Professional Oboe Reed Maker
My professional training took place at The Juilliard School and Oberlin Conservatory. Lois Wann, James Caldwell, Bert Lucarelli and Virginia Brewer were primary influences. I played freely in the metro New York area, with a combination of professional and community gigs, which included a sprinkling of solo work. The beauty was that this was done while earning a living outside of the music industry. Virginia (one of my mentors) once commented: "you have the perfect musical life". And this was truly the case, because I adored playing oboe and didn't need to worry about my next paycheck. I never had to fret about achieving perfection, which is not possible for the very best- and certainly less for me. What a blessing. My mainstream business management pursuits did not capture my attention or imagination, as one might expect for an eccentric oboist. In 2007, Magic Reed was launched, and a new life in the music industry provided the creativity and freedom I craved. I never looked back.
In thinking about my musical beginnings as an oboist, I could have never imagined becoming a successful professional oboe reed maker in the future. Frankly, like most students, I was a terrible reed maker at first...and second. Isn't life great! Here is my story- a little quirky, but hopefully a bit amusing and relatable to most oboists.
I was wandering the halls of my elementary school when I was in fourth grade (probably without permission), and passed the gym while the band was rehearsing. I listened and observed them for a few minutes, and remember observing one student blowing on an wierd instrument I could not recognize with something that looked like a straw in his mouth. This memory was tucked away.
When it was time to pick an instrument in fifth grade, I chose the clarinet- after all, I had heard of it, and didn't want to play flute. I was blessed at the time with $3,000 of braces on my teeth (one of the best gifts a parent can give to a child with crooked teeth). I had two other blessings- an orthodontist who said no to clarinet (no offense to my clarinet friends) and a mother who actually knew what an oboe was. The memory of my ride home from the dentist is still fresh in my mind- go figure. Of course I was disappointed, but she suggested oboe as an alternative. I said sure -it was not like I was emotionally committed to clarinet anyway. A collection of Bach Arias were pulled from the family's LP collection when we got home. I experienced my first dedicated listening of oboe playing at its best.
I signed up for oboe at school and lessons with the band director. As the only oboist in the school at that time, Iessons were shared with the tuba player. What a scene. Pretty soon, the band director invited to play one piece with the group- "Yesterday" by the Beetles. I was situated in front of the conductor and in front the clarinet section that formed a semi-circle around me. I am sure there are many reading this who will relate to what comes next. You know that elementary school bands are at their best when they play fortissimo because it hides most of the flaws of its young players (though never the squeeks of the clarinetists sitting behind me). To this day, I remember the clarinetist behind me (I will not reveal her name) asking me to please play softer. Ouch. They were so loud. How could they possibly hear me??? As a professional reed maker now, I empathize with this situation, and do my best to craft an oboe reed that compensates for the undeveloped embouchure.
I progressed well during the first year, and was asked to do two short recitals- for student students and parents and chose Swan Lake. It was in the key of a minor (no sharps or flats). Doable, but the phrases were long and it is imperative to exhale before an inhale- and I hadn't had that lesson yet. It was ugly, but at least I figured it out for the second recital for parents.
In 7th grade, after taking some local lessons, my mom came through for me again. She followed Lois Wann, a professional oboist during her New York career, and suggested that I audition to take lessons with her. Lois was the go-to oboe teacher in NY. I was an intermediate oboe player at the time. She taught at Juilliard, Mannes, Manhattan College and in her home in Bronxville. She was a teaching machine turning out some of today's most prominent professional oboists as well as many adult amateurs who have enjoyed a lifetime of music making on oboe. She was 15 minutes from my house. I agreed to audition. I was 12 and prepared a piece for her. I was out of my depth. When she played some of it for me- and did so beautifully. I remarked (and I am embarrassed to write this) "you played it better than me and I practiced it!" With laughter and good grace, I was accepted.
After a year or so something magical happened. One day I was average (but earnest) and the next day I was exponentially better. It was rather shocking and wonderful for me, as well as a lesson in never giving up. As a socially awkward teen and my budding musical abilities provided a social community, a certain status, and an excuse to skip certain classes in service of a rotating woodwind ensemble schedule.
What To Do With New Capabilities
I developed well enough to attend The Juilliard School (pre-college division) and continued my conservatory training at Oberlin College with James Caldwell. Recognizing many of the obstacles in earning a living in performance, I decided to pursue a psychology major in the college in lieu of a performance degree, though I continued a secondary performance curriculum.
I started a business career after college, but was fortunate to have extended post-grad mentorships with Bert Lucarelli and Virginia Brewer- who are wonderful friends to me to this day. I was grateful to have what I think was an extraordinary (and relatively stress free) musical life, and one that I could afford because I was working outside the industry. Most playing was community based, and it was paired that with some solo performances and professional gigs.
Life has a funny way of going full circle. My MBA and sale/marketing management experience was a great foundation to start a specialty music business that more fully captured my interests, personality and lifestyle preferences. So, when I had enough of the corporate world, I was more than ready to reimagine myself back in the music industry, and start this business.
Oboe reed making, even for personal use, is not for the faint of heart. I have been taught how to make oboe reeds the old fashioned way- and it took years of training, frustration, and persistence, just to get it right for me. It was once said that "it takes a barrel of failed reeds to get good at it". I have filled my share of barrels, and maybe more- but my efforts enabled my current success. I actually find reed making fun, meditative, and even exciting when I discover just how good my reed can be.
I have chosen a business model that keeps us small, highly focused, hands-on and relationship driven and know that this is a winning formula for my customers. My focus on products that are supported by core competences, and that are truly differentiated in the market. I also keep the business small enough to be able to offer best quality reeds and customer service.