    Do Contact Vicky (and your local reed maker) with questions – I know she is continually trying other makers and sources to provide the best possible product for her clients.

  • Friday, July 10

    Why make reeds? (part 2.b) / Pourquoi faire ses anches? (#2.b)


    These are MY opinions: I encourage everyone to try for yourself and come to your own. I think this blog is most useful if it starts conversations and helps people ask more intelligent questions (maybe help people realize they are not crazy if they have difficulties with reeds). Not everybody will share my opinions and that is good: the more contrasting conversations we can have, the better!

    I wanted to discuss this topic in 2 parts:

    1. the definition of a good reed
    2. comments on the makers.

    But some conversations I had on Facebook lead me to insert one more discussion in the middle.


    Ceux-ci sont MES opinions: j'encourage chacun à essayer pour soi et se former ses propres opinions. Je crois que ce blogue est utile à démarrer la discussion et aider aux gens de poser des questions intelligentes (peut-être à confirmer que la difficulté avec les anches n'indique pas la folie). Plusieurs ne partageront pas mes opinions et c'est bien ainsi: toujours bien d'avoir des discussions contrastées!

    Je voulais discuter le sujet en 2 parties:

    1. la définition d'une bonne anche
    2. commentaires sur les fabricants.

    Mais quelques discussions sur Facebook m'incitent à insérer une autre discussion au milieu.

    Also, this experiment on reeds made by other people coincides with more elaborate experiments on my own reeds with new and old cane from different producers. I have found that different sources of cane favour very different tone colours AND feelings while playing: two sources can sound the same, but require very different embouchure habits – this is not an easy thing to modify while experimenting! Aussi, cette expérience avec les anches fabriquées par d'autres coïncide avec des expériences plus élaborées avec des roseaux par différents producteurs. J'ai trouvé que différentes sources de roseau favorisent des timbres ET des sensations bien différents de l'une à l'autre: ceux de deux producteurs peuvent sonner presque pareils tout en exigeant des habitudes d'embouchure différentes – pas une chose facile à modifier en expérimentant!
    Finally, I just acquired a new microphone. It is quite good, but almost the opposite from my old one, so I'm debating the possibility of recording sound clips from the different reeds.... with just my old microphone, it is very difficult to capture the small differences that are a big deal to us oboists, and that we hope the audience actually hears! Enfin, je viens d'acquérir un nouveau microphone. Il est excellent, mais presque l'opposé de mon vieux, alors je jongle avec l'idée de faire de courts enregistrements avec chaque anche… avec mon vieux micro tout seul, il n'est pas facile de capter les détails sonores, si importants aux hautboïstes, mais qu'on ne peut qu'espérer que l'auditoire perçoit!

    Remember one of the slogans from last post (here): "A reed can play easily OR sound great, but not both". This leads to the question: what is a good tone colour on the oboe?


    Harsh tone or harsh playing?

    Back in the 1980'-90's, when I was a music student, MANY people were criticizing Heinz Holliger for sounding like a swarm of flies in recordings he made in the early 1980's. I don't know if the recordings were faithfully reproducing his sound or if sound equipment and expertise at the time were inadequate, but it's clear that his tone colour is completely unimportant when you start grasping his unique expressiveness, vitality and the artistry in his ornamentations of baroque repertoire.

    Still, I think most people prefer a more velvety sound. For sure, I am trying to move away from the Indian snake-charmer sound oboes give in old black-and-white movies. But if sounding like a plush toy means getting headaches from blowing like an air compressor or being unable to extend a range past p-mf, then I'll leave that sound to other people.


    Many years old and still one of my best playing/sounding reeds ever!

    Plusieurs années à me servir et sonner le vrai délice – reste une de mes meilleurs anches jamais faites!

    Rappel d'un des slogans du dernier article (ici): "Une anche peut bien jouer OU bien sonner, mais pas les deux". Ceci mène à la question : c'est quoi, au juste, un bon timbre de hautbois?


    Timbres durs ou dureté du jeu?

    Dans les années 1980-90, pendant mes études musicales, PLUSIEURS personnes critiquaient le timbre nasillard de Heinz Holliger (ses enregistrements au début des années 1980). Je ne sais pas si les enregistrements véhiculaient fidèlement son timbre ou si l'équipement et l'expertise de prise de son à l'époque manquaient d'expérience, mais il est claire que son timbre n'a aucune importance quand on commence à saisir l'expressivité unique, la vitalité et la musicalité de ses ornementations dans le répertoire baroque.

    Toujours est-il que la majorité du monde semble préférer un timbre plus velouté.

    Sans aucun doute, je vise à délaisser le timbre des envoûteurs de serpents de l'Inde dans le vieux cinéma. Mais si sonner comme un ourson en peluche équivaut à des migraines parce qu'il faut souffler comme un compresseur ou me limiter à p-mf, alors je laisserai ce timbre à d'autres.

    When I started being active in Internet groups, I felt only very dark, baroque-like sounds (e.g. Louise Pellerin or Cynthia Steljes were good and everything else was bad musicianship. Over the years (thanks to You-Tube, Vimeo, Arte-Web, etc.!!!) I have come to appreciate edgy sounds, or clear sounds with a hint of a buzz in it, which I consider more "living" or "pastoral" (country-side) sounds. In high-school, beginner oboists honk their way through band class, so we want to stay away from any kind of hollow, strong sound. But as a performer reaches the control of the professional, a sustained goosey tinge to the sound, I find, is actually very nice in many respects. My own personal taste still prefers the tone of the Baroque Oboe (Marcel Ponnsele or John Abberger) over all others, but I now find quite a lot of modern oboe sounds to have pleasant qualities that simply don't occur in the period instruments.

    I'm not trying to be politically correct or sensitive to the preferences of others: there are still big names whose sounds bother me to the point of not being able to appreciate their artistry. And now I consider many professionals with heavenly tone-colours play without feeling or soul – in my opinion, of course. I have just come to appreciate variety: this makes my quest for the "one single ideal oboe" even more difficult!


    Cynthia Steljes
    Louise Pellerin
    Heinz Holliger
    Marcel Ponsele

    Au début de mon activité dans les groupes Internet, je croyais que seuls des timbres très sombres, riches et baroquescants (tels Louise Pellerin ou Cynthia Steljes) se respectaient et que tout le reste trahissait un manque de goût artistique. Au fil des ans (merci You-Tube, Vimeo, Arte-Web, etc.!!!), j'apprécie maintenant les timbres plus carrés, clairs ou même avec un soupçon de buzz, que je qualifie plus vivant ou pastoral. À l'école secondaire (le lycée), les débutants vont plutôt klaxonner leur hautbois. Par conséquent, nous cherchons à délaisser un timbre creux ou rude. Mais lorsque l'artiste acquiert le control professionnel, un soupçon de cacanement (cri de l'oie) soutenu à son charme. Mes goûts personnels favorisent toujours le hautbois baroque (Marcel Ponseele ou John Abberger) mais j'apprécie beaucoup plus les timbres modernes pour avoir des qualités plaisantes qui sont simplement absents des instruments d'époque.

    Je ne vise pas la rectitude politique, ni la sensibilité aux préférences d'autrui: il reste des grands noms dont le timbre m'achale au point de ne pas pouvoir apprécier leur musicalité. Je trouve aussi que certains professionnels avec des timbres célestes peuvent manquer d'âme dans le jeu – mon opinion, bien sûr. Mais j'apprécie maintenant la variété: ce qui rend plus difficile ma quête pour "l'unique hautbois idéal" encore plus difficile!

    Best reeds: machine made or all handmade?

    Vicky's website is called "Handmade Oboe Reeds" and I know there is generally a general bias in favour of making reeds by hand rather than machine. But I think most large-scale makers of short-scrape reeds now start their reeds with profiling machines and produce first rate reeds; there are even profiling machines to make American reeds. Most makers will test and finish their reeds by hand; in the end, the only thing the machine did was speed up the process and prevent accidental chopped-off corners or holes where you don't want them.

    Which is better, American (long) scrape or European (short) scrape?

    This is probably the most emotion-packed and verbally violent debate among oboists in international discussion groups. Well, let me begin by pointing out that "long scrape" does NOT imply "American scrape". Actually, the very notion of "American" reeds actually becomes fuzzy because there are important variances and I have seen sketches of similar scraping styles characterizing Dutch reeds.


    Looks can be deceiving:
    NOT American scrape!

    Gare aux apparences: n’est
    PAS le grattage américain!

    Meilleures anches: fabriquées à la main?

    Le site web de Vicky s'intitule "Handmade Oboe Reeds" (anches faites à la main) et je sais qu'il y a un parti-pris général contre la fabrication à la machine. Mais je crois qu'en gros, les fabricants de style européen commencent les anches à la machine et produisent ainsi d'excellentes anches; il existe aussi des profileurs pour anches américaines. La majorité des fabricants vérifieront personnellement les anches ainsi produites et les termineront à la main; en fin de compte, la machine sert à accélérer le travail de gros et prévient les trous et coins rongés par accident.

    Quel est mieux, le grattage américain (long) ou européen (court)?

    Voici sans doute la question la plus remplie d'émotion, provoquant des "débats animés" dans les groupes de discussion internationaux. Commençons par préciser que grattage long n'implique PAS le style américain, notion qui devient floue parce qu'il y a nombreuses variantes et j'ai vu des esquisses semblables décrivant le style hollandais.

    In my own personal definition, "American" scrape is always nearly full-cane-length and requires one very special characteristic: the back "windows" must be thinner than the heart, with the heart typically rather thick. A reed can be scraped very long, but if it the thinning is continual from back to front without an important hump, then by my definition it is not American scrape. Many of my own reeds look American because of a long W behind the heart, but the back "gullies" (as I call them) are thicker than the heart: these reeds are popularly called "hybrid" (i.e. half-way between American and European scrape). The length and gullies serve to control opening on obstinately open reeds.

    The words "European" or "short" scrape can be used almost interchangeably. Short scrape is a straight-forward technique and very likely the oldest: just always get thinner towards the tip (and the sides). People still talk about German or French or English scrape, but there are really numerous variances that cause impressive differences in sound and behaviour. People now adapt them to their own tastes and country-label is really only useful for discussion. Dozens of profiles and scraping length can vary from 1/4 to almost all of the cane length. In general, the idea is "not American".



    Machine-made American scrape.

    Grattage à l’américaine faite à la machine.

    Selon ma propre définition, le grattage "américain" couvre toujours presque toute la longueur du roseau et exige une caractéristique particulière: l'arrière (les fenêtres, "windows") doit être plus mince que le coeur, avec le coeur typiquement assez épais. Une anche peut être grattée longuement, mais si la minceur procède continuellement jusqu'au bout, sans bosse importante, par ma définition ce n'est pas une anche américaine. Mes propres anches peuvent parfois paraitre américaines en raison d'un W allongé derrière le cœur, mais ces cannelures restent plus épais que le cœur: on appelle souvent ce style "hybride" (mi-chemin entre européen et américain). La longueur et les cannelures servent à contrôler l'ouverture d'anches qui s'obstinent à trop ouvrir.

    Les expressions "grattage européen" et "grattage court" sont presqu'interchangeables. Le grattage court suit un profile intuitif et fort probablement très vieux: on amincit tout simplement vers le bout (et les côtés). Le monde parle toujours d'anches allemandes ou françaises, mais il y a de nombreuses variances qui produisent des différences importantes dans le son et le comportement de l'anche. On adapte le profile pour ses goûts personnels et le libel national n'est utile que pour la discussion. On retrouve des douzaines de profiles avec des longueurs de grattage d'un quart à presque toutes la longueur de l'anche. En gros, l'idée est "pas américain".

    So which is the better scraping style?

    The common "safe" answer is "it depends on your goals for sound". I'm never convinced of the sincerity of this answer because I would expect an explanation on which scrape is better for which sound.... and that rarely follows. Besides, I have found that any sound characteristic that can be found on American scrape can also be produced on short scrape. The preference for long or short scraped reeds is interesting because I find more and more Europeans trying (and selling) American scrape reeds. Conversely, a number of Americans and Canadians I know personally (and others via Facebook) are abandoning American Scrape and returning to short scrape.

    In my personal view, the ideal reed style should a function of your PHYSIOLOGICAL characteristics; how your own body responds to blowing and the resistance from the reed. Many people will say that short scrape requires more strength and biting: but I assure you my some of own reeds put an end to that idea! Many people will say that American scrape produces a softer, mellower, darker tone: but old and new recordings of oboes with very metallic and harsh tones are easily found with long scrape reeds.


    Very different hand-made (by pros.) Amercian scrape reeds.

    Anches professionnelles américaines très différentes faites à la main.

    Alors quel est le meilleur grattage?

    La réponse commune est "cela dépend de tes objectifs sonores". Cette réponse ne m'a jamais convaincue parce que je m'attends à une explication de quel style fait quoi…. ce qui suit rarement. De toute façon, j'ai trouvé que tout ce qui peut décrire le grattage américain est aussi disponible avec le grattage court. La préférence pour un style particulier et curieuse parce que je vois de plus en plus d'européens essayer (et vendre) des anches américaines. À l'inverse, un nombre d'américains et de Canadiens que je connais personnellement (et autres via Facebook) abandonnent le profil américain pour reprendre le grattage court.

    À mon avis personnel, le style idéal doit concorder à vos caractéristiques PHYSIOLOGIQUES; comment votre corps répond au souffle et à la résistance de l'anche. Plusieurs prétendent que le grattage court exige une embouchure plus forte et un peu de morsure: je peux vous assurer qu'un nombre de mes anches mettent fin à ça! Plusieurs diront que le grattage américain produit un son plus rond, sombre et velouté: mais des enregistrements de tout âge présentent des anches américaines au timbre métallique, nasillard et rude.

    Several players of European-scrape reeds told me they found American scrape reeds are much easier to blow and more responsive: I used to make American reeds for myself – I also have some made by other people in my collection – and I really disagree with that point of view: American scrape can be very restrictive and stop responding after a few minutes of blowing.

      Plusieurs jouers d'anches européennes m'ont qu'ils trouvent le grattage répond mieux et sont plus facile à souffler: je fabriquais jadis mes anches à l'américaine, et ma collection comprend quelques-unes faites par d'autres – et je ne suis vraiment pas d'accord sur ce point de vue: le grattage américain peut grandement restreindre la nuance et arrêter de répondre après quelques minutes de jeu.


    The more I discuss with people, the more I am of the opinion that preferring long/short scrape and specific details is a function of climatic conditions: a matter of fitting the effects of climate on the cane and the requirements of your specific comfort at playing. Different sources for cane REALLY produce different kinds of cane (hard, spongy, waxy, grassy...) resulting in reeds that behave differently. So factors like gouge and scraping profile, I think, might suit one type of cane more than another. For me, personally, the sprightly nature of short-scrape, with its ability to cope with very weak and very strong blowing suits me better – but I also have preferences in cane to go along with it.

    Therefore, there is no correct answer to this question apart from: "try and decide for yourself". Furthermore, my own experience, a person's stamina and tolerance will change a lot in different climates... just as the reed will change its behaviour too. The important thing is this: if you're getting dizzy spells or turning red when playing, try a reed with a different cane, staple and/or scraping style!!!

    Hybrid Scrape (on the short side).
    Grattage hybride (plutôt court).


    Le plus je discute avec le monde, le plus j'ai l'opinion que la préférence entre grattage long/court et les détails techniques est une fonction du climat: question d'apparier les effets du climat sur le roseau et les exigences particulières de votre confort à jouer. Différents producteurs produisent du roseau à caractéristiques VRAIMENT différentes (dur, mou, spongieux, cireux…) ce qui donne un comportement vraiment différent à l'anche. Alors des facteurs comme la gouge et le profile, je crois, peuvent mieux s'appliquer à un type de roseau qu'un autre. Pour moi, personnellement, la nature dynamique du grattage court et son adaptation au souffle très faible et très fort me convient mieux – mais j'ai mes préférences de roseau pour aller avec.

    Il n'y a donc aucune réponse correcte à la question sauf: "essaie-les et décide pour toi-même". De plus, selon mon expérience, la vigueur et l'endurance d'une personne changera aussi avec le climat… tout comme l'anche changera son comportement. La chose à retenir est ceci: si vous éprouvez des étourdissements en jouant, essayez un anche avec un autre roseau, tube et/ou profile de grattage!!!

    Sunday, July 5

    Nerves and Oboe (,) bells / Poil-au-pavillons (de cloches et de hautbois)

    So I’m late with my next article on buying ready-made reeds…. this post might help explain why…
    Bon d’accord,
    Je suis en retard avec mon prochain article sur les anches vendues toutes-faites… cet article devrait expliquer…

    Yes, I made that poster with parts of the real brochure and my own stuff…

    Oui, j’ai construit cette affiche avec des parties de la vraie brochure et mes propres bidules…

    One more public performance!

    Today, I played oboe and handbells with the Trinity Hilltop Ringers at University of Ottawa! That means, since last Christmas concert (included), I have played more oboe in public than in the previous 15+ years combined!

    For my part with the handbells, I had 3 rehearsals and 2 tutorials to play a rather athletic and rhythmically complex tune the rest of the choir had been practicing for 3 years! I played half-decently in that one; no embarrassing CRASH-BLOING’s, so I’m actually happy!

    Une présentation publique de plus!

    Aujourd’hui, j’ai joué le hautbois et les cloches anglaises à l’Université d’Ottawa avec les Sonneurs Trinity Hilltop! Ceci signifie que, depuis le dernier concert de Noël inclusivement, j’ai joué le hautbois sur scène plus que les 15+ dernières années ensemble!

    Pour ma part à sonner les cloches, j’avais 3 répétitions et 2 tutoriels à jouer une pièce assez athlétique et de rythme complexe que le reste de l’ensemble travaille depuis 3 ans! J’ai joué raisonnablement pas-mal; pas d’énorme BLOOIINNNGG, alors je suis satisfait!

    Family discovery day:

    The festival Music And Beyond hosted an event at University of Ottawa where many musicians and ensembles played in various locations on campus. People could bring their children to hear and even try to play all kinds of instruments, from Chinese xylophones to Indian drums, to Jazz trombones and, yes even English handbells and chimes! The performers were top notch, some of them professors at the university or professional orchestra musicians.

    Journée de découverte en famille:

    Le festival Music et Autres Mondes a tenu une journée portes-ouvertes à l’Université d’Ottawa où plusieurs musiciens et ensembles ont joué à divers endroits sur le campus. Les gens pouvaient apporter leurs enfants à entendre et même essayer toutes sortes d’isntruments incluant xylophones chinois, tambours indiens, trombones jazz et, oui même des cloches anglaises! Les musiciens comptaient des professionnels accomplis, incluant profs à la faculté et musiciens à l’orchestre symphonique.
    Rush-in, set-up quick, play and get out fast!
    This festival was actually full of excellent performers and ensembles. What this means for performers, is that while playing music, doors are opening and closing, people are talking, chairs are being dragged, helium balloons are exploding. This might sound barbaric, but it is actually excellent to build relations with the audience and help make live-human-music more a normal part of life in the community.
    Entrez-vous rapidement, vite avec le montage, jouez et quite sans perdre une minute!
    Le festival était plein d’exellents interprètes et ensembles. Ceci signifie que lorsqu’on joue, les portes ouvrent et ferment, l’auditoire parle, les chaises glissent et les ballons à l’hélium explosent! Ça sonne barbare, mais c’est excellent pour les relations avec l’auditoire et pour construire une culture qui compte la musique-humaine-en-personne comme partie intégrale de la vie normale.

    oboeBells     playing_IN_public    

    Hold on… what is this?… nervous?

    The time allotted to the handbell ringers was rather short…. we had 3 tunes played by the full choir (15 people: I played oboe in one tune and handbells in another tune), a quartet played 2 remarkable tunes and two duets each played 2 really impressive tunes too. So there was really no time left for me to show off the oboe at all.
    ….. well, while they were setting-up the bell stage, I “warmed up my instrument” by playing some rather advanced unaccompanied repertoire! Yes, I played this while my fellow handbell ringers were moving tables and positioning bells, music stands and so on…

    Attention… pardon?… nerveux?

    Le temps alloué aux sonneurs de cloche était plutôt court… le choeur avait 3 pièces (15 sonneurs: j’ai joué le hautbois dans une pièce et les cloches dans une autre), un quatuor a joué 2 pièces remarquables et deux duos ont chacun joué 2 pièces impressionnantes. Il ne restait donc vraiment aucun temps pour moi de mettre en valeur le hautbois.
    … Eh bien, lorsque l’ensemble a monté la scène pour les cloches, j’en ai profité pour “réchauffer mon instrument” avec du répertoire sans accompagnement assez avancé! Oui, j’ai joué ceci pendant que mes collègues traînaient des tables, positionnaient bruyamment les cloches, lutrins etc…

    Fearless Performance:
    The Newsletter is REALLY worthwhile!

    I played my repertoire well enough: no major mess-ups and decent control of my tone. But I’m kind of happy there was so much noise and bustle, because I as I was playing, I noticed that I was actually quite nervous at playing in public. It is not the difficulty of the repertoire that made me nervous: I would have felt the same way playing Mary had a Little Lamb!

    This really surprized me. I remember in my days as a “real” musician, I would be terrified of exams and very tense at auditions, but always very comfortable at public performances, even just in duet with piano. Actually, even last Christmas, alone with guitar, or a few months ago, alone with piano, I was very comfortable on stage…. so I really don’t know what happened. Perhaps this was due to the hustle-and-bustle and people not paying attention?

    I think I’ll have to go play in parks on the weekend to see where this all comes from…..
    J’ai joué le répertoire assez bien: pas de grandes gaffes et un contrôle raisonnable de ma sonorité. Mais je suis heureux du bruit et achalandage pendant mon jeu parce que je me suis trouvé assez nerveux. Ce n’est pas la difficulté du répertoire, je me serais senti aussi nerveux à jouer la Soirée du Hockey!

    Ceci m’a vraiment pris par surprise. Je me souviens de mes jours de “vrai” musicien, effroyé par les récitals-examens, plutôt tendu lors des auditions, mais très confortable lors des performances publiques, même si en duo avec piano. À bien y penser, l’an dernier à Noël, seul avec guitarre, ou il y quelques mois, seul avec piano, j’étais très confortable sur scène… alors je ne sais vraiment pas ce qui s’est passé. Peut-être dû à l’achallandage et que le monde ne me portait pas attention?

    Je crois que je devrai expérimenter à jouer la fin-de-semaine dans des parcs pour voir d’où vient tout ça…

    Saturday, June 6

    Why make reeds? (part 2.a) / Pourquoi faire ses anches? (#2.a)

    After IDRS 2013, I wrote at the potential of being able to enjoy playing the oboe without needing to make reeds (click here). I am happy that meeting professionals and amateurs over the internet only strengthens that position. This blog post (part 1 of 2) is taking a very long time to prepare because I never really expected to do anything like this.

    Every once in a while, someone sends an e-mail or a Facebook message asking where they should buy reeds from. I don’t promote specific reed makers because:

    1. I never purchased reeds, so I don’t know the makers;
    2. A reed one person loves, another person will hate!

    François Leleux:
    Reed philosophie d’une anche!

    Après la conférence IDRS 2013, j’ai traité du potentiel de s’amuser à jouer le hautbois sans devoir fabriquer ses anches (voyez ici). Je suis heureux du fait qu’avoir rencontré des professionnels et des amateurs sur Internet appuie cette position. Cet article (première moitié) a pris longtemps à préparer parce que je ne me suis vraiment jamais attendu à une expérience comme celle-ci.

    Une fois de temps en temps, quelqu’un me demande par courriel ou par messagerie Facebook chez-qui il/elle devrait acheter ses anches. Je n’aime pas faire la promotion de fabricants particuliers parce que :

    1. Je n’achète pas mes anches, alors je ne connais pas les fabricants;
    2. Une excellente anche pour une personne sera détestée par quelqu’un d’autre!

    But one person contacted me with a cool idea: Vicky Kwok ( sent me a bunch of reeds so I could write what I think! Hey, why not? But while trying the reeds, and considering my own experience of making them for myself, the question became just a teeeeeny bit complicated!

    What makes a good, stable reed?

    In the USA and Canada, oboists spend LOTS of time making reeds and complaining about them. The single most common complaint I ever heard or read is "my tuning is all over the place because my reed is unstable". The word "unstable" has been used to criticize my reeds, but now I throw back that my reeds play absolutely fine on other oboe makers (or in New-York!). Besides I’m not sure the word is even always describing the same thing!

    Mais quelqu’un m’a contacté avec une idée curieuse : Vicky Kwok ( m’a envoyé un nombre d’anches pour que j'en fasse l'évaluation… pourquoi pas? Mais en les essayant, et compte-tenu de mon expérience à fabriquer les miennes, la question est devenue … euuuuh une petite affaire compliquée!

    Que rend une anche bonne et stable?

    Aux É.U. et au Canada, les hautboïstes passent BEAUCOUP de temps à faire des anches et à s’en plaindre. La critique la plus commune que j’entend est "ma justesse est n'importe-quoi parce que mes anches sont instables". Le mot 'instable' a été utilisé pour critiquer mes anches, mais je rétorque que mes anches jouent parfaitement bien dans d'autres marques de hautbois (ou à New-York!). De plus, je ne suis même pas certain si le mot sert toujours à décrire la même chose!

    An interesting experiment:

    So for an amateur to decide where to buy reeds, the difficult task of describing them makes it almost impossible to choose. This is why Vicky started her business: instead of dealing with a bunch of different stores and multiplying shipping charges for one or two reeds in each place, she offers a platform from which a person can try and compare many different makers in one purchase.

    I see more and more professionals buying their reeds, and this as it should be. Professional or amateur, it SHOULD be possible to just buy reeds and start playing without worry. The only problem remaining is to find the reed maker that makes them to suit each player’s specific preferences.


    Une curieuse expérience:

    Pour qu'un amateur puisse décider chez qui acheter ses anches, la tâche difficile de les décrire rend le choix presqu'impossible. C'est pourquoi Vicky a lancé son entreprise : au lieu de multiplier les efforts et les frais d'envoi en achetant de plusieurs places, elle offre une plateforme où quelqu'un peut essayer et comparer plusieurs fabricants en même temps.

    Je vois de plus en plus de hautboïstes professionnels acheter leurs anches, et c'est bien ainsi. Professionnel ou amateur, on DEVRAIT pouvoir juste acheter une anche et se mettre à jouer sans peine ni misère. Reste à trouver le fabricant qui répondra aux caprices de chacun.

    Great Idea, difficult task!

    So Vicky sent me reeds from different countries (Germany, Malaysia, Spain, UK and USA) so I could discuss them in my blog. This is proving to be a REALLY difficult thing to do!

    Firstly, how do I make sure the words I am using mean the same thing to me and all the readers from 90 countries? And apart from that, many people have confirmed that reeds will behave really differently when you travel from one geographic location to another. So how the reed plays here in Ottawa might mean nothing for the USA Midwest or Estonia or Spain or Brazil or Kuala Lumpur or Istanbul.

    Actually, all the reeds I got from Vicky are quite good. I’ll discuss them next time, while I try to find the right vocabulary!

    Belle idée, tâche ardue!

    Alors Vicky m'a envoyé des anches de diverses provenances (Angleterre, Allemagne, É.U., Espagne et Malaisie) pour que j'en discute sur mon blogue. Ceci s'avère assez difficile!

    Premièrement, comment savoir que mon vocabulaire véhicule le même sens pour mes lecteurs dans 90 pays? À part ça, maintes personnes m'ont confirmé qu'en voyageant, les anches se comportent vraiment différemment d'une région à une autre. Alors la manière que joue une anche à Ottawa ne garantit rien concernant son jeu dans les plaines des É.U., en Estonie, en Espagne, au Brésil, à Kuala Lumpur ou Istanbul.

    À vrai dire, toutes les anches venues de Vicky sont plutôt bonnes. Je les discuterai au prochain article, me donnant un peu de temps à saisir mon vocabulaire!

    So, what IS a good reed?

    Whatever “stability” may be, the word is really used a lot to build the mystery of the correct reed. Over many years, I have repeatedly heard slogans like the following:

    1. [Face turning red from blowing hard:] It hurts to play the oboe!
    2. If you can breathe, you can play the oboe.
    3. When making reeds: function first[good tone colour is a bonus]!
    4. If it sounds good, it IS good!
    5. A reed can play easily OR sound great, but not both.
    6. An oboe is not a trumpet, it’s not capable of loud dynamics.
    7. The oboe is the closest instrument to the human voice.

    People who have been following my blog or remember my comments on discussion groups know how I believe such doctrines to be preachy and unnecessary.

    I also believe that many people – and this applies to much more than just playing the oboe – find security in being able to complain about how difficult things are: this way they can relax in mediocrity without feeling pressured to risk failure by aiming for excellence.

    Mais c'est QUOI une bonne anche?

    Sans définir précisément ‘stabilité’, le mot est beaucoup utilisé dans le mystère des anches. Au fil des années, j'ai entendu des slogans comme suit:

    1. [Le visage virant au pourpre à force de souffler fort:] Bien jouer le hautbois, ça fait mal!
    2. Si quelqu'un peut respirer, il/elle peut jouer le hautbois.
    3. En fabricant une anche: la fonction d'abord [le beau timbre est un bonus]!
    4. Si ça sonne bien, C'EST bien!
    5. Une anche peut bien jouer OU bien sonner, mais pas les deux.
    6. Un hautbois n'est pas une trompette, ça ne joue pas de nuances fortes.
    7. Le hautbois est l'instrument le plus proche de la voix humaine.

    Ceux qui suivent mon blogue ou se rappellent mes commentaires dans des groupes de discussion savent combien ces doctrines me paraissent ridicules.

    Aussi, je crois que bien des gens – et pas seulement en ce qui concerne le jeu du hautbois – trouvent une sécurité à pouvoir se plaindre de leurs difficultés : ainsi, ils/elles peuvent se reposer dans la médiocrité sans ressentir la pression de faire face aux risques d’échec qui viennent avec la poursuite de l’excellence.

    Well, the oboe IS more difficult to play than the recorder, but in my opinion, NOBODY needs to feel bad while playing the oboe: a full range of expressiveness is completely possible while felling comfortable and exhilarated while playing.

    If the reed (because of the instrument?) inhibits any of the expressiveness, gentleness or power than a singer can produce, there is something wrong with the instrument, the reed or the performer’s outlook. This is what I set out to prove in this blog and my You-Tubes, with only an average of 30 minutes daily practice and making reeds only a few times a year.

    Eh bien, le hautbois EST plus dûr à jouer que la flûte à bec, mais à mon avis, PERSONNE n'a besoin de se sentir mal à jouer le hautbois: un pleine gamme expressive est complètement possible tout en étant bien à l'aise et ressentir l'euphorie en jouant.

    Si l'anche (à cause de l'instrument?) ne permet pas toute l'expressivité, la douceur ou la puissance que peut produire un/e chanteur/euse, il y a de quoi de mal avec l'anche, l'instrument out le point de vue de l'interprète. C'est ce que j'ai entrepris à démontrer avec ce blogue et mes You-Tubes, avec juste une moyenne de 30 minutes par jour à travailler le hautbois et ne faisant des anches que quelques fois par année.

    For me, a good reed is one that will let me play for hours without "busting my face", will sound good warm and enough to make an audience fall in love with the sound of the oboe, while making a true pp and a true ff easy in all ranges of the instrument. This kind of reed, I have made often, it’s not just a fluke. If, in spite of this, tuning or quality of particular notes becomes problematic, then the instrument should be questioned – and I have found some brands of oboe to be helpful and others to be troublesome for me (while being fine for other people). Pour moi, une bonne anche doit me permettre de jouer pendant des heures sans me casser la gueule, de sonner avec un timbre à faire soupirer d'amour l'auditoire tout en rendant un vrai pp et un vrai ff faciles sur toute la tessiture de l'instrument. De telles anches, j'en fabrique souvent, ce n'est pas par accident. Si malgré tout, la justesse ou la qualité de quelques notes précises devient problématique, c'est l'instrument qui doit être mis en question – et j'ai trouvé que certaines marques de hautbois me facilitent la tâche tandis que d'autres me font suer (tout en étant excellents pour d'autres musiciens).

    I am not a pro:

    OK, my professional life was extremely short (6 months to 2 years, depending on your definition) so what do I know? My You-Tube videos also show there remains a lot of room for improvement... and yet I get much more encouragement than criticism: perhaps people are just very polite... But who here has a Ph.D. in acoustics and fluid dynamics with differential equations in hand to prove me wrong? Listen to many dozens of inspiring soloists and ensemble performers from all over the world (including North-America) and notice the feeling of freedom (or versus strain) in the sound and you’ll know who chooses their reeds and instruments for ease of playing – and still sound heavenly!

    Je ne suis pas professionnel:

    D'ACCORD, ma vie professionnelle fut bien courte (de 6 mois à deux ans, dépendant de la définition) alors qu'est-ce que je sais, au juste? Mes vidéos You-Tube montrent aussi qu'il me reste bien du chemin à faire… pourtant, je reçois beaucoup plus d'encouragement que de critique: peut-être que le monde est simplement très poli… Mais qui, ici, détient un Ph. D. en sciences acoustiques et en dynamique fluide avec équations différentielles en main pour me démentir? Écoutez des douzaines de solistes et hautboïstes d'ensemble de partout dans le monde (y compris les É.U.) et remarquez ceux qui sonnent un air de liberté (versus sentiment d'effort et de limitation) et vous saurez qui choisit des anches et instruments qui facilitent le jeu – tout en sonnant céleste!

    What is a "stable" reed anyway?

    I have reeds made by maybe 10 different professional makers (some from Vicky, some I gathered in other places) and it seems other people have a different definition. Reeds made by others can play very well, with a full spectrum of articulation and dynamics, but still feel very restricted when I blow harder or softer.

    For me, a stable reed means that I can make a note as soft as I want, crescendo for as hard as I can possibly blow, and the note will always be in tune without ever feeling choked and without requiring compensation fingerings! Also, the articulation and the dynamics of the previous note must never limit the articulation and dynamics of the next note.

    Qu'est-ce qu'un anche "stable", au juste?

    J'ai en main des anches faites par environ 10 professionnels divers (quelques-unes viennent de Vicky et j'en ai ramassé d'autres au fil du temps) et il me semble que la définition change. Les anches faites par d'autres peuvent jouer vraiment bien, avec un pleine gamme d'articulations et de nuances, mais me faisant sentir restreint quand je souffle plus ou moins fort.

    Pour moi, une anche stable veut dire que je peux rendre une note aussi douce que je veux, faire un crescendo pour souffler aussi fort que je veux sans jamais me sentir étouffé et la note sera toujours juste sans avoir besoin de doigtés compensatoires! Aussi, la nuance et l’articulation de la note précédente ne doit jamais limiter la nuance et l’articulation de la prochaine.

    The flip-side: this kind of extreme flexibility means that I am happy to change my embouchure in a split second to accommodate sudden bursts of power or the opposite..... this is usually anathema in the academics of oboe playing, but I see the greatest oboists of the world do it all the time! => I'm nowhere near their quality, but this makes my oboe playing experience a delight when it was once a headache. De l'autre côté de la médaille: cette flexibilité extrême veut dire que j'accepte volontiers de changer ma technique d'embouchure à chaque fraction de seconde pour accommoder les éclats de puissance ou l'inverse… ceci est habituellement anathème dans l'académie du hautbois, mais on peut voir les meilleurs hautboïstes au monde en faire autant! => je ne suis nullement à leur hauteur, mais ça fait de mon expérience à jouer le hautbois un délice alors que ça a déjà été un mal de tête!