As I sit and compose music, and I’m having a really good session where the music is just pouring out, I don’t really know what I’m doing, where it’s really coming from, how many notes are there, how it relates to the overall structure, and other parameters composers like to go on about. When I look at it later, I may notice these things, or make up an analysis or scholarly stories about “how the music works” or how I composed it. But I fear that “where music comes from” will always be a mystery. I’m not ready to ape Stravinsky and tell you that I am but the vessel through which it passes to be given to the world. I’m not going to tell you that I channel music. I’m not going to tell you that God composes my music. I just don’t know, and that’s fine.

-Roger Bourland (RTWT)

When I was studying poetry and I read these books that analyzed some poems, telling me all sorts of amazing things, I often wondered, “Did the poet KNOW he/she did that when he/she was writing?” And when I would submit a poem and my poetry pals would say, “Oh look! You did this and this and this …” and point out all the fabulous things I must have intentionally done (hah … okay, okay, there weren’t really fabulous!). And I’d say, “Oh. I didn’t know I did that.” It just happened. (NOT, mind you, that I’m any sort of real poet. I do write piffle, and I’ll readily admit that!) But that did get me to thinking about music and if composers always deliberately do things that the “take apart and analyze to bits” people find, or if their talent just naturally leads them to do things that then the analyzers analyze and wonder over. Seems to me that natural is kinda nice. I like that whole “wonder” thing. too. If everything was completely deliberate would (is) it still as wondrous?

Hmmm. Maybe my tummy is causing me to write silly. Perhaps I really better rest. Now!

But anyway, I liked what Roger wrote. So I’ll just leave it there.

(“What Roger Wrote” … I think that could be a book or a title of a piece of music or something. Or a poem. Maybe a bad poem. I could do that.)

Oh … and I do want to ask composers (I know there are some who read this) if you take into consideration things like breathing and endurance. I’ve never asked this before. If you write for an oboe do you think about the fact that we need a moment to rest our “chops” on occasion? Do you think about where we would breathe? I’m not asking out of any ill will. I was truthfully just wondering as I was playing Nutcracker yesterday. (We have added music in this production, and my chops were falling off … if chops can do that!)

Composers? Wanna fill me in?

Here’s my list of composers I currently link to:

Roger Bourland
Jerry Bowles
Lawrence Dillon
Elaine Fine
Kyle Gann
Matthew Guerrieri
Steve Hicken
Fred Himebaugh
Michael Kaulkin
Peter Kaye
Alex Shapiro
Daniel Wolf


  1. Yes, we are aware of breathing and economics of playing / writing, and being especially careful of fast note repetitions

  2. ps. and we promise not to ask you to play PPP in the bottom of your register

  3. Heh … well, as I tell the orchestration classes, while I appreciate not being asked to play softly in the basement, Dvorak certainly didn’t seem to care that we struggle with that. (Although I do wonder what kind of oboes he composed for.) As long as we don’t go down to a low B of B-flat I just mute the darn instrument and low notes are a piece of cake! 😉

    Good to hear you think about breathing. Of course with oboe it’s not so much breathing in … more about dumping the carbon dioxide, and relaxing the embouchure. But I’m assuming, from what you wrote above, that you are well aware of that.

    The Nutcracker we play is a killer, but if we were doing the real version it would be no biggie. (I dream of doing it the way it was composed sometime in my life, but I have a sneaking suspicion that that will remain a dream forever. Sigh.)

  4. “(Although I do wonder what kind of oboes he composed for.) ”

    Thats a really really good point and something I’ve been thinking about myself w/ the oboe a other wind and brass instruments. It’s not talked about very much in recent literature . I believe we might have lost a lot of important quality in the instruments just by virtue of the fact that they have been “modernized”.

    p.s. muted oboe? hmmmm…ist that a transposing instrument?

  5. I’ve been told that Dvorak composed for Vienna oboes … and these are still being used in Vienna, at least. If you go to this Youtube video you can see one if you haven’t seen one before … actually you’ll see it even if you have seen one before. 😉

    I’ve also been told that the fingering system for the earlier classical oboe are much easier and that something like the Mozart Oboe Concerto is a breeze. I’ve not played one.

    A muted oboe … not transposing, but sure is a good way to avoid dirty looks from the conductor!

  6. I love writing for the oboe partly because the phrases can be quite long, and because the articulations that you use with the oboe contribute so much to the musical line. Tonguing on the oboe is kind of magnified compared to the other woodwinds–even the bassoon.

    I also love the way that the oboe can blend with strings. I have always had oboe player friends, and when I was a flutist I suffered from serious “oboe envy.” I know that my oboe player friends (even those I don’t know) would never want music that is exhausting to play or is unflattering to the instrument.

  7. You’re right, Elaine; we just love those long phrases … as long as we do get a “chop break” now and then! What I can’t stand is when a conductor (or sometimes a composer although that’s not as frequently) decides we HAVE to breathe when it is not necessary. Of course sometimes the phrase requires the feel of a breath … that’s understandable (and why I don’t particularly care for circular breathing much of the time), but inserting too many mandatory breaths can kill the oboe player, since we have to exhale then too, or we burst! 🙂

    Ah “oboe envy”. You aren’t the only one to have that. A clarinetist pal of mine sometimes experiences that too. He says, “It’s that conical bore!” 😉

  8. Would the size of romantic orchestras make a difference, if there were 4 oboists instead of today’s one on a part?
    I asked Jennifer Higdon about being a flutist, and she smiled and said she often tells wind players, no it IS possible.
    Derek Bermel is a fabulous clarinetist and often writes difficult passages.

    It is a toss up I think between what we can do as players and what composers can dream…

  9. Of course then there was a work by Jennifer Higdon that wrote for a note that doesn’t exist on an EH! 😉

    (She later wrote me to explain that that was supposed to be corrected and just didn’t make it into our parts. I found her a very delightful person, and really enjoy her work a lot.)

    And yes, I’m sure the size of an orchestra at least made thing easier on the oboists … taking turns on the tutti forté passages can be quite helpful. But, then again, string players often despise us for how little we play already. Uh-oh!