“You cannot tune an oboe.”

I was at the Symphony with a dear friend who was kind enough to treat me to a lovely dinner and concert, and as the orchestra was tuning up, she turned to me and said those words.

The first chair violin strikes an A on the piano, then the oboe sings out and the rest of the orchestra tunes to the oboe. Although technically you *can* tune an oboe it is the hardest instrument to tune outside of the piano or the harp. Those can be tuned well in advance and usually stay in key as long as they aren’t moved after tuning. But regarding the oboe, since tuning it is difficult, the orchestra simply tunes up to its note so that they sound harmonious during play. What an elegant solution of adapting to a challenging circumstance, isn’t it?

One hardly thinks of the oboe as a critical instrument in an orchestra, and I say that with the utmost respect to that fine instrument, but an orchestra is an assembly, a true team, and therefore the orchestra tunes to its most inflexible member to protect the overall quality of its sound.


  1. Oh dear.

  2. Yes. What you said, Jillian.