<< -- 2 -- Jennifer I Paull DOUBLE REED DISORDER
The doublereeder exists in just these two varieties -- oboist and bassoonist. Of course, those with a single reed (clarinettists and saxophonists) moan too. However, nobody, but nobody bears as much reed grief, as the long-suffering oboist. Altitude, humidity, full moon, Pluto in the house of whatever -- the reed is affected. Servitude to its cause dominates our existence. No musician can ever say with certainty that the next reed (s)he makes will be trustworthy, good, reliable and pleasing in tone quality. Every oboist worthy of the DRD (Double Reed Disorder) Certificate must make h(er/is) own supply. Many of our bassooning buddies get away with never having done the honourable, do-it-yourself thing and buy ready-made, machine-scraped reeds their careers long! This is equivalent to a gentleman's wearing a pre-formed, synthetic silk, bow tie: unthinkable! Alas how standards, if not knots, slip. The profession is riddled by the pre-knotted: multitudes of musicians have lapsed into facile perfidy and face-losing perdition. The same could never have been said almost a hundred years ago before that useless A=440 Treaty. Pitch has risen (rather like inflation in some countries) and many standards, as opposed to technical prowess, have plummeted the way of the bungee jump.
Some reeds are like those supermarket trolleys, which simply go their own way no matter what you do or how you steer. One could perhaps term these specimens, 'free range' reeds? Exactly the same technique of binding and scraping after years of practice can produce a bovine moan or an acidic warble. Hours of backbreaking, eye-squinting work do not guarantee a worthwhile result. Some stick to one hue of binding thread, whilst others vary the rainbow's entire spectrum as a lucky, prismatic charm. Incense cones are burned to the Reed Goddess and there are those who resort to a secretive snifter to cushion against the morale blow of any ensuing, snorting quack.
The tying on of the reed is an acquired skill. Here I must admit that for bassoon reeds, a decade or so of advanced macramé at night school is a sound investment. One cannot lament an uncertain technique in mid-concert with 'Woe is me for I am undone!' It just wouldn't cut any slack in today's world.
Prokofiev was spot on in his casting for Peter and the Wolf as far as the oboe and the unfruitful reed making session are concerned. I feel the grandfather was a tad cliché-ed for the bassoon fraternity who are often orchestrated as 'humorous' or 'geriatric' and are, frequently, neither. Stravinsky did much for Bassoonists' Lib (and nightmares).
Their brigade fall into two camps: the French bassoniste and the German fagottiste. The latter platoon is the hands-down winner. Beer has conquered wine in bassooning terms, even in France! The worship of the Large Orchestral Sound has done to the bassoon what the Steinway has to the Bösendorfer. Yet, even in the intimate setting of chamber music, our French cousin is so rare as to be a virtually invisible, mythical unicorn (that's the beast with its own in-built crook). The French bassoon is fast following upon the final, fleeting footsteps of the Dodo (in C). I for one am greatly grieved. The European Union should do something useful about it even if they can't agree upon a constitution. In fact, this is doubtless why they cannot! How can one expect Germany and France to vote the same way under such double reed duress? Somebody, somewhere in High Places needs to be informed of The Facts!
The oboist never ventures forth from h(er/is) tonic sol-fa, home base without a quiver-full of reed-making paraphernalia. The well-honed knife is a must! In these days of safety checks at airports (and many buildings), the oboe reed knife kit is not a flyer-friendly or public building-friendly assortment and must be packed into one's suitcase or even left behind! This latter alternative is the equivalent of performing a trapeze act without a safety net. Reeds often need a magic touch before a performance and knifeless performances are not without the possibility of a serious fall (from accuracy of pitch as well as grace, ergo job). One refreshing shower of raindrops between rehearsal and concert and the oboe reed's hardness and pitch-stability may well be altered. None of us knows this fate before taking up the oboe as our chosen instrument. By the time we have come face to face with the paralysing realty, it's too late; we're hooked.
Copyright © 30 July 2005
Jennifer I Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland