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Becoming A 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 that "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. Not having to fret about achieving perfection, which is not possible for the very best- and certainly less for me was a blessing, However, my mainstream business management pursuits did not capture my attention or imagination (as one might expect for an oboist). In 2007, Magic Reed was launched, and a new life in the music industry provided creativity, freedom and the room to be me. I never looked back.

The Road To Becoming A Professional Oboe Reed Maker

I have put some time into thinking about my musical beginnings as an oboist for this piece. Frankly, I could have never imagined becoming a successful professional oboe reed maker in my future. I was a talented player, but as for reed making- not so much. I was terrible at at first...and second. Then it started to make sense. Isn't life grand! Here is my story- a little quirky, but hopefully a bit amusing- especially for those who have gone through it themselves.

I remember wandering the halls of my elementary school when I was in fourth grade, and passed the gym while the band was rehearsing. I listened and observed them for a few minutes, and remember seeing one student across the room blowing on an instrument I could not recognize, and through 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 who needs them). 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. I remember the ride home from the dentist with more detail than one should expect after so many years- go figure. Of course I was disappointed, but she suggested oboe as an alternative. I said sure - why not. Not knowing what it was, and certainly having no concept of its sound, I listened to a Bach Aria when I got home and got my first taste of oboe.

I signed up for oboe at school and lessons with the band director in preparation for participation in band. As the only oboist in the school at that time, Iessons were shared with the tuba player. What a scene. Pretty soon, I was invited into the band and was offered one piece to play in the band- "Yesterday" by the Beetles, and given a position in in the epi-center of the group- in front of the conductor with the clarinet section behind me. I know there are a lot of you who can relate to this. Most would agree that the best elementary school band music making is played fortissimo, because it hides most of the flaws of its young players. To this day, I remember the clarinetist behind me (I will not reveal her name) asking me to please play softer. Ouch. 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- one for students and evening recital for parents. I chose Swan Lake. Fortunately, this edition was in the key of a minor (no sharps or flats). Doable for a grasshopper, but the phrases were long and require certain breath control. It is imperative for any oboist to exhale before an inhale after long phrases because air gets trapped in your lungs stopping you dead in your tracks. The problem was that 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. 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. It was also an object lesson in never giving up. As a socially awkward teen, 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. 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 oboe performance. 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 now. 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 professional and solo 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.

That's my story. Some of my colleagues have remarked how much it mirrored their own. I hope you enjoyed it.

Kathy Sheinhouse


"Without Music, Life Would Be A Mistake"- Friedrick Nietzsche

Kathy Sheinhouse, Professional Oboe Reed Maker, Magic Reed
Kathy Sheinhouse, Professional Oboe Reed Maker, Magic Reed

My Musical Journey

I have put some time into thinking about my musical beginnings as an oboist for this piece. Frankly, I could have never imagined becoming a successful professional oboe reed maker in my future. I was a talented player, but as for reed making- not so much. I was terrible at at first...and second. Then it started to make sense. Isn't life grand! Here is my story- a little quirky, but hopefully a bit amusing- especially for those who have gone through it themselves. I remember wandering the halls of my elementary school when I was in fourth grade, and passed the gym while the band was rehearsing. I listened and observed them for a few minutes, and remember seeing one student across the room blowing on an instrument I could not recognize, and through 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 who needs them). 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. I remember the ride home from the dentist with more detail than one should expect after so many years- go figure. Of course I was disappointed, but she suggested oboe as an alternative. I said sure - why not. Not knowing what it was, and certainly having no concept of its sound, I listened to a Bach Aria when I got home and got my first taste of oboe. I signed up for oboe at school and lessons with the band director in preparation for participation in band. As the only oboist in the school at that time, Iessons were shared with the tuba player. What a scene. Pretty soon, I was invited into the band and was offered one piece to play in the band- "Yesterday" by the Beetles, and given a position in in the epi-center of the group- in front of the conductor with the clarinet section behind me. I know there are a lot of you who can relate to this. Most would agree that the best elementary school band music making is played fortissimo, because it hides most of the flaws of its young players. To this day, I remember the clarinetist behind me (I will not reveal her name) asking me to please play softer. Ouch. 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- one for students and evening recital for parents. I chose Swan Lake. Fortunately, this edition was in the key of a minor (no sharps or flats). Doable for a grasshopper, but the phrases were long and require certain breath control. It is imperative for any oboist to exhale before an inhale after long phrases because air gets trapped in your lungs stopping you dead in your tracks. The problem was that 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. 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. It was also an object lesson in never giving up. As a socially awkward teen, 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. 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 oboe performance. 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 now. 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 professional and solo 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. That's my story. Some of my colleagues have remarked how much it mirrored their own. I hope you enjoyed it. Kathy Sheinhouse "Without Music, Life Would Be A Mistake"- Friedrick Nietzsche