I just ran across an article that was originally printed in a 1949 Saturday Evening Post and can now be found here at the IDRS site. Written by Jean de Vergier, we hear of his life with father (an oboist in the Boston Symphony). I relate so to this little segment of the article:

“What does he play?” they asked with real interest. “Oboe,” I said. “Oh,” they said politely. As always, I drew inquiring and vaguely suspicious looks.

I don’t often see “vaguely suspicious looks” but I do see a lot of blank looks. Other times a person will imply that he or she knows what an oboe is and then go on to describe a bassoon. I often don’t even bother to tell people what I play but instead say I’m a musician and leave it at that, although many will want to know what I play. (Hmmm. No one has ever asked me if I was a singer or played an instrument; I think they assume “musician” means instrumentalist. A singer, after all, would say, “I’m a singer.” Right?)

Then there’s this:

An oboe player’s home is full of little glasses of water in which reeds are soaking. You see, the poor beset man is trying to get one exactly soft enough for what he is sure they are going to play today. He is an expert at this–he has to be– and sure enough, he gets one into exactly the state that produces the round, soft, sweet tone he wants.

So what happens? They change the program on him, opening with music that requires a strong reed with a loud, brilliant tone, and he’s cooked. He’s always cooked. The reed that sounded so fine at home is sickly and weak in the concert hall or splits just when he needs it, or if none of this happens, then a key sticks and ruins a solo.

Ah yes. We lead such relaxed lives.

(Note: I do not soak reeds to get them “exactly soft enough” and I don’t recommend that you do either. I will confess, though, that the worn out reed I was using today for Bohème had to be soaked big time to get the darn thing to wake up. Tomorrow it’s going to get a hot water bath in hopes that it will give me one more day. We’ll see. Reeds. They are a curse. Truly.)


  1. I scored 67% as OBOE on the orchestra personality quiz, with cello and viola tied for second. Very very funny! Good thing I made the switch from flute some years ago — that only scored a 33!


  2. Patricia Mitchell

    I’m still puzzling over my viola/trombone rankings. Sigh.

    Of course my husband, a former trombone player, got OBOE. Go figure. 😉