Monday, May 10, 2010

Tzol Learns the Double Reeds

Part 1: The Oboe

"Ahhhh, Tzol, good of you to show up. Finally!"
"You said that the lesson was at three."
"It's only 2:15."
"Well it's a good thing you got here then. Now sit down. No, not like that. The way to sit when you are learning about the oboe is to sit with your feet flat on the floor. Be squared on the seat and keep your back straight. Okay, here is the oboe."
"Wow, there are a lot of keys."
"Yes, and be careful with those keys. They are very delicate, and any bashing that occurs will result in MAJOR damage, and you will have to pay for repairs. Now, hold the oboe...NO! WRONG! Your left hand needs to be ABOVE your right one, not the other way around!"
"Oh. Um. Okay"
"Better. Now your right thumb should be here under, underneath the thumb rest. This thumb is going to hold up most of the weight of the oboe. Put your first three fingers of your right hand on these three main keyholes on the bottom joint. 1 -- 2-- 3, good. Your right little finger should be here, over these three long keys. These keys are C, D, and E flat. Good. Now your left thumb should be underneath these little keys on the underside of the top joint, the octave keys. The fingers your left hand should be on these three keyholes, and the pinkie should cover the two long keys over here, the A flat and the E flat keys.
"My hand hurts just from holding the thing."
"Well then relax! Your hands should be relaxed and curved naturally, poised and ready to play. There should be very little tension in the fingers when you play the oboe, and if your hands do hurt, so will your playing. You need to be relaxed so that you can play with better technique and facility. Okay, now bring the oboe about 30-45 degrees away from your body. Good. Op, watch your wrists, they need to be straight. Now keep your elbows at a healthy distance from your sides, but not too far. You are not playing a trumpet."
"Okay, now what?"
"Well, put the oboe down for now. take your reed and soak it for a while. Oboe reeds need to be extremely wet in order to vibrate properly. Do you know why?"
"Because it's a double reed?"
"Very good! Now I am going to tell you a little bit about the history of the oboe. The oboe is a very old instrument, though it has definitely not looked like this in the past. The oldest known ancestor of the oboe is the zurna, which is still played today in some music conservatories in nations that have not had a civil war recently, like we have. The next one, which you may be more familiar with because of its history in your country, is the shawm. Westenra has their own version of the oboe which they call the hautbois. But anyway, the oboe didn't get it's keys until the 1800's, and as the years went by, they kept adding more and more, and now we have this mess of a contraption that you see before you.
Now, there are several instruments in the oboe family. The oboe that you hold in your hands is the soprano voice of the oboe quartet. Then comes the oboe d'amore, which is in the Advas mode. It has a mellower sound, so a lot of folks use it at at weddings and in pastoral settings. I happen to like the more brass sound of the oboe better, but a lot of people like the oboe d'amore. Next comes the English horn. Why they call it English or a horn is a mystery to me, and it is in Fellde mode. The last instrument in the oboe family is the baritone oboe, which I have never seen, actually. Okay, I think your reed is ready now."
"Alright, what shall I do with it?"
"Oh, wait, keep it in the water for a minute. First, you need to know how to put the oboe together! Here." *pop*
"You broke it!"
"I did not! There are three parts of the oboe, not including the reed, of course. Here, now put it together!"
"Well, first, grasp this part, called the bell, with one hand, and the longest part, called the middle joint, with the other hand. Make sure that your palm is under the thumb rest so that your fingers curl over the rods, not the keys, so you don't damage them. Okay, now press the b flat key to open the bridge key and twist the two together. Be really careful that you do not bang the bridge keys together. Okay, that done, now take the top joint, again, with your palm on the wood and your fingertips on the keys, and twist the top joint onto the bottom joints. Be careful of the bridge keys again, and make sure that they are properly aligned. Ta-da!"
"So I am done?"
"No, not yet. You still need to put the reed on. Take it out of the water, but before you put it into the oboe, I want you to blow through it."
"Yes, go on. Great! That should be at about a B or a C. Okay, now grasp it at the cork, which you SHOULD not get wet, by the way.
"Thanks for telling me that now."
"Enough sarcasm. Now twist the cork onto the top of the oboe. Keep pushing, it needs to go in as far as it can for the proper pitch. Good. Now hold it like I taught you. Good, remember to sit up straight. Okay, now when you put the reed into your mouth, you need to keep your throat open and relaxed, as if you were saying 'aaaaah'. Say it with me."
"Good! Now keeping that feeling of an open throat, I want you to drop your jaw, just a little, good. Okay. Now form an O with your lips so that your teeth are far away from the reed. Your teeth should never touch the reed. Now curl the lips in over your teeth, as if you were making a cushion for the reed. Place the reed so the tip rests on the middle of the lower lip and close your lips around the reed. Hey, relax! Not that much, your muscles around your lips should still be taut, but not strained. Make sure that your jaw is still dropped comfortable. Okay! Now, you should probably have more of the reed in your mouth right now, but it all depend on if you are playing in a high register or a low register. In a high register, you need more reed in your mouth then in a lower register. Good, now blow!"
*much squeeking and squaking occurs*
"Okay, okay, stop. Um, I should probably talk about breathing before you go any further. First and foremost, the oboe is a wind instrument, so breath control is vitally important. Okay, put the oboe down on your lap for a minute, no, keys up. If you put the oboe keys down, all the moisture in the oboe will run down into the keys and pads and ruin them. Now about breath. I want you to fill up your lungs with a deep breath. Okay, what do you feel?"
"Good! Perfect. That is exactly what you should feel. But now I want to go a bit deeper into the mechanics of it all. There are three parts to filling up your lungs. The first begins with the expansion of the lower lungs, which pushes your tummy out, so you look fat."
"Hehehehe! Now, the middle section of your lungs should fill, which causes your lower ribs and diaphragm to expand. If you want to feel it, place your hands under your ribs and feel your diaphragm expand. Good, now on to the last stage, which is the expansion of the top area of your lungs. You should feel your sternum press forward. Now, proper oboe playing is a melding of all three of these steps, and sometimes, you only need to use one of the steps. Experiment with the different steps to see which gives you the best pressure behind the reed. Okay, now set your embouchure."
"Put the reed in your mouth."
"Okay, now remembering what I told you about breathing, set the three fingers of your left hand and the three fingers of your right over the key holes. Relax your fingers and straighten your wrists. Good. Now take a deep breath and blow."
"Good! For a start. That was a d. Now before we add any more notes, you need to know about tonguing. The tongue should not be what starts the tone, but rather you should think of it as a door which just lets the air escape through the reed. If you are not articulating, there are two different things you need to do for the registers. If you are in a high register, your tongue needs to be up to create greater air pressure, and in the lower register, keep your tongue low and back in the oral-pharyngeal cavity. Okay, feel for the bottom tip of the reed. To articulate, the top tip of your tongue should gently touch this place. Okay, now I want you to blow, but articulate some staccato notes."
"Hoonk. Hoonk. Hoonk. Hoonk."
"Very well done. Okay. I have one last thing to talk about, and that is the half hole. The top keyhole of your left hand has two holes in one. To play a half hole, you merely slide from the whole hole to the half hole and back. Simple movement, though it takes some getting used to. Try it now."
"Very good! Well, that will be all for the oboe. Now I want you to take it apart, reversing how you put it together. Now before you put it away, you should put the reed away in its case to keep it safe. Okay, now take out your swab and run it through the inside. Be careful that you do not bang against any of the interior mechanisms. As a note, I recommend only using silk swabs, not those silly fluffly sticks. Those will get caught inside, and leave feathers which will cake on the instrument. Okay, now wipe off the outside with a soft cloth. Good. Now put it back in its case. I want you to take good care of this instrument, which means making sure that the moisture is always regulated. In the winter, don't start playing before warming up the outside, or the inside will warm up faster and expand, causing the wood to crack. And keep it humid, but not moist. I find a great way to keep it nice is to put orange peels in the case."
"Orange peels?"
"Orange peels. Okay, we are done! Next the bassoon!"
"Can I get a face massage first?"

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