I have known far too many oboists who have had cancer. I’ve heard of clarinetists and saxophone players who have cancer. (For some reason I’m not coming up with any bassoonists, but perhaps they will be added to the list.) I can’t help but wonder if there is any connection to reeds.

I realize that a lot of people get cancer. But, really, is it so common that a number of my friends and colleagues who are reed players have recently dealt with the disease? I wonder.

So to my readers: I would like to compile a list and see if it looks like it fits with the overall averages. If you have had, or know of someone who has had cancer, please email me with the person’s name, instruments played, year of diagnosis, and type of cancer. It’s not that I know anything medically … but if I came up with a long list maybe someone out there would want to know about it. It’s a long shot, I’m sure, but it’s worth a try, I think. (And makes me feel as if I’m doing something about this.)


  1. In order to make this meaningful, you also need to know how many oboists *don’t* have cancer. In other words, you need a random sample of oboists. Otherwise all you’ve got is a list of oboists who do have cancer, and then how are you going to compare whether or not the rates are the same?

    The best I think you can hope for is taking a survey of ALL your reed-playing colleagues to find out who’s had cancer and see if that rate is astronomically higher. If you had some lab animals, you could do this scientifically by having a control group that you don’t expose to anything and a test group which you force to play oboe for eight hours a day. But then you would have to teach rats to play oboe. 😉

    Just some advice from a scientist. I enjoy your blog! 🙂

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    One of oh-so-many-reasons I did horribly in science and could never be a scientist.

    I’m sure I won’t be doing any sort of research at all, but I was just terribly upset to read about yet another friend who is now struggling with cancer, who happens to be a reed player.

    I DO often wonder whether our reeds contain pesticides and other goodly things. Ah well!

    Nice to hear from you, glad you like the blog, and great to hear from someone who knows of what he speaks. (I’m assuming you are male. That’s what the form says, but of course most people don’t actually fill it out so I could be in error with that assumption!)

    Who the heck plays oboe 8 hours a day? Only rats, I’m sure! 😉

  3. Understandable to be upset–maybe you could do some research into how the cane that you use to make reeds is prepared or processed. I don’t know anything about cane or reeds (seeing as I play flute and one doesn’t generally need a reed to play flute), but I would think that the companies you order from would tell you at least something.

    All I saw on the form was address, etc., which I didn’t bother to fill out–looks like I missed the gender part. Last time I checked I was female. Sorry to screw up your records! 😉

  4. Patricia Mitchell

    Heh … so he is a she! Thanks for clearing that up! To be honest, most folks don’t fill out the form. I don’t have a problem with that at all. Signing up is merely a formality to allow people to post here.

    Yes, researching how cane is grown wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. I doubt I’ll be able to do it, but I wonder if I should contact folks at the IDRS and see if someone wants to to the chore. I do know that someone who went to a place that grows the stuff (lots of the cane is grown in France) and said we wouldn’t want to see the dogs running around doing what dogs do on our future reeds. I’ve often wondered what pesticides they put on the stuff. (Although cane grows so well I can’t imagine they need to use anything to keep it growing!)

    I’m using my fear of what’s on the cane to excuse me from practicing too much! 😉

    (I can always find something ….)

    Playing flute is a wise choice. Reeds are a curse.