I’ve written before about the work called Gabriel’s Oboe, from the movie The Mission. The work is named Gabriel’s Oboe because the oboist is a Jesuit named Gabriel; it has nothing to do with the angel Gabriel, in case you were wondering! The movie itself is, to me, painful and beautiful and very troubling. The oboe work is gorgeous and is often used in weddings, although I always wonder if those who use it have seen the movie; the connection to the movie would make it impossible for me to use! (Although I’ve used it at someone else’s wedding, per their request.)

In any case, rambling along … if you want to hear the piece (and see an oboist play it), watch this. I think she sounds lovely.

You might note that the oboist holds her oboe up much higher than I do, and also moves more than I usually do. This is a German orchestra and I’ve heard that they do a lot more moving around (and, in fact, one person on a double reed list said that one of the orchestras there judge people using movement as a factor; they believe you must move a lot to really be making music!). I suspect that that oboe being held higher might have something to do with the different sort of reed they play.

Yes. A different reed. And yes, oboists from different countries can sound different. I love the variety. Some here in the humble good old USA only think US oboists are good and want only the good old American dark sound. I guess I just like variety, and don’t think of the US as the Country That Judges All Things Oboe (or all things anything else, for that matter).

But, rambling back to oboes and reeds … here in the US we use what is often called the American scrape. Sometimes it’s called the long scrape. And the Philadelphia scrape. (Or maybe all of these have slight differences? Hmmm. I didn’t think so, but maybe someone else can tell me if I”m wrong.)

If you look here you’ll see a German reed maker’s reed. Notice the wire? Most players I know wouldn’t use wire on our oboe reeds, but we scrape further down the back, which, I think, makes it unnecessary. (I do use wire on my English horn reeds.)

French reeds look, to me, somewhat similar to the German. I’ve never tried to play on either, though, and I wonder if they feel a lot different.

I’ve also seen Chinese oboe reeds (because a student had purchased a box of them before being told they wouldn’t work for me, so I couldn’t really teach her well with them). I wish I had taken pictures of them. Ah well! I do recall they were a short scrape and used wire. And were VERY hard.

For a good look at some American scrape reeds, this site works well. And notice those chipped edges? Makes me feel good!

Oboe Reed Styles, by David Ledet, is full of oboe reed pictures from all over the place. (I hear that the books is out of print, though. Sorry, folks, you’ll just have to come over for a visit and go through my nice hardback copy!) When you get to the American section you might get the notion that nearly everyone’s reeds look slightly different. And that reeds can look awfully ugly and still play. Yep!

Ah-hah! Looks aren’t all that important after all. I knew it, I knew it! Never mind about dying the gray out of my hair. Whew.

Oh … back to reeds.

Reeds can be so different, and reed makers all have their special little requirements. I can try to play on a lot of my colleagues reeds, but they never feel quite right. That’s probably a good thing, as I’m less likely to turn into a thief! (Oboists might take note, however; I just might abscond with a reed or two if I can get away with it.)

As always, though, anyone at all may send reeds to me. For free. Really. I’m open to that, and will even post a note here about your generosity! (PO BOX 8655, San Jose, CA 95155-8655 … see how easy that would be?!)

Think of the kudos. Think of the fame.

Think of how I wouldn’t have to spend time on reeds.

IF I could even play on your reeds, that is!


  1. How bizarre!  I actually rented and watched The Mission last night
    based solely upon your review of it a few months ago.   
    I found it to be a very thought-provoking movie, though I will honestly
    admit that I found the “breaking” of the oboe to be much more
    horrifying than all of the other deaths in the movie.  I wonder
    what sort of statement that makes about our jaded response to violence
    in the media?

    Or else maybe it was simply the feeling of rightous indignation. 
    “You a**!” “Don’t you know that he just hauled that thing up a
    humongous WATERFALL!”

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    Timing is interesting, isn’t it?

    I did respond to the breaking of the oboe, but even more to the very end of the movie; I was sobbing, to be honest.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. I should really see it again. Someone wrote that one has to stick around to the very end of the credits, too, and I’m not sure I did that the first time I saw it.

  3. I think the piece would be much more beautiful on the bassoon.  But, then again, everything is much more beautiful on the bassoon.


  4. Darlene Marshall

    the clip of the performance was beautiful, but I find the moving around very distracting– — I don’t like to watch any instrumentalist moving very much. 

  5. Forgive me for being a little confused but I think I’ve heard “Gabriel’s Oboe” under the title “Nella Fantasia” is it possible that this the same piece? Just titled differently?

  6. Patricia Mitchell

    I suspect that when words are added it’s then labeled Nella Fatasia. (I can’t say I’m thrilled to see the words added, but that’s just me.) I believe the movie came out prior to this song, although I can’t say for sure. (I’m in the middle of teaching so I haven’t the time to check right now.)

    I had wondered why I was seeing Gabriel’s Oboe on some CDs by singers. I guess this explains it.