16. August 2008 · 5 comments · Categories: Ramble

Orchestral instruments don’t come more treacherous than the French horn, either for the musicians who play it, or, when the going gets rough, for the listeners who find themselves within earshot. Sometimes you wonder how the instrument found its way from the hunting lodge to the orchestra.

Well, okay, maybe the horn is tough. But have you ever tried to make an oboe reed?

I read the full article here.


  1. As a horn player with an oboe-playing sister-in-law, I must agree. Given a choice between cracking notes on the horn and cracking my sanity from making reeds, it would be a tough choice (!). On some days, I don’t even broach the topic of reeds – especially when she has that sharp knife in her hand.

    I love how in this NY Times article that the critic quantifies his horn knowledge by saying that he played horn in high school. While a professional orchestra can sometimes be like high school in terms of personal peccadillos, there is a huge difference between playing in high school and playing in the NY Phil.

    My own take on this article is here.

  2. I tend to go a bit crazy (only inside; I never let the speaker know) how frustrating it is to hear the “I played X in high school” as if that is anything like being a professional player. I was talking to an artist friend of mine about that. She, too, gets the, “Oh, I painted when I was in high school! I should sell MY work.”

    But there’s no way to explain to someone who talks like that … I just don’t think someone who is willing to say that would understand.

  3. You knew I would respond to this one, right? 🙂 I will say it is very refreshing to be able to get the correct note by putting down the right keys, but then I’m not yet at the point oboe-wise where all of the fingerings are as automatic as I’d like – it seems that when I learned brass fingerings it was easier (but then, on the horn, fingerings are more in the nature of guidelines). It is also nice to know that parts will be in the same key (all the way through, even). The reeds, on the other hand, are impossible to understand if you haven’t played an oboe for at least a little while – my wife thinks oboe reeds are more finicky than bassoon reeds, and I’m inclined to believe her. While I don’t make my own (yet) I’ll say that they make a huge difference even in practicing – practicing on a bad reed can be downright discouraging. I bet vastly different mouthpieces on a horn would have less impact on one’s playing than two seemingly identical oboe reeds on an oboe.

  4. Oh, and a co-worker actually emailed me this exact same quote (the first person I ever heard use the word “treacherous” to describe the horn was Barry Tuckwell, and I had to agree).

  5. I’m convinced, Tim, that the smaller the reed, the more difficult it is to make. English horn reeds aren’t exactly a breeze, but still I find them easier than oboe. And they last a LOT longer.