[MUSIC: Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov)]
NARRATOR: OBOE PLAYERS SPEND A LOT OF TIME MAKING REEDS. SOMETIMES AS MUCH TIME AS THEY SPEND PRACTICING THEIR INSTRUMENTS. IT'S NO WONDER THEN, THAT OBOISTS LIKE SALLY WALL HAVE STRANGE RELATIONSHIPS WITH THESE TINY PIECES OF WOOD.
SALLY: I can remember giving one that I kept forever Just because I thought- I grew so attached to it, and I gave it to a friend as like [laugh] a good luck charm.
MIRIAM: I'm a little superstitious about it.
NARRATOR: THAT'S MIRIAM KAPNER.
MIRIAM: I kind of think that sometimes you have to make some bargains with the Gods of Reeds [laugh]
[MUSIC: Quartet In F Major For Oboe, Violin, Viola And Cello (Mozart)]
SALLY: I think we become so- almost obsessed with it that we start to personify the reed- You know, like, We're not getting along with our reed, or our reed is fussy.
NARRATOR: MEREDITH ROUSE:
MEREDITH: If the weather is nice, and if the planets are in alignment- there are certain days when you can think oh, this is such fun.
[MUSIC: Mozart quartet continues]
MEREDITH: But then the cloud will come in and the sound will change.
[MUSIC: Six Metamorphoses (Benjamin Britten)]
MEREDITH: It's like creating part of your instrument every day.
NARRATOR: A REED STARTS ITS LIFE AS A PIECE OBOE CANE, WHICH IS A PLANT‹KIND OF LIKE BAMBOO. IT'S GROWN IN SANDY SOIL IN ARID CLIMATES, LIKE WINE, MOSTLY IN SOUTHERN FRANCE AND CALIFORNIA. THE CANE COMES TO OBOE PLAYERS IN SHORT TUBES THAT LOOK LIKE WIDE DRINKING STRAWS.
THE TUBES ARE FIRST SPLIT INTO THIRDS
[splitting, cracking, gouging sounds, under narration]
THEN CUT, CARVED AND GOUGED INTO AN REED SHAPE WITH A SERIES OF CRUDE LOOKING TOOLS THAT WOULD NOT HAVE LOOKED OUT OF PLACE IN THE 1730s.
MIRIAM: You'd think that in this age of technology we'd have something lot more advanced than just levers and planers. Nothing's really changed. The problem is it's wood and you have to- it has to be hands on. The reason it remains as crude as it is today is so that you can be aware of every single step as you go along.
NARRATOR: SINCE OBOE CANE IS A PLANT, NO TWO REEDS ARE ALIKE. THIS MAKES IT HARD FOR REEDMAKERS TRYING TO MAKE THE PERFECT REED. BUT THESE VARIATIONS MAKE EACH INDIVIDUAL OBOIST SOUND THAT MUCH MORE UNIQUE.
[MUSIC: Untitled by Nissim Schaul, played by Sally Wall.]
MEREDITH: The fact that everybody makes their own reeds, and everybody has a different idea of how they want to sound, that really makes it individual
NARRATOR: ONCE THE CANE HAS BEEN CUT TO THE BASIC REED SHAPE, IT'S TIED TO THE METAL TUBE THAT SITS IN THE INSTRUMENT AND IS READY TO BE CARVED.
SAWDUST-SIZED PIECES OF BARK ARE PRECISELY SCRAPED OFF WITH A SHARP KNIFE. THIS PROCESS CAN TAKE HOURS.
SALLY: You have to blow on them- while you're making them, actually. [crow] And as you're- uh, scraping on the cane, it's going to change. And you scrape more and then you crow again. The crow is what we call it when it sounds like this [crow]. So this reed, I would be really skeptical about it. And I would play it on my instrument. Let's see what it sounds like [scale]. I wouldn't use this reed. With the crow seems funny, seems out of balance, too high. It's hard to blow air through it. And it's not creating a- a free sound. It's very shy. So wait, let's see what this one sounds like [crow], [scale]. Yeah, see I like- I like this particular reed. I feel like I can just go for it and there's nothing in between me and my sound, so it's very comfortable.
[MUSIC: Ich Habe Genug (J.S. Bach), played by Miriam Kapner]
MIRIAM: For me it's all about sound. What makes your sound unique.
[MUSIC: Bach continues]
MIRIAM: This is an excerpt from a Bach cantata. It's cantata number 82 called Ich Habe Genug.
[MUSIC: Bach continues]
NARRATOR: 'GENUG'. IN ENGLISH: ENOUGH. SOMEWHAT APPROPRIATE FOR OBOE PLAYERS. ENOUGH WITH MAKING REEDS:
SALLY: I would rather be playing, definitely.
[MUSIC: Bach continues]
NARRATOR: FOR STUDIO 360, I'M SARAH ELZAS
[MUSIC: Bach fades to end]
This piece was produced for Studio 360
and originally aired the weekend of March 19/20, 2005 as part of their show on handmade art. It aired on WHQR
on May 9, 2005.
Producer: Sarah Elzas
Editors: Michele Siegel and Arun Rath
Recorded in New York, NY
- Scheherazade (2nd mvt.)/Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Decca.
- Quartet In F Major For Oboe, Violin, Viola And Cello (3rd mvt)/W.A. Mozart/Gregor Zubicky (oboe), Terje Tønnesen (violin), Lars Anders Tomter (viola), Trusl Otterbech Mørk (cello)/Simax.
- Six Metamorphoses After Ovid (2nd mvt)/Benjamin Britten/Gregor Zubicky/Simax.
- Ich Habe Genug, Cantata 82/J.S. Bach/Miriam Kapner/live recording.