Fandom! (Oboe related)

So, I’ve been AGONISING over The Oboe for so long that is just about has to have capital letters every time I mention it, right?  Well, yesterday after another frustrating practice attempt I decided to check out some YouTube vids, just to see what was out there.

Turns out that there are some weird videos – but there are also some INCREDIBLY HELPFUL ones, such as those posted by YouTube user “klbtree” – who is actually Karen Birch Blundell, a professional oboist and someone who is very generous with her time and expertise.  She’s also just started a blog about her life in New York – ballet!  (*Swoon*!)  Concerts! (*even more swoon*!) Visiting the Alice in Wonderland statues in Central Park! (*I faint away in sheer wonder and envy*).

ANYWAY, she was very kind about my comments and wrote to see she’s coming down under in January and will even be in Brisbane – I had such a fangirl moment I had to go make a cup of tea before I could even SPEAK!

(I hope all this doesn’t sound too cyber-stalky – oh dear! )

So – more practice for me, and possibly the chance (if she’s doing any performances, which I hope she is!) to hear REAL LIVE OBOE for the first time since… well since I was a student in high school, when my flute teacher’s husband (a distinguished teacher and oboe player) performed in concerts at the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, as it was way back then.

SQUEEEEEEEE!!!

In a related note: I think beginner oboe possibly sounds worse than beginner violin. Truly.  I sound like I’m strangling a tubercular duck.  It’s not pretty!

I was nervous…

… in fact, I was nervous all day.  Or, let’s wind the clock back a little – I’ve been worried since I (well, Mum and Dad, thank you!) bought THE OBOE that perhaps I’d bought a dud instrument, that perhaps my desire to play oboe was a manic fantasy, that I’d altogether made a wrong turning and should have spent the money getting my (old, somewhat neglected, but very good quality) flute overhauled instead.

BUT this afternoon we made the drive out to one of the little villages nearby (now really a bedroom suburb of Toowoomba) for my first oboe lesson.  The teacher was lovely  – kind and gentle and most of all, very helpful – and I now think I can at least go on with some confidence.  I can’t afford regular lessons – and really, most of what I need to learn will take a great deal of work on my own.  I’ve been reading music almost as long as I’ve been reading words, after all; and although I’m out of practice, I can hear when a note is out of tune.  (This is really important with oboe, since so much of the intonation comes from the reed and embouchure.)

My printer is out of ink, so I couldn’t print out a map, and neither Mr Beloved nor I had been out of town in that direction before.  And when I get anxious, I don’t remember things well – and of course the phone book doesn’t have maps out that far. (Note to self – maybe some local maps would be a good idea, hmmm!). So I was busy winding myself into a ball of knots, worried that we’d missed the turn off (we did) or be late (we weren’t.)  I eventually remembered that the teacher lived on a street that turned off another street and we found the right place (confirmed by parent waiting outside in car, and sounds of 1st Grade AMEB Piano pieces being attempted inside).

The teacher said that my oboe “sang out well” – phew! I haven’t bought a rotten instrument, I’d been so worried that since it wasn’t a famous brand that I’d wasted my money.  Nope – it’s fine, and certainly should get me through at least the three years of the warranty.  It’s made from “Greenline” material (which means it’s plastic – well, in the bigger brands “greenline” means a mix of ebony powder and carbon fibre – so, plastic, but GOOD plastic! – so it won’t crack like the more expensive wooden instruments, although arguably they sound better) and seems to be reasonably sturdy.

(pardon the lens flare here – I will take a better photo outside in daylight on the weekend.  And not on my office chair, which you can see the cat covets – she jumps onto it the second I leave and SHEDS FUR!)

If you’re not an oboe player (and you’d tell me if you were, wouldn’t you, just so I had ONE oboe friend in the world?) the large white round thingummy in the middle of the case is a container of cork grease, and not some strange part of the instrument.  Just so you know.

If by some miraculous chance you are an oboist, you can see that this is a French keyed (“conservatoire”, they call it) instrument, rather than the English/thumbplate beastie.  I wasn’t sure which I was getting for my money – I’m glad I got this type.  I’m reliably informed that the French style oboes have a more mellow tone.

Reeds though – oh, the ongoing drama that is oboe reeds!  I currently have ONE reed that I can actually make a sound with – the others are too hard for me just yet.  But the thing is, every maker has different qualities to their reeds, so I need to try some other brands.  I bought two “Medium Soft” reeds from a very well respected maker, and they worked for the teacher, so I know it’s my inexperience and not the reeds at fault.   But you can’t try reeds before you buy (cos – other people’s spit! Eww!) so it really is trial and error at $25-$60(!!) a pop.  And they don’t last – with the best care in the world, they just wear out, or split, or otherwise give up the ghost.  I can see I’m not going to be buying ANY new magazines from now on – it’s second hand bookshop mags for me, the discretionary money (HA! what little of it there is) is now all REED MONEY.

I also had to shell out for cleaning pull-throughs  – but with care, those should last.  You need two different ones, because the top piece of the oboe is really quite teeny inside, and the bottom sections are MUCH bigger.  Not like flute!

By now you’re probably shaking your head and saying “Caity, are you MAD?  Why oboe, when it’s so demanding?” (Ummm, yeah, I AM mad, I have the piece of paper to prove it, but that’s not the point here.) Well, I like a challenge.  I think learning something difficult keeps you fresh.  (This does not apply to Sudoku, which I will NEVER understand.  Music – yes, maths – no!) And yes, oboes are perhaps the most difficult woodwind to play.  But they sound FABULOUS!  It’s such a different timbre to flute.

And – there’s no one else playing oboe in concert band.  I’m LOVING concert band  – making music with other people is such a joy (although completely exhausting  – being with people wears me out very quickly) but there are already a lot of flutes there.  So when I am actually good enough on oboe not to distress other members of the band, I’ll be providing a small measure of balance to the woodwind section.

My chiropractor also approves of the change  – oboe requires a very different posture to flute – straight out in front at a 45 degree angle, rather than off to the right.  Less twisting on the upper spine (and before any flautists out there – are you out there? – correct me, think back to when you played in a concert band with more flutes than any other instrument, and tell me if you didn’t sometimes end up using less than perfect posture just so you could all cram in.)

I don’t regret spending the money on the oboe.  It was incredibly generous of Mum and Dad and I know I’m really lucky to be able to learn a new instrument.

And now it’s waaaaaaaay past my bedtime – good night!