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What's Up With The Reed Wonks?

August 3, 2011

I've just been engaged in an interesting impromptu email exchange about reed players with one of the editors at the New York Times. I've been writing about Classical Revolution this week for Friday's Bay Area edition of the paper and it so happens that the editor in New York who is responsible for running a fine tooth comb over my copy, Deirdre, is a Baroque musician (a harpsichordist, to be precise.)

Commenting on my story, Deirdre told me how much she loves playing with oboists, although she added a perplexed caveat on the subject of an oboist friend of hers: "It seemed as though she spent half her time fooling around with those reeds."

Being an oboist myself, I sympathize with Deirdre's bafflement. I must be one of those very rare double wind musicians who sits down in front of her stand and is ready to play within about 30 seconds. I don't carry any paraphernalia besides a reed knife which I rarely use. I simply shove the reed in my mouth to moisten it for about 10 seconds, stick it in the top of my horn and -- bingo -- am ready to start playing.

So I'm equally confused by most of my colleagues who show up with their bags of stuff and seemingly spend forever futzing with their reeds and oboes not only before a rehearsal or performance begins but also very often during every few bars' pause from playing.

I can't explain why this should be. Am I just lucky never to have to mess about with my gear? Or is the endless commotion simply a reflection of the stereotyipcally nervy oboist personality type?

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