<< -- 3 -- Jennifer Paull REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES
Musical customs vary. In England, it is usual for the musician playing
the solo instrument obligato to stay seated in the orchestra. Here,
in Switzerland, it is equally usual to invite that player to the front to
stand beside the singer.
As in all the Cantatas and Passions, each oboist is called upon to play
several different oboes. I was also playing oboe, and Bach knew that before
an important solo, the player would wish to warm up his oboe d'amore.
The recitative immediately prior to this obligato was the moment
I changed instruments. I started to play, and nothing happened! I nudged
my colleague with my left knee. Notes changed and the long note I was now
holding sounded! I had to repeat the previous note and this time, there
was a gurgle and spluttering; a general underwater tone quality!
Water has one of the toughest membranes. Sometimes, the humidity of the
warm air going through a wind instrument from one's mouth, and the
cold of the atmosphere can make condensation into a frightening danger.
The first thing after playing is to mop through the bore of an instrument
with one of several special devices that prevent the build up of humidity.
Of course, even with the best of care, which my instruments certainly know,
an omnipresent danger exists. There I was, both feet in the quicksand!
My colleague realised that water was blocking one of the instrument's
tone holes. There is a Murphy's Law about this sort of thing. Water
will never block just one when it can fill two. But which two ? The answer
is to slide a piece of cigarette paper under the right piece of mechanism,
and hope that the water will simply flood the paper leaving the hole clear
and dry. That is the plan. In the reality of that moment, there were several
tone hole possibilities and fewer seconds before I had to walk through the
orchestra to the front of the stage. He tried to slide the paper under a
key as I tried to keep on playing; total failure on both counts.
I walked through the orchestra to the soloist, shaking the instrument
with each step, praying that the water film would be dislodged and the key
This was another of those panicky moments one never forgets. I had no
idea when I started, whether anything would come out remotely resembling
music and less a diving submarine, than had been the case during the recent
It worked! I got through the obligato without a hitch and to this
day, I can't imagine how. When I returned to my place, I had to deal
with the situation properly. There was enough water to fill 3 pieces of
cigarette paper! How had I possibly been able to play?
Copyright © 1 February 2002
Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland
JENNIFER PAULL'S AMORIS INTERNATIONAL
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