When Your Reeds Are Winning…

I was recently talking to a good friend and colleague about reeds and we were discussing the issue that always comes up with oboists…… terrible reeds… and what percentage of them actually turn out to be usable. 😑😥😭

​When I’m struggling with reeds and I’m having a bad night, I’ve sort of adopted the philosophy that….. well I take my wisdom from Baron Von Stuppe in “The Great Race.” 😂

I kind of….. well give up. Is that bad?

​(By the way isn’t that ending hilarious?)

I’m just kidding. I don’t REALLY give up. However, when my reed takes a turn for the worst I am pretty quick to put the reed back in the case and either work on a different one or come back to it the next day. I know there are many oboists who like to ‘have it out’ with a reed and there’s nothing wrong with that. Many people can work that way. I just can’t. I think there’s actually a good argument for this. ​​

  1. ​The reed always changes overnight. Always. I actually have a theory that it takes longer than we think for the reed to fully adjust to OUR adjustments. Cane, after all, is a natural substance with a mind of its own. 
  2. Did you know scientific evidence suggests that our mind can only handle intense concentration for 25 minutes before we need a break? Now honestly, how many of us have gotten absorbed into reeds for hours at a time? 🙋‍♀️ Almost every oboist I know.
  3. I prefer to keep my sanity! It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, frustrated and angry when it comes to reeds. There are just SO many ways to adjust a reed. Every action creates a chain reaction to other attributes we need in our reeds. It’s a cycle that doesn’t like to end. Often, when I get super close to that perfect balance between response, good resistance, stability and tone, I want to fix just. one. more. thing. And then… I’ve ruined it… sigh….

I didn’t used to be so quick to put my reed in the case when it misbehaves. I definitely lost my sanity a couple of times while spending hours at my desk or in the reed room. Everyone who lives with an oboist knows his or her mood is based off of how their reeds are for the day. 😈 In spite of being an advocate for putting the reed away when it starts to nose-dive, I also think it’s not a bad idea to ‘have it out’ with your reeds once in a while. It is true that we learn a lot from failure and I truly believe it’s not possible to become a really good reed maker without ruining a lot of reeds. But where is the balance?

So back to my conversation with my friend. We’ll call him Geoffrey. The topic was ‘what percentage of our reeds is usable in some fashion.’ For me, after over 20 years of making reeds, I can say that percentage is probably around 90%. Almost all the reeds I make can be used in either a practice session, a rehearsal or a concert. It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I absolutely do! I constantly strive to make them better and I still get into reed ruts. But I am happy to say that most of the time I can retain my sanity. I also ENJOY making reeds now! 😮 No, really. I enjoy experimenting with all the possibilities and seeing how far I can go with them.

So what about you? Where is the balance between perseverance and sanity? And how can you know the difference?


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